How to Frighten a Pastor

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Pastor, some of our members are concerned.

Speak those words and you now have the pastor’s undivided attention, believe me.

Say all you want about how the minister is God-called and God-protected and that sort of thing, but he would not be human if he did not want those he’s serving to be supportive and responsive. After all, since he’s sent to help them, he will appreciate any evidence he’s accomplishing his purpose.  Otherwise, he may feel he has either failed them or disappointed God. Or both.

Every pastor is vulnerable as a result.

What makes him more vulnerable to negative influences from others is that he has a family to feed and look after the same way you do if you work at the post office, drive a delivery truck, teach school, or extract teeth. The fact that he needs this job means he opens himself up to pressure from his constituents.

As a result, he reacts–at least emotionally–when he hears some of these lines that have been used on preachers since the beginning of the church.

Pastor, I know we ought to be reaching all these people and it’s good they’re being saved and baptized, but I miss our church the way it used to be.

The church I visited had 140 in two services. When the pastor arrived three or four years earlier, they had 40. In the previous three Sundays, he had baptized 11 people. Before the benediction, the pastor called on me to step to the mic and share anything on my heart. I said, “My friends, I am thrilled at the growth your church is having. These are wonderful days in this church. But I need to caution you about something. The devil will not take this lying down. He will raise up people to criticize and oppose, and I would not be surprised if he does it from within the congregation.”

I said, “Sooner or later, you will hear someone say, ‘I wish our church was the way it used to be.’ When that happens, do not wait for the pastor to address it. That’s your job. You are to turn to them and say, ‘Are you out of your mind?!’”

They laughed, but I hope they got the point.

“I’m not being spiritually fed by your sermons.”

This is a common ruse that accomplishes two things: it puts the preacher down while leaving the impression the critic is super spiritual with a taste for the red meat of the Word. And may I say, such criticism is almost always off base.

The chairman of deacons once said to me, “Preacher, they say you’re not preaching the Word.”

I said, “Well, I just got through preaching through the Gospel of Matthew. What did they mean by that?”

He said, “I don’t know.”

I said, “Please go back and ask them.”

That was the last I heard of it.

“Pastor, some of us have been talking and we feel there is a malaise in the church.”

The answer to this one–those are the exact words I once heard from a group of nay-sayers in my congregation–is a simple one: “Yes there is, and you’re responsible for it.”

People think they can spend their days criticizing the pastor and undercutting him, and then fire him because “there is a malaise within the congregation.” There ought to be one; they made it!

Webster defines ‘malaise’ as an unfocused feeling of general unease or discomfort. And that, my friend, is exactly what a constant barrage of criticism and non-support builds within a church body.

“Preacher, we were here a long time before you and we’ll be here after you leave. Don’t tell us what to do with our church.”

This ungodly approach is usually directed toward the pastor of a small church, particularly a first-timer who doesn’t know any better. But its cousin lurks in the hallways and classrooms of the larger churches where members-with-seniority-and-clout (MWSAC) resent the changes the pastor is bringing in.

The root problem, of course, is these people have no clue this is Jesus’ church (see Matthew 16:18 and Acts 20:28) and He does not care one whit what they want done with His church.  He is its Head (see Colossians 1:18).

“Pastor, some of us think it’s time for new leadership.”

This one is also a camouflage for the real reason they are attacking you, pastor. They have no answer for what you preach and the way you are leading. They want you out and the best they can come up with is this nebulous, foggy, smoky reasoning.

The answer to it is, “You’re right. I think you’ve been chairman of deacons long enough, don’t you?”

“Pastor, there’s a delegation of deacons here to see you. Now.”

Nothing strikes terror into a pastor’s soul like this one. He knows the boom is about to be lowered. Even if he stands up to them and carries the day and keeps his job, the fact of the confrontation itself will leave him shattered and unnerved for the rest of the day. No one enjoys this.

My hunch is that fully half those in the pastoring business despise confrontation. They feel called as healers and blessers, as encouragers and counselors. They will put up with a lazy staffer, a critical member, or a rebellious leader far longer than they should simply because they hate to call someone on the carpet and have to deal with the consequences. Maybe they’ll move on to some other church, they think to themselves.

But the worst confrontation of all to a pastor is when they themselves are the subject of the meeting.

What makes it worse is if the preacher has served any length of time, he knows he has failed some people, he has preached some lousy sermons along the way, and he has left undone work he should have pulled off. In other words, he knows he is not guiltless.

No pastor is guiltless.  Not one.

Anyone who has been married for three years or more has grounds for divorce. That’s my philosophy. What it means is that if one were keeping account of every slight, every put-down, every harsh word, he/she could convince some judge somewhere of grounds for divorce for incompatibility.

In a sense, a pastorate is like a marriage. The only way to make it work past the honeymoon stage is for both sides to agree for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

The spouse or the church leader who is committed to the mate or the preacher so long as everything goes well will soon be headed to the divorce courts.

There is no way to say this loud enough or sufficiently forcibly: Every pastorate that endures–that is, every church that keeps a pastor for any length of time–has to make up its mind to weather the storms that blow through from time to time.

So–what are the storms pastors endure and which blow through every congregation periodically?  Can we identify them?

Sure.  They usually involve some or all of the following–

Criticism. Disaffection. Mass exodus, with members taking their tithes. Sinful rebellion against godly leadership. Worldly philosophies. Carnal failures.

So, I suggest a few questions church leaders would do well to consider from time to time.  I’m not proposing them for a church business meeting, nothing formal like that.  Just that each of us would do well to get alone with the Lord on the back porch and deal with these–

–What would it take for me to leave this church?

–How committed am I to seeing this church’s mission through to completion?

–Do I really believe God calls pastors to churches and that it is His decision when one should leave?

–Am I part of my pastor’s support team or one of those who make it difficult for him to do the work God sent him here to accomplish?

Now, a word to the embattled pastors among us…

1) Let the preacher look to the Lord as His employer and not to man. (Among other scriptures, consider II Corinthians 4:5)

2) Let the preacher understand, too, that the lay leaders of his church are mortal, have clay feet, and can make serious errors. As a result, he can be fired and his ministry severely wounded by church members.

3) When that happens, his responsibility is to shake the dust off his feet and go on to the next assignment. If he grows embittered, it’s evidence his eyes are on men and not on the Lord.

4) A pastor will spend his entire ministry walking that line between taking great joy in his congregation but looking only to the Lord for his affirmation and guidance. Sometimes he will veer from one side to the other, but both are essential. Paul called the Philippians “my joy and my crown” (Philippians 4:1), and yet he knew the only crown that mattered would be one from the Lord (II Timothy 4:8).

Hey–you want to hear some really frightening words to preachers?  I’ve got ’em. 

Nothing will give him a heart attack more than walking up to him five minutes before the morning service and whispering, “Pastor, I thought you’d want to know. The search committee from First Church Bigtown is here today. All twelve of them.”

Oh my. Watch him sweat now. (Come on, smile!)