“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (I Timothy 4:12).
Recently after one of our writings on the subject of spiritual immaturity, a young friend in the ministry wrote to tell of a painful experience he’d had with a longtime buddy who was pastoring a church. I’ll summarize his story.
After his team lost in the Super Bowl, Pastor Kent went to his Facebook page and slammed the winning team. He griped about the city, its people, its reputation, and said every bad thing he could think to say. He was an unhappy camper.
His friend, telling the story–we’ll call him Tommy–sent him a private note to say it was not very gracious for a pastor to be speaking that way just because his team had lost. Perhaps Kent would like to soften his words somewhat.
Pastor Ken responded harshly, insisting he had been joking and that he was offended at being reprimanded in public this way.
Since they were longtime friends and he felt he could speak plainly, Tommy pointed out that he had not rebuked him in public but this was a private communication. He added that the city whose team had just won the championship had undergone some very difficult times lately and this victory had given them a much needed lift, that sort of thing.
That day, Kent cut off all further communication with Tommy and “unfriended” him and his family on Facebook. They’ve had no contact since.
The experience hurt Tommy. He told me, “I really miss my old friend.”
An immature pastor can be a problem for all who know him.
Pray for his church. Pray God will give the church a few mature leaders who can speak plainly with him (that’s a euphemism for “take him to the woodshed when necessary”). He will be lost without such friends.
That said, it is true that no pastor starts his ministry as a full-grown adult in Christ. We were all new at this once.
Thank the Lord for churches that take a chance with young, immature pastors.
Pray for them. Because they’ve got their work cut out for them.
The single most important thing a church with a young, beginning pastor should do is to put in place a few godly, mature leaders to work close to him. As he is arriving at the church, this group should set the boundaries up front, so he will not feel betrayed when they approach him with words of correction or guidance or counsel.
Today, I invited Facebook friends to respond to this question: “What do immature pastors do?” The answers were–as one might expect from this eclectic group–all over the map.
The truth is, I did not need to ask anyone what immature preachers do. I’ve been there, done that. All I have to do is look back at my own history. Or, ask my wife, a much more reliable storehouse of memories on how Joe behaved and misbehaved in his younger years.
1) Immature pastors do not like to be corrected.
We had been married a few years and we were in our first post-seminary pastorate when Margaret announced that we needed to go for marital counseling. I still grimace at the answer this green husband and raw preacher gave this good woman: “You don’t understand, lady. I am the counselor, not the counselee.”
I needed a whipping. But with my approval, she went for counseling alone. Ten years later, almost by the time the marriage was beyond repair, I reluctantly went with her. For a solid year, we drove 180 miles round trip twice a month to see the counselor. My immaturity almost cost us our marriage.
In the same way that teenage boys beginning to shave will sprout a mustache thinking they are making themselves look older, young pastors will sometimes fake certainty and present a facade of knowledge to compensate for their inexperience and ignorance. It’s a serious error and fools no one.
They would endear themselves to their people so much quicker if they humbly stated, “You understand I’m new at this. Thank you for being patient as I learn how to pastor a congregation and lead a church.”
One of the traits of maturity is the ability to take correction. Granted, no one enjoys hearing a list of his failures, or the mention of even one. But, sometimes it has to be done.
I still recall when Mr. Carter, the leader of Kimberly, Alabama’s Unity Baptist Church took me aside and corrected me about my use of slang from the pulpit. I was 22 years old, completely untrained in church leadership, and well deserving of this good man’s correction. His words smarted, but within 60 seconds, I knew he was right and began to grow that day.
It takes a mature and loving Christian to approach an immature pastor with criticism and correction. It should be done gently, prayerfully, and firmly. I hope your church has such a person who can do such a thing.
2) Immature pastors have trouble finding the middle ground between neglecting their families (by spending all their time in church work) and indulging them (putting them ahead of everything and everyone).
As a young pastor, I took the first route. We had been married six or seven years before I began taking a day a week off to spend with my wife and our two small sons. And I did that only then because Margaret revealed in a marriage retreat that I was working seven days a week. The leaders acted horrified and rebuked me none too gently. Since I had been shaming myself for the same thing, that day I began to change.
I’ve seen young pastors skip Wednesday night services at church because they were coaching their children’s ball teams or directing them in a school play. Was this wise? The last one who told me he did that presented it as a prime example of the role model he was presenting for fathers. Six months later, he was gone from that church. (I do not know what happened, but I have my suspicions.)
Paul said whenever a brother is overtaken in a fault, “you who are spiritual” are to confront him and restore him (Galatians 6:1). Woe to the church who has the “brother with a fault in the pulpit” but no spiritual person in the congregation able to go to him in love.
3) Immature pastors are sometimes known to lose their temper in front of the congregation.
A friend who suggested this said, “I’ve seen that happen.”
By its very nature, maturity means one has attained a measure of self-control. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
When Bobby was called from Temple Church to become pastor of Fleetwood Church, he used his final sermon at Temple to unload on the people. He cited all the faults of the deacons, listed the failures of the church to respond to his inspired leadership, and challenged the congregation to get its act together for the new preacher, if the Lord should deign to send them one, although they did not deserve it.
