My journal tells of a revival in our church in 1992. After the final service, my wife and I took the guest evangelist and singer to lunch. And there they proceeded to unload.
“At lunch for one solid hour, they filled me with their suggestions for improving our work here. Finally Margaret intervened and said, ‘You guys are overdoing it.’ I was about to overdose on their helpfulness!”
I don’t recall asking for their input. And to be sure, they presumed upon the relationship. I’m confident they felt they were serving the Lord well by suggesting ways we could get this big church off the ground and into the air. And because they have been in full-time itinerant ministry for decades and have seen it all, they have definite opinions and convictions on what works and what doesn’t. And they are friends, although not with a lengthy history. Anyway…
My well-meaning friends had no clue the forces I was contending with inside the membership of the church. But, they wanted to help me, so I listened. And praise the Lord for a good wife. She spoke up and told them that was enough already. Smiley-face goes here.
She was right. There is such a thing as overdoing a good thing.
These days, in retirement, I’m in a different church almost every Sunday. I preach in big ones and little ones, taking them as the invitations arrive. And frequently after ministering in a church, I do have thoughts on what the pastor can do to serve the Lord better there.
But unless I’m asked, I keep it to myself.
Perhaps one time out of ten, the host pastor will say to me toward the end of our meeting, “So, Brother Joe, I’d welcome any suggestions you have on what I should be doing.” And this is the honest truth, the pastor who says that almost never needs anything from me. The very fact that he is looking for ways to do a better job speaks volumes about that pastor and his leadership.
And the church with the glaring needs–the pastor whom I could really help, I think–almost never asks for my input. So, I pray for them and go on to the next assignment.
I’m remembering one pastor in a small-to-medium sized church in Missouri. He was warm and godly and hospitable. This was his first pastorate and it was his hometown, as I recall. I had some thoughts on the way he dressed for church.
So, one day he was expressing thoughts on being open to moving to another church if the Lord should so desire. And I decided to mention it to him.
“I wonder if you’d let me make a suggestion or two on how you can get ready for the next church?” He brightened up. “I’d love it,” he said.
I said, “Charlie, the way you dress for church fits this congregation. The people love you the way you are and you fit right in with them. But I need to tell you, this church is in a minority. Most want just a little more from their pastor than that.”
Readers are wondering what he was wearing that would cause me to say such a thing. Some are ready to mark me off as a pharisee who puts all the emphasis on externals. And they would be wrong.
The guy looked like–well, let me phrase this carefully–like he was ready to work on my car, to change the oil or something. It’s not that he was dressed casually; he was two notches below that!
I said, “My advice to pastors is that as a general rule, you should dress just one notch above where most of the men in the congregation are. I’m not saying you have to wear a suit and a tie; nicely ironed khakis and a sport shirt would work fine.”
Twice after I returned home that pastor thanked me for the counsel. I have no idea how things turned out, as we are not in touch. But I prayed for him this morning, that God would bless him and his precious family.
My doctor came into the examining room where I sat waiting for him last week. He was wearing a starched white shirt with a great tie, chinos, and comfortable shoes. He inspired confidence the moment he entered the room.
Honestly, had my doctor come in wearing cut-offs and a t-shirt, his knowledge would have been the same and presumably he could have done the same thing he did. But he knows the value of inspiring confidence in those he’s treating. That’s why I do not want the crew of an airline I’m flying to dress down. I want them to look like the professionals they are. It inspires confidence.
But who asked me? I’m a meddling pastor speaking to other pastors, some of whom bristle at the thought that dressing up just a tiny bit could change people’s perception of them and their reception of their message. I suggest that their anger betrays something going on deep inside them that may be akin to a willful insistence on doing ministry their own way instead of the Lord’s way.
How a preacher dresses is way down the list of my concerns. I’m just making a point.
Trying to be a helpful preacher.
Lord, help us.