What puts gray hairs in preachers’ heads

“Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

When Paul was naming his burdens and enumerating his scars, after speaking of imprisonments and beatings, shipwrecks and nakedness, he adds one that surprises some people: the daily care of the Lord’s churches.

It’s every bit as burdensome as the others, believe me.

Most of us do one church at a time; Paul had them all on his heart.

A pastor can have 500 wonderful members who appreciate his efforts and who pray for him daily, but be worn to a nub by a few people with axes to grind but with neither scruples nor accountability.

A pastor friend at the end of his rope told me, “I feel like I’m being stoned to death with popcorn.  I’m being eaten alive by a school of minnows.”

All those little nagging things that we laugh at have a way of accumulating, until eventually, they become more than you can bear.

This is from my journal some years back….

I had a run-in with a member last Friday.  He is a non-practicing dentist.  He was upset because his name was listed in the church bulletin as Mister and not Doctor.  He said, “I’ve told those secretaries again and again.”  So I said to him–

a) I will talk to them.  b) Mister is always appropriate for any man, from the President of the USA on down.  It is never wrong.  He said, ‘Don’t lecture me about ethics.’ I said, ‘I’m not. I’m lecturing you about English!’  c) It’s your ego that is offended, and this is the main problem.

That man and I had a short history of conflict, and this little confrontation–which no doubt I could have handled better–just made it worse.  Thereafter, he devoted himself to finding dirt in my past to use against me.  He ended up concocting a lie–namely, that I was divorced and remarried and had not informed the pastor search committee; not a word of truth to it– and then spreading it.

Our mission board was carelessly allowing that man to take teams overseas to do medical/dental work for the Lord, even though the report is he had come within a hair-breadth of being disbarred from his profession.

One wonders what kind of mature adult obsesses over how his name is listed in the church bulletin.  Who cares? and why?

The man suspected I might be a terrible boss and began hanging around the church office to pick up on the scuttlebutt.  His suspicions were not without cause. After all, I had fired the secretary who was in place when I arrived and then terminated her replacement at the end of a brief trial period.  The first woman simply refused to do what I asked.  I would say, “I need you to keep the door closed between my office and yours so I can get some work done without interruptions.”  But for whatever reasons, I do not know, she adamantly refused.  After several other occasions when she would not do things I asked, once again I was talking with her about it.  She said, “Do you want me to resign?” I said, “Yes, I think so.” She began crying that she needed this job.  I said, “You really should have thought of that before you decided you would not do anything I asked of you.”

With the help of an employment agency, I hired another, but with the understanding the first 90 days would be probationary.  This young woman was attractive and made a good impression, but was incompetent.  So, after three months, I released her. Before clearing out of the office, she preached me a little sermon on how to pastor a church.  (Naturally, she knew how to pastor a church. She was all of 23 years of age, exactly one-half my age.)

On one occasion, I had dictated a letter which the second woman typed up.  Where I had said “new lease on life,” she had typed “newly sown life.”  It’s actually funny, although it makes no sense. Why, one wonders, didn’t she ask if she didn’t understand?

With the input of the church staff, we asked our wonderfully efficient receptionist to move into my office as my assistant.  At first, she was reluctant, having seen two other women fail.  She stayed twenty years.

However, with my third secretary in my first year as pastor, the wayward dentist just knew I must be an ogre to work for and began to hang around, hoping to pick up some dirt. One day the last one said to him, “Doctor (name), the pastor is a wonderful boss. And I love working for him.”  And he never returned to the office.

This, you should bear in mind, took place in the church office.  These are God’s people.  We were doing the work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Go figure.

A friend who manages the office for the Northeast Baptist associations in Monroe, Louisiana, gave me a good line.  Glenda Suggs said, “Every time we have a new person working in our office, I try to prepare them for the wide assortment of people with whom they will be dealing. I tell them, You are about to see the worst side of the best people.”

One day a friend mentioned to me “the church’s dirty little secret.”  And what is that, I asked.  He said, “People can throw a hissy fit in church and they’re never held accountable.  But they would never throw such tantrums in their office or school.”  He gave me a couple of examples which formed the basis for an article for our blog. “What I wonder,” he said, “is why do they think they can get by with it at church?”  Good question.   See “the church’s dirty little secret.” (http://joemckeever.com/wp/churchs-dirty-secret/ )  It quickly became one of the most read pieces of that year.

Now, here is the kicker:  None of these little things that so harass the Lord’s shepherd weighs heavily on the scale.  None rise to the level of serious burden.  It’s just the harassment of them.  Therefore, no one but the pastor ever knows about them.  Were he to mention these incidents to anyone but his wife, they would think he was overreacting, making mountains of molehills, and tell him to “man up.”

“The little foxes spoil the vine” is how the Song of Solomon puts it.

Your church is being overrun by little foxes today, my friend.

Pray for your pastor.




7 thoughts on “What puts gray hairs in preachers’ heads

  1. “…even though the report is he had come within a hair-breadth of being disbarred from his profession…”

    Hmmm. So, much for pastorly perspective. Seems such a thought/statement is basically the same kind of behavior you purport is bad…just not against a “pastor.” I guess it’s OK then.

    • Well said. I find myself very discouraged to see the very young pastor of my church so frequently posting similar articles berating church members. It seems to draw a line in the sand between “us and them” that only harms the work of the kingdom.

  2. The most difficult people to deal with are the children of pastors who were mistreated. Some of these “kids” have not forgiven folks in their past and take it out on current staff. Sad that they cannot forgive.

  3. Who decides which issues are big deals and which are insignificant? You? Maybe some shared prayer and conversation would do more good than pouting and wound licking. This guy really got under your skin, yet all I see is a “record of wrongs” and no account of what you did to soothe tbe situation. That 23-yr-old might not have known much about running a church, but, perhaps, she could have taught you a thing or two about people.

  4. Joe, I totally relate. I’ve been a pastor for 30 years. Thank you for sharing your burdens.

    I only wish people would hear your heart and see it as an opportunity “bear one another’s pain” rather than replying with such meanness.

    Btw, your writings are very insightful and well-written. I visit your blog (almost) every day looking for a new post. Keep up the good work. You inspire and encourage a lot of us out here… Ron

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