To this day, Pastor Bobby’s final sermon is remembered with great resentment. He achieved nothing he had hoped to accomplish with that diatribe. All he did by venting was to show himself to be a spoiled brat and upset a lot of good people who deserved something more than what he gave them.
The way to head this off is for the mature leadership of the church to a) know their pastor (whether he is capable of such and needs to be cautioned about it) and b) to be willing to stop him in advance if there are signs he intends to do such damage to the church.
I remember a pastor who announced his resignation one Sunday, saying he intended to join another denomination. His final four sermons, he said, would be devoted to considering the doctrinal differences between their church and his new denomination. The leadership went to him in private and informed him that this had been his final sermon, that he would not be pulling such a stunt with this congregation. They did the right thing.
4) An immature pastor gives little or no support to his ministerial staff but expects complete loyalty from them.
As you may suspect, a staffer pointed this out to me. And he is exactly right.
Nothing helped me become a better pastor to my staff than becoming a new (and the lowliest) staff member of a large church in my 30th year. I went from being the lead pastor of a church running 250 on Sunday mornings to being assigned a small Sunday School classroom as my new office, having no secretary, and the congregation clueless as to who I was or what I did around there. Three years later, when I left to become the senior pastor of a church running 600, I was much more considerate of the other ministers on our staff. I knew how it felt to be the low man in the pecking order.
The immature pastor thinks it’s all about him. If the church grows and does well, it’s because he’s so gifted a preacher and leader. If it flounders and declines in attendance, he drops into the doldrums and either grows depressed or starts blaming others. Neither is good.
Immature pastors can go to extremes in attitude, high one day because of the great Sunday with new people joining and in the basement the next because the attendance was down and the offerings lagged. Only with time and maturity do they settle down to a consistent level of faithfulness.
Young pastors are to show themselves examples to the church in matters of speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. It’s no accident these are mentioned in I Timothy 4:12.
–Immature pastors often ape the world’s language. They think it’s cool, that it connects with the younger generation as a form of validation of their ministry, and that anyone disliking it is resisting God who after all sent this pastor to the church.
I still recall when youthful pastors began using the slang of the drug culture, speaking of something “blowing my mind,” “being far out,” “groovy,” and so forth. Some of it was harmless, some was borderline sinful.
–Immature pastors often mimic the world’s conduct. Since some have not yet gained control over their “youthful lusts,” they attend bad movies and off-limit concerts and follow celebrities who are extremely unhealthy to disciples of the Lord Jesus. They set poor patterns for the teens, and mistakenly think speaking of these things makes them come across as “in.” It doesn’t.
At the age of 27, I was out of seminary and pastoring a nice sized church. When we enlisted 2 carloads of teens to attend a statewide meeting in the state capitol, I volunteered to drive my car. An older teen drove the other. On the drive home late that night–a distance perhaps of 90 miles–this stupid young pastor (me!) led us in speeds up to 80 and 90 mph. Thankfully, the kids told their parents and I had to own up to it and ask for their forgiveness. Why had I done such a dangerous thing? I mistakenly thought the kids would think it was cool and therefore that I was, you’ll pardon the expression, really groovy.
A mature pastor will set an example for the young people as well as all the rest.
–Immature pastors have not yet learned to love all groups in the church as well as outsiders. They tend to neglect the seniors as a waste of time (“hey, they’re on their way out;” “they’ve had their day”) and invest all their energies in their own age group.
Churches even cater to this by calling a young pastor hoping to attract other young adults and teens to the church. The pastor is the one who should take corrective steps to make sure he reaches out to all the membership, lovingly serving each group.
–Immature pastors want everyone to live by faith except themselves. “I deserve a higher standard of living,” one said as he went before the finance committee asking for a raise. When told the money simply was not available, he pouted. Just like a six-year-old.
–Immature pastors struggle with impurity and are sometimes victimized by their “youthful lusts” (II Timothy 2:22). Scripture advises us to “flee” them. Not to argue or dicker with them, not to negotiate or reason, but to run away as fast as we can. Pastors should not bring certain television cable channels into their home and must always guard against salacious reading material, sexual videos, and unhealthy images on computers and iPhones in order to keep their minds and hearts pure.
The Lord expects His servants to be clean and pure. “In a large house, there are (all kinds) of vessels, some for honor and some for dishonor.” (The honorable vessels would be the kitchen dishes, for instance. The dishonorable ones would include trash cans and chamber pots.) Scripture goes on to say, “If a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (II Timothy 2:20-21).
I know how the Lord works. Now that I’ve written on immature pastors and how they act and misbehave, something will come up in the next twenty-four hours to show what an infant in the faith I really am. And that’s not all bad.
We must all beware of thinking ourselves holier or godlier or more mature than we are. To do so is setting ourselves up for a fall. In truth, the closer we get to the Almighty, the more we see of imperfections in our own lives, and the more unworthy we feel.
Less of me and more of Christ. John the Baptist’s mantra is a good one for all of us, particularly we who need to grow.
And who doesn’t need to grow?