“Are you teasing me? This couldn’t really happen.”

“It did. I walked out into the back yard and found a church member going through my trash. I said, ‘Bobby, what are you doing?’ He said, ‘I want to see what my pastor and his family are reading. Make sure you’re who you claim to be.'”

I said, “Pastor, that is rather incredible.”

He said, “Tell me about it. Unfortunately, that kind of attitude is fairly typical for my church.”

“There are other instances?”

“Not that, exactly. He’s the only one I found going through my trash, but we do have a number of suspicious and strange people in our congregation.” .

I didn’t say anything, so he went on. “There is this old lady who wrote my daughter a letter the other day. Now, my little girl is eight years old, and she’s a typical kid, I suppose, although I think she’s wonderful. So, when this letter came from an older woman in the church, we thought, ‘How nice. She’s writing a letter of encouragement to our daughter.’ Not hardly.”

“She took the letter to her room and read it. A minute later she was back and wanted me to see it. I could hardly believe it. This lady–she must be 75 years old–had written my daughter to complain about her not speaking to her at church last Sunday. Said she walked right by and did not say hello, and that pastors’ daughters should be better than that. She was cruel.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“How do you think it made me feel? Like going over there and strangling the battleaxe!”

“What did you do?”

“I sat down with my daughter and gave her a hug and told her to forgive the woman, that she’s old and cranky and wants to run other people’s lives, and that sometimes when people get old, they get that way. And that we shouldn’t hold it against them.”

“I’m a little surprised she signed the letter. This is normally the type of thing that people send out anonymously.”

“Oh no, she’s proud of her ways. She loves to run people’s lives.”

“So, this is typical of her?”

“It is. So I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. But I’ll tell you one thing–that’s the last time I’ll let her get to my child with one of her hurtful letters. I’ll be watching from now on.”

“Ever thought of pinning it on the church bulletin board? Let others see what she’s up to?”

“I haven’t, but it’s an idea. Would that be vindictive?”

“Not if you go right on being kind to her, speaking politely to her in church, and ministering to her the same way you do anyone else. All you did is post her letter.”

“Pity I can’t do that with Bobby going through my trash.”

“What did you do about Bobby?”

“Told him he could have all my trash any time he wanted it, to take it with him if he loves it that much. He won’t find anything in it except leftover cereal boxes and watermelon rinds and such. But I thought about going over to his house and going through his garbage, just to let him see how it feels.”

“What if you had? Maybe taken him with you?”

“Nah. I have no desire to see what he’s reading or eating or throwing away. He’s such a negative person I have no doubts at all that he’s messed up in the mind and heart. He’s probably accusing me of doing the same things he does. Besides, no one at church puts much confidence in anything he says or does. He’s just a jerk.”

“And you say you have a lot of them in your church?”

“Not jerks. That’s little harsh. We do have two or three with bad mental health who make life miserable for church leaders. And we have quite a number of what I’ve heard you call low-affirmation/high-maintenance members. I suppose that’s normal.”

I said, “Are you handling this okay? Do you need to leave that church? Find a healthier one?”

He said, “I’m ready about once a week. Every Monday, I’m so tired after knocking myself out on Sunday and putting up with the griping that I sometimes tell the Lord I’m ready to give this back to Him. But after a good night’s rest, I’m good. This is where the Lord sent me. I know that.”

“You know something else about the Lord, too.”

“What else do I know?”

“That He is a good judge of people. He’s not going to send a flunkie to a difficult assignment. When the Lord puts you in a church that is extremely unhealthy, it means two things. He has lots of confidence in you, and He’s trying to strengthen you for some bigger, more challenging assignment.”

“He has more confidence in me than I do, I fear.”

“I’m sure that’s true. But think about it. Who knows us better than He? And if He thinks we’re up to this job, then we are.”

“What’s this big, more challenging assignment He has for me?”

“God knows. Literally. Remember that verse from Jeremiah 29 where the Lord says, ‘I know the plans I have for you.’ He has plans and He knows. The problem is, He’s not telling.”

“Walk by faith, right?”

“Exactly. Do your job well today and you’ll be ready for the big assignment when it comes.”

“Will you pray for me?”

“I do, I have, and I will. But I’m not going to nag God or hound Him about you. Let’s be sure to pray the prayer of faith.”

