The single most encouraging thing you can do for your pastor

First a disclaimer: I’m a retired pastor, I have no deacons (and no church members), I love deacons, and I’m loving the continuing ministry God gives me as a retiree. However, there was a time when life was tough, demands seemed never-ending, encouragement was rare, and each day brought a crisis of one kind or the other.

That’s what this is about.

I was having trouble with a few deacons. From the day I became their pastor, these men and their families had dedicated themselves to not liking me and being non-supportive in anything I suggested. In the church fellowship, they were toxic.

Eight years later, we did something.

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The perfect way for a pastor to lead a different church

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Imagine this.

You’re the captain of a mighty airship–a 747, let’s say.  It’s a huge job with great responsibility, but one you are doing well and feel confident about.  Then, someone alerts you to another plane that is approaching and has a message for you.

You are to transfer to the other plane and become their pilot.

So, you push back the canopy–I know, I know, the huge planes don’t have canopies, but we’re imagining this–and crawl into the contraption the other plane has sent over. You are jettisoned from your old plane to the new one.

As you settle into the captain’s seat in your new plane, you find  yourself surrounded by an unfamiliar crew and you notice the controls in front of you are not the same as in the old plane.  This is going to take some getting used to.  Meanwhile, you and your crew and passengers are zooming along at 35,000 feet.

Your new flight attendants send word, “Captain, welcome aboard. Everyone is asking what is our destination?  Can you tell us your goals for this flight?”

And you think to yourself, “You’re asking me? I just got here!”

This is an apt parable for what happens to pastors.

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When the preacher needs correcting

Anyone who reads my stuff on this website knows I am a preacher and am pro-preacher. I’ve seen so much mistreatment of God’s servants over nearly six decades in the ministry that it weighs heavily on my heart. I want to do anything I can to encourage these beloved friends and everything I can to help churches and church leaders know how to relate to them.

However.

Periodically, someone will reply, “Yes, but what if the preacher is in the wrong? What if he is—” a bully? a dictator? a flirt? a heretic? a liberal? a nut? an abuser? a molester? a criminal? a thief? a liar?

I am under no illusions about human nature. We are all sinners and daily in need of God’s mercy, Christ’s forgiveness, and compassionate understanding from one another. I know also that some men in the pulpit have no business there and need to be terminated.

There are times when godly lay leaders in a church absolutely must rise up and deal with an out-of-control preacher.

Those times and occasions are rare, thankfully.

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On the King’s Highway, going “first class”

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

As a college student in Birmingham, I worked weekends for the Pullman Company, the people who operated the sleeper cars on passenger trains.  It used to fascinate me how people who wished to travel by Pullman had to pay through the nose.

I found it out the summer I worked in the ticket office for Seaboard RR taking phone reservations.

First, to qualify for the privilege of reserving space in the Pullman car, the passenger’s standard ticket had to be upgraded to first class.  Which means they were paying extra for the privilege of renting space in the sleeper car.  Then, they paid for the suite or roomette.

I wondered if the riders did not know the company was sticking it to them.

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Three difficult church situations and what to do about them

I am not a professional counselor, not an official adviser of churches or denominations or pastors as such, and not acclaimed as an expert on problem-solving or conflict management. What I am is a veteran  preacher–now retired– and a writer who sometimes gets asked, “What is your take on this? What do you recommend we do about that?”

Out of that experience, and spurred on by two recent situations–one by phone last night and the other from an email this morning–here are three “case studies” or problem scenarios that occur with alarming frequency in our churches. And my suggestions on what the leadership should do in handling them.

As always, I do not claim to have the last word on any of this. But if it turns out this is the first word, something that gets readers to thinking deeply and acting courageously, it will have been worth the effort.

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Thoughts on taking care of the poor among us

“He honors (God) who has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31). “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what He has given” (Proverbs 19:17).  “The poor you always have with you, but Me you do not have always” (Matthew 26:11).

Scripture has a lot to say about God’s people caring for the needy.  But it can be twisted and made to say something other than was intended.

A friend sent me a letter from a disgruntled church member who was complaining that after he lost his job the church did not pay his bills and support him.  The friend says the church gave him a great deal of help and “I personally gave him money.” But it wasn’t enough for the guy, who is now slamming the Lord’s church and wondering “Where is Jesus after 2,000 years?”

