(Today, in going through old blogs, I found this one which was identified as a draft, meaning it had never been posted. It’s a little dated–2005, actually–with personal references. I’m now in my fourth year of retirement. But the message is so on-target, perhaps some of our readers will benefit from it.)
I cannot tell you what I miss most about pastoring churches, but I can tell you what I miss least: church business meetings. After forty-plus years of pastoring, one year ago I moved across town to become the director of missions–sort of a bishop without any authority–for the Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans.
Every Sunday, I’m in a different church and often fill the pulpits for the ministers. I come in, greet everyone, confer briefly with the worship leader, then take my seat on the front pew and enjoy the service until time to preach. I walk to the pulpit and deliver the message God has given me, then extend the Lord’s invitation for people to come to Christ. After the benediction, I shake a few more hands, then get in my car and drive home. On the way, I stop at Wendy’s for a takeout salad and frostie, which I leisurely consume while working the crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper. That night, I’m usually in another church as a visitor, taking up space on the pew, greeting a few people, enjoying the worship, hearing a good sermon, and going home. It’s a great life.
No monthly church business meetings. No monthly deacons meetings. Not ever again. Can you hear the music in my words?
Now, the good people in my last church may be surprised to learn that I will not be unhappy if I never attend either of these meetings again. The last six or eight years, all our deacons meetings were harmonious and even spiritual while the monthly business meetings were benign and productive. As any veteran minister will tell you, however, it’s all those other meetings that forever poisoned me against them. The ones marked by dissension and bickering and negativism. The meetings where leaders chosen for their maturity acted like a bunch of children fighting on the playground.
Over the years, I have come to two major conclusions on how to make committee meetings and church conferences harmonious and even Christian. I offer them to you now in the hope that pastors and church leaders will pass them along to their members. I pray these will take root, will grow in their minds and hearts, and eventually bear the lasting fruit of sweet church meetings. In so doing, we will extend years to the pastors’ lives and ministries, make church more pleasant for a host of members, and get some needed work done in the name of the Lord. Most of all, we will bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ by our loving behavior.
Insight One: There is a way to oppose a motion on the floor of the church and carry the day.
Now, we all know people who oppose every motion, every idea, every program that is presented. I’m not sure what they think they are accomplishing, other than becoming a thorn in the minister’s side. However, there is a way to stand to your feet and oppose a motion and turn the congregation in support of your position.
Be known as a team player. That’s it. Be positive-minded, supportive of your leadership, an encourager to those on the front lines. Build a reputation as one who gives of yourself, your money, and your time in the service of the Lord through this church. Be a servant, a giver, a worker. Then, when you stand to oppose something, you have the undivided attention of the congregation. You have credibility with the other members, purchased by your years of faithfulness service with a great attitude.
Let me tell you about Mike Skiles. A sales manager by profession, Mike is one of the sweetest-natured men you will ever meet. In 1990, he was chairman of the pastor search committee that brought me to Kenner, Louisiana’s First Baptist Church. Mike’s father was a beloved preacher in the DeRidder, LA, area, and Mike’s mother was a godly woman who made a gentleman of their son. Mike is married to Beverly, a lovely schoolteacher, and they have three daughters, all fine upstanding examples of Christian womanhood. You would like Mike Skiles.
I saw Mike last Sunday morning at the men’s monthly breakfast meeting. He had been in the kitchen since five o’clock, cooking and scrubbing and working. Mike loves to cook and he loves to work behind the scenes to help people have a great experience at church. He greets you with a smile and if you are close enough, a bear hug. He has been chairman of deacons several times and has taught Sunday School classes for years. If there is anyone in the church who does not adore this man, I have yet to meet him.
Now, if I were a preacher about to introduce some weird doctrine or strange program (the equivalent of what the Old Testament calls “strange fire” –Leviticus 10:1) into that church, I would fear Mike Skiles. He is one man of a precious few who could shoot it down by simply standing on the floor of a business meeting and speaking out against it. That congregation knows that no one in the whole church is a better servant, has a more Christlike spirit, and is more supportive of its leadership than Mike. If he cannot support the proposal, it’s time to back off.
My friend Atwell Andrews, now in Heaven, once commiserated with me concerning a church member who was forever carping about something he didn’t like. Atwell put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Pastor, I used to serve on the city council with that man. One day I went to him and said, ‘Friend, you have opposed everything we have tried to do in this city. Tell me one thing you are for.’ And pastor, he couldn’t think of a single thing!” In other words, I was not to take personally that man’s opposition; it was his nature. I learned not to fear the man’s bad attitude or his negative votes. He had no following in the church, so we learned to humor him, to hear him out, then to go forward.
Insight Two: There is a way to become the consummate team player, a method taught in Scripture from beginning to end. As with much that the Lord requires of His disciples, it can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit because it is diametrically opposite to our natural human tendencies.
Subject yourself to others. Put yourself under the authority of others. Stifle that urge to have your own way and give in to the other guy. Learn to say, “Let’s do it your way.”
“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders, and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5)
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” That’s Philippians 2:3 and it’s the Apostle Paul talking. He tells the Macedonians of his plans to send Timothy their way. Note the tribute he gives this young man: “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” (2:20-21)
This fellow wrote into “Dear Marilyn” in the Sunday “Parade” magazine. “People are always talking about getting things done by compromising,” he said. “To me, it’s a dirty word. Why should I compromise when I know I’m right?”
Marilyn vos Savant wrote back: “So, when do you compromise–when you know you’re wrong? That’s not compromising; you were going that way anyway.”
Scripturally, to subject ourselves to one another means to give in. I will not insist on having my own way. Let’s do it your way.
It’s hard. It goes against my nature to give in to you. After all, if I didn’t think I were right, I wouldn’t have spoken up in the first place. But unless it’s a matter of life and death or great principle, after I make my position known, I yield to you.
The church custodian came to me with a complaint. His supervisor, one of the church’s ministers, was insisting he build a closet a certain way. “It’s not going to work,” said Jay, “and I keep telling him, but he won’t listen.” I said, “And he’s your boss, isn’t he?” “Yes.” “Then do it his way.” He said, “But it’s wrong and it’s going to have to be torn out and redone.” I said, “And then you will be proven right. But right now, he is the decision maker. Submit yourself to him. Give in. Not because he is smarter, but because he’s over you. You made your point, he rejected it, now go do it his way.”
Later, when that closet had to be torn out and rebuilt–this time in Jay’s way–he had earned credibility with his supervisor that would help the next time they had a disagreement.
The fruit of the Spirit is Love. Joy. Peace. Longsuffering. Gentleness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Humility. Self-control.
Nine qualities that describe the Lord Jesus and define the mature believer. It’s found in Galatians 5:22-23.
Such a man or woman is the only person I know who can be the godly team player in church and give in to others when a conflict arises. Everyone else insists on having his own way.
What a revolutionary idea–the Holy Spirit lives in a believer and produces spiritual fruit in his life and he becomes sweet-spirited and a blessing to those around him.
Let’s try that sometime.
(Final word: did you notice my two heroes in this story, Atwell and Mike, are both deacons? I don’t dislike deacons, just the meetings.)