Monthly Archives: September 2011

Pastors Lead

This article is taken from Grace Theological Journal, Volume 6 #2, Fall 1985; pages 329-335

by Jerry R. Young

The hidden agendas for pastoral duties found in many churches are a result of a misunderstanding of the pastoral function in the local church. The pastor may function as an elder and/or a bishop, but his primary responsibilities in the local church are to provide leadership and to teach (as did Timothy and Titus). God especially equips the pastor to fulfill these duties. If the hidden agendas are renounced in favor of the NT directives, the twentieth century church will receive the benefit.

* * *


In my second year as a pastor, I became aware of a hidden agenda used in the examination and selection of pastors. The Senior Pastor and I had resigned, both of us intending to assume home mission responsibilities. A pulpit committee, composed of the foremost men in the church, was elected to search for and recommend a pastoral candidate to the congregation. It was a scene common among self-governing churches in America. For its initial meeting, the committee chose to meet in the large Christian Education office where my desk was located. Surprised by the committee’s entrance, I rose to my feet and proceeded to gather the project on which I was working. Although the men quickly assured me that my presence did not concern them, remaining in the room did not seem proper to me. Before I could gather my things and depart, however, the men sat down and the meeting began. A prominent name was mentioned. “Oh, we couldn’t ask him,” replied another voice. “He would want to do things his own way.” Other names were mentioned. One man was too fat. Another was too old. The hidden agenda was out on the table.

Twenty years have passed since my introduction to the hidden agenda. New forms of local church government have been encouraged. Strong, visionary leadership from the pastor has become a desirable trait. But hidden agendas remain.

It is my opinion that such agendas abound because pastors are not sure of their own identities and responsibilities. They try to function like deacons by visiting the sick and helping the poor. They try to function like bishops by meeting with committees and supervising church programs. They try to function like pastors by preaching and teaching. In their efforts to be everything and do everything, they end up as office managers and program technicians.

I know full well that there are pressures on pastors to be all things to all people. There are occasions when it is impossible to avoid the mixing of roles. However, role confusion over a long period of time results in frustration for both pastor and congregation. Hidden agendas and expectations, if left uncorrected, will diminish the pastoral ministry and thus impoverish the local church. It is important for pastors to clearly identify their roles on the basis of Scripture.


Three Crucial Words

There are three words in the Greek NT that dominate any discussion of the pastoral role: presbuvtero”/’elder’, ejpivskopo”/’bishop’, and poimhvn/’pastor’. The first word seems to describe a person who is characterized by maturity and dignity.1 The second word refers to a person who is charged with the duty or function of supervision.2 The third word refers to a person who leads and cares for sheep.3 All three words may be found in combination with one another. In Acts 20 Paul reminds the elders (v 17 {Acts 20:17}) from Ephesus that the Holy Spirit has appointed them as bishops (v 28 {Acts 20:28}), and that they are to shepherd (v 28 {Acts 20:28} from the verb poimaivnw) the flock of God. In 1 Peter 5, Peter admonishes elders (v 1 {1 Pet 5:1}) to shepherd (v 2 {1 Pet 5:2}) the flock of God, exercising oversight (v 2 {1 Pet 5:2} from the verb ejpiskopevw)4 in a spirit of willing sacrifice. The complex working relationship between the duties implied in these three words has occasioned a variety of views on the nature of church leadership.


One segment of Christendom, in an effort to focus attention on the supervisory role of its top leadership, has chosen the word “Episcopalian” to describe its form of church government. Others prefer the term “Presbyterian,” choosing to organize and govern their churches through the election of mature men and women. Still others prefer the strong, local leadership of a pastor, and might call themselves “Poimenian.” However churches organize themselves and whatever aspect of government they choose to emphasize, the roles and functions embodied in these three words are not to be denied.5 But imprecise language, role confusion, and deliberate abridgment of one function or the other can only result in the development of hidden agendas and the eventual weakening of the local church.

It is a common practice among some churches to merge all three roles and functions into one administrative office. Familiarity with that practice encourages imprecise choice of terms and subsequent role confusion. For example, one competent writer, when commenting on the opening verses of 1 Timothy 3, makes the claim that “A local church has two administrative offices: the pastor and the deacon.”6 Yet the word used in 1 Tim 3:1 is ejpiskoph'”. Evidently the writer’s choice of words was inexact because of familiarity with a particular form of church government—a pastor accompanied by a board of deacons.

The roles of elders and bishops do not necessarily cease to exist in the local church just because they are ignored in favor of the role of the pastor. Often their function is carried on by people with different titles who sometimes do not have the qualifications listed in Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus. The effect of this can be harmful to the whole church.

While it is easy to argue that the terms “elder” and “bishop” generally refer to the same office on the basis of Titus 1:5–7, it is not easy to argue that the term “pastor” refers to the same office as well. That particular gift, office, or function is not even named in the pastoral epistles. However, Timothy and Titus might be called pastors. Their influence and authority were highly visible, and Paul repeatedly commanded them to exercise the pastoral gift of teaching.

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul clearly identified those offices that were given by God to build the Church:

And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ [Eph 4:11–13].7

The permanence of these offices is often debated, some viewing one, two, or even three of the offices as temporary.8 But no one denies the present existence of the pastoral gift. The combination of pastor and teacher into one office is argued, but no one denies that the pastor must be a teacher.9 The partial listing of gifts in 1 Cor 12:28 lends further support: “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” The teaching gift is listed without reference to the separate gifts of evangelism and pastoring found in Eph 4:11. This could well represent a combination of three distinct gifts, with the leading component serving as an umbrella. The gifts of evangelism, pastoring and teaching often reside simultaneously in one person.

