A news article on how to avoid buying a lemon when purchasing a car caught my eye. It gave the usual stuff such as reading the information on the window sticker, checking the maintenance record, studying the interior, the exterior, the tires, etc.
The thought occurred to me that there should be some equally dependable methods for churches to use in verifying the reliability of the new pastor they are considering. Veteran workers in the Lord’s vineyard all have their stories of churches that acted too hastily, of committees that did not do their background work or leaders who made a pastoral choice due to pressure from some strong individual, and the church paid a severe price for their errors.
There should be some foolproof way to guarantee that the new pastor is everything he claims to be and all the committee hopes and promises he is.
“Do not be excessively righteous or overly wise” (Ecclesiastes 7:16).
Most of us would not include those excesses in a list of which to be wary. But for most, I imagine the list might look more like this…
(the first ten)
One. We should not be in love with the sound of our own voice.
The preacher who delights too much with his own voice will outtalk everyone in the room and drone on far longer in sermons than is wise. Better we learn to tame that critter, then put him to use in the service of the Lord.
Two. We should beware of loving those extra desserts.
More and more these days, the overweight preacher is the norm. Sometimes the culprit is that he announced from the pulpit his favorite dessert to be lemon icebox pie or banana pudding, and now well-meaning church members keep him supplied. Sometimes, it’s the church dinners where ladies bring a dozen or more home-made desserts that would tempt a saint.
Jim Mora was the popular coach of the New Orleans Saints NFL team. On one occasion, as he and I shared an elevator, I introduced myself. I said, “Preachers can appreciate what coaches have to put up with. We both work hard all week and everything comes down to a couple of hours on Sunday. It’ll make or break you.”
He flashed that smile that charmed every fan, calmed many a sportswriter, and drove a few referees nuts. “But,” he said, “they don’t call radio stations the next week criticizing every little decision you made, do they?”
No, I guess not. A friend said, “If they’d pay me the zillion bucks these guys get, I could stand that.”
Now, football coaches and pastors probably have more that differentiates us than we have in common. A coach tends a small flock, usually no more than 50 players and a few assistants. At the upper echelon, he gets paid astronomical bucks, is answerable only to one or two bosses, and his season lasts just a few months. The typical pastor may have a flock numbering in the hundreds and receive a salary barely sufficient to keep the house heated and the children clothed and fed. The pastors are answerable to everyone and his brother, and work year round with no letup.
The coach’s job description can be summed up in a sentence or two: Win games and try not to embarrass the company. But pastors, God bless ’em, labor under multiple layers of expectations and demands and requirements.
I hesitate to say one group in the church has a “right” to expect anything of another. Insisting on our rights will almost invariably result in resistance, frustration, anger, and division. And yet in a very real sense believers who support the work of the Lord with their tithes and offerings and time and energy have a right to expect certain things from their shepherd. That’s what this is about.
What follows is directed primarily to pastors. Others may listen in, but they should not miss the “they do not have a right” which comes at the end of each section.
If I got what I deserve, I’d be in hell. And so would you.
The Christian life is not about getting our rights or having others meet our demands. Far from it.
We have died with Christ. We are bondservants instructed to submit to one another. That is a far cry from the so-called “catbird seat” from where we call the shots.
Much better for us to appreciate anything we receive from the people around us, no matter how small or poorly given.
“All were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips…. And all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they rose up and cast Him out of the city…” (Luke 4)
Who was it who said “I’m not as bad as my worst enemies say, nor as good as my biggest supporters claim”? Something like that.
I expect there’s a lot more going on as to why some love you, pastor–and others don’t–than first meets the eye.
Stella was a senior adult and dear to everyone in our congregation. From time to time, she would drop by the church office with fudge for her pastor. It was as delicious as anything Godiva or Hershey ever hoped to make. I made sure she knew how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness.
Meanwhile, I was having a miserable time trying to get a handle on pastoring that church. A few of the leaders were chronically dissatisfied with anything I did and most of what I said.
I welcomed her kindness.
One evening on my way out the door, I ran into Stella in the hallway. She said, “Pastor, I want you to see something.” Opening her purse, she brought out a letter from ten years earlier written by the pastor at that time, Dr. Carl Bates. He was thanking Stella for the wonderful candy.
I feigned shock. “Stella! I thought I was the only pastor you made fudge for!”
She smiled. “I have always loved all my pastors.”
I gave her a hug and said, “Good for you. That’s exactly how it should be.”
A few minutes later, on the drive home, something occurred to me.
“Whom shall I send? and who will go for us?” Then said I, “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” (Isaiah 6)
You say the Lord has called you into His work. You’re still young and you’re excited, although with a proper amount of fear and uncertainty on what all this means.
You’re normal. Been there, felt that.
We might have cause to worry if the living God touched your life and redirected it into His service and you picked yourself up and went on as though nothing had happened. Amos said, “I was gathering sycamore fruit, and the Lord God called me.” He said, “The lion roars and you will fear. God calls and you will prophesy.”
The call of God is almost as life-changing as the original salvation experience itself.
So, give thanks. And give this a lot of prayerful thought.
You should never volunteer for the pastor search committee unless one of two things is true: Everyone agrees that your former youth minister, who is serving a church in Podunk and was so beloved, is going to be the next pastor, making this the easiest job ever; or, you have a death wish.
It can be the hardest, most thankless assignment you’ll ever have.
It can also make a world of difference for good in a church that needs just the right combination of visionary pastor, anointed preacher, competent administrator, and down-to-earth friend.
If your church is selecting such a committee, pray big time for the Lord to lead in filling the slots. Never volunteer for it. Accept it if the Lord leads you and those making the decision. If you are a member of such a group, then this little piece is for you. Think of what follows as a cautionary note, exaggerated in places, attempting a little humor at times, but with much truth.
My friend was telling me about the woes of a church in the next town.
“They got a new pastor. He moved in and took over. When he got wind of something going on in the church weekday school he didn’t like, he called the principal and teachers in and fired them. He sent the students home and told them the church didn’t have a school any more.”
I said, “He closed the school?”
“Just like that. Did it on his own authority.”
“Was the school in trouble or anything?”
“Not to my knowledge. We know people who sent their children there. It seemed to be a fine school.”
“So what happened?”
“Everyone is upset. Some of the members left and went to other churches, and attendance is down in that church.”
“Not to my knowledge.”
I find this incredulous.
Tony Campolo once wrote a book he called “20 Hot Potatoes Christians are afraid to touch.” He had his own list, as I expect each of us could come up with ours.
Controversial issues, particularly those involving political campaigns, certainly qualify. A pastor may be risking his ministry in that church, if not his entire career, by taking a public stand on something dividing his community.
It’s not enough for him to say he tried to reason with them or that the Lord was leading him. People can be blindly passionate about subjects dear to their heart, and are willing to run over anyone getting in their way.
Tread softly, pastor. You might want to get your Hazmat suit out of storage.
“I speak as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:23).
Now, the solid born-again, God-called messenger of the Lord has no wish to sound particularly smart. True, he does not want to come across as ignorant, but he is not insecure, has nothing to prove, and is not there to impress. He is a messenger, delivering the word of God, then getting out of the way.*
However, a less than solid preacher just might want to impress his hearers. An insecure, insincere preacher–one working for the paycheck and seeking the prestige some people bestow on a pastor–might want to bolster his image by dressing up his presentation in some way, and could use some assistance. That’s where we come in. We can help.
Herewith then is our list of tricks which a poor preacher might want to employ.
Tongue in cheek, of course.