Note: As we move along with this series please understand that this is not a gripe session. Some posts may come out sounding negative, but the thing you have to understand is this. While serving as a minister is one of the most rewarding things anyone will ever do, it is also a lonely life. It can be a difficult life because ministers don’t always have a good support system. You’d be surprised how many pastors suffer from depression or how many times they come home after a meeting almost in tears because the group they just left acted like anything BUT a church committee.
Like I said, this is the part of being a pastor you don’t see.And it’s the part your pastor won’t tell you.
Love One Another?
I once served a church where you could paint a line down the center of the sanctuary and know exactly who was going to sit on each side. Why? Because the people on one side of the line didn’t like the people on the other side. Neither did their families. Granted, they had all forgotten why they didn’t like each other. They just knew they didn’t. The feud went back decades.
You can imagine what a happy place that was on Sunday.
It is amazing how many petty squabbles (and major arguments) take place over such important things as:
- Carpet color
- Wall color
- Learning new hymns
- Who gives ($$) and who doesn’t
- What someone wore to church
- Whether or not to move a piece of furniture
- Any decision that runs contrary to those who “run the church” (more on this later)
- Children in church
- The children’s sermon
- The pastor’s sermon text
- The length of the pastor’s sermon
- Sunday School literature selection
- Using handbells in church
- “Appropriate” instrumentation in the worship service
- The use of “canned” music in church
- What the pastor should be doing
- What the pastor shouldn’t be doing
- How long meetings should last
- Whether or not to help someone in need
- To have passing of the peace in church or not
- Withholding money from the church until you get your way
And this is a SHORT list. Your church can probably add to it. And here’s the part your pastor won’t tell you.Church members can be some of the most petty people you will ever encounter. (Notice I didn’t say Christians.I won’t speculate on who is and who isn’t because that is what Jesus meant by, “Judge not lest you be judged.” It’s not about saying if something is right or wrong. It’s about judging people on a deeper level than that. It’s directed to those folks who take it upon themselves to tell folks, “You’re going to hell” or those who decide for themselves who is a Christian and who isn’t.).
Deliver us From Meetings
And more than one minister has sat in a church meeting watching as people almost come to blows over whether or not there should be a revival service, or listened as someone started making their ignorant proclamations about how things should be done (when they have no idea what they are talking about), and wanted to yell at the top of his or her lungs, “Will you please just shut up.”
I’ll let that one sink in.
Lady, Get Over Yourself
My mentor when I entered the ministry told me a story that puts things into perspective better than I can. He served a small church (30 members) in his early days and a well-to-do member (the only one they had), gave the church its first brass altarware set (collection plates, cross, candlesticks) with strict instructions that white gloves should always be worn when the items were touched. Always.
The church included a special consecration ceremony the Sunday they were presented and the little country congregation just beamed. The new pieces were beautiful and they were so thankful.
Three weeks later when the minister was cleaning the sanctuary (ministers are also janitors), he picked up the candlesticks to dust under them . From the back of the church came a shrill, reedy voice. “You put that candlestick down and put on the gloves.” Guess who it was?
Two weeks later when he was cleaning the sanctuary, he picked up the offering plates to put them in their proper place behind the pulpit (because you should never leave empty offering plates on the altar. That is where you make offerings to God, and an empty plate on the altar is an offering of nothing). Once again, the woman appeared like magic and yelled at the (then) young minister. “Where are the gloves?”
The next week he was dusting around the candlesticks and picked one up when the churches benefactor started in again. “So help me if I see you pick up one of those pieces without the gloves again I’m going to take it all back.” That was it. He wheeled around, walked up to her, and said, “Lady, I wish to God you would, because you never gave them away.”
You’re Gonna Help Them?
I served a church where a member told me of a new neighborhood family was in crisis. They weren’t members, but they lived near the church and they needed help. The woman was a single mother (her husband just left them without a word), her sixteen year old daughter was pregnant, and being new in the community they just didn’t have much in the way of money or support. So when the lay leader made me aware of the situation, I went to see them, took them some food from our food pantry later that day, and gave them some money from my discretionary fund. Through occasional visits and chats with the lay leader I kept up with them and did what I could (as did a few other members) to help them until they could get on their feet.
The next month a group of church members were sitting in the room where we were to have a meeting later and were making derogatory comments about the family and ripping apart my efforts to help them. When the “leader” of the group noticed I was standing there she shushed everybody and jerked her head in my direction. They all turned to look at me and I said, “Well since you don’t like my approach, why don’t we just get up a big bag of rocks and go stone ’em?”
Angels and ministers of grace defend us.
So let me ask the two questions that will get your pastor fired (or at least added the list).
(1) Do you hear how stupid all this petty stuff sounds?
(2) Doesn’t God deserve something better than our self-centered attempts to be important or have our own way?
Next time: Theology. Fact or Fiction?