Pastors have to lead their leaders.
There is no other way. Someone has to teach church leaders how to be people of faith, of compassion, of courage. And, as the shepherd of the flock, that falls to you, the preacher.
This is the first of three articles. What follows is the first one, “Teaching the leaders to be people of faith.” Next will come “Teaching the leaders to be people of compassion,” and then “Teaching the leaders to be people of courage.”
I’ve preached in churches which were rich with Godly and mature leaders, people who supported their pastor and led their people by example in matters of faith, compassion, and courage. And, I confess that I have sometimes envied those preachers. Any of us would give a year of our lives to shepherd a congregation that is solidly Christian and faces problems calmly in faith.
I see it all the time. With this country’s economy still struggling to recover and with a lot of churches hurting financially, congregational leaders start to panic. The offerings are declining, the bank balance is dwindling, and fear moves in, unpacks its baggage, and takes over.
The pastor who is a non-leader will sit back and watch as the most fearful of the church’s elected leaders rule the day. They will recommend cutting programs, laying off staff, and trimming next year’s budget to the bones. They will do this from strong convictions–and honorable ones, too–that the church should be solvent, responsible, and exemplary.
But they are missing a key element that should be standard equipment in every church leader: Faith in Christ. What does the Lord want His leaders to do with His church?
A carnal leader who has found his voice now that the church’s finances are hurting (in most cases he had nothing to say when the congregation was giving well, but now that the church is hurting, he finds a ready audience for his lack of faith and his fears) will sound forth on the foolhardiness of stepping out on faith. “We have to be responsible, pastor! All that high-flying rhetoric about living by faith is all right for you preachers and missionaries. But for those of us in the real world, we have to pay our bills. And if the money isn’t there, you can’t do certain things.”
Don’t miss the condescension in that. As a pastor for over four decades, I assure you I’m not making this up. I’ve heard those actual words spoken by church treasurers to their idealistic pastor who had said they should be asking the Lord what He wanted done in this financial crisis with His church.
The solution is not an easy one, and definitely not a quick fix. The pastor should teach his people–all of them, but particularly the leaders–what it means to exercise faith. This will require that he remain at the church for a number of years in order to earn their trust and establish his credibility.
Teaching God’s people how to resist their fears, face the problems, and step out on faith is one of the key responsibilities of the shepherd of the Lord’s flock.
Pastor, teach them to exercise faith.
Faith lessons always bring along two partners: a la carte problems with a side order of fear.
(No one has to ask, “Do you want fear with that?” It comes without being invited. You have a problem, look for the fear. It’s there.)
Check out any place in the New Testament where the Lord gave lessons on faith and you will see they always began with a problem: a storm-tossed sea, thousands of hungry worshipers and nothing to feed them, a dead girl, a sick mother-in-law.
There are no faith-lessons apart from problems. And the greater the lesson the Lord wanted to teach, the bigger the problem He sent. The greatest of all problems–the death of Jesus on Calvary–wrought for us the most wonderful of all faith-lessons: the living Christ is sufficient for all our needs for all time.
In the great “faith-chapter” in Scripture, Hebrews 11, each person listed in God’s hall of fame had a problem. Noah’s world was about to be flooded, Abraham was asked to journey to a place unknown to him, Sarah would be having a baby past her child-bearing age, Moses would be gathering up God’s people and leading them away from Egypt.
In every case, the leader reacted in faith, and thus earned a spot in this hallowed listing.
Along with the problem comes the temptation to fear.
“Oh, my–whatever shall we do?”
Fear panics. Fear says there is no hope, sees no remedy, brooks no alternative. “Fear hath torment,” as I John 4:18 puts it.
Think of all those fearful situations the Lord put His disciples in…
The storm threatens to swamp the boat and we are lost. The people have been with us three days without food and they will faint along the way if we send them home. Jairus’ daughter is dead and beyond all hope, so we might as well join the mourners. Peter’s mother-in-law is sick and we’ll have to go elsewhere to find something to eat today, Lord.
