The number one failure of 90 percent of pastors

The four-year-old who says, “I can do it by myself” has a lot in common with many a pastor.

Pastors are notorious for their lone ranger approach to ministry. I call that the number one failure of 90 percent of pastors. They prefer to go it alone.

Even Jesus needed a buddy. “He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?’” (Matthew 26:40)

Sometimes it helps to have someone nearby, praying, loving, caring, even hurting with you.

The word paracletos from John 16:7 is translated “Comforter” and “Helper” in most Bible versions. The literal meaning is “one called alongside,” the usual idea being that the Holy Spirit is our Comforting Companion, a true Friend in need. And each time that word is found in the New Testament–John 14:16,20; 15:26; 16:7; and I John 2:1–it always refers to the Lord.

However, here’s something important.

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10 reasons not to quit abruptly, Pastor

“Therefore, we do not lose heart.” (II Corinthians 4:1,16)

From time to time I receive notes like this one:

“I resigned my church tonight. Just couldn’t take it any more. The bullying from a few strong men (or one family in particular) finally wore me out. So, I got good and fed up, and tonight I tossed in the towel and told them I was through. It feels good to walk away and leave all this stress behind. But now, I will be needing a place to move to, a way to support my family, and when the Lord is ready, a new church to pastor. Please keep me in mind if you know of a church in need of my services.”

Nothing about that feels right. I want to say to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or in a moment of discouragement? You walked away from the place God sent you? You quit a well-paying job without knowing where you will move your family or how you will support them? Have you lost your ever-loving mind?!”

I guarantee you the pastor’s wife is thinking these thoughts, no matter how loyally she supports her man and aches to see him struggling under such a heavy load.

I would like to say to every minister I know that unless you are sure the Holy Spirit inside you is saying, “This is the time. Walk away now,” don’t do it. Do not resign abruptly or impulsively.

Here are 10 reasons not to quit and walk away even when to remain there is killing you….

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Integrity in the ministry

We turn now to the ministry.

That’s my greatest concern. That’s the thrust of practically everything on this blog. After nearly six decades in the ministry, my strong hope is to say something to help church leaders do a better job in serving God’s people.

“Be on guard for yourself,” Paul told the leaders of the Ephesus church in Acts 20:28.

The Apostle Peter reminded another group of such leaders that “your adversary, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Therefore, they were to “be self-controlled and alert.” (I Peter 5:8)

Here are my top ten suggestions for pastors and staffers of local churches. In fact, they are more than suggestions. They are great concerns.

1. Learn to live within your income and do not fall prey to the lie that “pastors of my stature are expected to live at a certain level.” It’s not so much the love of money that has driven many a pastor to cross the ethical line, in my opinion, but a need for money to sustain the way of life they have chosen for themselves.

Learn to live simply.

2. Set the example for the rest of the staff and the church leadership.

The inimitable Tony Campolo has infuriated a lot of preachers by saying, “No pastor should ever drive a Mercedes.” He’s not picking on a particular car, but making a point about materialism and our example.

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If you would serve the Lord, expect obstacles

“A great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (I Corinthians 16:9). 

“We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance…” (Romans 5:3). 

This is a quiz.  Name the enemies George Washington faced in the Revolutionary War.

If you answered, “The British,” you’d be only partly right.

Washington did fight the British, as the thirteen colonies asserted their independence from the Mother Nation.  But Generals Howe, Cornwallis, and Clinton and their armies were only the most visible of the forces Washington had to contend with.

He had to fight the weather.  Think of Valley Forge and even without knowing the full story, your mind immediately conjures up images of a harsh winter with all the snow, ice, sleet, and freezing temperatures that includes.

Washington had to deal with starvation and deprivation.  No one knows how many thousands of his soldiers perished from the cold and starvation at Valley Forge and how many deserted in order to save their lives.  Many surrendered to the British at Philadelphia in the vain hope that the conquerors would feed and clothe them.

Washington had to deal with a Congress that was either ignorant, misinformed, or outright hostile to his situation. He wrote letter after letter detailing the misery of his army and pleading for help.  Finally, a delegation came from the national capital, temporarily at York, PA, to see for themselves, after which congress began to act.

Washington fought disorganization, a country that made impossible demands but gave minimal support, and criticism on every side.

Still with me?

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Ten scary times in a pastor’s ministry

Sometimes I sit there listening while my pastor friend tells what’s happening in his personal life and/or church. And, once in a while all the alarms go off. I realize he is in a dangerous place in his ministry.

If I sense a leading from the Holy Spirit or if he and I already have a close enough relationship, I’ll interrupt him.

“Bob, can we pause here a moment? I need to point something out to you.”

“My friend, you are exposed. You are a sitting duck. Life has drawn a target on your back. Satan has you in his cross-hairs.”

“You’d better do something big in a hurry or you’re going to get in bad trouble.”

He sits there stunned, without a clue.

