Asking For It

Critics say when President George W. Bush appeared on that aircraft carrier with the words “Mission Accomplished” emblazoned across a banner, he was just asking for a continuation of the war in the Middle East. And when he defiantly said to the enemies of the USA, “Bring it on,” that did it.

He came to regret both.

In this morning’s USA Today, the discussion is whether Bobby Bowden should retire from coaching Florida State’s Seminole football team. This year’s record was 5-5, a vast difference from the championship calibre teams he has usually fielded over his 35 seasons at that school. His 387 victories over 44 years of coaching puts him second on the all-time list, behind Penn State’s Joe Paterno, another octogenarian who arguably needs to hang it up.

Bowden is 80 years old. The FSU fans and alums are calling for him to retire. But the decision is not theirs to make, although they can bring incredible pressure on the president of the university and the athletic director who will be making the call one way or the other soon.

What struck me–I’m no FSU fan and have no dog in this fight, but am always interested in the strangeness of human behavior–is the way Bowden is insisting the school is going to have to fire him to get him to leave. No one knows but the coach, but since the university brought in Jimbo Fisher as his assistant a year or two ago with the understanding he would succeed Bowden, guaranteeing him $5 million if he’s not the coach by January 10, 2011, it would appear that Bowden is maneuvering for one more year, after which he would step down.

Here’s what Bowden said, and then a quote from his wife Ann.

“You can figure it out. Here I am, 80 years old and I’m just as excited now as I was 50 years ago as far as going on the field and looking at film and making decisions here in the office.”

“They’ll have to fire him for him not to go another year….If they’ve got guts enough to do it, let them do it.”

That did it for me.

She has thrown down the gauntlet, accusing the administration of not having the guts to fire her husband.

I’d fire him in a New York minute and never look back. The fans–who always want it both ways and every other way: we want him to leave, we want to honor him, we don’t want to humiliate him, we want him happy, and we also want a winning program–would bellyache for a few days. Then when Fisher begins winning, that’s it. People would be saying, “Bobby who?” That’s the nature of fandom. Every coach knows it.

Being a pastor and pastor of pastors (historically), I’m more interested in the reflection of this kind of ego-driven refusal to get out of the way and let someone else take the reins which we see every day in the church.

“Will everyone here kindly step to the rear and let a winner lead the way!” (I don’t recall what Broadway musical that came from.)

Far better for a coach or a pastor who has outstayed his welcome to say, “I’m your servant. I’d like to stay, but others will be making that decision.”

The last thing–the absolute final straw–is to say, “Let them fire me if they’ve got the guts.”

They’ll fire him. They have to now.

For pastors, however, there is another side to this issue.

Recently a pastor who has stayed at his church nearly a quarter-century told me of a move to oust him over a decade ago. “Why?” I asked. His answer surprised me. “They gave no reason other than it was time for me to go.”

It turns out that his predecessors had all stayed about ten years before departing for other fields. When he reached that milestone and it grew evident he was not leaving, the dissidents took matters into their own hands.

The little group met and plotted and spread their infection, then brought it before the deacons where they received their comeuppance. “No, never,” the deacons said.

Gradually, the pastor said, the unhappy minority toned down their griping and several joined other churches. The day came when he realized it had been two years since he’d heard a peep out of them. He had survived the mutiny. And if I’m any judge–I’m not, but we all can have our opinion–the church benefited from his staying. I’ve known that church for decades and it has never been stronger. It seems prosperous in every way–in spirit, in ministry, in fellowship, in worship, statistics, everything.

They tried to get rid of JoePa (that would be Joe Paterno) at Penn State a couple of years back. He stayed, made some coaching changes, and the team came back the next year and has done well since.

So, it’s not always a cut and dried affair.

I’m not against old guys staying in the pulpit or on the sidelines. I am against anyone remaining after he has outlived his usefulness and effectiveness and who looks upon himself as the owner of that position, not the steward.

When I preach Matthew 16:18 (“…upon this rock I will build my church….”), I remind everyone that it’s the Lord’s church. It’s not the preacher’s, not the deacons’, not the members with the longest tenure nor the best giving records, and–Southern Baptist polity aside–not the congregation that owns the church. It’s Jesus’ church. Acts 20:28 says God purchased it “with His own blood.”

Give it back, pastor. You’d be amazed how liberating that is. It’s not yours, it’s not dependent on your wisdom or your resources and definitely not your staying.

A little ditty out of the 1950s fits here:

“Got along without you before I met you; Gonna get along without you now.”

Florida State may be singing that to Coach Bowden soon; we have no way of knowing. No doubt a few churches could sing that to their pastors who need to retire. And while they’re at it, that white-haired pastor may want to sing it himself. He can do effective ministry without having to serve that particular church.

I’m a witness for that scenario, thank the Lord.

5 thoughts on “Asking For It

  1. God calls a man to a place, to pastor there until physical death or the rapture. People will always be changing, for are ever fickle. God’s man is to stay there come hell or high water, and not become a turn-coat, or run from the task God has set before him.

  2. I recall with a smile a story from my past. We were memebers of a small to medium size church if you can class them that way. The Pastor had been there for a lot of years. He had taken 2 months away to study and pray for guidinace, as he called it, in his service. He came back like a new man. His sermons were much better and now relative to our actual life situations. He sort of put his sermons into words that meant something to us right then. However, and this is were it gets interesting and I will use names that are self explainatory, Brother Big Bucks – I’m Right and his wife Sister Righteous were quite upset. They came to the board of Deacons with an important issue. They wanted to know what we had done to “their” preacher. Why had we let him preach the way he was doing. Why his wife came home in tears last sunday ( note he was not at church) she said the preacher just made her feel so bad. That he kept looking right at her while he was preaching ( talk about guilt!) and she just could not stand to come another Sunday. Then he went on to “tell us how it was going to be”. He said that he had given the church large amounts of money over the years and figured he had a say in the way things were run around there and that either we dismiss “that crazy preacher” right now or he and the wife were leaving and taking his check book with him to someplace that appreciated them. I will not forget the words from the head of the board. He said “Oh my, please, can we help you pack up anything you think belongs to you?” He left and slammed the door. We called the Pastor and told him what had happened. He just said thanks for calling, but we could “hear” a smile in that voice. After that it was if a bad smell that you couldn’t quite ever find had finally gone away. People were friendlier to each other and we actually gained some new families whereas before they had been moving away. My point is that it was not time for the long term pastor to leave but he did need some time away to recharge and remember why he had gone into the service of the Lord in the first place.

  3. Dr. Foltz is swinging his doctorate around just like “Brother Big Bucks” and his wife swung their checkbook around! Neither is a demonstration of humility!

  4. On the flip side of this issue… Can someone explain to me why it’s OK for a Pulpit Committee to ‘shop’ a preacher from another church? It sure feels like ‘stealing’ to me… and we all know what our Lord said about that!

  5. I’ve also done a lot of thinking along these lines. You dealt with the issue of retiring, but this also applies to young people who need to keep that same attitude of which you write. I’ve come to realize that I should never have an emotional “need” to be the pastor. All my needs should be met in being a child of God. God owns my future. What if tomorrow He calls me to be to a secular vocation? It’s up to Him. If you ask a cabinate member if they plan to serve another two years or less, they’ll always answer that they serve at the pleasure of the President. The same should always be true for us. Serving wherever Christ wants us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.