Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Go, you seer, flee away to the land of Judah. And there eat bread and there do your prophesying! But no longer prophesy at Bethel, for it is a sanctuary of the king and a royal residence.” (Amos 7:12-13).
My journal from a number of years back has this:
Got a letter today from a sweet, humble (really), godly lady who criticized the preaching of our Thanksgiving guest preacher. She said, ‘Notice what he did last Tuesday night. He told of the 9 thankless lepers and suggested reasons why they did not give thanks. Many people left our church when he was here because of this kind of preaching.”
Our speaker had been the interim pastor before I arrived. For some 18 months he had ministered to our troubled congregation as they tried to recover from a devastating split. He had been the essence of faithfulness.
She continued, “Our people want line upon line, precept upon precept.”
“Diotrephes who loves the preeminence…” (3 John 9)
In one church I served, the assistant pastor had been there for over 25 years and was long past retirement age. After I learned he was working against my leadership, when our people started talking about his retiring, I jumped on that bandwagon. We set a date, with his complete involvement, and the congregation gave a generous love offering. Then, just before the big day, the personnel committee informed me that they were asking him to remain in place. He would not be retiring.
Yes, they “informed” me. They didn’t ask.
He gladly stayed on, seeing himself as the savior of the church against this young whippersnapper of a pastor. (I was 46, not exactly a kid.)
And no, he did not return the love gift.
Why would he want to hold onto the job? It seemed to give him a sense of prestige being a prominent leader in the city’s most storied church. That and a dollar would have bought him a cup of coffee.
If you conclude I had more problems in that church than just the assistant pastor, you would be correct. I ended up leaving after only three years on less than ideal terms.
What’s funny about that–sad funny, not ha-ha funny–is that two years later, I heard the new pastor was trying to get him to retire and having a time of it. I had to smile.
I’m confident most church members never analyze why they feel the way they do about their pastors, either positively or negatively. But I always wanted to know what was going on with them.
For forty-two years I pastored six churches, as well as serving on the staff of another church for three years. During those times, four areas used to concern me, to bug me actually, about our people. Whenever I would mention them to my ministry colleagues, most shrugged and said, “Not me. I don’t want to know that.”
One. Why are you leaving?
No matter how large or successful your ministry, people will leave from time to time and join a church down the highway. I wondered why.
Pastor Ross Rhoads led one of the largest churches in Charlotte, NC at the time, easily twice the size of First Baptist Church where I was serving. But we had a lot in common–age, experience, demanding schedules (preaching four services each Sunday!), and such–and enjoyed a friendship. That particular day, for some reason we began talking about people who leave our church to join another in the area.
I said, “I know we can’t pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘Why did you join that other church? Did we let you down in some way?’ But I’d like to know. We could learn a lot by knowing why people leave.”
A recent article for this website dealt with what to pay the preacher for weddings, funerals, and such. Among the responses came one from a friend who belongs to a church I served years ago and whom I know as a generous and faithful sister in the Lord.
“Silly me,” she said. “I thought preachers did the funerals out of love.”
I replied, “We do indeed do these things out of love. But if someone gives the preacher a little money, does that negate the love?”
No preacher I’ve ever heard of charges for weddings and funerals and such. Every preacher I’ve ever known has bills to pay and appreciates a little help with that.
And yes, there are a few of the big guys pulling down huge salaries from their churches–two or three of them, obscene amounts from what I hear–but I don’t know any of them personally. (If I belonged to one of their churches, I’d not have to worry about what to pay the preacher for a wedding or funeral, however, because they don’t do them. Their underlings take those tasks. And I’m betting these guys are paid normal salaries and thus can use the financial encouragement of a hundred bucks after a funeral. Just saying.)
Now, back to the subject….
“Welcome the stranger within your gates. For you were foreigners in Egypt.” — The thrust of Leviticus 19 (see verses 10, 18, and 33-34)
This is one of the greatest frustrations and painful aspects of pastoring. You try to do well–to prepare sermons blessed of God, to lead your team to present effective ministries, to build powerful worship services, to develop disciples, and reach those in darkness–and then your best people fail to do the smallest thing. In so doing, they end up negating a thousand good things they do.
They fail to think of the outsider. They look right past the newcomer. They give no thought to the first-timer.
My blog from Monday, March 22, 1999—
“I made a number of visits tonight. Left notes at three homes (no one there) and visited with Carol and Bob Coleman. They’ve been visiting our church several weeks. She said, “We love it. Great music, etc etc–but only three people have greeted us!”
“Three! Our people think they are friendly but in truth they are friendly to each other. Bob told me he had volunteered to help Clyde with cooking the wild game supper at church. Was brusquely turned aside with ‘We already have enough help.’ Then Bob came on to the dinner and brought a friend. One hour later, they were back. Said not a soul spoke to them. So disappointing.”
