They’re voting on the preacher at the end of today’s worship service. He may be looking for a job before noon. Or, it could work out well. Either way, the pastor and his wife have turned it all over to the Lord, and while it would be catastrophic in some ways to have their lives turned upside down this way, their focus is on the Lord and not man. Here is some of what he told the church before the vote.
I’m glad to see so many in Weak Sister Church today. A friend of mine says there are two ways to get a big crowd in church: welcome a new preacher or run the old one off.
Some of you haven’t been to Weak Sister in a while. I am sincerely glad to see you here. I do have a special word for you, but not yet. Please bear with me a few moments while I address the believers.
I need to say one big thing to the congregation this morning, no matter how you plan to vote: My friends, what we are doing today is not about me.
I know you’ve been told it was all about me, whether I’m to continue as your pastor. And that much is true. It’s very possible I could be fired this morning.
You need to know that either way this vote goes, my family and I are fine. We have never looked to the church–or any group in the church–as our resource, but to the Lord. He alone is our strength. He called us into this ministry and He sent us to this church. And even if you decide the Lord made a mistake and vote to terminate our employment, the Lord is faithful and we are held in the palm of His hand.
That said, there are much larger issues at stake here.
If this vote today is not about me, then what is it about?
I’m glad you asked.
1) What we do here today determines the future of this church.
You get to decide whether this church remains weak or begins to grow strong and thrive.
A neighbor told me something the other day. “Have you noticed that the two closest towns have big, thriving churches? And while our town is the same size as theirs, this church is one-tenth their size and always in an uproar over something. Why is this?”
He answered his own question. “Pastor, Weak Sister Church has an infection that keeps it from growing and prospering for the Lord. It has a small group of self-appointed leaders who insist on calling the shots, who run preachers off when they do not cooperate, and they are killing that church.”
He added, “Weak Sister Church will never thrive until you get the infection out. That group must be faced down and put out of business.”
That’s what this is about, whether a small group shall continue to keep this church in a strait-jacket or whether you as the congregation decide to free it from their grasp and set this church loose to become all the Lord intends.
2) What we do here today determines the blessings of God upon this church.
Jesus said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17).
Don’t miss that. The blessings of Heaven are given NOT to people who say they love the Lord, NOT to those who learn and study and pray or a hundred other things. God’s blessings are promised ONLY to those who obey, who “do these things.”
Paul told the Corinthians, “To this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things” (II Corinthians 2:9).
My friends, the Lord is not going to bless a church that mistreats the very servants He sends to them. That’s why I say it’s not about me. It’s about what kind of church you want this to be and whether you want God’s blessings upon this congregation.
3) What we do here today determines whether we honor Jesus Christ or not.
Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
Did you get that? Jesus said He is both the OWNER and the OPERATOR of the church.
He owns it. Acts 20:28 says God bought it with His own blood.
He operates it. He will build it. That Acts 20:28 passage says pastors are appointed by the Holy Spirit to be the overseers of the church. Hebrews 13:17 says the pastors will give account to God for members of the congregation. A scary thought. Don’t miss this: if He holds us accountable for you, He must have given us responsibility for you.
I need to say something to every person in this building, and then I want to say a word to those of you who don’t normally come to church but have been asked to show up today to vote to fire the preacher.
To the leadership team of this church, my friends, thank you for your faithful and visionary service to the Lord’s work here. But you need to know, this is not your church. Jesus Christ died for this church. He owns it.
To the deacons: gentlemen, thank you for your faithful service to the congregation. But, my friends, this is not your church. Jesus Christ died for it. He owns this church.
To the members of the church with seniority: ladies and gentlemen, thank you for hanging in there through the years, through good times and difficult ones. But this is not your church. Jesus died for this church. He owns it.
And to the members with the deepest pockets: my friends, thank you for your generous and sacrificial giving over the years; we couldn’t have done it without you. But this is not your church. Jesus Christ died for this church. It’s His and He owns it.
And, even though our denominational polity says this church is autonomous and self-governing and you can vote today to do anything with this church you wish, congregation: this is not your church. Jesus Christ died for this church, you didn’t. He owns it.
Therefore, the only question any of us are facing today is: Lord, what will you have me to do?
That’s the only question. It’s His church and He is in charge. We are His servants. He has not gone off and left any of us in charge, even though some among us think He has.
This is the first prayer of the Apostle Paul when he was converted outside Damascus. When He heard that voice from Heaven saying, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting,” he said, “Lord, what will you have me to do?”
Lord, what do you want to do with your church today?
Will you ask Him that?
That’s why I say this is not about me, the pastor. It’s about you. Whether you dare ask Him that and dare to obey Him.
And finally, to those of you who have been urged to attend today in order to vote against the preacher….
