(Do not miss the personal testimony of a pastor friend at the end.)
Someone asked, “Why do pastors not weep at funerals? My pastor didn’t even weep at his own mother’s services.”
Interesting question. I think we know the answer.
In my case, by the time we laid my wonderful mama to rest, I was in my early 70s and she was nearly 96. She was so ready to go. If it’s possible to prepare to give one’s beloved mother back to Jesus, I think we were that. And yes, we still miss her every day, and it’s been almost eight years.
But there’s another reason for the lack of tears. Starting early–my mid-20s–I began doing heart-breaking funerals, one after another, the kind that will tear your heart out and stomp it and leave it writhing on the pavement. Do enough of these, and eventually you run out of tears.
It’s not that you do not care, do not love, or cannot feel. It’s just that you care and love and feel without tears.
“For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
“Did I fail?”
Every man or woman who ministers in the Kingdom of God is immediately struck by two great realities: The perfection of God (and thus the desire to present to Him worthy offerings of worship and service) and the imperfection of mankind (meaning anything we offer Him will be flawed, even at its best).
As a result, we are often tormented with feelings of inadequacy and hounded by the knowledge that our efforts have not been enough, our devotion has been too weak, and our ministries a far cry from what we had hoped.
“I feel like a failure.”
Those words and that feeling are voiced not just by those who literally are failures. Some of the (outwardly) most successful pastors and spiritual leaders on the planet deal with the same sense of futility.
“The (shepherd) calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out” (John 10:3).
The evangelist had held a revival in my church one year earlier, just before I arrived as the new pastor, and it had gone well. Since we had known each other in seminary and the congregation had appreciated his ministry, I invited him to return a year later for a repeat engagement.
He walked in and began calling my people by their first names.
I was floored.
I said, “James, how many meetings have you been in since you were here last year?” The answer was something like 36, as I recall.
I said, “How in the world can you remember the names of our members?”
My ministry in that church was uphill all the way. Everything was hard, it seemed. There were few rest stops, places where we could take a breather and enjoy a sense that we are accomplishing something significant for the Lord.
The church had few financial resources due to a heavy debt load, made worse by a major split in the congregation 18 months before I arrived as pastor. The ministerial staff had little money for the outreach and educational programs they wanted to do.
It was a tough time in the life of that church.
Perhaps I was tired. Or discouraged. Or needed a boost of some kind.
Anyway, one day, on the way back to the church office from lunch I prayed a prayer unlike any I’d ever prayed before.
I am not a professional counselor, not an official adviser of churches or denominations or pastors as such, and not acclaimed as an expert on problem-solving or conflict management. What I am is a veteran preacher–now retired– and a writer who sometimes gets asked, “What is your take on this? What do you recommend we do about that?”
Out of that experience, and spurred on by two recent situations–one by phone last night and the other from an email this morning–here are three “case studies” or problem scenarios that occur with alarming frequency in our churches. And my suggestions on what the leadership should do in handling them.
As always, I do not claim to have the last word on any of this. But if it turns out this is the first word, something that gets readers to thinking deeply and acting courageously, it will have been worth the effort.
I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago. We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.
Case in point. One night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that the property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.
That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked.
Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.
I sat there listening to longtime friend Will tell of that experience from some years back and thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in his/her new pastor–employer, supervisor, and hopefully mentor–is integrity.
Without integrity, nothing matters.
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13).
A young pastor who wonders if he is out of place trying to lead a church sent me a note the other day. With the constant demands upon his time and the unending situations which call for infinite wisdom, divine patience and supernatural strength, he’s feeling like the fellow who was eaten alive by a school of minnows. He wonders if he’s cut out to be a pastor.
He said, “I hear people talking about those who have the heart of a pastor. What exactly is that?”
Perhaps it’s like the fellow said of art (and a lot of other things!): “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.”
My friend Chris was grieving over the loss of their church’s associate minister and his family, who had moved to another church several states away. In the church hallway, as she and a staff member passed, the minister said, “Good morning, Chris. How are you today?”
Chris burst into tears.