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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Be wary of experts

“How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?  When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). 

Someone said to me, “He may be an atheist but he has a Ph.D. in Greek and has studied the Scriptures in their original languages.  That gives his views a great deal of weight.”

I laughed.  Not even a little bit.

On the back of a book on prayer, a blurb described the pastor/author as an expert on prayer. I’m not sure why that offended me.  I felt as if one of my five siblings had claimed expertise in communicating with our parents. “What’s so hard about that?” I would have replied.  “They love us and are always available.”

I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just anyone calling himself an expert that bothers me.

I have read that FDR had an innate distrust of anyone called an expert. It’s not a bad philosophy.

There are so few people in this life who should be called experts on anything. Veterans, yes, and we will accept advisors and counselors and instructors.  But rarely expert.

I’m remembering that in the early days of Jimmy Carter’s administration, youthful Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell were called “consultants” or “advisors.”  Some commentator observed that no one should be called such until they are at least forty and have had one great failure in life.

Historically, experts have a spotted track record

What follows is from Columnist Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University. His column appeared in our Clarion-Ledger on Monday, July 30, 2018…

–Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers predicted that if Donald Trump were elected, there would be a protracted recession within 18 months.  Did not happen.

–When it became apparent that Trump would be elected, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman warned that the world was “very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.”

–In 1929, Irving Fisher, a professor of economics at Yale, predicted, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”  Three days later, the stock marked crashed.

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They have asked you to pray at a convention in your city

This is my personal opinion.  Feel free to differ.  

This happens to almost every pastor:  Some civic (as in ‘nonreligious‘) outfit calls and asks you to lead a prayer at their gathering.  Sometimes it’s the city council or state senate, sometimes it’s a convention or business gathering.  Invariably, you are faced with the decision on what to say and what you should not say.  Here is my experience…

I was in my fourth year pastoring the First Baptist Church of Kenner, across the street from the New Orleans International Airport.  I received a phone call one day informing me that when the American Dental Association held its annual meeting in our city a few months hence, they wanted me to offer the invocation.  I was surprised and honored.

The caller said I would have three minutes for the prayer. She added, “And Pastor, please make it interdenominational.”  In my journal I wrote: “Had she said to omit the name of Jesus, I would have declined the honor for the sake of principle. As it was, I felt I could do something that would satisfy everyone.”

My secretary Peggy kept referring to it as  an “innovation,” instead of ‘invocation.”

The day came.  It was a huge hotel in downtown New Orleans.  Perhaps 700 to 1,000 people in the room.

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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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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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Something preachers keep forgetting

For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you…. (2 Timothy 1:6). 

I was sitting on the platform, ten feet to the left and rear of the pulpit, studying the 300 people in the congregation. In five minutes, I would walk to the podium and, as the guest preacher, bring the sermon. The thoughts running through my mind were not helpful.

“They know all these things. My sermon is about the church. And these people are at church on a Sunday night, of all things. I might as well go into a diner and speak on the joys of eating. Or to a gym and talk about the need for exercise.”

Then, sanity returned. I knew this was not the case at all.

I thought about the times when I sat where they sit.  I often needed a strong reminder of the proper value to be placed on the church, of how solidly God feels about it, of the price Christ paid for it, of the assignments He has given it, and yes, reminders of the sorry way the church is being treated by some of its friends.

There was a genuine need for this message, and on this night I would deliver it as strongly as I knew how.

I gave it my all. The response at invitation time–not always the best barometer, I know–indicated the sermon had hit its target.

The best barometer, and one I’m not privy to, would be the behavior of the members of that congregation over the next few weeks and months.

It’s easy for preachers to fall into that little sinkhole which had opened up just in front of me, and think, “These people do not need this; they already know it.”

In such situations, it’s good for the man of God to remind himself of three facts:

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Flirting with temptation; playing with fire

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:6)

Perhaps the most dangerous place on the church campus is the pastor’s counseling office.

When the minister is shut up in a tight space with a vulnerable female who confides in him the most personal things of her life, often the two people do something completely natural and end up bonding emotionally.

The bonding process is simple: she opens up to him, he sympathizes with her, she reaches out to him, and there it goes.

Many a ministry and a great many marriages have been destroyed in the counseling room.

Can we talk about this?

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The wimp in me hates criticism

“Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite?  Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him” (2 Samuel 16:11).

There’s something about us preachers that loves compliments and runs from criticism.

We preachers can be the biggest wimps on the planet.

Maybe it’s that way with everyone, I don’t know.

Let a preacher receive an anonymous note outlining what he’s doing wrong or a phone call dissecting last Sunday’s sermon and he is done for the week. He will be needing the attention of a good therapist.

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Why pastors bang their heads against the wall and counselors resign

Michelle Singletary writes a financial advice column for the Washington Post.

Some years ago, a fellow wrote Ms. Singletary for advice. He was planning to marry his fiancee of 18 months as soon as they dealt with her spending habits which were clearly out of control. Her closet contained 400 pairs of shoes, many still new, and was overflowing with clothing. She justified her spendthrift ways by saying she works two jobs and looks for bargains.

The man asked Michelle Singletary, “What can I do to help her curb her spending habits without making her feel bad or as though I am putting her down?”

Ms. Singletary urged him to postpone this marriage. They were not close to being ready until this was solved. She suggested pulling credit reports, seeing what that revealed and then finding a credit counselor.

That was ten or more years ago.

The other day, Michelle Singletary received an email from that guy telling her what happened.  The news is not good.

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