What to Do When the Accelerator is Stuck

The Lion’s Club calls him the tail-twister. In the locker room, he’s referred to as a sparkplug.

In the church, he’s the accelerator.

He’s the guy–or she’s the one–who wants to “get this show on the road,” who builds a fire under everyone else, who pushes the leaders.

Every organization needs a few of those.

Nothing of what follows is meant to diminish the importance of those church members who are never satisfied with the status quo but want to make a lasting difference for Jesus’ sake. Every church should be blessed with a few.

However, as the Toyota Motor Company (or whatever it’s official name happens to be) has learned the hard way, an accelerator needs to be under strong controls.

An accelerator that “sticks” causes crashes. Crashes cause deaths.

I sat in the waiting room of my Toyota dealer for an hour last week while the service man made some small adjustment to the accelerator of my Camry. It was part of a several-million-car recall that is turning the automobile business upside down these days. Nearly 40 deaths have been attributed to gas pedals sticking, causing the car to speed ahead uncontrollably.

My wife and I had a disagreement that morning. She vows that she was riding with me once when the pedal stuck on this car. I reply that I would have remembered that, but I don’t. She refused to budge. So, I called the car dealer and they told me to bring it in. No waiting, no cost, a simple thing. My wife has peace of mind, and frankly, so do I. Sometimes a wife has to insist on something to get her husband to act.

My wife was my accelerator, you might say.

From time to time, I have seen the work of accelerators in churches. Sometimes, they do a great job. And sometimes, they are missing the controls that will safeguard the congregation and staff from their get-out-of-my-way attitude.

Not long ago, for instance….

A fellow I know is a deacon in his church. I was visiting that morning and saw what Bob did to his pastor.

The preacher made a few announcements early on, then said, “Bob here has an announcement to make. Make it brief, Bob.”

I thought that was a little strange, almost embarrassing. But it turns out the pastor knows something about Bob I didn’t. My friend Bob is an accelerator who needs a control installed.

Bob walked to the pulpit, greeted everyone as though he were the genial host of the church, and shared his concern for the homeless of the community. Out of that concern, he had developed a program to reach out to these unfortunates, a plan which would require the participation of a large percentage of the congregation.

He outlined the plan. He applied the plan. He personalized the plan. (“How about you, Tommy. Wouldn’t you like to see these people off the streets and becoming productive members of society?” Tommy nodded.) And then, Bob said, “I’ve got sign-up sheets at each exit. Today, as you leave, take a moment and give us your name and contact information. We’ll be in touch.”

That took all of five minutes. But Bob wasn’t through. Now, after he had announced the plan, he began promoting it. He repeated most of what he had already said, then repeated it again. He got emotional about it.

I glanced over at the pastor and noticed he was getting fidgety.

Having been in similar situations, I knew precisely what was going through the pastor’s mind: a torrent of mixed thoughts and jumbled emotions. He was wishing Bob had run this plan by him and the staff, regretting that he had ever given Bob permission to make his announcment in the first place, and wondering how he could cut him off without embarrassing this good man or compromising his own position as pastor.

A full ten minutes into his spiel, while Bob prated on, the pastor walked up and put his arm around him and said something. I didn’t hear what. But we all knew. The pastor sat back down and Bob took another minute to conclude what he was now saying for the third time.

Finally, he walked off the platform and took a seat beside his wife.

He’s my friend and I wanted to choke him.

Bob means well, and since the congregation loves him, they will probably respond to the homeless initiative he presented. At least, they will for a time and to some extent. But if the pastor and staff are not on board, this ministry will not fly long or far.

Bob is an accelerator of his church. He could be an invaluable team member.

But Bob is not on the team. He’s a one-man show.

My hunch is he feels frustrated at the lack of aggressive ministries he sees being presented by the pastor and his team of ministers. So, he is simply taking matters into his own hand.

An accelerator needs a control, otherwise he is an accident looking for a place to happen.

Every Christian has two controls on that aggressive, energetic pulse welling up inside him that wants to “get this show on the road.”

The Holy Spirit indwelling every believer is one control.

The spiritual leadership over each congregation is the other.

The Holy Spirit constrains us. He is the one who cautions the believer when we are about to step out of line, go where we were not sent, speak when we shouldn’t. I suspect that every believer of any duration and maturity knows what that is like.

The spiritual leadership–the pastors, the shepherds, the elected officers of the church–fulfil that function also. My friend Bob should have taken his plan to the pastor and staff a long time before presenting it to the congregation. I suspect the reason he didn’t is that he knew they would shoot it down. And, being the headstrong fellow that he is, he could not allow that to happen.

Bob is hindering the church he loves and hurting the very ministry he would like to establish.

Bob is his own problem.

Bob is out of control. In his mind, he is more spiritual than most of those around him. To the best of his knowledge, he has more experience in church work and a better perspective than most of the others. As far as he is concerned, he has more compassion and better leadership skills.

