I could tell the day I was no longer president of our denomination. People across the nation had been praying for me, and now they were praying for the new guy. I could feel the slackening off of the prayers. It’s a terrible feeling. –From one of our past denominational leaders
Her name was Mary Ann Adlar. (Not sure about the spelling of her name.) An invalid, her life was devoted to praying from her small cottage in the southern part of England. Sometime in the 1860s Miss Adlar heard of a man in America whom God was using mightily. She began praying for Dwight L. Moody, that God would send him to her church in England. Her beloved country was desperately in need of a Heaven-sent revival, she felt.
In 1872, an exhausted Dwight L. Moody came to England on a vacation. He met the pastor of Miss Adlar’s church, and was invited to preach there. There was such power in the service, Moody was invited to stay for a series of meetings. Four hundred people came to Christ that week. Moody asked the pastor whether someone had been praying. Surely they had, he reasoned.
The pastor asked around and found Mary Ann Adlar, the woman whose prayers brought a preacher across an ocean and brought revival to her church.
Any pastor can tell you about that. Even when you do your best to serve God by ministering to His people, some church members are not going to forgive you. You didn’t do it their way, weren’t there when they called, didn’t jump at their bark.
Those are the exceptions, I hasten to say to friends who wonder why we overlook the 98 percent of members to focus on the 2 percent who drive us batty. It’s the 2 percent of drivers who are the crazies on the highways and ruin the experience for everyone else. It’s the 2 percent of society who require us to maintain a standing army to enforce laws. Rat poison, they say, is 98 percent corn meal. But that two percent will kill you.
I say to my own embarrassment and confess it as unworthy of a child of God that I remember these difficult moments with God’s people more than the precious times. Perhaps it’s because the strained connections and hard words feed into my own insecurities. Or maybe it’s because there are so many more of the blessed times. It’s human nature, I know. Help us, Lord.
Even so, here are two instances from my journal that stand out….
First, the church member who is mad at you needlessly
On returning from an out-of-town engagement, a staff member told me I needed to call Selma, that she was angry about something. Selma was married to a deacon, a good guy, and they were not high maintenance but generally supportive. I could not imagine her being angry with anyone. I called her immediately.
“My sister is in the hospital and none of you have come by to visit.” That was her complaint.
“And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.'” Luke 19:41-42
You’ve seen the bumper stickers and billboards. “KNOW JESUS; KNOW PEACE,” followed by “No Jesus; No Peace.”
That’s almost right, but not completely.
We hear Christians say, “If the world just knew Jesus, we would have world peace.” It sounds right, but we might be missing something.
A lot of Christians do not have peace. They are constantly beset by worries and fears, angst and anxieties. Christians are taking the prescriptions along with everyone else to settle their nerves. Something is going on. What?
Many churches–made up of born-again, Bible-believing, Christians (a redundancy if ever there was one)–are constantly at war among themselves. They argue over doctrine, where to situate the organ, whether to even have an organ, whether the pastor should wear a suit and tie or jeans and sneakers, and how much to pay the preacher. They argue over who is to run the church and divide over how long the sermons should be. And they love the Lord.
Something is wrong.
Every pastor gets invited to offer invocations at public gatherings. It goes with the territory.
I once prayed at the grand opening of a big box home-and-hardware store. As a thank-you, they gave me an electric Stihl saw. Not being a woodworker, I passed it on to a neighbor.
Once in a pastor’s office I noticed the wall covered with plaques and degrees and framed certificates. Not only was his high school diploma on display, but when the local supermarket thanked him for praying at their grand opening, he framed that letter too.
Okay. Here’s what happens. The secretary of the city council or school board or state legislature calls. “Pastor, would you say the opening prayer at next Wednesday’s session?” Before the call ends, you may expect them to say something like, “And pastor, please make the prayer inclusive.” Or interdenominational. Or non-sectarian. What she means is a) don’t preach to us and try to convert people in your prayer and b) if you must include Jesus, try to be gentle about it.
In other words, be nice.
You would think no one would have to tell a preacher to be considerate of others when he prays. But these public prayers have been abused by so many preachers, it’s necessary.
