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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The noise of wolves in the night…and a few unhappy church members

I send you forth as sheep among the wolves… (Matthew 10:16)

After my departure, savage wolves will come…. (Acts 20:29) 

You’re getting scared.  Your enemies are making fierce noises.  There are so many of them. You  are shaking in your boots, your time may be up, the end may be near, and as pastor, you have nowhere to go.  Whatever will you do? This is so awful.

Or, maybe not.

In the mid-1840s, Ulysses S. Grant was a Second Lieutenant in the war between the U.S. and Mexico, with the prize being Texas.  Grant’s Memoirs make fascinating reading.  We’re told that Grant was the first former president to write his memoirs, and these are generally conceded to be the best of the lot.  (Note: Before reading Memoirs, I read Grant’s Final Victory, an account of the last year of his life when he penned his story to earn enough money to provide for his wife after his impending death.  Great story.  He was a far better man than he is often given credit for. )

At one point, Grant and some troopers were in west Texas, which was sparsely settled except by the Indians and varmints. One night, they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.”  The tall grass hid the wolves but they were definitely close by.  To my ear, it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all at a single meal.

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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.

But the result, while tragic, is needless: Some of these “wounded warriors” have given up on the Lord and His church.

No one should ever quit Jesus when God’s people mistreat him.

The Lord told us to expect this. The servant is not above his master. The pupil is not above his teacher.  If they called the Master a devil, how much more should His disciples expect it. (see Matthew 10)

The Lord was crucified by the religious people, some of whom were convinced they were doing God’s work.

What would knock you out of the game?

So what would it take, we ask the Christian workers in the audience, for you to walk away from the Lord’s work and cause you to turn your back on Him?

How badly would they have to treat you to make you give up on Jesus?

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When the preacher needs correcting

Anyone who reads my stuff on this website knows I am a preacher and am pro-preacher. I’ve seen so much mistreatment of God’s servants over nearly six decades in the ministry that it weighs heavily on my heart. I want to do anything I can to encourage these beloved friends and everything I can to help churches and church leaders know how to relate to them.

However.

Periodically, someone will reply, “Yes, but what if the preacher is in the wrong? What if he is—” a bully? a dictator? a flirt? a heretic? a liberal? a nut? an abuser? a molester? a criminal? a thief? a liar?

I am under no illusions about human nature. We are all sinners and daily in need of God’s mercy, Christ’s forgiveness, and compassionate understanding from one another. I know also that some men in the pulpit have no business there and need to be terminated.

There are times when godly lay leaders in a church absolutely must rise up and deal with an out-of-control preacher.

Those times and occasions are rare, thankfully.

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People who sound like hell

“Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

“In thy presence there is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

If the atmosphere of heaven is joy and praise, then the noxious fumes of hell must be saturated with  equal parts anger, complaining, bitterness and blaming.

Scriptures keep telling us that the atmosphere around the throne of Heaven is praise and joy and gratitude. In other words, worship.

–There is Psalm 16:11 (above) which is as good as we could ask for.

–In John’s vision of Heaven which we call Revelation,  he tells us that near the throne stood “four living creatures, each having six wings…. Day and night they do not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God, The Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come’” (Revelation 4:8).  Around the throne, the praise is continuous.

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Sometimes the salt of the earth needs sweetening

While researching a subject on-line the other day, I found myself reading some preachery attacks on other ministers. These men of God, assuming that’s what they are and I’m not saying they’re not, were taking no prisoners.

“That pastor is a liar!” “Preachers lie to you when they say….” “Ten lies preachers tell you.” “That preacher is an agent of hell!”

That sort of thing.

When those sent by the Father to be shepherds of His sheep use such blistering rhetoric, we fail our assignments in many ways: we dishonor the Lord, we shame the church, we needlessly slander our brethren, we set poor examples for the people in the pew, and we hold the gospel up to ridicule by the world.

How about a little sweetening, I wonder. And then I remembered something.

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