Every church has issues, every pastor a situation

“We who are in this body do groan….” (2 Corinthians 5:4)

“Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on….” (Philippians 3:12).

A young pastor sent me a question.  Two churches have contacted him about their search for a new shepherd.  Both are in the same general area, both about the same size, and, in his words, “both have issues.”

I told him, “Every church has issues.”

They all do.  Of the six congregations I pastored, none was completely filled with mature, loving, solid Christians.  All had issues.

The first one, Unity of Kimberly, AL lacked a group of mature leaders to work with their green pastor (moi!).

The second, Paradis of Paradis, LA, was asleep and needed awakening.

The third, Emmanuel of Greenville, MS, was immature in a hundred ways.

The fourth, First of Columbus, MS, was–at that time–not allowing minorities to join the church.

The fifth, First of Charlotte, NC, was dominated by a few strong businessmen who–elected or not–knew what was best for the church and the pastor had better go along with it.

The six and last, First of Kenner, LA, was recovering from a massive split.  Some members carried anger over their mistreatment, others carried guilt over what they had done and said, and most wondered what was going on.

When I became director of missions for the SBC churches of metro New Orleans, one day I received a letter from a young pastor in Mississippi.  “I’d be willing to move to a church in your area,” said the letter, “but it must be a church with no internal problems.  I do not want to waste my time on a congregation dealing with conflict, dissension, squabbling, and immaturity.  I want to go to a church that is poised for growth.”

I wrote back, “Dear friend: Don’t we all!”

It doesn’t work that way. Pastors are shepherds, called and sent by the Great Shepherd of the sheep to minister to the hurting, to comfort the afflicted, to feed the flock, to bind up the wounded, and protect them from the wolves, both from inside and outside the flock.

The pastor who does not want to “waste his time” with the hurting, the misguided, the straying, and the weak is not a pastor at all and should not call himself that.

If every congregation has issues–and they all do–it is equally true that every pastor has situations.

Ken Chafin, legendary leader of evangelism for Southern Baptists, seminary professor and pastor of some great churches, was speaking at our state convention.  “Next time you’re at the SBC meeting where everyone is wearing name tags, read the name of some preacher you don’t know, then back up about twenty feet and call his name out real loud. Walk up to him and stick out your hand, but keep your body turned so he can’t read your name tag.”

“After greeting him, look him in the eye and say, ‘By the way, how did that situation ever turn out?”  We all laughed.

Chafin said, “Every pastor has a situation!”

Indeed they do. And the error of many a pastor search committee is to seek out the preacher who has never had a difficult situation and bears no scars from the close escape.

We are all wounded warriors. And the people we serve/lead are a lot like us.  Isaiah said, “I’m a man of unclean lips and the people around me are the same!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Let us devote ourselves to serving and blessing them, for Jesus’ sake.  None of us becomes complete and perfect until we see the Lord. “We know that when He is revealed, we shall become like Him for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2).

Pastor Bob Marsh used to tell of serving a church where people were squabbling over the placement of a water fountain. Some wanted it in one place, the others someplace else.  One day, Bob interviewed with another church and did a little research on their congregation. After seeing the problems they faced, he said, “I decided I’d take my water cooler people!”

Pray for your pastors.  They are flawed individuals serving a people much like them (you!).  They need your respect, your love, and your understanding.  Most of all, they need your prayers.

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