Please keep in mind three things:
1) Whatever we do to the church, Jesus takes personally. When we honor the church, we honor Him. But when we do damage to it, when we keep it torn up in disunity, when we fuss and fight, when we slander and gossip, we are dishonoring Him. And that is a serious thing, my friend.
None of us will want to stand before the Lord knowing we have brought dishonor upon Him.
2) The issue today is not whether you want me as your pastor. It’s not about me; it’s about each of us being obedient to the Lord Jesus.
3) Finally, I want you to think about the one who urged you to come today to vote against the preacher. Is it possible they are playing you, manipulating you?
There’s a simple way to find out.
Ask yourself whether that individual has ever shown any interest in your spiritual life? Did they tell you about Jesus? Have they ever ministered to you in your time of need? If you were hurting, would they call to check on you? Have they ever urged you to come to church at any other time?
No one is going to know how you voted, one way or the other. This is a secret ballot.
I trust you will do the right thing and honor your Lord.
My friend, your church has known enough burdens and troubles for many lifetimes. Let’s bless the Lord’s church today.
I’ve been blessed to never have served a congregation like that, but I have many friends in the ministry who have.
I hope this article gets the wide readership it deserves. Well done, Joe.
Goodness. I think if I walked in determined to support the current pastor and heard this, he’d lose my vote.
I think if I heard ministers whom I love and deeply respect talking this way, I’d think something was very very wrong (possibly that they’ve been so under attack that they are stressed out and overreacting, but still). This sounds like an understanding of the pastoral office that is so authoritarian it is ripe for abuse.
What would you have the pastor say in this situation? Or should he just resign and get out of the way to the glorious future his detractors think will come when he is gone?
Well said! A great alternative to “just walking away”. I know we are called to be peacemakers, but we are also called to stand up for His church. Thank you for showing the other side of things, and for sharing with those of us just starting on this ministry journey.
Joe, I know you are quite the champion for preachers, and understandably so, but what is a church supposed to do when…
(1) It is quite obvious the pastor spends little or no time in the study. Sunday sermons consist of reading a Bible verse, then telling stories and rehashing points that will get an “Amen” from the congregation even if they have no connection to the Bible verse or the supposed point of the message.
(2) The pastor has no commitment to discipleship. He doesn’t teach or attend a Sunday School class or discipleship class. Never even mentions Sunday School, children or youth programs during the service, and is one of the first ones off the property when the church service lets out.
(3) For the last two years the only baptisms were for some kids saved at VBS and then the kids and parents were never seen again. No new members in 2+ years, and of the few visitors that have attended, none have ever come back for a second look.
(4) After being notified by a church member that her two sons had gotten into some trouble and were in a juvenile facility, he neither returned her call nor visited the boys. Others have made reference to his lack of care. On a personal note, while going through one of the most trying times in my life, I wrote to 7 men, including this pastor, asking them to pray for me. Six of the seven responded in some way. Guess which one didn’t?
(5) Over the last few years church attendance as gone from the 160’s to the 140’s and now is in the 120’s.
If a pastor does not provide leadership, sound preaching, pastoral care, what is the congregation supposed to do?
Have you talked to the pastor about these issues personally? Not trying to justify these things, but I know pastors can get so overwhelmed with life and ministry, that they pull back from the church, especially those who are negative and critical. The lady with the two sons, has she been a supporter of the pastor or is she on the side of the critics? What about you? Have you aligned yourself on the side of the critics or do you try and encourage your pastor by talking to him personally and confidentially about some of his shortcomings as a pastor? Being a pastor is tough and each is on a journey of faith that is a life long learning process. It is such a blessing when members who have questions of the pastor’s ministry or his motives will come to him, first, with a heart of compassion and encouragement.
Your response certainly sounds like victim-blaming to me…
Is the pastor suppose to be at everyone’s call? So the pastor didn’t respond by showing up. He was asked to pray. He may have done so. Where are the deacon’s? Aren’t they called men of God? They have a ministry as well. The pastor can’t do everything.
Joe, this is right on target about what needs to be said at time but the carnality in these situations many times cannot withstand the word and will create and explosion from the objectors in the congregation.
For Jim, in Zechariah 11:7-17 gives us a good outline on direction set for shepherds (pastors) and it shows the same pastor performing the roll of good and bad care. Jeremiah 3:15 says the Lord will send in the Pastors…
All this takes a very delicate balance to work. Personally, we have survived these attacks from the front but the ministry and church still suffers as will the Pastoral family. When these situations arise, my advice to all pastors are to see God and determine just what you are willing to allow the people to do to your family.
More Pastors need support from the Director of Missions, Superintendents, Bishops, or whatever their title may be. They too will be accountable for the pastors that are eaten up that are in their care.
