Word Wrangling: Not for this rodeo

Many of us pastors have trouble staying out of the ditches and onto the road.

A scholar friend says, “Truth is a ridge on either side of which are vast chasms to be avoided at all cost.”  One side is called liberalism, the other legalism.  Rigid fundamentalism on the right, worldly compromise on the left.  In between is the road.  The way.  It’s narrow.

Truth always is.

It’s one thing to love word-study and to delight in finding a particular word in Scripture that yields a well-spring of insights and applications, but a far different thing to fight over the meaning of some obscure Greek word.

Somewhere I encountered a translation of I Timothy 6:5 that warns God’s leaders about “word-wrangling.” This morning, looking that passage up in various translations and commentaries and other study helps, no one has it that way, but more as “constant striving” and “chronic disagreement.” (The Greek word—ahem, here we go now–is disparatribai, a double compound word which according to Thayer, means “constant contention, incessant wrangling or strife.”)

“Thayer” refers to a well-respected Greek-English lexicon used for generations. In the above quote, he used the word “wrangling”. Maybe I got it from him.

The image of wrangling suggests a cowboy roping a dogie, jumping off his horse, and wrestling the animal to the ground.

Some of us do that with words. We capture them, hogtie them, and put our own brand on them. The result may be to make the word mean something entirely different from the writer’s original intention.

And since our audiences–that would be the men and women of our congregations–are not knowledgeable about the Greek and Hebrew (most don’t have a clue what a lexicon is!), when we start parsing (ahem) these words in sermons, they either shift into neutral intending to catch up when we return to the main highway or they stand in awe, assured we must know what we’re talking about since we use phrases like “the original Greek says” and “my Hebrew professor used to say this word means.”

Why our people put up with this stuff is beyond me.

They shouldn’t.

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What the pastor said before the church voted on firing him

They’re voting on the preacher at the end of today’s worship service. He may be looking for a job before noon. Or, it could work out well. Either way, the pastor and his wife have turned it all over to the Lord, and while it would be catastrophic in some ways to have their lives turned upside down this way, their focus is on the Lord and not man. Here is some of what he told the church before the vote.

I’m glad to see so many in Weak Sister Church today. A friend of mine says there are two ways to get a big crowd in church: welcome a new preacher or run the old one off.

Some of you haven’t been to Weak Sister in a while. I am sincerely glad to see you here. I do have a special word for you, but not yet. Please bear with me a few moments while I address the believers in the room.

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Conflicts in the early church show us how to deal with them

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

There is no problem-solving section of the Bible.

Sorry if that disappoints you.

What we do find across the New Testament are large servings of healthy food of the spiritual kind, instructions on how to serve God and live well and relate to one another in the close confines of the forever family. Imbedded throughout are insights on resolving collisions between the Lord’s children.

Hold on.

Do you mean to say that from the beginning Jesus expected clashes and collisions within His family? That His disciples would be torn apart by jealousies and competitions and divisions?

It would appear He did.

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The “church conflict” question that will get you laughed out of church

“Why do you not rather suffer wrong?” (I Corinthians 6:7)

A dog can whip a polecat, the saying goes, but it’s not worth it.

Some fights you need to walk away from.

Some years ago a few members of a certain Baptist church took the pastor and trustees to court over what they perceived as breaches of scripture, ethics, and good sense.  As the new leader of the SBC churches in that area, I was invited to sit in with them one evening and hear the reasons they were taking such serious action. At the conclusion of their presentation, the leader said, “So, what do you think?”

I said, “I think you should walk away from this. No one is going to win this thing except the lawyers. Everything about this is wrong and bad.”

He answered, “We can’t. It’s gone too far for that now.”

He was wrong. It hadn’t.

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The perfect way for a pastor to lead a different church

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Imagine this.

You’re the captain of a mighty airship–a 747, let’s say.  It’s a huge job with great responsibility, but one you are doing well and feel confident about.  Then, someone alerts you to another plane that is approaching and has a message for you.

You are to transfer to the other plane and become their pilot.

So, you push back the canopy–I know, I know, the huge planes don’t have canopies, but we’re imagining this–and crawl into the contraption the other plane has sent over. You are jettisoned from your old plane to the new one.

As you settle into the captain’s seat in your new plane, you find  yourself surrounded by an unfamiliar crew and you notice the controls in front of you are not the same as in the old plane.  This is going to take some getting used to.  Meanwhile, you and your crew and passengers are zooming along at 35,000 feet.

Your new flight attendants send word, “Captain, welcome aboard. Everyone is asking what is our destination?  Can you tell us your goals for this flight?”