The pastor is a special kind of teacher. He is a teacher who should stand out among other teachers because of a gift from God. In his clear exposition of the Bible he should emulate the Chief Shepherd, who taught “as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). He will probably be a bishop if he supervises the work of others. If he is in the middle years of life, experienced and mature, he will probably be an elder as well. Whether his forum is a seminary classroom, a conference platform, a mission headquarters, or a church auditorium, his gift is to lead a flock of sheep. Whatever Christians today might call him, he functions as a pastor or shepherd of God’s flock. Recognition of this basic truth is a necessary first step in removing the hidden agendas hindering many churches today.


Command and Teach

One of the most fascinating verbal exchanges between Jesus and his disciples may be found in John 21:15–17. It is the story of Peter’s recovery from failure as a disciple, and his return to leadership:

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

Many people are aware of the subtle shift in the Lord’s use of the words for “love.” But very few realize that Jesus also used two different words in his command that Peter “shepherd” and “tend” the Master’s sheep. The Lord first used the word bovskw, then changed to poimaivnw, and finally returned to bovskw for the third repetition of his command. The combination is significant.

The word bovskw simply means “to provide food,” while the word poimaivnw more broadly refers to “the guiding, guarding, folding of the flock, as well as finding of nourishment for it.”10 Peter was to feed the lambs and the sheep of the flock of God. But he also had a wider responsibility to lead the flock in every aspect of its existence. Providing nourishment, though paramount in all the pastor’s work, is simply not enough.

Many fine young men have done poorly as pastors of local churches because they were unable to bring a commanding presence to the work. They may have been excellent supervisors, or warm-hearted teachers, or compelling evangelists, but they lacked the authoritative leadership required of a shepherd. Even the addition of experience and maturity cannot fully compensate for the absence of the ability to lead effectively.

The apostolic directives to Timothy and Titus presuppose such a pastoral gift, a gift to which Paul refers in 1 Tim 1:18; 4:14 {1 Tim 4:14}; and 2 Tim 1:6. The written support of an apostle certainly provided instant credibility for these younger teachers in Ephesus and Crete. But the capacity to lead strongly in matters of doctrine and conduct was an absolute necessity, without which the apostolic directives were useless. In his general introduction to 1 Timothy, Gromacki calls attention to this:

The concept of charge is dominant in this epistle. The verb (paraggellw) is used five times (1:3 {1 Tim 1:3}; 4:11 {1 Tim 4:11}; 5:7 {1 Tim 5:7}; 6:13,17 {1 Tim 6}) and its noun form is found twice (1:5,18 {1 Tim 1}). The term suggests the transfer of commands from a superior officer to a subordinate. Paul expected that Timothy, as a “good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Tim 2:3 {2 Tim 2:3}), would carry out the apostolic charge.11

It is instructive to note that in all but one of the above named cases, Paul called upon Timothy to command the Ephesians. Only in 1 Tim 6:13–14 did Paul use paraggevllw in direct reference to Timothy:

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment  without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In all other cases, Timothy was the one expected to give the “charges” and “commands.” When Timothy appeared to falter under the pressures that most certainly come to leaders in command, Paul wrote again to Timothy, reminding him to “kindle afresh the gift of God” which was in him and urging him to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:6; 2:1 {2 Tim 2:1}).


Strong and commanding leadership in matters of doctrine and conduct does not necessitate tyrannical behavior. Adolf Hitler called himself the Leader, but at a point in time he ceased being a genuine leader and became a tyrant. The power to control others is not real leadership. As James MacGregor Burns observes, “A leader and a tyrant are polar opposites.”12 Perhaps Timothy allowed his gift to smolder, without bright flames, because he feared the possible alienation of his hearers. It is a fear not uncommon to pastors. Paul was careful to delineate between tyrannical behavior and pastoral leadership:

And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will [2 Tim 2:24–26].


Gentle correction does not imply weakness or lack of leadership. Neither does kindness legitimize holding back truth. Patience is not timid hesitation. Style, not content, is the subject of Paul’s admonition.

Simply put, shepherds feed and lead. They lead in such a way that no individual member of the flock is able to disregard the shepherd. This requires a delicate balance between kindness and patience, on the one hand, and authority on the other. This agenda for pastoral responsibility should be foremost when local churches seek pastors.



Field Marshall William Slim, in an address at the United States Military Academy, opened his heart to young cadets on the subject of command:

When things are bad…there will come a sudden pause when your men will stop and look at you. No one will speak. They will just look at you and ask for leadership. Their courage is ebbing; you must make it flow back, and it is not easy. You will never have felt more alone in your life.13


There is loneliness in command. When things are bad, the leader wishes he could return to being a follower. The shepherd may long for the status of a sheep. But the Chief Shepherd has called him forward, and placed in his hands the tools of a shepherd. The sheep look expectantly for leadership. This study has argued that the sheep must abandon their hidden agendas and adopt a scriptural agenda if true pastoral leadership is their goal.

What are the tools for such leadership? The qualities required of bishops, listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, are qualities which ideally should be developed in all believers. Accuracy of doctrine and purity of conduct are mandated in Scripture for every member of the flock of God. But what are the special tools of a shepherd, which belong to him alone?


Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus reveal some answers to that question:

1.            The ability to teach accurately and authoritatively even when alone, yet without striving (1 Tim 1:3; 4:6 {1 Tim 4:6}; 5:20–21 {1 Tim 5}; 6:17 {1 Tim 6:17}; 2 Tim 2:1–2,14–15 {2 Tim 2}; 4:2–5 {2 Tim 4}; Tit 2:1,15; 3:8 {Titus 3:8}).

2.            The ability to relate doctrine to practical conduct (1 Tim 1:5; 4:7–8,12,15–16 {1 Tim 4}; 2 Tim 2:22; Tit 2:7–8).

3.            The willingness to select faithful men to oversee the work of God (1 Tim 3:1–7; Tit 1:5–9).

4.            The willingness to select faithful men and women who can perform works of service (1 Tim 2:8–10; 3:8–13 {1 Tim 3}; 5:9–10,16 {1 Tim 5}; 2 Tim 2:1–2).

5.            The courage to show oneself, and the discipline to make the show worth seeing (1 Tim 4:12,15–16; 2 Tim 3:10; Tit 2:7–8).

6.            The courage to accept hardship and personal sacrifice in the spirit of the Chief Shepherd (1 Tim 6:11–16; 2 Tim 1:6–9; 2:1–3 {2 Tim 2}; 4:2–5{2 Tim 4}).


An unfading crown of glory awaits shepherds who lead. Let us choose them well.


Leave a comment

Filed under Church Leadership, Elders, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

Seduced by Power

Forget money and sex. The real temptation is “king me.”

by Gary Sinclair

A neighboring pastor’s ministry imploded. It was a slow, inward collapse over a five-year period, with the blast at the end rather than the beginning. Jim was a gifted communicator, a man of vision brimming with potential. But he was slowly seduced by his power. His giftedness to lead was overtaken by a drive to control. There were warning signs that could have alerted him to his peril, but neither Jim nor his church recognized them.

Jim came to Englewood Community Church* with an impressive resume. He trained under one of the world’s premier pastors. The church that had plateaued began to grow again under Jim’s leadership. They revamped some structures, added a contemporary worship service, and expanded the annual holiday music programs for which the church was known.

The energetic pastor’s tell-it-like-it-is preaching style was appreciated by the church’s stalwarts and newcomers alike. Jim headed and completed a building campaign in his first three years. When Jim ran a meeting (which was most of the time), it was thoroughly planned and each person understood his task before leaving for home. Englewood church, once aging and a little clunky, now operated like a well-oiled machine.

But few people realized what was happening behind that façade. Englewood’s pastor was being seduced.

Warning signs

Englewood was a trusting church. Most members could remember only two pastors. Both had long tenures. One died in office and the other left for a prominent ministry opportunity at a time when most pastors would have retired. The church respected the office of pastor and generally gave those who held it freedom to innovate. That, combined with their joy at Jim’s early successes, might account for their failure to see the changes in Jim and his relationship to the leaders.

Shrinking accountability. It started with the youth minister incident. The church’s board of deacons, according to the constitution, are the church’s spiritual authority, and the pastor is ultimately responsible to them. On those rare occasions when the board told Jim he should do a particular thing, he had—until the complaints arose from the youth department. Several members reported a discipline problem to the deacons. Youth pastor Scott wasn’t handling it to their liking, and some dissension was spreading. The deacons wanted to meet with Scott, but Jim didn’t want his protégé brought before the board. “I’ll take care of it,” he told them.

He never did. And no one on the board said anything more about it.

After that, Jim began to ignore other board suggestions and sometimes vetoed their actions. But, because everything was running smoothly, no one seemed to mind—not at first.

Erosion of trust in others. Another shift took place with the hiring of the new associate pastor.

Jim was getting busier. From his perspective, Jim was simply keeping the ministry growing, but he agreed when the deacons said he needed some help. Perhaps they intended to retrieve some of their former responsibilities, but the plan evolved into hiring an associate pastor.

Jim offered to conduct the search himself. “After all, I know the kind of person we need,” Jim told the board. He soon hired a full-time ministerial staff member without the involvement of the personnel committee or a vote of the board.

Jim’s presence in church programs became more noticeable. He restructured the education program, then announced the changes to the leadership team. There was no doubt that he was a gifted leader, but his attitude began to reflect a deadly presupposition: “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself.”

It wasn’t that Jim didn’t trust others. He simply trusted himself more. He desired to build his people into capable leaders, but he felt intensely the weight of others’ mistakes. Jim thought he was being prudent by ensuring things didn’t fall apart. But most of his leaders began to think, You don’t trust me.

Redefining loyalty. Soon the emphasis was on the church projecting a polished image, a smooth-running operation led by a content, unified leadership team.

This spirit caught on, and not many people were willing to fuss over something that might upset the morale. Most leaders determined their concerns were probably minor and said nothing. Those who spoke up found their objections unwelcome.

A few began to leave the church. Jim suggested that their exit was probably for their good and the good of the church, but as is often the case, their departures were more indicative of the disease than the cure.

Loyalty and dissention were redefined. Loyalty came to mean agreement, not with Scripture or with the mission of the church, but with the pastor. Eventually Jim was surrounded by those who would tell him only what he wanted to hear. Those who did question Jim’s leadership decisions were met with chastisement for “complaining” and being “unsubmissive.”

Guarded by loyal followers, the pastor is insulated from fair criticisms of his ministry. And he is not likely to see its oncoming collapse.

