Pride and prejudice: Pastors know without reading Jane Austen

“Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (I Peter 5:6-9)

This is for pastors and other church leaders.  In the same way, the above admonitions were directed first of all to pastors and elders.  Peter was addressing “elders…as a fellow elder….”

Sometimes you have to take a tough stand, and then later, often months later, you have to defend it.  My suggestion is youshould keep good records.  To be able to open your book and say, “Okay, here’s what you said and what I answered” may end up saving your job.  Or your ministry.  Or sanity?

Hearsay or memory cannot stand up in a court of law alongside a journal where you recorded the exact conversation the day it happened.

Estherline has given all her pastors headaches.  But I was new at the time and no one had cautioned me about her.  I walked into her lion’s den unknowing.

When the lady who had been directing weddings in that church gave up the job, I was just entering as the new pastor.  I called her.  She gave me the names of two ladies in the church who could do the job. Estherline was the second.  “She’s pretty rigid, Pastor,” the lady warned me.

So, when the first choice declined, not knowing any better, I called Estherline.  She was only too happy to become the church’s wedding director.  She held that little position for the next three-plus years.  Until I fired her.

The weddings she directed were ordeals.  She had her own way of doing things, and even though we had private meetings on the right way to do this, she seemed not to listen or care.  Everythingl came to a head one night when she confronted me before the fifty members of a wedding party. “Pastor, that is not how we do it.”  She was on the ground floor and I on the platform, perhaps thirty feet away. She had raised her voice.

I said calmly, “Yes, this is how we do it.”  And went on.  But she would have none of it  “Pastor, you’re wrong. That is not how a wedding is done!”

She was rebuking her pastor before everyone. A better way would have been to ask for a quick private conversation.

I said to the party, “Well, everyone it appears the pastor and wedding director are having an argument right here in front of you.  But this is how we do weddings and it’s how we’re going to do this one.”

A few minutes later, Estherline came over. “You’re right, pastor.  I looked at my notes and saw I was mistaken.”  I said, “Thank you.”

I was not a happy camper.

That week, she and I had a meeting.  I told her it was not working out and that I wanted to get someone else as wedding director, Therefore I was relieving her.  I don’t recall anything more about our visit.  That night I wrote the entire conversation in my journal.

Two things happened quickly.

One. She began telling all her friends that the pastor had fired her. She was upset, and from what I heard, her little cadre of buddies were also.

Two.  A deacon rose in the next meeting.  “I understand the pastor fired the wedding director.  I want to know who gave him the authority to fire her.”  I said, “Mr. Chairman, may I answer that?”  I looked at the man and said, “The short answer is: I hired her and I fired her.  But she is a nice lady and I refuse to criticize her in this meeting.  If anyone needs more information, please come to see me.”

No one did.  And I thought that was the last of it.

My journal says otherwise.

Some people cannot leave well enough alone.

When you are embarrassed for losing your job, don’t run to all your friends placing blame.  Hold your head up high and go on to the next thing.

It was a Wednesday a couple of  months later.  Estherline and I had a long phone conversation from the church office.

From my journal:

I said, “You seem to be still hurting over being terminated as wedding director.”

She: “Yes, but it’s just because of the way you went about it.”

Me: “Oh? I thought I handled it right.  What was wrong?”

She: “You were cold and unprofessional and unchristian.”

Me: “Surely not! What did I do?”

She: “You called me into your office, told me that you loved me, and that you were relieving me of  my position.”

Me: “That’s true.  I did.  Was that wrong?”

She: “Yes, you should have said, ‘Let’s try to work it out.”

Me: “Estherline, I tried for four years.  it didn’t work out.”

She: “Well, we could have tried harder.”

Me: “Estherline, at this point I was past wanting it to work out.  I wanted someone else to work with.  That’s why I did it.”

She: “Well, a lot of people are hurt over it.”

Me: “A lot of people?  Estherline, everyone tells me you are the one calling them and stirring it up.”