I suggested my friend ask the guy how many needy people he assisted when he had a job.

I think we know the answer.

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Servanthood: A different kind of leadership

“…your servant, for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). 

God wants you to be a leader, Christian.  But not your garden variety kind of leader, where you have lots of followers who obey your commands, groupies surrounding you to anticipate your whims.

God calls you and me to be servant-leaders.  A servant leader is the kind the world knows little of, the type that is counter-intuitive, we might say.  That is, it doesn’t look or feel like a leader but it is.

Once again, the way of the Lord is upside down compared to the world’s way.  (You’ve noticed that, have you?)

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When planning, reading the instructions is a good place to start.

“Our company asks prospective employees to fill out a written application,” a man wrote in the Readers Digest.  “One question said: In one word, describe your greatest strength. This woman applicant wrote: I’m always faithful to read the directions first.”

Recently, Bertha and I voted at the church a few blocks from our house.  As you sign in, the poll workers give you a paper ballot.  Since only two races were left for the runoff, the page was mostly empty.  At the top were these instructions:  “Using black ink, fill in the oval circle beside the name of the candidate for whom you are voting.”  You were given a closed space to mark your ballot, which you then handed to a clerk who fed the paper into the voting tabulator.  Mine went through fine.  Bertha’s was spit back out.  The clerk looked at it, smiled at her, and said, “Ma’am, you put a checkmark by the candidate’s name.  You’re supposed to fill in the oval.”  She laughed, was slightly embarrassed, they gave her another ballot, and she got it right this time.

On the way to the car, I said to my schoolteacher/wife: “Honey, do you tell the students to read the directions before they take their test?”  She gave me that look.

On the drive home I said to her, “I’ve not changed the clock in this car since we went on Daylight Savings Time.  The truth is I’ve forgotten how to do it.  I’ve had the car a whole year now, so I know I’ve done it before. But I don’t recall how.”

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Our wish for the church’s preacher-killers

They asked Andrew Murray the greatest thought that had ever entered his mind.  “My accountability to God,” he said.

My pastor friend Albert still carries scars from his last tough assignment.  And now, he tells me, he faces a crisis in his present church.

The issue, you will not be surprised to learn, has nothing to do with the community at large, the unchurched he is trying to reach, or the surrounding culture.

The problem Albert faces is internal.

“Twice the treasurer has threatened to cut my pay if I announce plans to stay on.  He tells everyone that our church cannot afford a pastor.  A couple in the church is spreading gossip about me.  A recent survey of the congregation assessed me and my ministry–which is fine–but the board chairman plans to discuss it at the upcoming annual meeting without clueing me in on the results ahead of time.”

Nothing about this bodes well for Albert.  (I suppose I’ve seen too many of these disasters-in-the-making to be optimistic.  Some people are determined to have their way and run “their” church as they please.)

He concluded, “Pray for wisdom, shrewdness, strength and peace for my wife and me.”

Ask any pastor.  The stresses from these forces are preacher-killers.

I’ve been reading the recently published “Valley Forge,” Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s account of General George Washington’s turning a bedraggled, dispirited, starving, half-naked army into a fighting force that defeated the best-trained militia on the planet, the British.  What strikes the reader is that while battling the British and contending with both the frigid weather and the sparse supply of food and clothing, Washington was constantly being undercut by Congress and generals who wanted his job.

The internal strife must have been worse than the external.

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The Scripture’s description of your pastor

“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the work of a bishop (literally ‘overseer,’ meaning the pastor or chief undershepherd of the church), he desires a good work.  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well….”  (I Timothy 3:1-7 is the full text.)

Dr. Gary Fagan was pastoring a church in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts.  It was Wednesday night and time for the monthly business meeting of the congregation, usually an uneventful period for hearing reports on finances and membership and voting on recommendations concerning programs.  For reasons long forgotten, a man in the church–Dick was an engineer and a deacon–chose to stand and berate the pastor.  When he finished, he sat down and there was silence.

He was not used to being contradicted and the regulars were not foolhardy enough to take him on.

It took a new believer to do the job.

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