All of us have experienced the honeymoon stage in a new church. It’s the time when the pulpit committee thinks they’ve called the Apostle Paul, when the little old ladies class thinks you are the best looking preacher in town and when the overwhelming majority believe in you. However, something happens along the way. Sooner or later (sadly to say, it can be sooner than later), the honeymoon is over. Unfortunately, some churches and pastors head for divorce court.
I once served the First Baptist Church of Trivial Pursuit, so I am very familiar with this problem. I’ve been in business meetings that made the WWF look like a Sunday School picnic. I’ve endured more than one session where Robert’s Rules of Order took precedence over the Word of God. I’m grateful that is not the case in my current ministry. For the most part, God has blessed us with unity and a spirit of trust. That is not always the case. It hasn’t been for me. It probably hasn’t been for you.
Why is it that those of us in ministry have to deal with so much grief from people? I believe the number one reason is unreasonable expectations. People refuse to let their pastors be human. I’m not talking about excusing sin here. What I’m talking about is the willingness of the laity, the board or the deacons to let the man of God be a man. Our job is impossible. We are called on to be a shepherd, CEO, administrator, staff coordinator, counselor, gatekeeper, teacher, preacher, hospital visitor, and a host of other responsibilities.
All of us have a person who wants to be our conscience or our Holy Spirit. They feel led to talk to us about every miscue, mistake, error in judgment or blunder. The Accuser of the Brethren has a friend in every church. This kind of person can listen to a thirty minute sermon and pick it apart. They throw away the meat looking for a bone to pick. You can’t win with that person. You shouldn’t try. Just listen, smile and give it to Jesus. IF their point is valid, receive it. If it’s not, hit the delete button in your mind.
I’ve discovered that some of the worst critics a pastor can have are those who at some point in their life resisted the call of God. These persons are often times unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life for one simple reason—they missed God’s best for their life. Watch out for the person who thinks they know better but for whatever reason were never willing to put their lives on the line.
There’s another reason why the honeymoon ends and it is when people try to turn their pastors into idols. This can happen for two reasons. One, we don’t admit our struggles and give the appearance that we are perfect I once followed a man who would never admit, even to the deacons, the problems he was having with his teenage children. He stonewalled the laity and reacted harshly to anyone who questioned what was going on in his family. Upon arriving at the church, I learned the people wanted to love the man, but he wouldn’t let them. More than one member said to me, AI wish that one time he would have said, “I’m hurting, I need your prayers.’ We would have done anything in our power to help him.”
Chuck Swindoll says, “The only thing that belongs on a pedestal are flowers and the busts of dead men.” It’s dangerous for the membership to confuse the minister who is imperfect with the Lord who is perfect.
This tendency leads to people expecting us to be perfect and of course, we aren’t. A friend of mine who pastors in the Midwest had every member of his pulpit committee leave the church in his first six months. One said to him, “You aren’t what we expected”. What were they expecting? A member of the pulpit committee that called us to our present ministry quit coming to church. Why? He didn’t feel comfortable with people asking him questions about things we were doing. His absence didn’t help me.
When God calls a pastor, he calls a man, not a superman, not a supraman, nor a semidivine man. When God sends a man to lead his people expectations are very high. The pastor believes he has finally found his perfect church. The church feels that maybe they’ve found the perfect pastor. At least that’s what all his friends on his resume said.
Like a courting or dating relationship, when a new minister arrives on the scene, everyone puts their best foot forward. However, just like marriage, it doesn’t take long to see the imperfections in the people and the pastor. The people sometimes excuse theirs, but they seldom excuse the pastor.
It help if our congregations realized that they great men and women of Scripture had flaws. We do not exalt them because they were perfect people. We honor them because their hearts were set on seeking God. They made mistakes, they lost their temper, they struggled with their flesh. When you read the stories of Abraham, Noah, Moses, Joseph, David, Peter, Paul and John – they were all human beings. They were fallible. It was the message that was infallible. The danger for the preacher and/or his people is when the two get mixed up.
Stuart P. Benson once wrote an article entitled, “The Making and Breaking of Pastors and Churches.” Read carefully these words. “Every pastor makes mistakes. He, like the members of his church, is only human. Church members are inclined to pass lightly over their own faults but to hold the pastor rigidly accountable for his. He is expected to be above reproach in word and deed, but it does not take long to discover that he, too, is a child of Adam. A church that is willing to try to save the pastor when he has made a mistake will not only save a man for the ministry but experience a rich return for being gracious.”
One of the ways I keep my head clear is I meet weekly with three key influencers in our church. These three men are all older than I am. They have credibility with the membership. We meet every Wednesday for breakfast. For about an hour, we discuss current events, but we also spend time talking about what’s going on in the church. I trust these three men. They give me insight, wisdom, words of caution, and advice. They have saved my bacon more than once. In addition, I have several other laymen that I’ve grown to trust over time who give me godly counsel and help me see things from different perspectives. These men know I’m frail flesh, but they also honor my office. Their prayers, support, counsel, correction and advice have done more to make me a better pastor than any seminary course I took on Conflict resolution.
Maybe the best thing you could do for your ministry and your health is to find three to five persons in your congregation who believe the best about you but know you are not perfect. Persons who will be honest with you but will not use their position of influence as an ego trip. You’ll have to ask the Lord to show you who you can trust. Ask these persons to help you with your blind spots. Ask them to >interpret your heart’ to those who see you in a negative light. Seek their wisdom when you’re facing a major decision. Before any confrontation, talk to them about how they would handle it. Vance Havner said, AA bulldog can whip a skunk, but it’s not worth it. Don’t put yourself in a position with your critics where it’s always win/lose.
Most of all, don’t run at the first sign of trouble. Stay true to the Word. Stay on your knees. Walk humbly before the Lord. Be quick to hear, slow to speak. You are never going to please everyone and God help the minister who tries. Watch out for the devil’s hooks in the water. The enemy loves to bait us and get us to bite the hook so he can reel us in. Don’t take the bait. The best way to respond to some critics is to say nothing. Remember, your friends will believe the best about you no matter what. Your critics are never going to believe anything good about you no matter what. Don’t live for the applause or approval of men. Don’t live for accolades. Live for the Well Done of Jesus. And by the way, just in case you’ve forgotten, the church crowd didn’t like him either.
©2001 MCC This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use.
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Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.