The question for all church big-shots

“…who loves to be first among them” (III John 9).

I’ve known them in quite a number of churches. They have no trouble identifying themselves as the force to be reckoned with around this church.

If you are the visiting preacher, their words to you before or after the service will be an announcement, not a comment.  You will know you have heard from the control room of the universe.  You have heard the voice of God.  This man is in charge around here.

No one has to tell you.  You just know.

This one calls the shots.  Rules the roost. Throws his weight around.  Is the power behind the scene.

He loves to have the pre-eminence.  (See Diotrephes in III John, above.)

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How to criticize the leader–your boss, the pastor, etc–successfully!

When King David was criticized by a fellow named Shimei–and I mean publically and cruelly, cursing him–one of David’s men asked for permission to execute him on the spot.  David’s response is worth noting. “My own son wants to kill me; how much more this Benjamite.  Let him alone and let him curse, for (perhaps) the Lord told him to do this.  Maybe, if I’m merciful to him, the Lord will be merciful to me.” (Paraphrase of 2 Samuel 16:9-12).

Every leader gets criticized.  If you don’t want it or cannot take it, please refuse when they offer you that promotion.

To be a leader–the manager, president, chairman, or pastor of the church–means you will have a target drawn on your back.  You must be able to take the heat.

Every leader needs the blessing of positive criticism from the ranks of the membership or team or congregation. The leader who rejects criticism is asking for all the trouble he/she is going to inherit.

But what if you are the employee or member of the congregation or team member and need to get a word of constructive criticism to the leader?

It happens.

There are wrong ways to get criticism to the pastor.  To the leader, boss, chair, president, whoever.

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How to handle troublemakers in church

We have dealt with this subject several times over the years on our website.  But it seems to meet a need to return to the matter from time to time.

There are two answers to this question:  The best and shortest is to put mature leaders and sound structures in place to head off troublemakers.  That is, stop trouble before it begins.  And the other answer is everything that follows here….

In South Carolina, a pastor entered the worship service one Sunday morning and his jaw dropped.  There sat a family that had belonged to every church in town, and had torn each one up.  The only church they’d not joined was this one.  And now they were here.

Sure enough, during the invitation they came forward and, because this was the way they did things in that church and no plans had ever been made for dealing with troublemakers, the pastor presented them to the congregation.  The people dutifully voted to accept them into the membership.  Then, the pastor called on an elderly deacon for the benediction.

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When to walk out on a sermon

On the morning of Sunday 19 May, 1940, Clementine Churchill returned early from a church service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in central London, having walked out when the preacher delivered a pacifist sermon.  Winston told her, ‘”You ought to have cried, ‘Shame!’, desecrating the House of God with lies!'”   (Darkest Hour, by Anthony McCarten, p. 154)

It was Easter 1968. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, all of us–white and black alike–were hurting and confused, disturbed and concerned.  That Sunday I preached a sermon that addressed racism in America. I was 28 years old and in the first year of pastoring Emmanuel Baptist Church of Greenville, Mississippi in the heart of the Delta.  I’ve long since forgotten the sermon, but will never forget a phone call I received that afternoon.

Mrs. Glenn Powell called. She owned a beauty shop in town which I had quickly learned was gossip central.  Mrs. Powell had made no secret of her unhappiness with my sermons or with me personally.

“Brother McKeever, what will you be preaching tonight?”  I told her.

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Perhaps the hardest thing a pastor will ever do

Speak to the current moral dilemma facing the country (or dividing your community) without making matters worse.

That has to be one of the most difficult minefields a pastor ever has to tread.

One misstep and he’s a goner.

Twenty years ago, it was President Clinton’s infidelity that was dividing the country.  In the same decade it was the O. J. Simpson trial.  These days, the issue is sexual harassment (or any of its various manifestations: sexual molestation, intimidation, assault, etc.) by men in positions of power.

A man–always a man–runs for prominent public office and someone stands up and says, “He attacked me.”  Or, molested me.  Touched me inappropriately.  Took advantage of me.  Raped me.

