Sometimes pastors lament that the most important lessons of the ministry were not taught in seminary. The only workable answer to that is: it’s impossible to teach them all in classrooms; most are learned on the field and nowhere else.
My friends Trace and Missy are finding this out.
In their first pastorate after seminary, they are having to learn the hard way how to pace themselves, how to find and protect time for themselves, how to protect their home life from the intrusion of church members, and how to be friends with everyone without letting a few take over their lives.
No one can cover all this stuff in a book. The lessons are too numerous, the personalities too varied, and no two situations are alike.
Missy sent me a note telling me the latest situation that has arisen. “It’s so silly, we’ll probably laugh at this one day,” she said. But she’s not laughing at the moment. No one can laugh at pain when it’s hammering at your door 24/7. Only after it has departed and you realized how powerless it was and how pointless its threats are you able to smile.
On Wednesday nights in Trace’s church, the youth would like to meet in the sanctuary in order to have access to the multi-faceted hi-tech sound system. The adults, who normally meet there, don’t need it for their simple Bible study and prayer time. So, at the request of the youth minister, Pastor Trace did the reasonable thing and made the call.
And that’s when the fur began to fly.
“Sure, we can do that,” Trace assured Ben, the youth guy. “Makes sense. Surely no one could object to that.”
Bad wrong, my friend.
They could object and they did. As soon as Trace made the announcment from the pulpit that beginning next Wednesday, adults will be meeting in fellowship hall for prayer meeting and the youth in the auditorium, his phone began to ring.
“Pastor, it’s not me. But some people are complaining.”
“Pastor, a lot of your older members are upset.”
“Pastor, who gave you the authority to make that decision. The adults have been meeting in the sanctuary since Brother Bailey was our pastor.”
“The deacons think you overstepped this time, preacher.”
Is it silly? Absolutely.
Is it human nature? Doubtless. People do not like to move, particularly when they feel ownership of a place.
Is it selfish? Probably. A church where the older adults treasure the youth would accept this in a heartbeat. It would appear that Trace is pastoring a church where people stake out their territory and defend their rights. Anyone intruding without their permission risks bodily injury.
Is something else involved here? I think so. To give the adults the benefit of the doubt–something I’m glad to do–it could be that this is more a breach of protocol than anything else. Had Trace gone to the adults in the first place and asked them–or better yet, had a couple of the finest youth and their leader make the request on a Wednesday night–in all likelihood, they would have been willing to make the switch.
It’s not about the youth, chances are. It’s about Trace.
It’s a matter of the congregation–or certain elements within it–wanting to clip his wings before he starts running too far ahead of them. As a friend of mine with a strong rural strain put it, “They’re trying to break that dog of sucking eggs!” That is, to make sure he never steps out on his own again.
He should have consulted his people. That’s a given.
The question is: What should Trace do now?
I suggested he tell the entire congregation on Sunday morning what he did and admit he made a mistake. He should ask for the forgiveness of everyone involved. He should assure the adults that he would be coming to them, asking them to make the decision on what they wish to do and he will be completely happy with their decision.
A few days ago, we wrote on this blog that a successful way a pastor can endear himself to his congregation is by making a serious error (verbal gaffe, flub, goof) and then apologizing for it. By his embarrassment, his apology, and his request for forgiveness, he exemplies humility and the congregation will love him for it.
As you can see, for good reason they don’t teach this in seminary. Some lessons work only in the laboratory of life.