What happened this week.
Yesterday, Thursday, I drove 200 miles to New Orleans and to Covington, LA to do the funeral service of a dear lady who was a former member of the Kenner, LA church I pastored 1990-2004. She and her family remained our friends through the years, particularly as she battled cancer and left an amazing witness for Christ through it all.
The large church was packed yesterday–observing the distance protocols and masks, but still hundreds present–as friends far and near came to honor this beloved lady. Shannon Marvin Maisano was only 48.
What I wanted to tell you is this: In the service three other people spoke, all from that church: her best friend Dana, the Sunday School teacher for Shannon and her husband Billy, and the former associate pastor. What makes that special to me is this…
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
My friend Pastor Dave led a congregation in my neighborhood for two thirds of his life. This was a sweet fellowship and even though our denominational affiliation is different, Dave graciously invited me to fill the pulpit in his absence on several occasions.
One day over lunch, I asked Dave how he had managed to stay in one church over four decades. Were there not times when church members rose up and demanded new leadership? Did he not get the urge to try something new?
Bear in mind that I work with pastors. I hear the tales of midnight deacons’ meetings, of forced terminations, of pressure groups, of bullies and rogue church officers and, in the words of one, “the devil in pew number seven.” Dave had none of this?
When I asked some minister friends their advice and lessons learned concerning church staff relationships, here are some of the most interesting responses.
1. Jim says, “Be very careful whom you trust completely.”
Over several decades of ministry, Jim says he has been brutally betrayed at least three times. It has made him wary about trusting anyone with anything confidential.
I’m recalling a time two churches ago when the personnel committee and I were dealing with a sensitive issue, long since forgotten. I said, “Can I say something in here and it not go any further?” The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in here you do not want to get out.”
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.
“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many” (I Samuel 14:6).
Depending on a number of factors, growing a small church may well be one of the more do-able things pastors can achieve.
Those variable factors include…
–the health of the church (you don’t want a sick church to grow; it needs to get well first!). I once told my congregation, “There’s a good reason no one is joining this church. I wouldn’t join it either!” Believe it or not, those words were inspired and the people received them well, and repented.
–the attitude of the congregation (if the people are satisfied with the status quo, newcomers will not be welcomed). I’ve known Sunday School classes composed of a small cluster of best friends who felt imposed on by visitors and new members. No one wants to go where they’re not wanted.
–and the location of the facility A church situated five miles down an isolated road, at the end of the dead end trail, can almost certainly forget about growing. Yes, it’s been done, but rarely.
“Be thou humble, preacher.” (Stated and repeated and reinforced one way or the other in a hundred scriptures such as Isaiah 57:15, Micah 6:8, and I Peter 5:7.)
It’s a personality type, I suppose. If Mr. Hotshot were not a preacher, but were a bus driver or school principal, a politician or insurance agent, he would still be full of himself and cocky. But as unpleasant as that trait is in any profession, it’s ugliest and deadliest in one who claims to be a man of God.
You’re in churc listening to him preach. He’s not five minutes into the message before you realize Mr. Hotshot is on full display before you in the flesh. His words and mannerisms give him away. Listen to him:
— “I told my…I want my…My convictions are…I believe…I insist that my staff….”
All church employees are “my staff,” the new program is “something God told me to do,” and this sermon is “My strong conviction.”
It’s all about him.