She: “When they ask me, I tell them I’m no longer the wedding director, that Brother Joe relieved me.  And they’re shocked.  One deacon asked me, ‘What right does the pastor have to relieve anyone?’ And I said, ‘That’s what I want to know.”

Me: “Estherline, may I answer that?  The next time anyone asks you what right I have to relieve you, please tell them, ‘Well, he’s the one who appointed me.'”

The journal simply says: “And on and on and on.”

The pastors who followed me got to know Estherline all too well.  So, this is not about her, although I had to tell what happened to make the point.

Pastors and leaders sometimes have to make tough decisions which are going to make them unpopular.  Make the decision anyway.

I’m recalling another church with a little personnel problem.  Harriette was an elderly woman, retired from the college, and well loved.  For reasons unknown to me, the worship leader had her playing the piano for hymns at our mid-week service.  She was terrible.  When I asked him about this, he sheepishly said, “I know she’s awful.  But everyone loves her.”  Finally, a few weeks into this pastorate, I said to him, “Get another pianist” He said, “It’s going to hurt her.”  I said, “Better to hurt one person than everyone!”  And added, “But try to find a way not to hurt her.”  Evidently he did, because she gave up the job, the paid church pianist began playing for Wednesday night services, and Harriette kept coming to church and continued to love her new pastor.

No one enjoys taking a job away from someone.  No administrator loves firing people.

We could make a case here for some people being in the wrong slot and to remove them may end up being a blessing, but I expect everyone knows that already.

And I’m remembering the time when I did not remove a church volunteer, not because the guy didn’t need it, but because the man who suggested removing him was on my case all the time anyway.  I ended up defending the fellow–and leaving him in place– when I should have agreed with the critic and acted on his suggestion.

So, here is my counsel, particularly for new pastors…

One.  Before removing someone–or appointing them, for that matter–get the counsel of two or three church leaders whom you respect.

Two.  Before removing someone, make sure you have tried to work with that one, and that they know things are not as you wish them to be.  (At this point, I hear someone objecting that the pastor is not God and why should his opinion be the only one that counts?  The answer is: first, true, he is not God.  Second, God appointed him as the overseer of the church (Acts 20:28).  And third, he should be a servant/leader. That means he should be going out of his way to bless people, but never fear taking the courageous stand on something that matters.)

Three.  For pastors who are men–and in our denomination, that’s pretty much all of them!–seek the counsel and prayer support of your wife.  Few people know the inner life of the pastor or have the viewpoint of the church as she.  Listen to her.

Four.  Keep good notes.  After a confrontational meeting of any kind with anyone in the church, as soon as you are able, retreat into your study and write what happened, who said what.  Keep it in a secure place, whether it’s in your laptop or a hardbound journal (as mine are).

Five. Give up the perfectionism.  We all make mistakes.  I’ve hired the wrong staff members and ended up sending them packing.  I hated doing it, but refused to sacrifice the church to my own mistake.  We worked hard to do right by the departing staff member, especially for the sake of his family, but it was always painful.  My wife said to me once when I was telling her of the ugly spirit of the terminated staffer, “Joe, get real.  You want to fire a guy and have him like it.”

Six. So, expect to be criticized.  And help your leadership team–ordained and laity–to expect the same for themselves.  You cannot allow someone to build their own little kingdom in the church and refuse to adjust, make changes, etc., out of obstinance or insecurity.  Each of us is accountable.  And yes, pastors also are accountable, and sometimes have to be dismissed.

Seven.  When you are the one being dismissed (ousted, terminated, fired!), be a big boy or girl, and hold your head up high. Some of the greatest achievers in the world were fired at one time or other. It’s no reflection on your character.

The best revenge, we hear, is living well.  Recently, I told a young pastor who was being ousted from his church, “Go prove them wrong.  Do such a good job in the next assignment that they will forever look back and say, ‘What were we thinking?””







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