The tendency is fear is as natural as breathing. In fact, to the carnal or unspiritual mind, it’s the only appropriate response.
You lose your job and figure you’ll lose your house. Makes sense. People lose their jobs and then their homes every day.
Your doctor says “malignancy” and you start planning your funeral. Seems logical. People die prematurely from cancer all the time.
The pastor says, “Our offerings are down this month,” and you start looking for places to cut. After all, the news this week says Dr. Robert Schuller’s “Crystal Cathedral” has filed for bankruptcy. It can happen anywhere.
In the old radio shows of the 1940s, when the crisis grew big enough and sufficiently scary, actor Bud Collyer–in the role he made famous–would call out, “This looks like a job for Superman!!”
When the congregation begins to fear and church leaders begin to panic, this is a job for the Lord’s Shepherd! This is a call for a man of faith to go into action.
It’s time to teach the people about living by faith. About trusting God in their trying times. About obeying Him when it’s hard.
Pastor, teach them in the midst of the crisis.
It’s tempting to say that such lessons should have been taught during good times so the people would be prepared for the bad days. But it doesn’t work that way. No one can learn to walk and live by faith when no faith is required. Only by meeting a challenge head-on and responding by faith in Christ will God’s people learn what it means to walk by faith.
At such times, the pastor sits down with the leaders of the congregation and gives a heart-to-heart talk about the nature of faith. Life sends us a big problem, we have a natural tendency to fear, but we respond with courage and faith in Christ. As a result–and this is crucial to see–God is glorified, Christ is honored, the people are strengthened, the enemy is frustrated, and the watching world gets a solid witness about the reality of God in His children.
This presupposes, of course, that the pastor is a man of faith already.
Pastor, you must set the example yourself.
You cannot teach what you have not been living any more than you can lead people someplace you’ve never been.
So, let the pastor be a person who on a day-to-day basis (i.e., in good times and bad) prays by faith, rejoices by faith, gives by faith, and speaks faith in difficult situations.
If the pastor is not a regular tither-and-beyond of his income, he will not be able to adequately challenge his people for bigger and bolder steps when a financial crisis hits the church.
If the pastor does not pray by faith on a regular basis, he will have meager resources from which to teach his people when the crisis occurs.
If the pastor rejoices only in the good times but not in the difficult, he will have nothing to offer his people when the church enters the dark tunnel of meager contributions.
Fear will rule the day and the shepherd will be without a weapon.
The shepherd who will bless his people and honor his Lord in the middle of a financial crisis is the pastor who has built a solid reputation as a man of faith through the years. Then, when the difficult times hit and he calls the leaders to respond by faith, he has their undivided attention.
Younger pastors, or those with a shorter tenure at a church, may find the lay leadership is not as willing to follow him in matters of faith when the offerings begin to dry up. Let him not be discouraged, but recognize this as a fact of life. They find comfort in their fears; faith is scary.
Just stay at that church, young pastor, and establish a record as a man of faith. Teach what you can in the good times, but when difficult days come–as they always do; never believe otherwise–be ready to call them to courageous action.
What is the courageous action which Faith demands in a crisis?
Each situation is different. If you are a man of faithful prayer, this is the time to pull aside and ask the Lord what He wants done in this context.
For one church, responding with courageous faith might be doubling their mission giving even though the church is hurting financially.
For another, it may mean going ahead with that mission trip to Venezuela even though several people who are going have since lost their jobs.
It could mean proceeding to erect that building even though some large contributions you had counted on have just disappeared due to the economy.
Be careful here, pastor. Presumption is not faith.
Keep back your servant from presumptuous sins.(Psalm 19:13)
We sin presumptuously when we claim what the Lord has not promised, go where He did not send us, expect what he has not offered, and use His name when He has not spoken. This is dangerous business.
I expect we have all seen religious leaders claim that “God told me” they were to proceed to build that building, air that program, move that mountain, and consequently led their people into great difficulties.
Do not do this. Listen for God’s voice, and stay where you are until you hear it.
Then, make sure you go forth with compassion and courage. Those will be our next two sessions.