One more reason to pray for your pastor: Those frustrating times with members

Any pastor can tell you that even when you do your best to minister to His people, some church members are not going to let you.  If you didn’t do things their way, were not there when they called, did not jump at their bark, you are a failure and they will never forgive you.

Such people are the exceptions, I hasten to say to those who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty.  Our answer–

–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 police force to enforce laws.

–Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal.  But that two percent is deadly.

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A great illustration of the importance of a good church

Robert Caro had a problem.

He was researching and writing an in-depth biography of Robert Moses, the highly acclaimed “master builder” of New York City, who lived 1888 to 1981.  Originally, Caro thought the book might take a year.

He was wrong. Bad wrong.

After a couple of years working on the book, his income ran out and he had to find a way to support his family.   They sold the house.

After a couple of years, that money ran out.

He kept working.

In time, he was embarrassed when friends would say, “What are you working on?” and he would tell them he was still on the same book.  “How long have you been working on that book?”  He would mutter, “Five years.”

Five years.  Caro felt like a failure.

The original publisher, the one that had advanced him $2,500 with the warning that no one would want to read a book on Robert Moses, finally cut him loose.  He signed on with another agent, a good one, and in time ended up with a 1300 page book that won the Pulitzer.

A 1300 page book.  It won the Pulitzer.  Don’t miss that.

But long before that, while Caro was in the throes of writing and researching and feeling alone…

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100 things I tell young pastors (the final 20)

81. Just as no one knows you better than your spouse, your co-workers on the church staff will see you as no one else does. Make sure they respect you as a person of integrity and compassion who keeps his word, has a sincere heart for God, and treasures each of them.

82. Watch for certain scriptures–a verse here, a verse there–that impress themselves upon you in a special way. This is a work of the Holy  Spirit, a personal gift even. He is inviting you to study this area more, to seek His insights and receive His teaching.

83. Humility. Do not hesitate to apologize. If you made a mistake and everyone knows it, to stonewall and refuse to admit it will end up enraging a few and disappointing everyone else. By humbling yourself and asking for forgiveness, you endear yourself to everyone who matters.  (I’ve known of pastors who gained so much love by publicly apologizing, they started looking for some other dumb mistake to make just so they could apologize.)

84. When you require the approval of a committee, if the chairperson tells you, “Oh, just go ahead and do that, pastor,” don’t do it.  Instead, you should respond, “Thank you, my friend. But I’d really like the entire committee’s input on this.” Never allow the chair to act as if he/she is the committee. (Just so subtly are church tyrants created.)

85. Always err on the side of conservativism in finances and of grace in relationships.

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100 things I tell young pastors (61-80)

61. Resiliency. There is no shame in being fired by a church or run off by a group within the church. Some of God’s greatest champions have that on their record. The shame comes when you let that discourage you from future ministry.  Read Second Corinthians 4:8-10 again and again until you “own” it. If this happens to you, own it, give it to the Lord, then get up and get back in the game. Your team needs you.

62. If you are terminated–or “encouraged to leave” a church in a way that leaves you angry and bitter–read Luke 6:27-35 repeatedly until you make it your own.  The way to rid yourself of the anger and bear a faithful witness to your detractors is to practice what the Lord commanded: do the four actions the Lord commands in this passage.  Do good to them, bless them, pray for them, and give to them.

63. Encourage pastors who have been terminated or for any reasons, find themselves “between churches.”   A pastor friend ousted from his church had trouble re-entering the ministry.  One day he asked, “Why don’t other pastors help me?” I said, “Tom, how many unemployed preachers did you help when you were pastoring?” He said, “I didn’t know it was the problem it is.” I said, “They don’t either.”

64. Problems. Teach your lay leadership (preferably in small group settings) how to deal with problems that arise in church, how to confront a troublemaking member, and what to do about a pastor or staff minister who has gone rogue. When nothing of that sort is happening in your church is the perfect time to teach this.

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100 things I tell young pastors (41-60)

41. Preparation. Remember that preaching is not a written art, but an oral thing. So, once you have finished your plan for the message, go for a walk and preach it aloud.  This will alert you to detours to avoid, rabbit trails to shun, potholes to steer around, and will make you aware of areas where you need to do more work..

42. Never deliver a sermon you have not preached to yourself at least three times. Likewise, when you plan to read a Scripture in the worship service, prepare by reading it aloud numerous times to prepare your tongue for forming these particular sounds, to find phrases you need to emphasize, and so you can do the reading justice.

43. When you are invited to guest preach in other churches, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. This is no time to hammer out a new sermon, but an opportunity to use something you have previously preached. You’re being given a rare opportunity to return to something you have preached and improve on it.  In time, this may become a favorite message you preach in many places.

44. While your sermon-machine is always on (and you will always have a notepad nearby when reading anything), make it a point to read Scripture devotionally–asking the Father to feed your soul–every day.  Read for no other purpose than to listen to God.