Withdrawing from people. This may be the most obvious warning sign; but since it usually develops later in the cycle, it’s often noticed too late to make a difference. For Jim it came near the end.

Jim became busier and more isolated. With such important decisions to make and so few people he trusted, Jim worked alone. His leadership team did not bother him. The staff remained at a distance, turning to each other for prayer and support. While the associate staff and the deacons each maintained a sense of teamwork among themselves, their camaraderie had little effect on the church or on Jim. He had few meaningful relationships, and small accountability groups didn’t fit into his packed schedule.

His contact with fellow ministers dropped off. While exciting things were happening at Englewood, he readily told us, his peers, about them. Later, Jim became increasingly critical of the church and the leaders, an obvious warning sign that I see much better now. After the implosion, I wished someone could have talked to Jim. Perhaps we could have averted his resignation.

Jim left the church after his key relationships turned sour. He’s in business now. I fear it’s becoming another fix for his power habit.

Smarter moves

Most members of Englewood still wonder what really happened. It’s hard to explain that their pastor was felled by an ugly mistress. “The deacons should have stopped that a long time ago,” one member said. True.

Jim wept that he should have seen the signs. True.

Some pastors who are seduced by power have huge television empires. Others pastor churches of less than one hundred. None of us is exempted by ministry size.

This power-mongering is not to be interpreted as bold leadership either. It bears some of the same external characteristics, but the lust for power kills effective leadership. It cultivates mistrust and sets staff members to rewriting their resumes. Eventually, it sends members in search of new churches.

Wondering what we could do to avoid succumbing to the temptation, five leaders and I visited with the staff of a well established church with a solid reputation for godly leadership. The church has a dozen full-time pastors and a multi-million dollar budget. They agreed for us to sit in on their staff meeting, after which we met with individual associates to talk about their specific ministry areas.

The pastors, their senior pastor included, answered every question we asked with candor and vulnerability, sharing successes and failures. Though blessed with resources and influence, they modeled for us a form of servant leadership very different from what we might have expected in such a powerful ministry. I came away with several conclusions on safeguarding myself.

We must humble ourselves through prayer. I must constantly ask God to help me monitor my pride. It is only as I read God’s Word and admit my fallenness before Him that I keep it all in perspective.

We must vividly remember our place as servants. We are called to lead, to cast the vision, to challenge poor assumptions, teach the Word in everyday language, and help others see the big picture of what God could do in our fellowship. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

But we are commanded to serve people all the while. Paul’s reminder in Philippians 2 of Jesus’ humility is a poignant picture of the attitude we must adopt. And 1 Peter 5:2-3 reminds us that we should be “eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

We must surround ourselves with accountability and counsel. Seek out a team of people similar in theology and vision, but different in abilities, personalities, and life experiences. Let their diverse perspectives be refining influences on you.

Ask your team members, or other leaders to let you know when you’re pushing the power envelope. You may not feel you’re overstepping the boundaries of pastoral power, but others may. Remember “Intention is one thing, perception is everything.”

I try to have a private lunch with every one of my key leaders each year. They do most of the talking, and I just listen. This past year one of our deacons had a critical, but helpful suggestion. I began to work on it, and then asked him later if he saw a change. Today, I’m a better pastor for it, and he knows that I value what he thinks.

We must constantly give leadership away. Gore Vidal is reported to have said, “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Perhaps what makes power so seductive is its promise that we can minister more effectively without the conflicting visions or methods of others.

We get seduced by power when there are too many people relying on what we say, what we think, what we decide, and what we determine for the future. Like Moses learning to delegate, we must pass the baton of responsibility to capable others who will run many races of their own.

The church we visited is already developing a plan to replace its senior pastor in the next ten years. They want to do everything possible to assure their people that the church can be just as vibrant with someone else in the pulpit. Even the senior pastor is not irreplaceable. It takes a confident servant leader to encourage his church to think that radically.

Power itself isn’t evil. Power propels airplanes, lights cities, and wins wars. It also packs a charge that will destroy our ministries unless it’s properly used.

*The names have been changed.

Christianity Today, Inc./Leadership journal.
Fall 2001, Vol. 23, No. 4, Page 99

Leave a comment

Filed under Abuse in the Church, Character, Church Leadership, Leadership, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

Unfair Comparisons

C. Brian Larson says,
“Unfair comparisons focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Inappropriate comparisons are selective and therefore deceptive. They divert me from what God wants me to do. Some comparisons can be helpful but I must call irrational comparisons what they are. Somehow I must find new, better, and more fair ways to compare myself with others.”79

Leave a comment

Filed under Abusing Pastors, Church Leadership, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

Why Do They Love/Hate Me?

Attitudes toward a pastor emerge from deep, dark sources.
by Kevin A. Miller

People respect leaders. People resist leaders. They love pastors; they hate pastors.

Why this alternating current?

It’s fairly easy to understand why people love pastors: the comforting word, help in time of need, biblical instruction. What perplexes and frustrates us are the many reasons people resist pastors, for these objections generally lie hidden in dark subterranean chambers of the soul.

I’ve gone spelunking of late and brought specimens to the surface. See how many of these reasons for resistance you recognize:

“I know you can bring the changes we need—growth, vision, structure. But I don’t like the discomfort you cause when those things produce disruption and tension.”

“I had hoped you would be a special friend to me, but you don’t have enough time for me, and I don’t have enough objectivity to realize my expectation was unrealistic.”