Joe, Unless I miss my guess, you have preached this sermon before, haven’t you? 🙂
Joe, I believe everything said here is true and every pastor facing that situation would feel this message in their heart. But I think it might be best if I would go out in the woods or on a mountain or somewhere alone and preach that message to get it off my heart. But I doubt very seriously a church in that setting would hear much of anything on that day, assuming this pastor’s evaluation of the church is accurate. Since it is truly the Lord’s church, and because the Bible says that God can turn the heart of even an unbelieving king, I believe the only hope is genuine prayer for God’s sovereign intervention.
Joe, the ones who think this is a message from an ‘authoritarian’ pastor or from a lazy pastor trying to hold on to a cushy job have it wrong. This pastor’s heart is for the church, the truth and the Lord’s kingdom. The authoritarian would have been furious and it would have come through. The lazy pastor would not have based the message solidly in the Word.
I have been in this church twice. It causes me to reflect on my own abilities and inabilities, my own walk with the Lord, and my obedience to His calling on my life.
That being said, I accept full responsibility for all pastoral failures as well as any victories which may have been encountered, …..but I have a problem.
My problem is that in each of these situations my family and I were forced to stand alone. Not stand alone apart from God, nor even stand alone without supporters, backers, encouragers, prayer warriors, and other great people who looked after and felt for me and my family. I stood alone apart from the leadership from those Bell-Cows within the church, and definitely apart from the majority of deacons whose job it is to undergird and lift up the pastor, and unfortunately, I stould alone apart from local denominational leadership.
The bell cows wanted to be in charge of the direction of the church and the direction of the pastor, as well as all ministries in the church. The deacons were made up of three groups: bell cow leaders, bullies, and those who would stand up for the pastor as long as everybody else did, too. I stood alone apart from denominational leaders because, in the words of one such individual, “No matter what happens to you, I have to stay here and work with these people so I cannot defend you.”
We are suffering from a lack of men who will do exactly what you have articulated in this article, and sadly, I have been one of those men because I have listened to all the “good advice” given by the individuals I have mentioned.
Invariably each person giving me such advice had some sort of agenda which they had built their life upon, but very few, I feel, believed as I do that the pastor is put in a church and there he should stay until moved by God not any congregational vote.
As one older deacon put it, “We’re going to vote that we weren’t listening to God when we called the man or we’re not listening to God now. Which one is it?”
Thank you for putting it so eloquently. There is a deadly disease growing in our Baptist churches. The pastor in your story hit the nail on the head. People have come to think of the church as a place for power struggles.
But how do people tell which is the WRONG side. I’d like to point out the pattern shown in Acts 17.
# 1 The Jews acted out of jealousy and envy
When we see church members trying to “protect” their area of ministry and acting in petty and jealous manner we can see which side we ought to take. Since jealousy and envy are not godly characteristics, it helps us know not to take that side.
# 2 The Jews rounded up bad characters from the bad part of town
When we see church members calling on members who have not cared enough about the church to attend our support, but they will show up for a “fire-the-preacher” business meeting, we can see which side we should take– not that one. Do you really think that the right side in a conflict would be among those who have absented themselves from the church and haven’t been involved?
# 3 The Jews didn’t care who they hurt– so they blamed anybody who associated with Paul.
When believers don’t care who is blamed as long as it is someone on the preacher’s side, that’s how factions get formed.
#4 Their allegations were half-truths, exaggerations and lies.
A lot of the conflict we see in churches today is based on lies, half-truths (the only fraction to equal a whole) and out and out exaggerations of what a person has said, done, or neglected.
# 5 Not content to wreck havoc in their home church they like to follow their targets around and cause trouble there, too.
This is done today through emails, letters, etc. as people write to various assemblies, etc. and continue with their allegations.
FINALLY– If the Pastor has done something wrong… failed to minister.. fallen into sexual sin, broken the law… violated proper doctrine… ignored the needs of the church.. FIRE the man and be more careful in your selection of the next guy.
I’m curious as to what you would expect from a denominational leader in these situations?
I’ve been in that position, Wesley. You’re on the spot, and probably nothing you can say will make a difference when the day arrives. The thing to do is try to teach your church leadership how to deal with crises of this kind. Try role playing with your pastors, with most being the congregation, a few being church leaders intent on firing the preacher, and see what happens.
I think this sermon, if done in love, sincerity, and humility, would probably save the pastors job. If it did not, you would have tried and maybe preached the finest sermon during your tenure at this church and you should then walk away, shaking the dirt off your shoes.
There are times and places words like this need to be said. As long as congregations don’t hear this until they get it,we will have failures instead of churches that might be beautiful.
I just came across this today. I was forced to resign from my most recent full-time pastorate. When the “deacons” gave me the ultimatum that I would either resign or face a vote, I was tired of fighting and went into that meeting with a meek, timid response. I wish I had made the points that Joe made here. The crying need of that church was to break a power structure and to make clear to one of the power brokers that she did not own the church.
I wish I had given this speech.