The media flocks to the accuser and stories are written. Sleuths check out her story and some corroborate it while others trot out family members who say she is a chronic liar or family members of the accused to say they’ve never known him to do anything like that.

Then, next step.  Other women step up and say, “He treated me the same way.”

Quickly, the matter becomes page one across the country.  Leading the nightly news.  Fueling talk shows. Dividing everyone on Facebook.  Splitting families.

Defenders are enraged.  Supporters of the accusers are offended by the way their friends have accommodated themselves to the culture and forgotten Jesus’ call to defend the helpless and bless the children.

So, the poor pastor decides this matter must be addressed in next Sunday’s sermon.  What is he to do?

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When the church bully happens to be the pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God;  not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;  nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike.  But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent, and ousts anyone not obeying him.  He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers.  His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon.  It isn’t.

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What to do when your pastor stirs the pot

“….according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal….”  (2 Timothy 2:9)

Pot-stirring: To take a stand on a controversial issue.  Known colloquially as “opening a can of worms.”  Rocking the boat. Rubbing the old cat’s fur the wrong way.  Upsetting apple carts.

Expect it.

It’s a poor pastor who doesn’t stir the pot from time to time.

They didn’t crucify Jesus for sweet-talking the 23rd Psalm, for explaining the symbolic meaning of items in the Tabernacle, or for spending six months on the Greek verbs.  He took a stand on what matters most, and when people didn’t like it, He held His ground and paid the ultimate price.

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You’re the pastor of a church. Speak out or not on these cultural hot potatoes?

Man, who made me your judge?  Take heed and beware of covetousness.  A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.”  –Our Lord, when asked to settle an issue dividing a family  (Luke 12)

The issue dividing our families today is the “take the knee during the National Anthem.”   The NFL is ground zero for this firestorm.  No one seems neutral, and some on each end of the spectrum are going ballistic.

Listen to the pros and cons.  Does kneeling during the National Anthem dishonor the flag and insult everyone who fought for this country? Don’t those millionaire football players know they’re driving away the people who are paying their exorbitant salaries?

Stuff like that.  It’s burdensome,wearisome, and then some.

Symbols are everything to some people.

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People who need to tremble

“The devils believe and tremble.”  –James 2:19

The devils shudder, my NASB says.

I know some people who need to be shuddering and shaking in their boots.  They are going to stand before the Lord and give account–as we all are–for the deeds and words they have used as weapons. They’re going to be called to account for the disrupted churches and destroyed lives in their wake.  Harvey and Irma have nothing on these people.

The prospect of that ought to leave them trembling and shivering in their boots.

I think I know why they don’t.

“By God’s Word at last my sin I learned; Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned, Till my guilty soul imploring turned, to Calvary.” (Hymn by William Newell, 1895)

Asked for the greatest thought he’d ever had, Andrew Murray is said to have answered, “My accountability to God.”

That’s what is missing in the minds and hearts and lives of some of the fiercest of troublemakers who wreak havoc in the Lord’s churches.

They do not believe in God.

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Those frustrating times with church members

Any pastor can tell you about that.  Even when you do your best to serve God by ministering to His people, some church members are not going to forgive you.  You didn’t do it their way, weren’t there when they called, didn’t jump at their bark.

Those are the exceptions, I hasten to say to friends who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty.  It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else.  It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing army to enforce laws.  Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that two percent will kill you.

I say to my own embarrassment and confess it as unworthy of a child of God that I remember these difficult moments with God’s people more than the precious times.  Perhaps it’s because the strained connections and hard words feed into my own insecurities.  Or maybe it’s because there are so many more of the blessed times.  It’s human nature, I know. Help us, Lord.

Even so, here are two instances from my journal that stand out….

First, the church member who is mad at you needlessly

On returning from an out-of-town engagement, a staff member told me I needed to call Selma, that she was angry about something.  Selma was married to a deacon, a  good guy, and they were not high maintenance but generally supportive.  I could not imagine her being angry with anyone. I called her immediately.

“My sister is in the hospital and none of you have come by to visit.”  That was her complaint.

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