Bob’s problem is not his heart and most definitely not his intelligence. His problem is a spiritual one: he is resisting the Holy Spirit and ignoring the structures the Lord has established for the health and unity of the church.

Instead of being the mature spiritual leader as he sees himself, Bob’s behavior is more that of an immature Christian. Many a pastor has seen a new believer storm into the church with great zeal but little knowledge and attempt to revamp everything according to his vision.

In Romans 10:2, Paul uses the phrase “zeal but not according to knowledge” to refer to the Jews. He was well-acquainted with the phenomenon…..

Before he became the Apostle Paul, he was Saul, the persecutor of the church. When the Lord saved him, Saul’s life was completely turned around. Soon, he began confronting the very colleagues he had worked alongside in their harassment of Christians. He knew the Bible, he had the answers, he was strong.

Here is how Eugene Peterson tells what happened in his paraphrase, The Message.

“Saul went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They (the Christian community) were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, ‘Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers?”

“But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.”

“After this had gone on quite a long time, some Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul got wind of it…. The disciples lowered him over the wall in a basket and he escaped.”

Next, he fled to Jerusalem.

“Back in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples but they were all afraid of him.”

Barnabas stood up for him and they cautiously accepted Saul. He began preaching to anyone and everyone.

“But then he ran afoul of a group called the Hellenists–he had been engaged in a running argument with them–who plotted his murder. When his friends learned of the plot, they got him out of town…and shipped him off to Tarsus.”

A most telling statement follows: “Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for a while.” (Acts 9)

Or, as the NIV puts it, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.”

Not a good thing to say about a fellow that “when he left, we had peace.”

When the accelerators run amok and refuse to take guidance from their leadership, even if their intent is good, they cause more problems than they solve.

In the case of Saul, he needed time to be quiet and rethink his call. The Lord gave him that in his hometown of Tarsus. Only when the Lord was in the driver’s seat–with reins in hand and the brake at His feet–only then did the Lord use Saul as the great apostle to the Gentiles.

When a revival broke out among the Gentiles in Antioch of Syria, Barnabas traveled to Tarsus to find the man God had called for this very ministry. Interestingly, when Saul arrived in Antioch, we’re not told of anything he did. What we do see, however, is that he aligned himself with the church members and put himself under the authority of Barnabas.

He was on his way then, ready to be used of God in doing mighty things. We’re all the benefactors of the ministry from this accelerator of God.

10 thoughts on “What to Do When the Accelerator is Stuck

  1. We had an accelerator in our church. He would have great suggestions but when they were not carried out as fast as he thought they should have been, he would get mad. He was also not interested in involving himself in or supporting any other ministry but the ones he suggested. He left and took his family and his discontent with him. Hated to see the first go.

  2. I have to disagree with you. I think Bob did the right thing. More often than not, the pastors and staff are content in the way things are going. They see no need to step out and be aggressive. They aren’t infallible, and sometimes they need to be pushed.

  3. Justin–Can you support your position biblically (not that we aren’t infallible, but the need to “push” the pastors and to usurp their authority)? I refer you to Hebrews 13:17.

  4. Ah, memories:Bob reminded me of a retired pastor who began worshiping with his wife at our church. He was quick to introduce himself to my husband, and offer to become active in the life of our congregation.What a blessing! He began a “bible study” and the participants were delighted to hear all about “Bob” each week.Offering to do the morning announcements at the beginning of the service, “Bob” spent more than 15 minutes announcing, entertaining and adding unnecessary “asides” to his performance. When at last, my patient husband was to present the morning message, he summed it up quickly and said “Amen,” to the relief of the congregation.

    “Bob” never returned to church after his performance, and I have a feeling his wife stomped on his accelerator!

  5. I don’t support anyone usurping a pastor’s authority. However, obedience and submission isn’t synonymous with bureaucracy. Scripture nowhere states that every mandate brought before a congregation has to be ‘pre-approved’ by it’s leadership. While it may not be wise, it is not a moral imperative, and is sometimes necessary when the leadership is unwilling to step out.

  6. Pastors also can get their accelerators stuck. It’s an art, not a science, to lead a church as fast as they can reasonable go. The mere problem of getting all necessary people together at the same time and place slows things immensely. I’m considered very laid back, but inside (before I retired) I seethed with impatience to get things moving. I fear many young guys leave the ministry from finding they can’t push their first or second church off dead center. You can almost never do it in the first year, anyway.

  7. Wow! And all I wanted to post was this: “Just how long was it going to take Toyota Camry lover McKeever to get around to writing about the recall?” There’s a very fine line dividing “usurping” the pastor’s oversight authority and a congregant’s “pressing down” on one issue or another. I thnk that is why God gave us New Testament congregationalism. When God’s people (leaders and laity) focus on doing God’s will, God’s way, He will always help them resolve “the devil of the details.” At least that’s been my experience.

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