written by: Michael Catt
As I was driving down the road the other day, I started thinking about the word, ‘loyalty.’ It’s a word I grew up with. It’s a word often heard in association with patriotism. It used to be associated with denominations, churches, corporations and such. Not anymore. The day of loyalty is over.
Loyal is defined as, “steadfast in allegiance to one’s homeland or government,” or “faithful to a person, ideal, etc.” Loyal is an adjective. Loyalty is an adverb. Both are lacking in our vocabulary. The noun disloyalty is far more common in today’s culture. Alexander Pope said, “Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends.”
There’s no loyalty in the corporate world because corporations are more concerned about the bottom line than people. Therefore, they let long term employees go, or buy them out to increase profits for the big boys. The consequence has been decreased loyalty among employees. After all, if you know you are just a number, and someone offers you a better job, why not take it. It’s every man for himself.
There’s no loyalty to denominations for several reasons: One, many denominations have forsaken the faith ‘once for all delivered to the saints.’ You owe no loyalty to an organization that once stood for something and now falls for anything. Two, with the advent of television and radio, people began to discover options that suited their taste. The flip side is, they often do not take the time to check out the theology of the group or preacher they are following. Three, with a mobile society, people no longer grow up and live in the same town all their lives. With mobility comes openness to new ideas and people begin to look for churches that scratch them where they itch.
There’s little loyalty in the local church. I’ve been in ministry for over thirty years and I can tell you that sticking it out is not a characteristic of the 21st century believer. I do agree there are times to leave a church. For instance, if it’s run by a group of power hungry people, why subject yourself to that? If they are constantly squabbling, fussing and gossiping, who needs that at the end of a hard week? On the other hand, if we all cut and run at the first sign of trouble or adversity, there wouldn’t be anyone left. Sometimes you have to stay and fight for what’s right.
Unfortunately, there’s often little loyalty in the pastor for the church. Every church is a stepping stone to bigger and better. This embitters the people and causes them to take their hurt out on the next pastor. Likewise, there can be a lack of loyalty in a staff member. For fifteen years, I served on church staffs before becoming a pastor. I can tell you, that there were times when I got the, ‘I know better’ spirit. I’ve since discovered that it really is different on the other side of the desk. It’s hard to see the big picture when the buck doesn’t stop at your desk.
As a side note, I’ve come to believe that entertaining every ‘offer’ or request for a resume ultimately becomes ministerial adultery. It says, you are always leaving your options open and any new lover that comes along with a bigger salary, more perks, and a larger congregation might entice you to leave. These inquiries can eventually cause you to lose your focus and vision for where you are. Just because someone asks for a resume, doesn’t mean you have to send it. After all, the greener grass is astro turf. A contact must not be interpreted as the will of God. I believe that many ministers leave just before their ministry begins to take root and bear fruit.
Staying in one church as pastor for nearly fifteen years has taught me there are some things worth fighting for. Pastors and staff who leave and move every two or three years empower those who are carnal to control the church. I once heard John Maxwell say that most pastors leave because of eight people. The eight sound like eight hundred, but they are only eight. Like Nixon’s silent majority, most church members want stability in the staff and pastor not a revolving door. If you can stick it out through the first few battles, they’ll know you are serious.
I’ve had my share of battles, suffered my share of scars and endured people who were disloyal, even within the staff. Nothing cuts deeper than a disloyal co-laborer in the body. Anytime you invest in someone, believe in them and support them, you expect the same in return. It seems, sometimes, the spirit of Judas is still alive and well.
There have been times when I’ve let this discourage me. At other times, it has angered me. Always it has frustrated me. I have to constantly remind myself in these moments that it is the Lord who keeps the final books and that we will all stand before him to give an account of our actions and reactions as his servants.
Over time, I’ve learned to live in greater fear of what God will say on that day than what some bitter member or former staff member will say today. I’ve been talked about, lied to, lied about, misrepresented, scorned and undermined. It hurts. Let’s all admit it.
The greatest responsibility of the leader at a time like this is to stay calm, trust Christ and lean on the Holy Spirit. The easiest thing to do is lash out, strike back, get even. It’s hard to turn the other cheek, I don’t care how spiritual you think you are. To go the second mile, to be silent before accusers is a difficult thing – but not impossible.