And you think to yourself, “You’re asking me? I just got here!”

This is an apt parable for what happens to pastors.

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When a church gets the disappearing blues

This train got the disappearing railroad blues.  –Arlo Guthrie, “City of New Orleans”

The cleaners I used for over two decades made a decision to go out of business.

They just didn’t know it.

It all started with a closed sign on the door one morning.  I walked away carrying the clothes I had planned to drop off.

The next day, a sign announced they had relocated.  Since the new site was closer to my house with more convenient parking, that did not make me unhappy.

Next, they began cutting back on the hours.  The young man newly hired to run that branch informed me they were now opening at 11 am and closing at 7.  No longer would people be able to drop off clothes on their way to work.

I asked him, “Shouldn’t you have a sign outside with the hours of operation?  Since this is a big change.”  Why I should care is another question, but I did.

He casually assured me that the small notice on the glass door would suffice.

He was wrong.  To read that a customer would have to leave the car and walk to the door.  This is an ideal recipe for frustrating one’s customers…and thus for losing them.

Thereafter, I never saw a car in front of the store indicating a customer inside.

Pretty soon, I was gone too.

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20 things a pastor can do to get past a rough time

Some power clique in the church is on your case.  Some church member is leading a movement to oust you.  The church has a history of ousting pastors every so often and it’s time, and some members are getting restless.

Or, perhaps, as the pastor, you did something wrong and it blew up in your face.  People are calling for your head.

Or, you failed to act and some cancer has gained a foothold within the congregation and your job is in jeopardy.

What do you do now?

It would be foolish to try to offer a panacea here, a cure-all for what ails the church, a fix-all for what troubles the pastor.  I will not attempt that. But here are 20 steps which many pastors can take to right the ship and set it back on track (to mix metaphors)….

1)  Don’t hesitate to apologize if you need to.

“I blew it, folks. I’m sorry.”

Apologies should be as public as the act was public.  If you did one person wrong and it’s known only to that one, go to him/her and admit what you did and ask for forgiveness.  If your mistake was churchwide, stand in the pulpit and take your medicine.

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When a pastor has exceeded his expiration date

Of all the questions church people send my way, this may be the most difficult.

Our pastor has been here (too many) years.  He has lost his vision and his energy, and the church is dying.  The numbers are down considerably, and yet the church is located in a growing area.  We love him and are so grateful to God for his ministry over the years. But isn’t there a limit to the loyalty thing?  At what point does a pastor need to be told that his time here is up?

There are no simple or easy answers to this.  Handled wrongly, this matter can destroy a church, inflict a terminal wound to a veteran minister, and hurt his family in lasting ways.

Ideally, the minister is there by the Lord’s doing. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit makes the pastors/elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).  We do not want to casually hurt God’s servant since our Lord Jesus said, “Whoever receives you, receives me” (Matthew 10:40).  Likewise, we are not equating today’s pastors with Moses; but throughout Israel’s wilderness wanderings, it was clear that the Lord took personally the treatment/mistreatment of His man by the people.

I think that’s still the case.  When people mistreated God’s prophets down through the ages, He interpreted that as an offense toward Himself.

So, we always want to try to honor the Lord’s servant, even if he is undeserving at this particular moment.

On the other hand.

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One thing people in ministry must never do

Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.  First Corinthians 4:2

This position is not yours; you are only a steward.  A caretaker.  A manager.

Get that wrong and you have bought yourself a lot of grief.

The other day I saw where a well-known news anchor was complaining about being fired from her position a decade or more ago.  “I did nothing wrong,” she said.  As if the position was rightfully hers until she was found to be “doing something wrong.”

As though that has anything to do with anything.

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My candidate for hypocrite of the year

“Evil people and imposters will become worse (in the last days), deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Can we talk about imposters?

There are so many to choose from, but today I’m thinking of church-dropouts who say they love the Lord.

Nothing of what follows is intended to be mean-spirited. But I would like to speak plainly.

I’m not angry, just perturbed. I don’t want to banish anyone from heaven, from church, from “the island,” or even from this room.

I just want to say to certain ones, “C’mon, people. Get real.  You don’t mean that, so why do you keep saying it?”

Recently, we were having a lively Facebook discussion about church and whether divorced people–specifically those with a whole string of divorces–should be considered for the honored church office of deacon.

Most comments were sweet-spirited, godly, well-informed scripturally and solid doctrinally.  But some were angry for reasons I doubt if even they know.  They want to banish all divorced people from anything.  But these are not the hypocrites I had in mind, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they qualify. It’s another group.

“People like you are the reason I no longer go to church.”

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