Why we must not quit when God’s people mistreat us

“Even though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

We hear of it too frequently.

“He used to be a pastor. But the people in the churches were so mean–undercutting him, criticizing, backbiting, slandering, and then kicking him out–that it ruined him forever.  He vows he’ll never enter a church again.”

“If this is how God’s churches are, I want nothing to do with any of them.”

“Makes me wonder if the Lord even cares.”

The variations on that sad theme are endless.

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The temptation to misuse the Lord’s congregation

“Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her…. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:25,30).

It’s His church.

It’s important for pastors to keep reminding themselves there were good reasons why God did not give them ownership of the flocks which they are tending.

“…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church” is how Paul puts it (Ephesians 5:27).

“…that we might show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” is how Peter put it (I Peter 2:9).

“…as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb” is how John put it (Revelation 14:4).

The congregation belongs to Christ. Not to its pastors.

The pastor must keep reminding himself. “They belong to the Lord.  Not to me.”

–They were not given you as an audience for your preaching.  They are that, but this is not their primary purpose. So, when they come to hear you and then get up and leave, you may be tempted to see this as God’s plan.  It isn’t. They are to be far more than an audience. 

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The scripture half of the Lord’s pastors tend to overlook

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. (Men) will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues.  You will be brought before governors and kings for my sake….  Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…. Do not think that I am come to bring peace on earth…” (Matthew 10:16ff)

(Note: Invariably, when I write something in support of the Lord’s servants who have been mistreated by the Lord’s congregations, someone will reply calling my attention to the sins of preachers.  As if I did not know.  I will readily admit there are some men in the ministry who need to be out, who are bringing reproach on the name of Christ and shame to His church.  But most of the pastors I’m acquainted with who have been driven from their pulpits were guilty only of crossing the wrong people.)

Suddenly, that great church which the pastor was enjoying and had been bragging about to his colleagues turned on him and wanted him gone.

Without warning it seems, those precious people who had welcomed him so warmly just a couple of years back have now joined the vicious mob clamoring for the pastor’s head.

That wonderful deacon fellowship which had devoted themselves to serving God’s people and ministering to the needy suddenly arose and announced their intention to oust the pastor.

That sweet family to whom the pastor ministered again and again misinterpreted something he did (or believed something they heard) and began to devote themselves to seeing that he was fired.

Why, Lord?  Pastors and their families wonder that.

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The prayer of the embattled pastor

“Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and I have done all these things at Your word” (I Kings 18:36).

What Elijah prayed on Carmel, I pray.

It is entirely in order for the Lord’s messenger to pray that the people to whom he was sent will recognize that God is God and fully in charge, and that he himself is the Lord’s servant, on mission from Him.

I prayed that prayer during the worst time of my life when a little group of self-righteous and mean-spirited members clamored for my resignation. I was going through the fire, being tried as I rarely had.

The prayer felt like the dying gasp of the weakest child in God’s family.

Did God hear the prayer?  Did He answer?

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The pain that never goes away in pastors

“…serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials…” (Acts 20:19)

Let a pastor go through one huge church fight that leaves God’s people bleeding and bitter and scattering and he will do everything in his power to avoid another one.

Let a pastor go through a termination in which he is forced out from the church where the Lord sent Him, and the pain of that rejection will accompany him the rest of the way home.

Some pain never leaves.

The wound heals but the scar remains and the memory never fades.

Thoughts of that event will color his counsel to other pastors.  The pain of that event will pop up at the strangest of times.  The lessons of that event will demand to be shared with others going through their own little foretaste of hades.

So, the wounded pastor will mention that event from time to time.

It’s not even a choice he makes.

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What puts gray hairs in preachers’ heads

“Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

When Paul was naming his burdens and enumerating his scars, after speaking of imprisonments and beatings, shipwrecks and nakedness, he adds one that surprises some people: the daily care of the Lord’s churches.

It’s every bit as burdensome as the others, believe me.