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100 things I tell young pastors (21-40)

21. Off days.  Early on, establish with your spouse at least one full day (including evening) each week for yourselves.  Have an understanding about this when talking with search committees. Protect it. (Then, help your wife to know that a) you will work hard to protect this day, but b) there will be exceptions once in a while.)

22. Search Committees. When dealing with search committees, do not become so enamored with that church that you fail to do your homework–such as looking carefully at the church’s history, its relationships with previous pastors, what income/benefits they offer, the details about the living arrangements, etc.

23. Mentors. Find at least two older ministers and ask them to be your mentors. That word means different things to different people; to me it means “a resource, a friend, someone I can call and run things by.”

Call them occasionally to tell what’s going on and seek their counsel. Pray for their ministry.  You will be needing them.  I promise.

24. Reading. In addition to theological books and ministry periodicals, read outside your field.  Run by the public library and browse the periodicals. Scan through magazines you’ve never heard of. Be alert for ideas, interesting concepts, anything you’ve never heard of. Read a lot of history.

25. Always have reading material in your car so if you are stuck in traffic or in a waiting room, you’re prepared.

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What the pastor is to do when ousted from a church

The headline from an online preacher magazines says a pastor fired because of his alcoholism is bitter at his mistreatment by that congregation’s leaders.  Not good.

I’ll not be reading that article, thank you.  But a lot of people will.  Looks to me like he deserved what he got.  But then, I’m neither his judge nor their advisor.  But when a fired preacher walks away bitter, that does concern me.

No one deserves to pastor the Lord’s church.  No degrees on the wall, no glowing resume, no recommendations from the denomination entitle you to a church to pastor.

It’s a privilege.  A call from Heaven.

The bitterness feels like this guy no longer trusts the Lord.  I suggest he read Acts 16 again, and remind himself how God can use setbacks and what appears to be defeats for His purposes.  But to do that, he will be needing trusting servants who are willing to take their lumps without complaining, to quieten their spirits, and to sing at midnight (Acts 16:25).

That God would allow any of us to preach to His people year after year, declaring Heaven’s message to the redeemed, without giving us what we truly deserve–the fires of hell come to mind, frankly–shows Him to be a God of grace.  Why don’t we see that?

Whenever I hear a Christian talking about not getting what he deserved, I run in the opposite direction, lest the Father suddenly decide to give the fellow what he’s asking for!

So, you were fired.  Okay.  Can we talk?

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Before you terminate the pastor

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.

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Tough choices: No way to evade them

Carl Sandburg said, “There is an eagle inside me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus inside me that wants to wallow in the mud.”

We all get to choose–we have to choose!–every day of our lives whether to soar or wallow.

Chuck Colson once asked a prisoner on death row if he wanted a television in his cell. “No,” he said. “TV wastes too much time.”

Time  was a commodity of which he had little.

We get to choose–we have to choose!–what to do with our time each day.

Thomas Merton said, “There were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem. The ox and the ass understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same today.”

We choose what to do with Jesus.

Someone called our church office inquiring if non-members were allowed to use the sanctuary for weddings. The secretary informed her that the answer was “no.” A few minutes later, the woman called back. This time she wanted to know if the pastor could marry her and her fiance over the phone.

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The retired pastor moves away and begins searching for a church

Question from a retired pastor–

I recently retired from full-time ministry, and my wife and I find ourselves in the position of having to find a new church for the first time in 43 years.  It’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be.  Part of the problem may be our location.  After spending the last 27 years of our ministry in a metro area of California, we retired to a small town in a nearby state.  We’re close enough that we can easily visit our children and grandchildren, who still live in California.  Problem: In our little town, there’s only one church of our denomination.  We attended twice, and then because of Covid watched at least two dozen services online.  Expository preaching is at the top of my list of what I’m looking for in a church, so we would not be happy going to this particular church.  Then, we considered the other churches in town:  one Methodist church, two Presbyterian churches, two Lutheran churches, two non-denominational churches, and one Catholic church.  We’ve looked into each of them and so far, we don’t seem to have found where we belong.  Some neighbors of our denomination drive nearly 50 miles to a larger city for church.  With a population of 100,000 there are a couple of fine churches of our denomination.  We may end up doing that too, but we’d prefer to belong to a church in our little town if possible.

What do we do? 

I don’t like being in a position of having to be “critical” of churches, yet now that we’re looking for the church that will be our home, it’s hard not to look at them with a somewhat critical eye.  So perhaps another way of framing my question would be, what should one look for in a church?  What things are important?  What things are not important?

An unsolicited note came this week.  The retired pastor and I do not know each other and have never met.  He asked if I had written anything on this subject.  I said I have not but invited him to give a fuller description of his situation.  The above is his response.  Below is mine.

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