“I used to have more power before you came” or “I have power, and you don’t, and I want to keep it that way.”

“You remind me of (pick one) a former pastor, my spouse, an abusive father, or someone else who hurt and disappointed me.”

“You’re gone too much” or “You don’t pick up the phone when I call.”

“I’m really passionate about Issue X, and you’re not as passionate about that as I am.”

“I’m mad at God, and you’re the nearest representative of God I know.”

“I desperately needed you when I went through that traumatic, embarrassing time in my life. And I opened up to you. But now you know the slime in my life, and knowing that you know, I feel uncomfortable around you.”

As spiritual leaders, we’re often not prepared for the resistance, the anger. Sometimes it’s justified, but sometimes it’s unjustified, undeserved, and unspoken.

Few members possess the self-awareness to say something like, “I’m moving into a different place in my spiritual journey, and I don’t think you can take me there.”

So instead, people distance themselves, drop out of ministries, vote no. Sometimes their inchoate longings take shape in toxic phrases either psychological (“The pastor’s into building his own kingdom”) or spiritual (“God’s not anointing this ministry like he used to”).

What to do?

I take comfort in an analogy. The 1980s told ministers to be CEOs, but the CEO analogy misleads; the more apt comparison for pastoring is parenting (see 1 Thess. 2:7, 11).

Almost every parent has heard “I hate you!” punctuated with the slam of a bedroom door. As a parent, you can’t take the anger personally: it’s an occasional and probably necessary part of the relationship. Psychologist Anthony Wolf even titled his parent’s guide to teenagers, Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall.

Similarly, as a pastor, you can’t take all the resistance personally. Some of it will be specific and fair, calling on you to ask for forgiveness. But much resistance that parishioners give pastors is the same kind of resistance children give parents, a push-pull, a resistance combined with a greater respect, a little hate temporarily obscuring a lot of love.

You have to stay calm, focused on the bigger picture. The victory comes in remaining a pastor/parent at the very moment you want to scream back, child-to-child. Keep leading, keep loving, and usually, resisters return to respecters.

This is a trustworthy saying and worthy of all acceptance: People respect leaders, people resist leaders.

—Kevin A. Miller is editor at large of Leadership.

2003 Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Fall 2003, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Page 10

Leave a comment

Filed under Abusing Pastors, Church Leadership, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

Pastoral Discouragement

The Eighth Deadly Sin: Discouragement
by James L. Wilson
How will I respond when my failures seem to outnumber my successes?


I don’t know if it was passing the big 4-0 mark or knowing that my public ministry was half over. Whichever it was, I found myself wading into retrospection. Am I making a difference? How am I doing at reaching my goals and fulfilling my dreams?

I pushed the keyboard aside, propped my feet on the desk, and began taking inventory. I made a mental checklist, noting accomplishments on one side and failures on the other side. Does God really care about this stuff? Rebuking myself, I sat upright and got back to work.

Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the questions, so I decided to turn to my “brain trust” for counsel. Once a month, three retired ministers who are now members of my congregation meet with me to discuss ministry in general and our church in particular. I call them “the brain trust” because all three have earned doctorates.

I put two questions on the agenda: What are your greatest accomplishments? and What are your biggest regrets in ministry?

When the two older ministers spoke, I could tell they’d made peace with both sides of their ledgers long ago. Not so with Fenton, who is freshly retired.

Fenton sold insurance until age 37, then he stopped, went to seminary, and launched Tarzana Baptist Chapel three years later with five people.

“I expected it to grow to a church of 300 or 400 in a couple of years,” Fenton said. He planned to use his church to build a network of satellite churches throughout the Los Angeles Basin.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Tarzana Baptist Chapel constituted as a church five years later with 135 members. It never grew any larger; today is has fewer than 25 members.

“I once complained that we’d done all the church growth stuff, but the church wasn’t as big as it ought to be,” Fenton said. “God reminded me that he never promised me a big church.”

But Fenton had promised himself one.

With a doctorate in church growth, Fenton knew the principles, and he applied them. But the church wasn’t growing. Why?

He’d always thought that if a guy couldn’t grow a church he was “either incompetent or carnal.” Fenton didn’t want to consider himself either.

The work was tough. Tarzana Church seemed unable to close the back door. Fenton felt he had to reach three new members to net an increase of one.

Some, like John, left to attend one of the large churches in the area. Fenton had poured hours into John, an aspiring movie director from Australia, and brought him to faith in Christ. Just when Fenton was seeing fruit in John’s life, the director left Tarzana to go to a church with a drama program and a theater.

The cycle repeated itself, Fenton said. “I’d do all the hard work of cultivating, witnessing, and baptizing the converts only to lose them to the great choirs, youth groups, and drama programs of larger churches.

“It was frustrating.” Fenton had a faraway look as he told the story.

Looking for success in all the wrong places
If Fenton didn’t lose converts to a church down the road, the transient nature of Los Angeles claimed them. One year 51 of the church’s 110 members moved away.

That year, Fenton crashed.

“It was almost like a death,” Fenton said. “The church was never the same again.” As hard as that year was, he hadn’t hit bottom yet.

The elder pastor told how Judy, a nurse, was addicted to prescription drugs, cocaine, and heroin. Then she came to Christ, and God delivered Judy from her addictions almost the instant he saved her. Fenton baptized Judy, and she was doing well.

Then it happened.

