Some power clique in the church is on your case. Some church member is leading a movement to oust you. The church has a history of ousting pastors every so often and it’s time, and some members are getting restless.
Or, perhaps, as the pastor, you did something wrong and it blew up in your face. People are calling for your head.
Or, you failed to act and some cancer has gained a foothold within the congregation and your job is in jeopardy.
What do you do now?
It would be foolish to try to offer a panacea here, a cure-all for what ails the church, a fix-all for what troubles the pastor. I will not attempt that. But here are 20 steps which many pastors can take to right the ship and set it back on track (to mix metaphors)….
1) Don’t hesitate to apologize if you need to.
“I blew it, folks. I’m sorry.”
Apologies should be as public as the act was public. If you did one person wrong and it’s known only to that one, go to him/her and admit what you did and ask for forgiveness. If your mistake was churchwide, stand in the pulpit and take your medicine.
When I asked some minister friends their advice and lessons learned concerning church staff relationships, here are some of the most interesting responses.
1. Jim says, “Be very careful whom you trust completely.”
Over several decades of ministry, Jim says he has been brutally betrayed at least three times. It has made him wary about trusting anyone with anything confidential.
I’m recalling a time two churches ago when the personnel committee and I were dealing with a sensitive issue, long since forgotten. I said, “Can I say something in here and it not go any further?” The chairman said, “Pastor, I wouldn’t say anything in here you do not want to get out.”
We’re supposing here.
Suppose your church assembled the following people: the pastor and staff, the office staff, the deacons, Sunday School teachers, committee members, and program leaders. This is virtual or in the flesh, maybe spaced across the room. And suppose I have 30 minutes to say anything on my heart.
Now, assuming I had the undivided attention of the group, I would begin by telling this from Scripture.
A few weeks before Moses retired from the scene and Joshua stepped in to lead God’s people out of the wilderness into the Promised Land of Canaan, Moses had some final words. The book of Deuteronomy is the essence of what he shared, a recap of where they had been and what had happened in their recent past.
Moses strongly felt the need to impress one huge thing on God’s people as they were about to possess “a land of milk and honey.” We might even call this a warning.
“You are about to come into a land filled with everything you’ve ever wanted. You’ll move into houses you did not build.
You’ll harvest crops you didn’t plant or cultivate.
You’ll drink from wells you did not dig.
You’ll gather grapes from vineyards and olives from groves you did not plant.”
“You will eat and be satisfied for the first time in your memory. And when that happens…
Now, preachers and ministers come in all stripes and varieties, I understand that.
In the denomination I serve, there are some who are called “jack-leg preachers,” and it is not a compliment. No dictionary defines that term, but mostly it means they are self-taught, self-designated, and probably self-called.
I’m not talking about these.
I’m referring to solid God-called well-established servants of the Lord who have been cut off from the church they were serving for one reason or the other and now find themselves unemployable.
I’m referring to faithful preachers of the Word who should be out there leading a congregation, but have not been able to find one willing to give them a try.
Most pastor search committees are deathly afraid of unemployed preachers. They ask–and with good reason, by the way–if you’re so good, why aren’t you in the pulpit now? If you’re so faithful, how could any church have cut you loose? If you’re such a good prospect, how come no other church has snapped you up?
The short answer to these questions is simply that churches tend to be afraid to risk calling a preacher who was “let go” by his former church.
Of all the questions church people send my way, this may be the most difficult.
Our pastor has been here (too many) years. He has lost his vision and his energy, and the church is dying. The numbers are down considerably, and yet the church is located in a growing area. We love him and are so grateful to God for his ministry over the years. But isn’t there a limit to the loyalty thing? At what point does a pastor need to be told that his time here is up?
There are no simple or easy answers to this. Handled wrongly, this matter can destroy a church, inflict a terminal wound to a veteran minister, and hurt his family in lasting ways.
Ideally, the minister is there by the Lord’s doing. Paul tells us the Holy Spirit makes the pastors/elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28). We do not want to casually hurt God’s servant since our Lord Jesus said, “Whoever receives you, receives me” (Matthew 10:40). Likewise, we are not equating today’s pastors with Moses; but throughout Israel’s wilderness wanderings, it was clear that the Lord took personally the treatment/mistreatment of His man by the people.
I think that’s still the case. When people mistreated God’s prophets down through the ages, He interpreted that as an offense toward Himself.
So, we always want to try to honor the Lord’s servant, even if he is undeserving at this particular moment.
On the other hand.
“It doesn’t matter to the Lord whether He saves by the few or by the many” (I Samuel 14:6).
Depending on a number of factors, growing a small church may well be one of the more do-able things pastors can achieve.
Those variable factors include…
–the health of the church (you don’t want a sick church to grow; it needs to get well first!). I once told my congregation, “There’s a good reason no one is joining this church. I wouldn’t join it either!” Believe it or not, those words were inspired and the people received them well, and repented.
–the attitude of the congregation (if the people are satisfied with the status quo, newcomers will not be welcomed). I’ve known Sunday School classes composed of a small cluster of best friends who felt imposed on by visitors and new members. No one wants to go where they’re not wanted.
–and the location of the facility A church situated five miles down an isolated road, at the end of the dead end trail, can almost certainly forget about growing. Yes, it’s been done, but rarely.
“So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:13).
Always referred to as the servant of Moses, Joshua was used to taking orders as opposed to giving them.
That’s why, when the day arrived for Moses to announce that his earthly work was finished and God was recalling him and that Joshua would have to carry on (“Get these people into the Promised Land!”), he, Joshua, must have panicked.
For four decades Joshua has been warming the bench; now, he’s being sent into the game as the clock ticks down and everything is on the line.
What would he do without a boss over him, someone telling him what to do and how to do it, someone to whom he could report, who would grade him and pat him on the head when he did good or chew him out when his work fell short?
“Evil people and imposters will become worse (in the last days), deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
Can we talk about imposters?
There are so many to choose from, but today I’m thinking of church-dropouts who say they love the Lord.
Nothing of what follows is intended to be mean-spirited. But I would like to speak plainly.
I’m not angry, just perturbed. I don’t want to banish anyone from heaven, from church, from “the island,” or even from this room.
I just want to say to certain ones, “C’mon, people. Get real. You don’t mean that, so why do you keep saying it?”
Recently, we were having a lively Facebook discussion about church and whether divorced people–specifically those with a whole string of divorces–should be considered for the honored church office of deacon.
Most comments were sweet-spirited, godly, well-informed scripturally and solid doctrinally. But some were angry for reasons I doubt if even they know. They want to banish all divorced people from anything. But these are not the hypocrites I had in mind, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they qualify. It’s another group.
“People like you are the reason I no longer go to church.”
“That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
The Lord wants the best for His Bride. And so does every right-thinking child of His.
Here is my wish list for the church of the 21st century….
One. I wish the church were less of a business and more like a family.
Our Lord looked around at His disciples and followers and said, “Behold, my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brothers and sisters and my mother” (Mark 3:33-35). The obedient are His family.
I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God. The local church should be a smaller expression of that larger, forever family. I wish more of them were.