“Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.”
2 Timothy 4:15
Listen up, Pastors:
It felt so right to get it right that I won’t ever forget the good feeling in my soul or the shocked look on her face. She had been in the church several weeks, was already in a small group, and I met her by the coffee pot in a member’s home many, many years ago. I guess she saw it as her ‘chance,’ because the floodgates opened and the tirade rushed out. Not sure whether that described her fairly, I checked the dictionary. Tirade: a prolonged outburst of bitter, outspoken denunciation. Yep, that’s what she attempted.
You may be tempted to warm your ears by the fire of denunciation, but don’t do it.
The problem wasn’t just the content, it was the tone . . . and the force. The reason I cut her prolonged pronouncement short is because it was against her former pastor. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I just don’t have ears to hear him, or any minister of the gospel, criticized.” She stopped. It was awkward, but I was right to halt her fleshly outburst, for the sake of all involved—me, her, and her former pastor. It’s a lesson I learned early on, because less than two years into our church plant, I had experienced being both the pastor listening and the pastor being described, too many times.
Pastors are imperfect and flawed with an infinite variety of Adam’s finger prints. James said, “We all fall in many ways,” (James 3:2). The longer you stay in one church, the greater the people’s awareness of your faults. Old school is to pack up when it gets hot and start a new honeymoon elsewhere, with your drawer of sermons and your faults back in hiding for a while. But the ministries I had studied out of seminary seemed to bear more fruit with longer-tenured senior leadership. So when we started out 25 years ago, we made a vow to stay. What I didn’t plan on was that others would not want the same pastor for their whole life, even if we prayed to stay in one church. Rick Warren has said, ‘We preach to a parade,’ and that is certainly true when I think of the many who have come and gone for mostly good reasons through the years.
In the multitude who move through a church over decades, many footnotes explain the foot traffic. New job out of state, new pastor at our old church, new home closer to First Baptist where our daughter’s swimming coach attends. We don’t like the longer service, or your longer sermons or your ______. The more personal it gets, the more hurt it causes. But over time, you come to accept that people will benefit from a change, and you grow in your ability to let go with grace. This is not a post about any of that; not the good people who, for what seemed to them good reasons, left to worship the same Christ from the same Bible at another worthy ‘body of Christ’ outpost. Not the people who thank you (or forget to, but feel it in their hearts) and choose to worship elsewhere. Read More