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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

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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 http://www.FreshMinistry.org.

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

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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

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Encourage Your Pastor!

Many Christian leaders become discouraged.  The work doesn’t go as one imagines, the church doesn’t grow as one desires, lay leaders won’t cooperate with one’s leadership, people are excessively critical, or finances are down.  The list goes on and on.  Someone said that discouragement is the occupational hazard of the ministry, and Spurgeon was no exception to this rule.  As successful as he was, he still experienced discouragement, and, in his case, it often deteriorated into depression.  He became so depressed at times that he could barely function.  In his lecture on “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” Spurgeon opened with these words: “As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint, so may it be written of all the servants of the Lord.  Fits of depression come over the most of us….The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”

Larry J. Michael: Spurgeon on Leadership; p. 191

 

Discouragement and even depression are not the companions of so-called little pastors. Even the “greats” suffered such affliction.  For example:

John Calvin – Calvin received so much opposition in his first ministry at Geneva that the year before his expulsion from Geneva he went through great discouragement and depression.  Writing about this year in his life he said “Were I to tell you only the littlest things of the misfortune – what am I saying – of the adversity which virtually crushed us during the course of one year, you would hardly believe me.  I am convinced that not a day passed in which I did not long for death ten times…”

Andrew Bonar – Writing to his close friend McCheyne said, “I was very melancholy, I may say, on Saturday evening.  The old scenes reminded me of my ministry, and this was accompanied with such regret for past failures.”  He also wrote, “My ministry has appeared to me to be wanting in so many ways that I can only say of it, indescribably inadequate.”

Charles Spurgeon – at the zenith of his ministry said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”

G. Campbell Morgan – At the height of his ministry, Morgan astounded his congregation by telling them that he was a failure. As he thought over his ministry, he said, “During these ten years, I have known more of vision fading into mirages, or purposes failing of fulfillment, of things of strength crumbling away in weakness than ever in my life.

 

So, what can you do to encourage your pastor? Allow me to suggest some ways:

1.   Live with him in the love of Christ by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and might.

2.  Love him in the Lord.

3.   Pray for him all the time.

4.    Let him rest.

Give him opportunities for personal and familial rest.  Be proactive to make sure he is getting spiritual, emotional, mental and physical rejuvenation.  Encourage him to take off for times of prayer, meditation and reflection.  Leave him alone during his day or days off, unless of course, it is an emergency.  Don’t rely on him to solve all your problems, so don’t keep on going to him relentlessly.  Maybe even raise some funds and send him on a cruise or a study leave.

 

Craig Brian Larson wrote,

Someone has said, ‘Fatigue makes cowards of us all.’ Let me rephrase that in more general terms: Physical exhaustion alters my emotional state.  What I could handle when fresh I no longer feel up to.  Difficulties that I first faced like a problem-solver full of faith now cause me to buckle at the knees.  The challenges that once energized me now terrify me.  While the presenting symptom on such occasions is emotional – depression and weakness – the real problem is physical:  low energy. (Larson, Staying Power; p. 55-56)

 

One day a week scarcely suffices for clergy or anyone to recharge emotionally, physically and spiritually; keep one’s home in order and in repair; and have quality and quantity family time.  Ministers do not move from glory to glory but from crisis to crisis.  Even if they took their one allotted day off, it is not enough to keep them from becoming one of those untimely funerals. (Jane Rubietta:  How to Keep the Pastor You Love; p. 54)

 

5.  Honor and esteem him (Phil. 2:29; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13 cp. Acts 28:9-10, 2 Cor. 7:15).

6.   Do everything you can to pump life into his soul.

Build him up, encourage him, and communicate to him in the very many ways there are, how much his service means to you.  Lift him up, inspire him, and bless him in Christ.  You will reap the residual effects for it. Be a conduit of grace, hope and love to build up your pastor.

A minister’s peace of mind is very important to the quality of his productivity in ministry. It is very difficult to be loving, gentle, and kind toward people when a small group of nitpickers are constantly at him about trivial matters that have little to do with the overall purpose of the church. It is even more difficult to be the gentle pastor, meek and mild, when the accusations leveled at him are contrived and totally false. (Greenfield, The Wounded Minister; p. 104)

7.  Be loyal to him in Christ.

Trust him when he is trustworthy.  Treat him based upon who he is in Christ and for his position as an elder in Christ’s church.

8.  Give to him as he gives to you.

Give, not merely monetary support, but give service to him and his family.  Be imaginative and think of ways you can serve your pastor: give him genuine and valuable feedback; give him moral support; give him time and prayer. Above all give him love and affection!

9.  Speak the truth in love to him and about him.

Do all you can to safeguard his name and reputation, but more than that, build up his name so that it  becomes a name of honor.  Certainly, the pastor must maintain his own reputation and integrity in Christ.  This is not an admonition for you to pretend he is honorable if he has clearly sinned and defamed the name of Christ.  But if he has a character above reproach, then uphold it, maintain it, and promote it.

And finally,

10.  Don’t covet to have your pastor be just like a pastor you admire or idolize.

________________

© D. Thomas Owsley

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