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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Non-leaders: How to spot one a mile off

“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13). 

Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders as opposed to giving them.

That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his earthly work was finished and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.

For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.

What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?

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Eight questions a pastor should ask before taking a public stand

The pastor stands in the pulpit, clears his throat, and waits for the undivided attention of the congregation. His silence signals the membership that something big is up, that what the preacher is about to say will be long remembered.

He begins, “As most of you know, the local school board has decided that Gideons International will no longer be allowed to distribute New Testaments to the children in this district. This greatly concerns me. I will admit that I am angrier than I have been in a long time.”

Seated in his congregation are three of the six members of the local school board. As the preacher continues, they can feel all eyes turned in their direction. They become fidgety and wish the pastor would “just preach the Bible.”

In another community, the pastor announces his opposition to the United Way budget which devotes a portion of its income to Planned Parenthood. A few miles up the interstate, the pastor is wrestling with whether to speak out on corruption inside the police force.

Across town, a pastor wants to address the racial divide that is paralyzing this country.  He has deep convictions and something to say.  He’s been waiting for the Spirit’s leadership on when to preach on it and what to say.  The time, he feels, is now.

Sound familiar?

These are major decisions leaders of the Lord’s churches must make. The stakes are high, the issues are important, and the ramifications may be severe. Going public on controversial matters can make or break a pastor’s ministry in a church.

Let’s remind ourselves that nowhere in scripture are we commanded to address every evil, take a stand against every wrong, or be the moral authority on every sin.

The pastor who attempts this will have time or energy for nothing else. He has to be selective and discerning, wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.

Here are questions pastors should ask before taking a public stand on issues dividing the community.

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The five people you can count on most

If you would take a leadership role in the Kingdom of God, you will be needing fellow workers. You will not be able to do this alone nor will you be asked to do so.

The question will arise as to whom you can trust. You will have to decide the quality of the men and women with whom you are surrounded, particularly in determining your inner circle of leadership and responsibility.

Paul answers this for us by citing the examples of Onesiphorus, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Stephanas, and, if you will, Aquila/Priscilla.  See what he said…

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If you would bear His reproach, first be willing to lose your cool

“Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).

Ministers considered “cool” by the world should be wary.

It’s a trap.

Let those outside the faith–i.e., friends and admirers with no appreciation for Scripture, no knowledge of the call of God, no gratitude for the blood of Jesus, or no concept of the direness of their own situation–compliment the preacher on his coolness, and it can be a form of quicksand.

“I’m not much of a church-goer, pastor, but I love watching you preach.”  “You’re not like all those other preachers–fat and bald and loud.  You’re handsome and slim and cool.”

Woe to the minister who eats up such a compliment.

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The one quality of a leader no one mentioned to you

I remember it like it was last week.

It was the mid-1970s and we were living in Columbus, Mississippi, where I’d gone to pastor First Baptist Church. A seminary professor who had taught some of us was in town for a few days, bringing a series of Bible studies in a local church. On Monday morning, we had gathered in my church and were sitting around drinking coffee and visiting.

The professor told us that Dr. Landrum Leavell had just been announced as the new president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was currently pastoring First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas. I knew him slightly, having met him a couple of times in the company of his college-age son Lan, whom I taught in Sunday School.

It seemed like a good choice to me.

The professor had his reservations.

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How a new minister can gain the trust of the congregation

Your assignment, new pastor, is to love God’s people and earn their trust.  Nothing else is more important.  Eventually, when they know you love them and are trustworthy, they will follow you.  But not until.

Elton was a new pastor of a small church I’m familiar with. To call him excited is an understatement.

Early in the process, Elton announced to the deacons they would hold an overnight retreat and talk about how things should be done. So far, so good, I suppose.

At the retreat, this new pastor informed his leaders that he would be calling the shots and making all important decisions and their job was to support him.

Elton was fired the next week.

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How to tell you’re no leader

Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26)

Let’s just come right out and say it up front:

Unless someone is not constantly on your case, mad at you, irritated, and upset with you all the time, you are most likely not doing anything of importance.  You are not a leader.

The would-be leader who fails to recognize this will be constantly bewildered by the reactions of the people he/she has been sent to serve.

The new pastor comes to a church with a divine mandate. This is not pious talk. The preacher has been called by God into the ministry and sent by Him to this church. If that’s not a divine mandate, nothing is. So, he proceeds to take the reins and lead out. To his utter amazement, the very people he expected to welcome his ministry, to support his vision, to affirm his godliness, to volunteer their service, do anything but what they should. Many of them stand back and carp and criticize and find fault.

Not always, thankfully.  But too often.

This was the last thing the pastor needed or expected.

Being human, he may begin to wonder: Did I make a mistake in coming here? Am I doing something wrong? Are these people not God’s children? Should I stay? Should I leave?

My answer: You’re doing just fine, preacher. Stay the course.  After all….

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I love old books–especially when they speak to today.

As a pastor, when I use a story found while reading a book 50 years or more older, the one thing I am dead sure of is that no one else is using it.  That’s just one of a dozen reasons I love old books.  Following is something I wrote in 2010 after reading one such book.

I confess. I am a bookaholic, what’s called a bibliophile. New books, old books, it doesn’t matter. Turn me loose in a convention hall where the public library is selling off their excess and I’m in heaven for two hours.

I particularly love the older books.

In Cincinnati, I discovered a used bookstore that filled several floors of an ancient downtown building. I could have moved in.

I know where to find the best used bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi, and in Birmingham, Alabama, and never pass either city without a brief stop-in.

But there is reason to this madness. And it’s far more than a nostalgia kick. (There is that too, but it’s not the major thing.)

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They’ve asked you to speak in church. Here’s what you need to know.

This is about what laypeople need to know about speaking in “big church.”  You’ll understand that by big church, I mean you’re addressing a large group in the sanctuary.  And laypeople means non-preachers.

Many non-clergy are outstanding (pun intended) on their feet in front of large groups. Schoolteachers and other educators come to mind.  But the typical church member, even one who teaches a Sunday School class, is out of his,her element when suddenly thrust in front of the whole church.

They walk onto the platform (let’s not call it  a “stage”) and stand at the pulpit, then look around.  Wow.  Things sure look different up here, they think. They open their mouth and begin to speak.

Anything can happen.

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