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.
Mickey Crane, longtime pastor of a Free Will Baptist Church in Walker County, Alabama, and now in Heaven, was telling a group something they needed to hear.
The churches in the area were having a community meeting at a ballfield. I attended with my mother and sister and wrote down his statement:
I understand people who don’t like the preacher. I don’t much like him either and I know him better than you! That’s why I can love and minister to people who don’t like me. I understand.
How refreshing is that!
And how rare is it. Listen to some of us preachers poor-mouth about church members who do not like us and you’d think it was our right to receive adulation from the world.
The pastor had better figure out in a hurry for whom he’s preaching and whom he wants to satisfy before he approaches the pulpit.
If he’s preaching for his audiences–if their response is everything to him–I can assure him there are church members out there ready to pop that little bubble and bring his ego down to earth and send his self-confidence packing.
Here’s my story….
When the husband died, his wife of nearly 60 years was instructing me on how she wanted things done in the funeral.
She mentioned our associate pastor.”I don’t care for his funerals. He talks about himself too much.”
Okay. I had never heard his funeral sermons since he did these only when I was not available.
I said, “What do you think of mine?”
Dumb question. But I asked for it.
In the Lord’s work as in anything else in life, there are essentials and non-essentials. There are the loadbearing features and cosmetic for-appearance-only aspects.
If we don’t know which is which, we’re in big trouble.
In the late 16th century, the City of Windsor engaged architect Sir Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.
Christopher Wren had four more columns added to the building, each identical to the first but with one exception: they lacked one inch reaching the ceiling. They were not holding up anything!
We say that some of those columns were load-bearing and the others cosmetic. (The building stands today. It’s called Guild Hall, I read somewhere.)
It’s a wise church leader who knows which structures in the Lord’s work are loadbearing and which are cosmetic and not structural.
A 10-year-old girl said something that has had me thinking about passion ever since.
That word “passion” gives us compassion, passive, dispassionate, and a host of related concepts. At its core, from the Latin, “passion” means “to suffer.” It’s opposite, passive, or impassive, means “unfeeling.”
I was teaching cartooning to children in the afternoons following vacation Bible school. At one point, I had to take a phone call and turned the class over to my teenage grand-daughter who was assisting me. Ten minutes later, I told the children about the call.
“One of the editors of a weekly Baptist paper in another state called about using a certain cartoon. I found the drawing in a file and scanned it into the computer and emailed it to her. Next week, that cartoon–which is still in that file cabinet in my office–will be seen in 50,000 newspapers in homes all over that state.”
Then I asked the question on their minds but which none dared to raise.
“Now, how much money do you think I made doing that?”
Some kid said, “Thousands.” The rest had no idea.
This has happened to me a number of times. I’m sitting in a meeting with hundreds of the Lord’s people representing churches across our state or country. A large number of preachers are in the audience. The speaker is sounding forth on some subject of importance to us all.
Suddenly, the speaker comes out with a statement that gets a hearty “amen,” something profound that reinforces the point he is making. He goes on with the message and everyone in the room follows him but one person. Me, I’m stuck at that statement. Where did he get that, I wonder. Is it true? How can we know?
If “Facebook,” that wonderful and exasperating social networking machine, has taught us anything, it is to distrust percentages and question quotations.
A Facebook friend’s profile contained a quote from President Kennedy. I happen to know the quote and while I cannot prove JFK never uttered those words–proving a negative like that is impossible–I know how the line got attached to the Kennedys. It’s a quotation from a George Bernard Shaw play.
I’m on the interstate, solidly in the middle of heavy traffic, trying to hold my own at a comfortable 65 or 70 or slightly more. Suddenly, from out of nowhere–maybe he dropped down out of the sky!–a motorcycle is all over me, appearing suddenly on my back bumper or just to my left elbow, then swerving around in front. The noise is horrendous and completely unexpected. He zooms past like he was jet-propelled and disappears into the distance.
I am unnerved.
Honestly, I need to exit immediately and find a rest area where I can kill the engine, get out and walk around, and get my wits back.
That was frightening.
The cyclist has no idea what he did. Or maybe he did.
Common sense says the fellow under that helmet drives a car from time to time and surely has had the experience of having a daredevil on a Harley materialize out of nowhere and scare the blazes out of him. Or maybe not.
If he had, he’d never do that to anyone else.
(I’m in the middle of my “wedding season.” Did one wedding last weekend, this weekend will marry my granddaughter Abigail to Cody, and have a couple more scheduled for this year. And that prompted the following.)
Most pastors agree we will take a funeral over a wedding any day.
You don’t have to rehearse a funeral. And there are no formal meals or receptions involved. You stand up in front of the honored guest, and do your thing, say your prayers, enjoy a couple of great songs, and go your way.
But with weddings, you have these rehearsals where a thousand things can go wrong, where the bride and her mother argue, where bridesmaids sometimes see how risque’ they can dress, and the groomsmen how rambunctious they can behave. You have a wedding director who may or may not be capable. (I’ll take a drill sergeant from Parris Island any day over a lazy director who has no idea all the awful things that can happen the next day.)
“Apart from these external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).
When showing his scars and enumerating his sufferings, the Apostle Paul ends with a mention of the daily care of the Lord’s people. That too was a great burden.
You don’t bleed from caring for the Lord’s flock. But you hurt as much as if you did.
The worst part of pastoring, the burden that keeps hammering you down into the ground, is the perfectionism.
It’s not something the Lord puts on us–well, not any more than on anyone else–because “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). He is under no illusions about any of us. The quickest way to divine frustration, I would think, is for the Father to expect perfection from His children.
He’s smarter than that. Thankfully.
Nor is it something most congregation put on us. Most members know their pastors are human, even if some do tend to lose sight of that sometimes. (I heard of a pastor whose teenage daughter has come up pregnant, and some in the church are calling for the pastor’s resignation. He ministered to them in their crises, but let him go through one and a few are ready to cut him off. What is wrong with such people?! God bless the leadership of this church and help them do the right thing.)
The perfectionism that hounds the pastor and nags at him without letup he mostly puts on himself.
Those of us who counsel pastors and teach future preachers are known to caution them to “study the Bible for itself, just to receive the Word into your heart, and not to prepare sermons.”
We might as well tell Sherlock Holmes to enjoy crime scenes for the beauty of the occasion and stop looking for criminals, tell Mike Trout not to worry about actually striking at the baseball crossing the plate but to relax and take in the inspiration of the moment, or tell Hollywood beauty queens to forsake plastic surgery.
Some things you do because this is who you are.
When a pastor comes across a great insight in the Scriptural text, does anyone think for one minute that he is going to file that away in a personal-edification file, never to be shared in sermons?
Yes, he is blessed by it, and certainly it enriches his own soul. But if it does feed his spirit and call him to realign his priorities, you can bet that he will be off and running to trace out similar teachings in the Word with a view to sharing the results with his flock.
That’s how it ought to be. It’s not an aberration at all. He’s doing what he does, what God called him for.
At some point in a Sherlock Holmes story, someone complimented the sleuth on his brilliant deduction. He said simply, “Of course. It’s what I do.”