While cleaning out old files, my wife Sharon came across an article published in the local newspaper in 1994. The piece was titled An Explosion of Faith, with a subtitle that read, "A heartfelt mix of preaching and teaching has more people choosing the pews at Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church." The reporter traced our then young history as a church in one of the rapid growth spurts that took place in that era. The news reporter wanted to know why some people were driving forty-five minutes or more just to come to church. Various members of the church were interviewed, and each man or woman attributed the growth to my preaching and teaching ministry.
Before you think I’m bragging, consider this. This piece of our written history saddened us, because most of the same people interviewed have since left our church without an explanation or a goodbye. I’ve been a pastor for almost forty years and people leaving the church always hurts.
Don't get me wrong. I often tell our congregation and audiences that every pastor should have the privilege of shepherding a congregation like ours. Many of us have "grown up" together in our life journeys and share a love affair with Christ and each other. Our church is stronger than it’s ever been and there is a passion for building God's kingdom. But no matter how many times I am told the leaving is '“nothing personal," I cannot help but wonder what I did to drive people away, especially people I considered friends.
I'm not alone in this sadness. Numerous pastors and key church leaders tell me they experience the same sorrow. In one particularly low moment, my wife concluded that many people view pastors and their wives as commodities, embraced and loved only as long as personal needs are met. What we define as friendship for us is actually a casual relationship for them, easily discarded when the parishioner is disappointed when their perceived needs are not met by us.
Again, don't get me wrong. I am not saying that we pastors are without fault. Some pastors are foolish and arrogant. Some refuse accountability and lead with an iron fist. Some betray their very office by sinful behavior. But many laymen slice and dice their preacher because of personal preferences – not because of sin on the part of their spiritual leader.
Laymen, please answer these questions: Why is it that scriptural principles of godly behavior and conflict resolution do not apply to your differences with your pastor? Why is the cruel behavior of some congregations and church members toward their pastors considered appropriate when such behavior would never be acceptable in any other relationship? (Go to www.markinc.org to enter the discussion).
My first official pastorate was as the minister in a fifty-member church. I was twenty-one years old, excited and inexperienced. About six months into my three year tenure, the treasurer exclaimed, "Chuck, you are impulsive, impetuous, arrogant, and changing everything. Your wife is your only redeeming quality." Wow, and I thought he liked me! Talk about a baptism by fire. What he said may very well have been true. But, did he have to be so cruel? I didn’t know Christians got a pass on speaking truth in love! Are not the older men in the church to encourage the dreams of the younger and teach them what iron sharpening iron is all about?
Have you easily discarded a pastor from your personal life who thought you were a genuine friend? How many invisible score cards do you hold up when he preaches? How often do you pray for him? Do you realize that godly men called to the office of pastor live, eat, and sleep Kingdom work? Their social lives are marbleized into the church. The congregation is their family. Have you considered how your diatribes affect his wife and kids? How many pastors’ children leave the church as soon as they can because they have witnessed the emotional destruction of their parents at the hands of people their families loved and served?