“What do you mean? I’m doing everything I know to work my way through this.”

I say, “I’m not talking about what you are going through. I’m talking about where you are personally at this moment. You are in a vulnerable spot and you need to move before something bad happens.”

Older, veteran pastors have learned the hard way to tread softly through this dark valley they have entered. They have seen the carcasses of their peers strewn about, brought down by ego or depression or temptation or carelessness.

It’s the young minister who is more likely to try to brave it out alone. It’s the young pastor who is more prone to end up a victim instead of a victor.

Here are 10 danger zones for the pastor to watch out for.

On the highway, signs alert motorists to drive carefully, to slow down, to watch for obstructions.

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Blindsided by opposition: Welcome to the ministry, young pastor.

(In our experience, most of the Lord’s people are wonderful and most of His churches are filled with sincere and godly workers. But once in a while, pastors come upon sick churches led by difficult people who seem to delight in controlling their ministers. When they find themselves unable to do this, they attack. Pity the poor unsuspecting preacher and his family. What follows is written just for them.)

“But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues….” (Matthew 10:17)

You and your wife–please adjust gender references herein as your situation demands–went into the ministry with heads high, hearts aglow, and eyes wide open, idealism firmly tucked under your arm, vision clear and focus solid.

As newly minted ambassadors for Christ, the two of you were ready to do battle with the world, eager to serve the saints, and glad to impart the joyful news of the gospel.

Ministry was going to be great and noble and even blessed.

That’s what you thought.

You expected the work to be hard, the hours long, and the needs great.

What you did not expect was to be blindsided by members of your own church leadership–to be slandered by people you counted on as friends when you took a courageous position, criticized for something you did well, even lied about.

You knew there would be vicious people “in the world,” outsiders who do not believe in God, who cannot discern spiritual things, and who refuse to subject themselves to moral absolutes.

You were ready for that.

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The pastor resigned because someone criticized him.

“Christ also suffered for us…when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:21-25).

Someone criticized me.  Whatever am I to do?

Well, for starters, you might grow up.

Quotes on enduring criticism can be found in the hundreds online.  Here are a few we found in a few minutes….

–The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.(Elbert Hubbard)    -You can’t let praise or criticism get to you.  It’s a sign of weakness to get caught up in either one. (John Wooden)   –A critic is a legless man who teaches running. (Channing Pollock)    –You are a glorious shining sword and criticism is the whetstone.  Do not run from the whetstone or you will become dull and useless. Stay sharp.  (Duane Alan Hahn)

No one enjoys being criticized, but we often benefit from it immensely.

I say to pastors and other church leaders, you do not want to live and work where there is an absence of criticism.

You think you do. But you don’t.  Only in the harshest of dictatorships is there no criticism.  But in a free society–like ours–criticism abounds.  If the society is indeed free, much of the criticism is fair, just, and well deserved.  Likewise, much of it will be unfair, unjust and unmerited. A leader who survives has to develop discernment in order to know what to ignore and what to treasure and learn from.

A friend texted:  “Joe, write something about criticism!  Some good pastors are resigning because not everyone in the church likes them!”

He and I both find that incredulous.  As though someone could do a great work for Jesus Christ in a hostile society without stirring up resentment and incurring the wrath of  some people.

Advice columnist Dear Abby used to say, “You throw a rock in among a bunch of dogs. The one that hollers is the one that got hit.”

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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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Why the Lord has to call people into this work

The pastor said to me, “Pray for me. It’s hard out here. But we’re hanging in there, trying not to return evil for evil.”

I teased, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks, to put up with that stuff.”  And after a moment’s reflection, added, “It’s why God has to call people into this ministry.”

If it were easy, they’d be lining up to get in on it.

Called by God. Yes, it’s how He fills the ranks of shepherds.

“Now, the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country…to the land which I will show you; and I will make you….” (Genesis 12:1ff.)

“Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law…. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush…. (And God said) ‘I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring my people out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3)

“And God said (to Isaiah), ‘Go and tell this people…’” (Isaiah 6:8)

“Now the word of the Lord came to (Jeremiah) saying, ‘I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).

“And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon, called Peter, and Andrew…. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:18-19).

“And the Lord said (to Saul), ‘Arise, and go to the street called Straight….’  ‘(Saul) is a chosen instrument of mine, to bear my name before the Gentiles….” (Acts 9:1ff.)

Anyone see a trend here?

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Things never to tell a preacher

Once on this website, we posted a list of “59 things not to say to a preacher.”  Several people suggested we do one on things we should not tell a preacher.  At the time, we posted this (below).  I’ve tweaked it some, but thought someone would like to see it anew.

Here are ten things not to tell the preacher, in no particular order….

1. We should not tell the preacher what we think of his hot wife.

Not only should you keep this to yourself, but you should ask the Lord to remove it from your mind altogether.  The prayer “let the…meditations of my heart be acceptable to Thee, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” should cover it (Psalm 19:14).

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