Fenton lost track of her. She simply disappeared. His efforts to contact her were futile. “I still don’t know whether she’s dead or alive,” Fenton said.

Judy’s memory still haunts him. “I should have spotted this,” he said. “I should have been more cautious and warned her about the danger of a relapse. I should have paid more attention to her.”

Fenton was a gifted evangelist, but a struggling shepherd. Because of these apparent failures, he began losing sight of the value of his life and his work. Fenton despaired that his church would ever grow. He grew depressed. Eventually, he resigned.

“For Tarzana to grow it needs a new vision,” he told the congregation. “I’ve pleaded with God and prayed, and that’s all I’ve heard from him. Someone else will have to lead you to the place you should go.”

Fenton left the church he founded to become a full-time missionary to the Jewish population of the area. He had a heart to win Jews to Christ. His plan was to focus on personal evangelism and to awaken churches to the needs of the Jews. However, he had a hard time motivating pastors to follow up on the Jews he introduced to the Messiah, and his speaking engagements at churches were too few to make a lasting impact.

The night of my meeting with the brain trust, Fenton stopped short of saying he regretted going into the ministry, but he gave the strong impression that he had mixed emotions about whether he had fulfilled his calling. We didn’t talk about it again for months, and I continued to ponder the questions that drove Fenton from the pastorate: Am I fulfilling my calling? How can I know I’m making a difference when the evidence is scant?

And if I don’t find answers to these questions—answers I can live with—will I surrender to despair? Or more accurately, despond?

Despond is that sense of uselessness that says, “I’m not accomplishing what I was called to.” Despond questions one’s purpose when confirmation is in short supply. Despond looks at the clock, and wonders if the time allotted for this portion of the test has run out, and deep down hopes it has, because a passing grade seems so unlikely. Despond despairs, grows cynical, sighs, resigns.

Footsteps worth following
We were returning home from a church growth conference. Fenton was driving. Chaplain Scott Sterling, one of Fenton’s converts who went into the ministry, rode shotgun, and I relaxed in the back seat, eavesdropping. For thirty minutes or so, they discussed the “good old days” at Tarzana and some of the people who surrendered their lives to the ministry—nearly a dozen.

I couldn’t believe it.

I interrupted their conversation. “Fenton, do you remember our brain trust meeting a couple of months ago where you talked about your regrets in ministry?”

“Sure,” Fenton said, “what about it?”

“Let me get this right. You pastored a church for ten years that produced a dozen ministers like Scott here, and you question your effectiveness as a pastor?”

It got quiet.

“In my opinion,” I continued, “you’ve had a wonderful, world-changing ministry. As your pastor, I want to bless you for the work you’ve done and release you from the guilt you carry because you never built a large church.”

Despond had blinded Fenton to his ultimate value as a servant in the hands God, used not to build large churches, but to build a missionary force of purposeful believers.

That night, I decided that I would fight the temptation to worry about my goals, accomplishments, failures and shortcomings. I left that conversation encouraged that my successes may not look like I expected. The lasting accomplishments may not match the criteria I’ve been looking at. If God called me, He will use me to do things he planned that I did not. Whether I fulfill my dreams or not, I can only pray that I will be faithful.

Like Fenton was.

James L. Wilson is the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Seaside, California and the online editor at

2001 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Spring 2001, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Page 45

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Leadership, Encouragement, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring

P.A.M. (Pastor Appreciation Month)

(This was written in October 2007)

Some time in the not so distant past, someone came up with the idea of a pastor’s appreciation month (P.A.M.). October became the designated month. It’s a good idea; yet it’s sad that we would have to come up with such specific event and time. But that’s the nature of our American culture; and I’d rather have P.A.M. than not.

Some churches don’t observe P.A.M. I’ve had the opportunity to ask the leadership of a few of these churches why that is. Their reasons vary. Here’s a short list of what they’ve said:
· “The pastor knows he’s appreciated.” (Oh? Does he now? Have you asked? Have you been demonstrable in showing appreciation for him?)
· “We show appreciation throughout the year.” (Well, that’s even better and I hope that is true).
· “We made a big deal when he first arrived.” (That reminds me of the husband who explained why he never tells his wife he loved her is because he had told her on their wedding day, and he would let her know if there was any change).
· “We don’t go for anniversaries like that.” (Implying it’s too unspiritual or unbiblical. I’ll wager a dollar they celebrate birthdays).
· “It would only spoil the pastor. We don’t want to contribute to his pride.” (That’s old school thinking; you know – keep the pastor humble and poor. But that’s such a ginormous pile of fufu dung! Thank God the Lord doesn’t treat us that way).
· “The Bible doesn’t tell us we have to do that.” (Uhhh…pardon me, Pharisee, but would you please slither back down that hole with the rest of your brood while I go vomit?)
· “Our pastor is not worth appreciating.” (Maybe that is the case. If he is not worthy of honor, then what is he doing in your church? If it’s a matter of your personal dislike, then someone needs a major attitude adjustment).

P.A.M. was created out of an apparent need. Contrary to popular opinion, pastors are people too. They need “attaboys” and “thank yous” and “we love yous” just like other people do. I appreciate our church’s appreciation for me as pastor. It’s an uplift. It contributes to a sense of satisfaction and joy. And, it’s biblical! Of course the Bible doesn’t have an explicit chapter or verse about appreciating your pastor. There isn’t the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt appreciate your pastor.” But there are commands to love others, to respect, honor and highly esteem your elder(s). In fact, Hebrews 13:17 tells you that you should bring joy to your pastor, and tells you how you can make your pastor’s work a joy. It says he should be enjoying the ministry and not groaning because of it, and for your benefit!

