Immaturity and sin have one big thing in common: they’re more obvious in others than in ourselves.
At a state Baptist convention attended by a thousand or more church leaders, during a business session when anyone is free to walk to a microphone and express an opinion about the motion on the floor, I noticed the same young pastors kept rushing to address the messengers. At times what they said was pertinent, but one got the feeling they liked the sound of their own voice reverberating off the walls of that majestic worship center.
Returning home, I wrote a letter to the editor of our state paper–in hope that some of these guys might recognize themselves–suggesting that these youngsters could save themselves a lot of embarrassment and the rest of us considerable time if they would attend a few meetings before speaking out. That way, they might know what they were talking about instead of having the chair gently inform them that they were misinformed or out of order or clueless on this issue. (In the next issue of the paper, the mother of two young preachers took me to task for my insolence. “McKeever was young once,” she said. I was then 44.)
I have indeed been young and I have been green and ignorant, and I possess lots of experience with immaturity.
In my first church following seminary, I can still recall (painfully, I might add) the way I was critical of one of our state convention workers who would plan the annual youth evangelism meeting a few days after Christmas. Since my church was doing well and our youth were excited and the numbers growing, all the evidence proved I was an authority on working with youth. To my thinking, it did. I could have written a book on what that guy was doing wrong and how he could get it right.
And then, something happened.
The Lord led me to leave my thriving smaller church and join the staff of the largest Baptist church in the state, located across the street from the state headquarters. That denominational leader of whom I had been so critical was a member of our church and became a friend. From time to time, he enlisted my assistance in his programs. I soon discovered what a massive job he had and how well he was accomplishing big things with minimal resources.
In the words of the old adage: “Too late smart; too soon dead.”
I asked a preacher friend a generation younger than me for his take on what immature pastors do. He gave me the ones listed below and added, “I could give you more, but you asked for three.” See what you think.
1) Immature pastors try to change things too quickly.
Instead of taking the time to get to know their church and the community and to get leaders on board with their ideas, they tend to move quickly and abruptly.
When you are 27 years old, to be told to wait a year before moving the church to a new location and constructing an all-new facility sounds like you’re being told to wait a hundred years. Patience does not come easily or quickly to the young.
2) Immature pastors assert their authority over church members.
“I’m the pastor, that’s why.” “The Bible says you are to submit to me.”
Any preacher having to play that card with his members has lost the fight already.
Spiritual authority is something people grant you only after learning they can trust you; it is not a scepter handed you at ordination or awarded you at graduation. The only way for them to learn they can trust you is by your serving them faithfully over a period of time. There is no shortcutting the process, as much as one might wish otherwise.
3) Immature pastors fail to listen to older ministers.
My friend said, “They read their heroes and podcast their favorite mega pastors but think the old pastors in the area are out of touch.”
Let’s admit the truth here: some old pastors are out of touch. But not all, thankfully.
As a young pastor approaching my thirtieth birthday, I met Dr. Bill Day, retired from the Calvary Baptist Church in Tupelo and then (at the time) pastoring a small congregation in the farmland outside Indianola, MS. I can’t even recall where we met or how I came to be so smitten with this gentleman and his wife. But we had them for a couples’ banquet in our church, and my people fell in love with them also. When the Days invited me to preach a revival in their church, I was eager to spend more time with them. That was around 1970, and I recall it like it was last week. They blessed Margaret and me with their insights and counsel, but mostly just with their presence. There was a gentility and a graciousness about them that always left us feeling we had been in the presence of the Lord. We had.
What should we do about immature pastors?
1) We should love them and pray for them. Pray they will keep growing.
2) We should encourage church members to be patient with them.
3) We should see that the church has 2 or 3 key leaders who are able to confront or counsel him (and will do it!) as necessary.
4) We should enable him to get more training, to attend seminary, and/or to receive post-seminary development.
5) We should demonstrate spiritual maturity to him in our behavior and our dealings with him.
If your church is small and your pastor is green, and if you help him to grow into maturity, the chances are good that he will be moving on to bigger challenges. In time, he may become a mature leader serving a large congregation with an ever-growing circle of influence, and you will remember those early days when your church helped him to grow. A small church can do a wonderful work for the kingdom of God like this.
I’ve been in churches where the gallery of pastors’ photos down the hallway shows quite a few well-known denominational leaders and popular pastors. But when they served that church, they were fresh from seminary with a lot to learn. God used that church and its leadership to encourage these men of the Lord to enlarge their vision, deepen their faith, and expand their gifts and abilities.
The best thing in the world for an immature pastor is to be called to a mature church.