The phone call that night was unnerving.
“Brother Joe,” the young pastor on the other end said, “the deacons voted to ask for my resignation.” They had met that evening.
“They’ve given me 30 days to get out of the pastor’s residence.” They had also voted two months’ salary. And, if he plays along nicely, nothing will ever be said about his having been terminated.
I said, “Did they give a reason?”
“The chairman asked the others, ‘Do you have confidence in the pastor’s leadership?’ All six said they didn’t. So that sealed it.”
Granted, all I have is one side of this discussion. And I know from long experience with this young pastor he is not perfect. In fact, he told me of difficulties in administration he had experienced that may have brought this on.
But I know also that this pastor is a godly man of great integrity, that he works hard at his preaching, and that he has a servant heart. One could do a lot worse than have such a shepherd, particularly a small town church such as the one in question.
With a half century of observing similar dealings from church leaders, I would like to say a few things to these deacons and other church leaders who are contemplating asking their pastor for his resignation.
Michelle Singletary writes a financial advice column for the Washington Post.
Some years ago, a fellow wrote Ms. Singletary for advice. He was planning to marry his fiancee of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control. Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing. She justified her spendthrift ways by saying she works two jobs and looks for bargains.
The man asked Michelle Singletary, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”
Ms. Singletary urged him to postpone this marriage. They were not close to being ready until this was solved. She suggested pulling credit reports, seeing what that revealed and then finding a credit counselor.
That was ten or more years ago.
The other day, Michelle Singletary received an email from that guy telling her what happened. The news is not good.
First a disclaimer: I’m a retired pastor, I have no deacons (and no church members), I love deacons, and I’m loving the continuing ministry God gives me as a retiree. However, there was a time when life was tough, demands seemed never-ending, encouragement was rare, and each day brought a crisis of one kind or the other.
That’s what this is about.
I was having trouble with a few deacons. From the day I became their pastor, these men and their families had dedicated themselves to not liking me and being non-supportive in anything I suggested. In the church fellowship, they were toxic.
Eight years later, we did something.
“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
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.
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.
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.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
As a college student in Birmingham, I worked weekends for the Pullman Company, the people who operated the sleeper cars on passenger trains. It used to fascinate me how people who wished to travel by Pullman had to pay through the nose.
I found it out the summer I worked in the ticket office for Seaboard RR taking phone reservations.
First, to qualify for the privilege of reserving space in the Pullman car, the passenger’s standard ticket had to be upgraded to first class. Which means they were paying extra for the privilege of renting space in the sleeper car. Then, they paid for the suite or roomette.
I wondered if the riders did not know the company was sticking it to them.
I am not a professional counselor, not an official adviser of churches or denominations or pastors as such, and not acclaimed as an expert on problem-solving or conflict management. What I am is a veteran preacher–now retired– and a writer who sometimes gets asked, “What is your take on this? What do you recommend we do about that?”
Out of that experience, and spurred on by two recent situations–one by phone last night and the other from an email this morning–here are three “case studies” or problem scenarios that occur with alarming frequency in our churches. And my suggestions on what the leadership should do in handling them.
As always, I do not claim to have the last word on any of this. But if it turns out this is the first word, something that gets readers to thinking deeply and acting courageously, it will have been worth the effort.
“He honors (God) who has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what He has given” (Proverbs 19:17). “The poor you always have with you, but Me you do not have always” (Matthew 26:11).
Scripture has a lot to say about God’s people caring for the needy. But it can be twisted and made to say something other than was intended.
A friend sent me a letter from a disgruntled church member who was complaining that after he lost his job the church did not pay his bills and support him. The friend says the church gave him a great deal of help and “I personally gave him money.” But it wasn’t enough for the guy, who is now slamming the Lord’s church and wondering “Where is Jesus after 2,000 years?”
I suggested my friend ask the guy how many needy people he assisted when he had a job.
I think we know the answer.
“…your servant, for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
God wants you to be a leader, Christian. But not your garden variety kind of leader, where you have lots of followers who obey your commands, groupies surrounding you to anticipate your whims.
God calls you and me to be servant-leaders. A servant leader is the kind the world knows little of, the type that is counter-intuitive, we might say. That is, it doesn’t look or feel like a leader but it is.
Once again, the way of the Lord is upside down compared to the world’s way. (You’ve noticed that, have you?)
“Our company asks prospective employees to fill out a written application,” a man wrote in the Readers Digest. “One question said: In one word, describe your greatest strength. This woman applicant wrote: I’m always faithful to read the directions first.”
Recently, Bertha and I voted at the church a few blocks from our house. As you sign in, the poll workers give you a paper ballot. Since only two races were left for the runoff, the page was mostly empty. At the top were these instructions: “Using black ink, fill in the oval circle beside the name of the candidate for whom you are voting.” You were given a closed space to mark your ballot, which you then handed to a clerk who fed the paper into the voting tabulator. Mine went through fine. Bertha’s was spit back out. The clerk looked at it, smiled at her, and said, “Ma’am, you put a checkmark by the candidate’s name. You’re supposed to fill in the oval.” She laughed, was slightly embarrassed, they gave her another ballot, and she got it right this time.
On the way to the car, I said to my schoolteacher/wife: “Honey, do you tell the students to read the directions before they take their test?” She gave me that look.
On the drive home I said to her, “I’ve not changed the clock in this car since we went on Daylight Savings Time. The truth is I’ve forgotten how to do it. I’ve had the car a whole year now, so I know I’ve done it before. But I don’t recall how.”