“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 (pastor/overseer) 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.
Pam Stewart, a single mother, had been a follower of Jesus for about a year.
“I fully support our pastor,” she said. “Furthermore, the Scripture does too.”
She opened her Bible to First Timothy 3:1 and began to read. “The pastor of the church must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior….” and she went on, reading the entire passage.
She closed the Bible and looked out at the congregation. “Pastor Gary embodies all these traits,” she said. “He is the man God sent to lead our congregation. He led me to Christ. I thank God for him.”
And she sat down.
Nothing else was said. The pastor led the benediction and they all left.
My wife Bertha was the faithful wife of Dr. Gary Fagan for over fifty-two years. God took Gary, a seminary classmate of mine, in May of 2014. Bertha related the story to me. “That church had not had a strong pastor prior to us,” she said, “and I’m sure that man got used to running things. He was most unhappy when a pastor arrived with a mind of his own.”
My own account
Her story brought back memories of a similar incident in my own life. It was a four-hour long deacons meeting in a church where I was in my third year. A few strong laymen had decided that I needed to leave and abruptly brought the recommendation to the fellowship of about 30 deacons that night. For four hours I found myself the subject of their discussion.
To some of the critics, I was ineffective, a good guy but uninspiring, out of my element pastoring such a great church, and clearly needed to find a church for which I would be a better fit. The fact is they thought I was too conservative for them. Some of the others defended my ministry and spoke highly of how God had used my sermons and leadership.
Interestingly, those against me did not attack me personally. Several began by saying, “Now, I like Joe. I enjoy being with him. If I was going to lunch with someone, I’d be glad to have lunch with Joe.” A strange sort of opposition, to be sure.
Finally, the youngest deacon in the room stood to his feet.
“I can’t take any more of this,” said David Meachum. “Listening to some of you saying you like Joe, you’d enjoy going out to a meal with him, and that kind of foolishness–and then you want to fire him? Give me a break. I’ll tell you one thing….
“I hope you don’t like me! If this is how you treat people you like!”
David held up a Bible. “You see this Bible? This is a new Bible. My wife gave me this for my birthday. I love this Bible. And you know what, you are not going to believe some things I found in this Bible!”
He opened the Scriptures. “Let me read you what I found in First Timothy chapter three. Some of you are going to be amazed.”
“The Lord’s pastor must be blameless. That’s Joe McKeever.
“The Lord’s pastor must be the husband of one wife. That’s Joe McKeever.
“The Lord’s pastor must be temperate. That’s Joe McKeever.”
He went through the entire list of qualities of the Lord’s pastors, after each one adding my name.
And he sat down.
It was as inspired a moment as I’ve experienced in over half a century in the ministry.
You will not be surprised to know it didn’t change a thing. The people in the room determined to oust their pastor did not care what the Bible said. That was completely beside the point. They wanted what they wanted.
And that, I suggest, may be one of the worst possible judgments we could ever render concerning a Christian: that Scripture does not matter; that my will is more important than God’s.
Couple of years back, Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas’ FBC was preaching at our annual state Baptist meeting in our church (FBC Jackson MS). I suggested to him that if he could, he find a way to work into his message a similar story from early in his ministry. He did. (The full story is somewhere on this blog.)
It was a Wednesday night business meeting and a man stood to berate the pastor. He and a half-dozen men had been used to calling the shots in that church without interference from the pastor. Until now. After he finished, the other deacons stood, one by one, to echo the charges. When they finished, Pastor Jeffress, who was conducting the meeting, asked if anyone else had anything to say. It was quiet.
Then a little elderly lady stood. “Mrs. Johnson?” the pastor said. “You wish to speak?”
She didn’t say a word, just walked down to the front and stood by her pastor. “I just want to stand by my pastor,” she said quietly. Someone else stood and walked down and joined them, then another and another. Soon every person in the room–with the exception of those six men–was standing alongside and around the pastor. No one had fussed, harangued, or attacked. It was eloquent and Christ-honored.
“Well, I guess I was mistaken,” said the attacker. And soon all six of those men had left the church. The years ahead were times of growth and blessing.
Does this give you an idea?
The next time you find yourself in a church business meeting where your pastor is being undercut and dismissed because some have decided he needs to leave, prayerfully ask the Father for permission to stand and read the first seven verses of First Timothy chapter three.
The only way you can do this, by the way, is to be thoroughly familiar with the passage in advance. So, may I suggest you read this passage a number of times in the next few days. And reflect on what each phrase means. Meditate on it.
Ask yourself whether the will of God is more important than any other consideration.
Ask yourself whether a pastor’s work should come to an end when some decide they do not like him, he is not a good fit for the congregation (Silly God, sending a pastor to a flock for which he is not a good fit; whatever was the Lord thinking?), or they are tired of him.
Ask the Lord to help you to encourage your pastor now, before trouble breaks out.
Ask the Lord to help you to speak out for your pastor now while things are going well, and not wait until a group arises to oppose him. Take the initiative.
I leave you with the reminders of Matthew 10:40 and Luke 10:16. They are as strong an admonition as anything in Scripture for my money. When the Lord Jesus was sending out His apostles to minister He said to them, “Whoever receives you, receives me. Whoever listens to you, listens to me. And whoever rejects you, rejects me.”
God help our churches to stand up and do right. For Jesus’ sake!