Self-reflection

I heard recently of yet another colleague who is moving on from his church. I don’t think he had a call from another church when he made his decision to leave. Since that time, a church in another part of the country has determined, assumedly in consultation with God, that he is the right fit for them. Hopefully, he feels that same good match. I know he is a good minister. I know some of his congregants who readily tell me how much his sermons “feed” them. So for him to leave after only a few years of service tells me something is fishy.

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That’s the issue with so many pastors and churches in this age. Even if we have been in prayer, even if we have sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit, even if everything seems to fit when a call is issued and accepted, there’s no guarantee that life in the church will work out. I’ve discovered that the problem is not limited to small churches but large ones struggle with this too. I’ve discovered that pastors can convince themselves that God is in the midst of the call and they accept these pastorates hoping the excitement of the call will materialize. I’ve found that ministers’ families whose hearts are in the right places and who want so much to support their pastor-spouses and pastor-parents make these moves as the calls are accepted, understanding it may mean relocating or, at a minimum, finding a new home in their new church. It means making new friends and leaving behind many others.

There are churches where authorities higher than the congregation determine what church matches best with which pastor and just directs that the two shall become one. Many churches determine for themselves when a call should be issued and to whom. Sometimes the entire congregation makes that decision. Other times, a church council composed of church leaders makes the pronouncement. However it is done, the process is referred to as a “call.” Just as God called God’s servants throughout biblical times, God and the church call pastors to be servants of God in that particular location.

It seems as though it should be an easy process. Some denominations even have a kind of computer dating that matches the gifts of a given minister to the gifts and needs of a particular congregation. Such computerization eliminates a lot of screening of dossiers but it also eliminates the human element and the human element interacting with God. It also causes pastors to tailor their profiles to match a particular location or even a particular church if they know of one they would like to serve.

Eliminating the human element might not seem like a bad idea. Maybe God can work through computers even better than through humans.

Regardless, churches in one way or another call their pastors to fill vacancies or to begin a new pastorate or new mission in a congregation.

It’s important to remember that before all of this takes place, before churches and pastors even begin to seek one another out, a first call has gone out from God to each of these individuals in the same way that God called his biblical servants. God calls people today to be ministers just as much as God called the Levites to serve as the first rabbis for the Jewish people.

There is almost always a honeymoon of sorts as new pastors are welcomed into their new church calls. “Oh! Aren’t we blessed to have such a good preacher!” “Isn’t she wonderful? I loved the way she handled that baptism!” “He was so kind to my mother as she was dying and he handled that funeral beautifully.”

These honeymoons can last for years. Sometimes they last only months. Sometimes they come to unexpected and abrupt ends. Perhaps the pastor doesn’t measure up after all. I hear that more often than I hear a pastor deciding to move on to greener pastures because the church hasn’t measured up. No, pastors generally will try to stick it out no matter how tough things get because they have a deep faith that the Holy Spirit will intervene to soften the hearts of those who have determined the honeymoon is over.

I had a couple exclaim that they couldn’t believe the treatment they received from me. “After all, we wined her and dined her and her husband too! We expect better!” as though my actions or attentiveness toward them was simply a matter of buying me off with a dinner or two. I’ve heard all manner of explanations of why a relationship between pastor and church doesn’t work out.

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Pastors are people too. They make mistakes like everyone else. They have shortcomings like everyone else.

But it amazes me the expectations that individuals and entire congregations have for a pastor or her family but never express those expectations until the pastor has been broken. They don’t talk to the pastor about issues they may have so that difficulties might be ironed out. Instead, they talk among themselves, they triangulate the situation by bringing in others who hear only one side of a story.

And I am surprised at the enthusiasm folks work up as they welcome a pastor’s family only to have that zeal wiped away when the family or the spouse doesn’t behave in a preconceived manner or according to the tradition of the church.

I think church members don’t understand the hurt and the frustration caused to a pastor’s family when things go south.

There was a day when pastors stayed in a church for 30, 40, even 50 years and their pastorates were celebrated. There are a few of those still around. But I’m finding that 15 years is a long time anymore for a pastor to stay in one place and that even after five years so much harm can be done to the soul of the pastor that it becomes time to step aside.

I find that congregations forget about the call of God to these individuals and how these ministers were called to these churches in the first place. None of us just showed up and took over. People in the church called them there.

Churches get hurt too. There’s no question about it. There are some bad apples among pastors just as there are in any walk of life. But more often than not, the hurt that comes upon a congregation is the division that is created when a pastor is forced from the pulpit by a few angry individuals. Some churches are large enough to withstand that kind of division. Smaller churches often are not. Just because they manage to keep the doors open doesn’t make them a church.

 

 

“6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” – Romans 12:6-8

 

“27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” – 1 Corinthians 12:27-31

 

“11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 6:11-12

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1 comment for “Self-reflection

  1. Susan Norby
    October 26, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    October is Pastor Appreciation Month. What a difference it would make if members’ words and actions helped their pastor become the person God created them to be. Thank you for the reminder!

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