Now, if they tell me to leave Jesus out of it–in just so many words–I tell them I will not be able to help them, but “thank you so much for asking.”
This is merely one possible scenario, but I’ve seen it happen several times.
We had interviewed Brian and all the background checks and references were great. We liked him, were impressed by the work he was doing in his present church, and knew God was going to continue doing great things through him.
He liked us, and possibly felt some leadership from the Lord. If we had called, I expect he would have accepted.
But we backed off. We did not call him to our staff.
My journal tells how he responded when I informed him.
“I told Brian we had learned 100 good things about him. But the bottom line is I don’t have inner peace about this.”
He asked what in particular was the hangup. I said “Nothing. It’s just that I feel a sense of unease, that it’s not right.”
Don’t jump to conclusions. Ask for more information before you jump.
Sometimes when something just seems wrong–this could not be!–it is wrong.
Here’s the story, from my journal of the 1990s. I had forgotten this.
I had been out of town for the weekend, and my assistant had preached. We had four additions to the church and everyone praised the preaching of Dwight Munn. And then, I began going through my mail…
An offering envelope from Byron (last name) had been placed in my mailbox. He’s a new member, a super nice guy, a pathologist, and was engaged to marry Carol, who was equally nice and as lovely as anyone has a right to be! Inside the offering envelope was a note. A rather angry note.
The writer–presumably Byron–was criticizing all the announcements in the service, particularly the two made by the wives of a couple of staffers. The writer said it’s enough to welcome new members at the end of the service, but nothing more should be said.
As I say, the tone was angry.
My journal records one of those pressurized times some 20 or more years ago.
Consider that the church was still recovering from a split five years earlier, leaving us with a diminished congregation but an all-consuming debt. Consider that some of our people still carried guilt over their actions during the fight, while others nursed hurts and anger from the same tragic event. I’d not been around during that catastrophe, I’m happy to report, but the Father had sent me in to help the congregation pick up the pieces and return to health and usefulness.
It was hard.
I was weak personally, having just emerged from a brutal three-plus years trying to shepherd another congregation that was divided. So, without doubt I came in gun-shy, hoping to avoid conflicts with church leadership and carping from church membership.
Naïve, huh? Probably so. People are going to look and act like who they are.
Daily I was being undermined by the angry, criticized by the hurting, ostracized by the pious, and scrutinized to the nth degree by leaders, self-appointed and otherwise. When I tried to do a few things I considered normal and healthy, these also were thrown back in my face.
The journal records my efforts to bring in community leaders for a forum during which the guest would speak and be questioned. Our people could not understand why in the world I would want to bring a congressman, for example, to our church.
“Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
“Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am.” (Psalm 39:4)
“They will still bear fruit in old age; they will be full of sap and very green.” (Psalm 92:14).
The Bible has a lot to say about getting old. And most of it is great.
As a child, I would lie awake wondering about the future. For one born in 1940, the turn of the 21st century was several lifetimes away. “In the year 2000,” I thought, “I’ll be 60 years old. Almost at the end of my life.”
When that momentous time arrived, I was scarcely out of my teens. I was anything but old. Surely not. No way was I ready to cash in my chips, to hang it all up. To call it a day. To head for the house. And a lot of metaphors like that.
I was still young and alive and working.
From the beginning, the Lord’s people talk a better game than we live.
So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them. And yet, judging by the way we live, the Lord’s people probably do not believe the following…
One. God sends the pastor to the church.
Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy. People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t. And they vote on the recommendation of their committee. And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.
Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches? They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).
Two. God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.
In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?
If we believed that God hears, cares, and answers, we would be praying over every detail of our lives. “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) would define our very existence.
If I were a young man just beginning to minister for the Lord, I would want to make sure I did these things…
One. Stayed close to the church. Loyal to it, involved in it, faithfully preaching that the church is the only institution the Lord formed, and I would work through the local church.
Two. I would want to get as much formal education as possible, and do it as fully and completely as possible. This means, I would move my family to the campus just as we did the first time, and get to know the professors and students personally. The bonds formed in class and in between class periods last a lifetime. Thereafter, I would continue getting as much education as I could, and if some of that was online, that would be fine. But the basic seminary education, I would do on campus.