The question for all church big-shots

“…who loves to be first among them” (III John 9).

I’ve known them in quite a number of churches. They have no trouble identifying themselves as the force to be reckoned with around this church.

If you are the visiting preacher, their words to you before or after the service will be an announcement, not a comment.  You will know you have heard from the control room of the universe.  You have heard the voice of God.  This man is in charge around here.

No one has to tell you.  You just know.

This one calls the shots.  Rules the roost. Throws his weight around.  Is the power behind the scene.

He loves to have the pre-eminence.  (See Diotrephes in III John, above.)

Woe to the pastor trying to do the will of God in this place but having to deal with this millstone around his neck, this roadblock on the highway, this sandbar in the stream.  Metaphors keep suggesting themselves.  Clots in the arteries.  Bullies on the playground.

Obstinate. Headstrong. Bull-headed. Egotistical.

The only opinion that counts is his.

–In one medium-sized church where I’d preached a revival, the layman sought me out at the end of the final service. He opened his billfold and peeled off a few notes and handed to me.  Honestly, I thought he was paying my mileage, it was that small.  Later, I was informed by the pastor that this was my portion of the revival offering.  The rather considerable amount that had come into the church via the offering plates that week remained in the church.  This man determined how much the visiting preacher would get. In similar fashion, he chose the pastors for his church and made all the important decisions.

He’s dead now.

–In another church, this one much larger and in a major city, a layman ruled over the church with a strong hand.  He was handsome and well-spoken and successful in is business. He was frequently elected to chair the trustees of a denominational agency nearby.  In every case, his was the opinion that counted.  I knew him only from afar, but learned long after he was off the scene that he held the church in a death-grip.

He’s dead now.

–Another big church, another large city.  The layman had ruled the city’s educational system as president of the school board, had presided over the state convention for two terms, and did his dead-level best to rule his church.  When he spoke, his word was final. When he opposed you on some issue, you were toast.

He’s dead now.

–One more big church, one more big city.  This big-shot made sure the pastor knew to whom he was answerable.  He literally camped out in the pastor’s office and made life miserable for him if he (the preacher) tried to go his own way.  This went on for a generation or more.

And guess what.  He’s gone now, too.

They’re all gone now.  And in every case, the churches they served and ran and oppressed and dominated go right on today as though these men never existed.  No one ever mentions them except in relief that they are off the scene and out of the way.

My question to these men is this: Why?

What was the point of all that?

Why do you do what you did?

Your influence–which was so dominant and could have been so positive–held the church back, frustrated a generation of pastors, and stymied the growth of this congregation.   Your take-no-prisoners approach left a lot of people bleeding in your wake. But that didn’t seem to matter to you.  What mattered was that you were in charge and they had to learn that lesson in one way or the other.

Why? What did you hope to prove?

What did it all amount to?  Where is it all now?

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  (Matthew 16:26).

“Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world.  But for Wales?” (Thomas More to Richard Rich in “A Man for All Seasons.”)

We would say: “But for this little church?”  This small fiefdom?

Why would a man love to throw his weight around so much that he is willing to sacrifice the Bride of Christ for his ego?

My own conclusions and contributions to this small analysis…

–I do not question the salvation of the big-shots I’ve referred to above.  I question their submission, their maturity, and their hearts.  They may or may not have been saved. That’s for One and One alone to know and decide.  I pray the Lord to have mercy on their souls.

–Before someone insists, let me admit that yes, sometimes the self-made big-shots ruling the church are themselves the pastors.  Some pastors have literally ruined the ministry of some good staff-members by their arbitrary heavy-handedness. One pastor I’m thinking of refused to quit throwing his weight around after retiring, but set himself up as the kingmaker. In his resignation, he announced he would become pastor emeritus, that he would continue to maintain an office in the church, and would preach a sermon each year on the anniversary of his departure.  When the church called as pastor a man he did not approve of, he set himself to destroy his ministry.  That did not turn out well, and–make of this what you will–the Lord called that ex-pastor home soon afterwards. A lot of church leaders–and one pastor!–breathed more easily after he was off the scene.

–Such big-shots remind me of what the Lord said of the Pharisees in the Sermon on the Mount. They practice their righteousness “before men to be noticed by men.”  When they give alms, Jesus said, they sound trumpets to call a crowd around them for the ceremony.  When they pray, they stand on street corners and pray publicly so that everyone will know who the prayer warriors are around here.  And when they fast, they take on the appearance of one suffering for the Lord’s sake, so no one will forget who the genuine spiritual leaders are.   And what about them?  The Lord had an answer.

“They have their reward in full.” (Matthew 6:2,5,16)

As some modern paraphrases have it, “That’s all the reward they’re going to get.”

–I suspect these bigshots who cause havoc in the Lord’s churches do so as a result of psychological quirks that cause them to see themselves as leaders above all others, more gifted and endowed, and thus they have an obligation to stand out front and lead the parade.  I seriously doubt any of them are evil as such.  Of all the men I’ve referred to above, and I knew them all, none to my knowledge were adulterers or drunks or wife-abusers or child-molesters.

But they were wrong.

–They were wrong about themselves.  If they did indeed have superior skills and gifts, that should only have made them better servants and helpers.  They were wrong about others.  Sometimes the wisest person in the room is  the elderly widow in the corner crocheting the afghan and silently taking in the conversation.  And sometimes, the best pastor in the denomination is actually bivocational with only a high-school diploma.

God knows.  We do not.  So, we do well to “honor all men; love the brotherhood; fear God; honor the king” (I Peter 2:17).

–The greatest lesson which escaped every bigshot on the planet is that “He who would be great among you, let him be your servant” (Our Lord, the Servant of all servants, said that is a number of places. See Matthew 23:11 where He said it to the big-shots of His day.)

The best thing a servant can do for himself, said our Lord in Luke 17:10, is this:  At the end of the day, when he has done his job as well as it can be done, he should say to himself, “I am only an unworthy servant; I’m just doing my job.”

Everyone do that and there will never again be another bigshot among the Lord’s family trying to lord it over the others.  (Pastors, see I Peter 5:3, and let it become your mantra.)




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