Most of us do one church at a time; Paul had them all on his heart.

A pastor can have 500 wonderful members who appreciate his efforts and who pray for him daily, but be worn to a nub by a few people with axes to grind but with neither scruples nor accountability.

A pastor friend at the end of his rope told me, “I feel like I’m being stoned to death with popcorn.  I’m being eaten alive by a school of minnows.”

All those little nagging things that we laugh at have a way of accumulating, until eventually, they become more than you can bear.

This is from my journal some years back….

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Ten of the most disgusting expressions ever uttered in anybody’s church

“A mixed multitude went up with them (out of Egypt)….” (Exodus 12:38).

“Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving…” (Numbers 11:4).

Listening to the gripes of the Lord’s people is standard fare for ministers.

They ought to teach courses on it in seminary.

Someone please tell the newly ordained to get ready.

The primary nerve center for griping and complaining in the church house has always been the carnal and the worldly.  This includes two groups of people: the unsaved (represented by the infamous mixed multitude of unbelievers and hangers-on who went up from Egypt with Moses and Israel) and the unspiritual.  The latter group is saved but has taken a seat just inside the front gate and gone no deeper into the spiritual things.

Some chronic complainers are saved and some are lost.  The problem is they look and act alike, making it impossible to tell outwardly.  So, God’s faithful must be careful about making generalizations, that “Christians wouldn’t act this way.”

Not all Christians get these things right. Not every believer acts like a Christian.

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When to fire a pastor

This is the most painful subject I ever deal with (and I write about plenty of them).

The very nature of church conflict demands that the pastor be found in the midst of the firestorm.  Sometimes, he is an innocent bystander, sometimes he inherited the problem, sometimes he is the problem and at all times he tries to be a healer.

In every case, he gets bloodied in the fray.

The church consultant we brought in to help us deal with a 30 year split in the congregation did his interviews, took his polls, and then announced, “McKeever is not this church’s problem.  But he has become the focus of it in the minds of many. So, I’m going to recommend that he leave and the church start afresh with someone new.”

Sheesh. Thanks a lot, friend.

But, that’s how it happens sometimes. You were trying to help the church and were downed by friendly fire, as we call it.

At other times, the pastor is neither a healer nor an innocent bystander. Sometimes, he is the problem and the congregation decides to take action.

The only question is “what action”?

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Eight things I like about the church…and five I hate.

One: I like the idea of church. A regular gathering of the redeemed to worship, remember, nurture one another, hammer out questions, and hold one another accountable.  After all, “it is not good for man to be alone.” We were made needing one another, and do not function well in isolation.

Show me a Christian who can please God better alone than with other believers and I’ll show you a one-of-a-kind, something never before seen on planet Earth.  The Lord thought you and I would be needing each other, so placed us in a church fellowship when He saved us.

Two: I like the people in the church.  Two things can be said of the people who make up almost any congregation on earth:  They are a cross-section of humanity, of the very type found in a grocery store or in a schoolyard, and they contain a special group–the cream of the crop–of the best people on the planet.  Jesus said a sure sign that we are His is our love for one another, i.e., fellow Christians.

Show me a Christian who does not like church people and I’ll show you someone backslidden, out of fellowship with Christ.  This is a no-brainer, as sure as the sun rises in the east.

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Would someone please rock that boat?!

The deacon made no attempt to hide his disgust with his preacher.  As far as he was concerned, preachers were the hired servants of the church. And, as a head deacon, that put him in charge.

“Preacher, I have some new rules for you.”

“You have rules for me?”

“From now on,” said the old man, “you will keep a written account of every copy you make on the copier.  And you will keep a notation on every phone call you make.”

And that was not all.

“Furthermore, you are not to make any personal calls from the church office.  If you have a personal call to make, you will go to your house and make it.”

Pastor: “What if I need to call my wife when she is at home?”

“Then, you will get in your car and go there and talk to her. But you will not call her from the church phone.”

This conversation actually happened, just this way.

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