Paul is such a great example of how a church leader shows appreciation for the church he serves. Paul not only showed them by giving his all, and sacrificing his life for them – he told them. He sent them love letters. Romans, Corinthians , Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians are reservoirs of the love of Christ that cascades down through Paul and into the hearts of men, women, boys and girls. Paul thanked them for their demonstrations of love and appreciation for him. It’s a rather lengthy catalog when you read through those letters: they provided for him, prayed for him, healed his wounds, gave him hospitality, listened to him, obeyed him, communicated their affection for him, supported others when he asked them to, treated him with respect, visited him when he was jailed, suffered with him when abused and persecuted, and more.

Notice something here: they didn’t do these loving things only during a special month. They practiced pastor appreciation moments. Or, you could say, they practiced a good kind of S.P.A.M (Spontaneous Pastor Appreciation Moments)!  The church I serve does that. Oh sure, they surprised me last October with a special P.A.M. event. But that was more like the topping on the proverbial pie. These folks are SPAMmers (of the good kind). This elder will tell me he appreciates what I’m doing. That lady sent me a thank you card for my service. A young lady sent me a birthday card. Another elder prays out loud and praises God for me and my family. The music leader often asks how I’m doing or gives me a big hug from time to time. Deacons have told me they’re grateful I’m here. One man signs his short info emails with “Love, _____”! An elderly man tells me often that he’s glad I’m his pastor. Women express thanks for how I am with children or for the sermons. Children of all ages will converse with me; some will even hug me or give a kiss or two. Couples have us over for supper. And on it goes.

I commend them for being an example of biblical love. They know how to appreciate their pastor. I wish I could package it up and send it off to churches where pastors need the same. These dear folks don’t show appreciation merely because it’s a P.A.M. thing or because they have this duty-bound compulsion to do so. They didn’t stop after their first display of appreciation when my family and I arrived, showering us with baskets of essentials, food and treasures. The obvious displays of genuine affection continue.

You know what else? They are not spoiling me. In fact, if anything their S.P.A.M. is humbling! Over the years I’ve been around too many who thought it was their God-ordained mission to humble me. What they did wasn’t humbling. It was humiliating. And unkind, unloving, unbiblical and un-anything-good. Like Paul, I thank my God in my every remembrance of the people he has placed me with now. Their methods of appreciation are so much like Jesus – gracious, merciful, gentle, and kind. I don’t deserve any of it, but like Christ they show mercy and grace. And that’s humbling.

If you’re involved in a local church, take a cue from Scripture and from the example of this church body (Cornerstone Community). Make a conscious effort at showing spontaneous moments of appreciation for your pastor(s). And if your church doesn’t have a special anniversary to formally appreciate your pastor(s), then start one. It will make a big difference in his life, and more than that, you and your church will reap the residual blessings!

D. Thomas Owsley

Leave a comment

Filed under Encouragement, Healthy church, Pastor & Church Relationship, The Church

Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church

by Chris Armstrong
Jonathan Edwards’s church kicked him out after 23 years of ministry, but the crisis proved his greatness was not merely intellectual.

As messy dismissals of ministers go, the 1750 ejection of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was among the messiest. The fact that it involved the greatest theologian in American history—the central figure of the Great Awakening—is almost beside the point. The fact that it took place in a New England fast moving from theocratic “city on a hill” to democratic home of liberty is more relevant.

But another aspect is worth a closer look: Friends and enemies alike agreed that in the long, degenerating discontent, Edwards continued to love and pray for—or at least tolerate and refrain from attacking—his people, even when they bared their fangs.

Salary controversies and power struggles marked his ministry during the 1740s. In the infamous “bad book” episode of 1744, some teen boys in the church distributed a midwife’s manual, using it to taunt and make suggestive comments in front of girls. When the culprits were summoned before the church, their response, according to documents of the proceedings, was “contemptuous … toward the authority of this Church.”

Edwards chose to read before the church a list containing, indiscriminately, the names of both the young distributors as well as the purported witnesses. Some parents were outraged at Edwards.

Another issue was Edwards’s personality and style as a minister. At the outset of his ministry at Northampton, for example, he decided that he would not pay the customary regular visits to his congregants, but would rather come to their side only when called in cases of sickness or other emergency. This made him seem, to some in the church, cold and distant.

An Edwards “disciple,” Samuel Hopkins, later wrote that this practice was not due to lack of affection and concern for his people: “For their good he was always writing, contriving, labouring; for them he had poured out ten thousand fervent prayers; and they were dear to him above any other people under heaven.”

Rather, Edwards had made a clear-eyed assessment of his own gifts and decided that he was unable to match the graceful gregariousness of those ministers who had a “knack at introducing profitable, religious discourse in a free, natural, and … undesigned way.”

Thus he would “do the greatest good to souls … by preaching and writing, and conversing with persons under religious impressions in his study, where he encouraged all such to repair.”

Edwards’s ministry might yet have endured, however, were it not for the death of his uncle, Colonel John Stoddard, in 1748. Born in 1682, 21 years before Edwards, the colonel had built a friendship with his nephew. A sharp thinker, a county judge, and a savvy politician, John was a militia colonel who had become commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts western frontier by 1744. Stoddard wore—at least in the secular sphere—the mantle of his father and Edwards’s grandfather, “pope” of the Connecticut Valley, Solomon Stoddard.