“How is that different from the usual stuff?”

“The prayer of faith in this situation might go something like this: ‘Lord, you love this church. Jesus died for this church. You knew how it was when you sent me here. I’m having a tough time of it, but thank you for having confidence in me. Now, help me, Father. Strengthen me. Give me the patience and wisdom I need for dealing with the difficult people. Give me the sermons you want me to preach. Grant me restraint for dealing with the Bobbys of this church. I want to do well the job you’ve given me today so as to be prepared for the task you’ll be sending my way tomorrow. Your word says, ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be.’ I accept that. Your grace will be sufficient. So I will get up and go forward and do my job as well as I can. For thy sake. In Jesus’ name. By His blood. Amen.'”

“Thanks for listening.”

“You’re welcome. Besides, I got more out of it than you did.”

“Oh? I got some good counsel and a prayer. What did you get?”

“A great story. I’ll tell about Bobby in other churches to let people know what some pastors are going through. They need to hear this. And the woman who writes the mean letters. I’ll tell this. I’ll leave you out of it, of course, and disguise the names so that no one has a clue which church I’m talking about. So, I got a great story. Thanks a lot.”

“I think I’ll add one more thing to that prayer of faith. ‘Lord, next time, I’d love a really good boring assignment. If you have any churches like that.'”

“Funny. But you don’t want one of those. We call them by another word than boring. We call them ‘dead.'”


  1. At least these people are letting the pastor see what they’re doing. In my first Church the Song Leader went around hunting for reasons to get rid of me. While I was preaching he used to sit on the back row then – rather than “amen” – would periodically mutter “that’s not right” or “what a liar”, or some such nonsense. Subterfuge and hidden hypocrisy scares me more than the nut who goes through my trash. Our DOM routinely receives negative and accusatory letters that are unsigned. The devil generally loves the dark, not the light, so I see hope for this pastor’s Church.

  2. Maybe a video of the guy in your trash would be an interesting attention getter to start a sermon.

    We had a lady calling another church member and cussing her out. I spoke with her and she denied it. I had the other church member use a small tape recorder and tape the next call. I brought the two together and played the tape. The problem was immediately solved.

  3. First, some background. My wife and I are co-pastors at a rural United Methodist Church in East-Central Indiana. We have been pastors there for the last twelve years. The church has stood guard on the same property since 1893 and we have served longer than any previous pastor(s). I think everyone can tell the “story of when” a member was confronted. Ours occurred during our second Administrative Council Meeting. Prior to the meeting several members has bent our collective ear to express concerns about how they never know how much money is taken in or where we stand financially as a church.

    After consulting with our District Superintendent we decided that we would enforce the United Methodist Discipline which clearly calls for two people (not related to eachother and neither can be the treasurer) must count the money and record it before it leaves the building.

    During the meeting we implemented three changes that are mandated by the Discipline, including the one regulating the money. She rose up in righteous indignation and said that “If I have to follow these rediculous rules, you can write my letter of transfer.” I very calmly asked, where should I send it?

    She did leave the church and the entire church breathed a collective sigh of releaf. Each week the treasurer posts the collections and in the eleven and one half years since, collections have continued to increase. We are a tithing church and we can give all the glory to the one, steadfast God that we all serve.

  4. A friend wrote me with an interesting story of her own on this subject, concerning the time she and her husband pastored a church here in the New Orleans area. A church member approached the leadership with a proposal that she would donate $5,000 for the new roof if they would get rid of the pastor. She still laughs at that, she says, because the leadership turned it down flatly and supported the Lord’s shepherd. We’re always encouraged when the leadership gets it right.

  5. …then there was the North LA deacon who cussed me out because I asked his older daughter to step down from teaching youth Sunday school for reasons that I and the pastor considered valid and he supported me on. I stayed to my guns over the years and when I left that church that deacon and I had become friends and I had earned his respect, because no one had ever stood up to him like that. I think of him often and hope he is doing well.


  6. It puts such a smile on my face and laughter in my heart to read your blog today. It reminds me of Philippians 4. I just can’t help but wonder if God doesn’t smile down upon us and wonder at how we respond to things. Surely He sits back and watches us as we react to people. I’m glad He can forgive. Sometimes it takes me awhile.


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