The truth is, we want to tell our side of the story. We want folks to know all the facts. We watch people leave our churches because they are more loyal to a person than to Christ and it hurts. The reality is, you can’t change people’s minds. They will believe what they want to believe. They will side with who they want to. Those are facts that aren’t going away. That’s gospel, like it or not.
I’ve watched hundreds of people walk out of the church I serve to follow some staff member. At times it got to me. It angered me. It was a burr under my saddle. I wanted to let the whole world know what the real deal was. I wanted them to know the things that I knew that I had never shared. I’m grateful now I kept my mouth shut. I found a few trusted confidants and was able to unload my burdens on them and not take it to the church. The church didn’t need to hear it. I didn’t need to say it.
I’ve watched people ride out of town, shooting over their shoulders, and leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess. I’ve seen, to my horror, people so eaten up with self that they care little about the children, families or church they harm. The venom, anger, and bitterness spills out and innocent people are harmed, sometimes for the rest of their lives.
I have no intention of patting myself on the back here, but I’ve been more loyal to some than they have been to me. My basic premise is always, I will trust you with my whole heart until you prove otherwise. I try to take things at face value. At times I’ve been burned because of it. I’ve tried to remember that loyalty in little things is, in fact, a big thing.
After one staff member left, I found out from members and other staff that he had been knifing me behind my back for years. I was told when I came to this church, I should have let him go, but I wanted to see if it would work. I tried. I failed. In the long run, it would have been easier to let him go in my first year than watch what happened down the road.
I was in a conference a few weeks ago and ran into an old friend. He asked me about another gentleman who was once part of our staff. He left here, guns blazing and making accusations about me and the rest of the staff that would make the devil blush. Where is he today? Divorced, out of the ministry and I might add responsible for destroying or upsetting the next four churches he went to before he finally got out of the ministry. I talked to his ex-wife a few years ago, she said she always knew the real reason we let him go.
The writer of Proverbs said, “Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is really faithful?” I can identify with that verse. It’s rare to find a person, man or woman who has the spirit of Ruth, “Don’t ask me to leave you or turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God…May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us.”
I think I’ve learned two significant things in all this. One, God is on the side of truth. The truth doesn’t need defending. Just live it, trust God with your reputation and eventually, the truth will come out. I’ve had people apologize to me who left the church over something they thought or heard – only to later discover it wasn’t true.
Number two. There are loyal people and staff. You can’t let one bad apple destroy the whole bunch. You can’t get cynical and hard hearted. You have to keep the heart of a lamb and the hide of a rhinoceros. You can’t get the two confused.
I’ve been blessed with some incredibly loyal staff and laity. They’ve stayed through thick and thin. They’ve believed the best when they could have thought the worst. They’ve stood up for me when it would have been easy to be quiet and silent. I’m grateful for them. I’m blessed to know them and serve alongside them.
Over my nearly fifteen years here, the average staff member has stayed five years. We have some that have been here more than ten. They’ve been loyal, taken correction, been faithful and disciplined. I’ve had two Executive Pastors that I trust with my life. They’ve stood with me through thick and thin. They’ve listened to me and provided wise counsel in stressful times.
G. K. Chesterton said, “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” Or, as one person said, “If we don’t learn to hang together, we’ll all hang separately.”
Someone said, “Loyalty is rare. It can only be proven under test.” Our loyalty: to the Lord, to one another and to the churches we are privileged to serve will be constantly tested. Satan looks for any crack, any opening where he can begin to divide and destroy.
Let me close this way. The Commander in Chief expects loyalty from the military. If our military officers expect loyalty from the soldiers, what’s the problem with expecting a culture of loyalty in the army of the Lord? Disloyalty in the ranks of the church has cost more lives (and for eternity I might add), than any act of disloyalty in military history. It’s time, that we had a rebirth of loyalty: to the Lord, to the church and to one another. They will figure out we are the real deal when they see how we love one another. You can’t have love without loyalty. They are, in my opinion, inseparable.
©2004 Michael C. Catt. All rights reserved.
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.