Fall 2022: RickThomas.Net Becomes LifeOverCoffee.Com
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Recently, someone said a church member was not happy about how much time I spent working for the church. They thought I should be at every function, e.g., pot luck dinners, bowling nights, and car washes.
They don’t seem to understand what is involved with caring for my family or the amount of time it takes to care for the never-ending, behind-the-scenes things involved in running a church. This individual is not the first person to complain about how I pastor.
It seems that fifty to sixty hours a week is not enough for them. I think if I talked to them, they would understand. What do you think? —Concerned Pastor
Years ago, before our church hired me, I thought it would be an excellent and refreshing experience to be a staff member. I thought about the blessedness of hanging with a handful of believers who loved God. Sitting around all day, praying, studying our Bibles, and talking about the goodness of the Lord. Then they hired me. Within a few weeks of being with the team, my thoughts changed dramatically. Finding time to pray, read, and fellowship with friends was more challenging post-hire than before.
I wondered if I would ever be able to study and pray. People on a church staff understand what I’m saying. High demands, never-ending relationship messes to clean up, and a local church’s ongoing administrative needs can suck the spiritual life out of anyone. The fallout rate among church workers and pastors is exceptionally high, and the statistics back up this sobering reality.
Working in a church environment is part of the helping profession. Any person who has worked in a helping profession understands the tensions and stresses. Those who do not may never realize what these folks have to juggle on a day-to-day basis. Every person who gives their lives helping others will have to come to terms with the hardships. There will always be unappreciative people who say unkind things from their limited perspectives.
My hat goes off to anyone who works in a church environment and is doing it the right way. These people are there because they love God and others more than themselves. Their primary mission in life is to serve others. The pastor who wrote to me is one of those sacrificial lovers of souls. He did not go into the ministry to be famous or rich. The ministry is not a wise career move for those who strive with selfish ambition, seeking fame and fortune.
I’m sure you can think of two or three folks who are in the ministry for the wrong reasons; the few bad apples do not represent the main. Sadly, social media is a fertile ground for talking about our imperfections while creating stereotypes that speak to our worst flaws. Celebrating the good ones is not as sensational, even though these folks are the pictures of the gospel (Philippians 2:5-7).
This lifestyle is the heart of all church work. People generally go into ministry work because they desire to help others. I applaud any pastor for his desire to serve others for their good and God’s glory. All of us should desire to emulate these attitudes and actions among our families and friends. I praise God for these soldiers of the cross.
This pastor says that he wants to talk to the gossiping church member. He hopes to help them understand what he does day-to-day. This approach could prove to be wise. Perhaps they would have ears to listen to a clear presentation of a “day in the life of a pastor.” However, he will need to consider a couple of things before he goes to this individual.
Because this is the gossiper’s way to talk about an issue, it points to a potential character flaw. Anybody who will talk about someone but not share the same things with the person has integrity issues. Minimally it means the pastor is working from two different pages. Some of the traits that describe the gossiper are ignorance, foolish choices, ulterior motives, anger, and insecurity. It’s vital to know this because you can’t have a heart-to-heart conversation with a proud person.
A humble person will misspeak occasionally, but you will know them by their response to your reconciliation attempts. Christians don’t hold each other to perfect speaking standards. Thus, you want to discern the kind of person you’re pursuing: do they want redemption or discord? You should discern the middle ground between an episodic mistake and a pattern in their communication.
There will always be people who will not have the courage or the grace to talk face-to-face with the person with whom they have a concern. If half of these people had this kind of class, it would resolve a remarkable amount of friction in any community.
Perhaps the best first action is to ask the person who heard the gossip to talk to the gossiper. In most situations like this, I recommend this approach. It might prove useful for him to follow the Matthew 18:15 template of going to the sinning brother. If the gossiper repents, he can come to the pastor.
If the pastor chooses this course, he will want to lead the “receiver of the gossip” through a hope-filled reconciliation process. There are three primary ideas that will assist him in equipping his friend.
Another consideration for a person who has been gossiped about is their struggle with the fear of man, which resides in all of us. It’s essentially a tension about opinions. The primary opinion in the room that should matter is God’s opinion of you. If this is not the case, your motives are off, and your approach toward the gossiper will not start from the right place. Two questions to ask yourself are:
You can test yourself. Let me provide you with three questions that will assess the condition of your heart regarding the fear of man. If you have a friend to discuss these questions with, it could be a fantastic growth opportunity.
There are two parts to this problem. The first is the gossiping church member. The second is the accusation about the pastor not doing enough. If one person thinks he is not doing enough, perhaps others have unfavorable opinions, too. The pastor did say in his note to me that others have said similar things. He has a tremendous opportunity in front of him to envision the church.
All of us need a healthy perspective of what church body life could be. Let me illustrate. The pastor who wrote to me has a church with a “small church mentality.” They have fallen prey to a common way of doing church—the pastor is the be-all, end-all. They expect him to be everything for them, which is a myopic church.
A pastor’s job is to equip the saints (Ephesians 4:11-12) rather than do all the work for the saints. If the church people persist that the pastor must be “Omni-man,” the church won’t grow, the people won’t mature, and sin will create a stranglehold on that body. Of course, the pastor will burn out or find another place to serve. The upside is that this sin event points to a wonderful opportunity to envision this church. Here are five ways he can do this.
Preaching – For example, if I were preaching on Jesus feeding the 5,000, I would make an application point to talk about how Jesus didn’t do all the work, but the disciples distributed the food. Jesus couldn’t do it in His humanity; He believed in a team concept. The church is part of the team, and they should be busy doing the ministry’s work. A steady stream of pulpit messages could reinforce this worldview.
Personally – On a personal level, the pastor can start one-on-one disciple-making by equipping the person who was on the receiving end of the gossip. It’s a ready-made situation for a pastor to equip a saint to do the ministry’s work. He must look for those “micro-moments” and use them to elevate a team ministry worldview for the church to follow.
Leaders – He wants to speak with the leadership team about the gossip. Though the gossiper said it the wrong way to the wrong person, is there any truth in what was said? His leaders should come alongside him in a helpful discussion about his role in the church and God’s call on his life to take care of his family (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Jesus had many closed-door, envisioning meetings with His twelve friends.
Counseling – Teaching counseling to the church is an excellent idea. It’s not the pastor’s job to do all the counseling or evangelism. This opportunity is every Christian’s duty. Training in the “one anothers” from the New Testament would elevate the need for body-to-body ministry.
Equip – Some of his leaders should conduct training classes and discipleship workshops. Release them to the church by affirming their gifts to help others and placing them in contexts to do so. If the leaders are not disciple-makers, he may want to rethink why they are in a leadership position.
I would be remiss not to mention the critical need to praise God while suffering for righteousness’ sake. Every sin event is an opportunity to lean into God with gratitude and expectation. We must be God-centered, not problem-centered. When the situation or people become too big in our view, our praise will disappear, and we may become that gossiping person.
This concept is similar to what parents experience often. When their children fail again, it’s an opportunity to serve them, helping them to be better people. If our first words are complaining, grumbling, gossiping, and such, we will self-disqualify ourselves from being part of the solution. It is God’s mercy to bring this gossiping church member’s sin to light. In that, we should rejoice.
This problem pulls back the curtain, revealing an area in the life of the church where this pastor should give more thought to help the body that God has given him to serve. We rejoice in God’s kindness to provide us with our thorns (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). And, yes, I know: it’s easier to say this conceptually than to live it practically.