Edwards found himself often leaning on his uncle’s influence to navigate the affairs of the church. Thus when Stoddard died, Edwards lost not only an uncle but a powerful ally and confidante.

As Iain Murray put it in his biography of Edwards: “There would be no open criticism of Edwards as long as Stoddard sat appreciatively in his pew beneath the pulpit in the meeting-house Sunday by Sunday.” Once the colonel was gone, however, that changed dramatically.

Stoddard’s heir-apparent as Hampshire County’s leading figure was Edwards’s cousin Israel Williams, a Harvard graduate, imperious in manner and implacably set against Edwards. In his early nineteenth-century biography, descendant S. E. Dwight named Israel and several others of the Williams clan as having “religious sentiments [that] differed widely from” those of Edwards. Their opposition soon became “a settled and personal hostility.” Williams served as counselor and ringleader to Edwards’s opponents. Joining this opposition were another cousin, Joseph Hawley Jr., 21 years Edwards’s junior.

Visible saints, hidden agendas
The same year John Stoddard died, an event finally pushed the hostile faction into open revolt.

For years, Edwards had been uncomfortable with the lenient policy on membership and communion set by his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’s predecessor at Northampton. Stoddard had allowed almost anyone to join and to partake, hoping that membership and communion might encourage true conversion. In 1748, Edwards changed the policy and told an applicant for church membership that he must first make a public “profession of godliness.”

Thus Edwards rejected the “Halfway Covenant”—the longstanding compromise of the Puritans who had, generations after planting their religious colonies, found their church membership dwindling. That compromise had reversed the traditional Puritan requirement that new church members be “visible saints,” godly in word and deed.

When the congregation saw that Edwards intended to return to the earlier, stricter Puritan position, demanding not only a profession of faith, but also evidence of repentance and holiness, a firestorm arose. Many of the church’s leading members felt Edwards’s innovation was a direct threat.

Two revivals had produced many converts, but, as biographer Patricia Tracy put it, “Men and women who had been recognized as visible saints in Northampton still wallowed in clandestine immorality and flagrant pride.”

Though Edwards knew, as he notes in his letters, that he was likely to lose his pastorate as a result, he stuck to his principles.

A council of the congregation put a moratorium on new memberships until the issue of criteria could be resolved. Edwards told them he planned to preach on his reasons for changing the policy. They forbade him to do so. Edwards began to write a book on the matter. Few read it, and too late to do much good.

In 1750, a council was called to consider whether the congregation would dismiss its minister. No one doubted what the conclusion would be.

Edwards’s friend David Hall noted in his diary the minister’s reaction when on June 22, 1750, the council handed down its decision:

“That faithful witness received the shock, unshaken. I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good … even to the astonishment of many who could not be at rest without his dismission.”

46 and unemployed
Edwards wrote that he now found himself a 46-year-old ex-minister “fitted for no other business but study,” with a large family to provide for. Although he knew “we are in the hands of God, and I bless him, I am not anxious concerning his disposal of us,” he fretted over his situation in letters to friends. Yet neither the distressing conditions nor the continuing antagonism of his opponents drew him out to open attack.

Remarkably (and partly because of financial need), Edwards agreed to continue preaching at the church while they searched for a replacement. But his Farewell Sermon also indicates he acted out of continued concern for the flock. He continued through mid-November, despite the Town maliciously barring him, a month after his dismissal, from using its common grazing land.

Finally in December 1750, after an anxious autumn during which he had even considered removing his entire family to Scotland to accept an invitation there, Edwards accepted a charge in Massachusetts’s “wild west,” the Indian town of Stockbridge. There he would labor the rest of his life, pursue his theological thinking to its most brilliant heights, and create one of the most enduring missionary biographies of all time, the life story of his young friend David Brainerd.

Belated praise
In 1760, his former enemy, cousin Joseph Hawley, wrote to Edwards’s friend David Hall, confessing that “vast pride, self-sufficiency, ambition, and vanity” had animated his leadership in the “melancholy contention” with Edwards. He repented of his earlier failure to render the respect due Edwards as a “most able, diligent and faithful pastor.”

Hawley concluded, “I am most sorely sensible that nothing but that infinite grace and mercy which saved some of the betrayers and murderers of our blessed Lord, and the persecutors of his martyrs, can pardon me; in which alone I hope for pardon, for the sake of Christ, whose blood, blessed by God, cleanseth from all sin.”

On June 22, 1900, exactly 150 years after Edwards’s dismissal, a group gathered at the First Church in Northampton to unveil a bronze memorial.

H. Norman Gardiner, a professor of philosophy at Smith College and chairman of the memorial committee, characterized Edwards’s ejection as “a public rejection and banishment” that remained “a source of reproach to his church and people.” He noted the “hatred, malice, and uncharitableness which characterized the opposition to him,” for which, to Gardiner, no apology either contemporary or modern could atone.

Edwards would have disagreed, arguing instead that even such deeply wounding actions as the aggravated and wrongful dismissal of a pastor from his pulpit of 23 years are not unforgivable. In that understanding, as in so much else, Edwards was far ahead both of his enemies and of many of us today.

2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Winter 2003, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Page 52

Leave a comment

Filed under Abuse in the Church, Abusing Pastors, Conflict and the Church, Pastor & Church Relationship, Pastoring