That church, you will want to know, had a reputation from the previous decade as strong on evangelism and soul-winning. In fact, when I had asked the congregation to do something heroic and go the extra mile–more than once, our people opened their home to mothers from Third World countries bringing critically ill infants to our Children’s Hospital in New Orleans–they always responded well. So, they were not uncaring.
They were not uncaring.
They were unthinking.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” –a line from “Me and Bobby McGee,” an iconic song of the 1960s written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster
There comes a time in a pastor’s ministry….
The Lord’s servant has taken all he’s going to take. He has reached the point where getting fired from this church would be a relief. And yet, he knows the Lord who called him into the ministry assigned him to this particular congregation, and he has no intention of walking away. However, the time has come to speak out and tell God’s people what is going on.
A small but determined group of members is waging warfare against the preacher. They want him subservient to them, they want him different from who he is, they want him “out.” Snipers work in the darkness to undercut him. A little group conspires to oust him. Others simply detest him and are constantly voicing their displeasure with him.
Their work is crippling the ministry of the church and destroying the effectiveness of this minister.
And these are all leaders.
The trusting congregation loves the pastor and believes all is well. They don’t have a clue.
God help your church!
(NOTE: Whenever I post an article on the mistreatment of God’s servant, invariably someone will message me about some hot-shot preacher who mistreated a church, stole its money, and ran off with a deacon’s wife. Please spare us. We are well aware there are hypocrites in the pulpit as everywhere else in life. But no one has a license to dishonor God by shaming the ministers He sends to lead His church.)
“The Holy Spirit makes the pastors the overseers of the church.” That’s in Acts 20:28. So, let’s establish this up front.
This is the burden of my heart.
Get out of the office, pastor, and knock on some doors. Later, you can get your people to doing it. But first, you do it.
Do it by yourself, if you must. Or take someone with you. Do it by appointment or cold-turkey. But do it.
That is as profound a way as I know to build a great church.
Visit your church members, visit your leaders, visit them in their places of business. Visit your neighbors, the homes around your church. Visit people who visit your church.
Write letters to them. The personal kind. Handwritten, maybe two sentences. Just to say you’re thinking about them, praying for them, thankful for them.
Get out of the office and get with the people.
Pastor Bobby Welch, longtime shepherd of the great First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Florida, was teaching a soulwinning program to several hundred in the chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Even in the difficult years, it wasn’t all bad.
My journal records a conversation with a deacon almost 25 years ago.
At one point he said, “Pastor, you know that I voted against your coming to our church. But God has shown me that I was wrong. You have meant so much to me and my family.”
We were talking about the church’s response to my first two years there. In a word, let’s just say it was lacking. Lukewarm. Tepid.
It was a Sunday night and we had just completed a weekend revival with a preacher friend of mine who was as fine and godly as anyone I ever knew. His messages were anointed and straight from the throne. I had so wanted our people to hear God’s message through him. But so few had turned out.
The problem was his style. He was low key. He would often stand with his hands in his pockets and talk in a conversational tone.
The congregation could not abide that. They had been conditioned to believe that powerful preaching is loud and bombastic, accompanied by guilt-inducing tirades and finger-pointing assaults. (They would have been so surprised to learn that Jesus sometimes preached sitting down in a boat!)
As we discussed the church’s lack of response during my first two years, I said, “Sometimes I wish God would send someone here whom they would respond to.”
If that sounds like discouragement, it was.
“Encouraging one another and all the more, as you see the day approaching.” .-Hebrews 10:25
“They have refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore, acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:18).
My journal records a painful episode in the most difficult of my six pastorates.
Because of internal dissension that was directed at me and undermined everything we were trying to do in that church, I had asked the deacon leadership to step up and get involved in dealing with the dissenters. They met, talked it out, then tossed the ball back into my lap.
“We want you to visit in the homes of every deacon (all 24 of them!). Find out what’s going on in their lives. Ask them for their personal goals, their hopes and dreams.” Then, at some point I was to ask, “Have I ever failed you in any way?” The idea was to give the disgruntled the opportunity to tell me to my face what they had against me. Thereafter, the leadership felt, when anyone start stirring up trouble, it could be dealt with more easily.
So, even though it felt like I was being punished for the sins of the troublemakers, I made the visits, usually three a night.
Bob is the pastor of a small church in another state. The other day he told me what happened.
First, as a layman he was put on the search committee to find the new preacher. Then, they elected him chairman of the team. And then, he began to gather information to present to prospective pastors.
“What is our salary package?” he asked the church treasurer.
The old gentleman had controlled the purse strings for that little congregation for several years. So, we should not have been surprised when he told Bob, “We don’t want a preacher who thinks about those things. He should settle with the Lord if He’s calling him here, and come no matter what it pays.”
Bob said, “I don’t think so. The laborer is worthy of his hire, Scripture says.”
Because Bob wanted to do this right, he insisted that the church pay an adequate salary with benefits. And did what was necessary to put it together into an acceptable form.
And then, something interesting happened.