Help! I’m a Pastor!
By Joe McKeever
“In a multitude of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14 and 24:6)
I said to Pastor Marion, “I’m glad to exchange notes with you like this. But you need a couple of mentors–older guys with long histories in the ministry–whom you can sit across the table from and talk about these things.”
He named two such, a seminary professor and a retired pastor.
Pastors often find themselves in tough situations. At the moment, Pastor Marion is leading his church in a massive building campaign, while working night and day to minister to his growing flock. In the five years he has been there, his church has doubled or more in attendance. And then, this happens….
A deacon who is used to getting his way in the church called a meeting of the key leadership. He was upset about some of what Marion has been preaching, he says. Furthermore–it will not surprise you if you have ever been the target of this kind of abuse–-“many others in the church feel the same way.”
He threatened that steps may be taken to remove the pastor from the pulpit.
What is a pastor to do?
I mentioned a few possibilities, but with the caveat that “these are just some thoughts.” No way do I want to take responsibility for whatever he decides.
–a) I said, “You can take it to the church. This Sunday morning, tell the congregation that a couple of deacons are suggesting you need to resign, that they are unhappy with your leadership. And that you are calling a business meeting for Wednesday night to discuss this.”
The upside of doing that is you take the initiative, take the matter out of their hands and put it where it should be, in the hands of the congregation. This tends to stop a bully in his tracks. His anonymity has been a winning technique for him–that is, working on the pastor in the background. But you are now flushing him out.
The downside of this is that anytime you ask a church to affirm your ministry, you should anticipate the possibility that they might just hand you your walking papers. More than one pastor has gone into a church meeting expecting affirmation only to suddenly find himself jobless.
–b) Another possibility, I told Marion, is “You can meet privately with the other deacon or two who had partnered with the bully. Find out if they feel strongly the way he does or are allowing themselves to be pushed along by the force of his personality. Get them thinking about the cost of forcing you out in the middle of a building campaign.”
–c) “But before you do anything else, Marion,” I said, “I would meet with those two mentors and give them the entire picture. See what counsel they have for you.”
Every pastor needs a few counselors.
Proverbs says, “In a multitude of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14). The wonderful KJV says there is “safety.” Not wisdom, necessarily, but surely safety and eventually, if we do it right, victory.
We’re more likely to make the right choice after running the situation by several people whom we respect and considering their take on matters.
One question we would like to ask Marion is, “So, what have you been preaching that would cause this deacon to react this way?” There is always the possibility that the deacon is right. Older mentors could help him look at all angles.
Another question to be asked by the older guys: “In case the church should terminate you, do you have any fall-back support, anywhere you could go, any way to support your family?” If not, this will limit the pastor’s choices.
“Marion, how strongly do you feel that God has placed you there in that church and still has His hand on you?” This may be the most important question of all.
I once had a deacon take me to lunch with an offer of a lot of money if I would walk away from the church. I said, “I’d love to leave. I’m so tired of this stress. But God won’t let me. I have to see this through.”
It’s not about me; it’s about the Lord.
Get that straight and you’d be surprised how quickly it clears up matters.
No young pastor should ever do anything just because his mentors advised it. But they can help him reason things out, can pray for him, and can be there in the future when and if things go badly.
Why pastors are reluctant to get mentors
Something inside us wants to go it alone. That feeling is not from God. No one in Scripture was commanded to go into the Lord’s work all by himself. The Lord intended that His people would have partners, co-laborers, advisers and counselors and helpers. Some will be–you will understand the expression–“above” you in ranking and some “below” you. You need both groups.
Your pride can become your worst enemy. “I don’t need anyone else. The Lord is with me.” The last part of that is true, the first part is a fatal error in your machinery. You need lots and lots of people in your life. Check out all the “one anothers” found throughout the New Testament. We are to love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, rebuke one another, and so forth. At least 31 different such commands are given in the NT. That ought to tell us how strongly the Lord wants us to be part of His team and not long rangers.
Notice how often Paul identifies certain ones as his co-workers, co-laborers, and partners in ministry.
How to get a mentor
First, toss the terminology. When a deacon asked if I would “mentor” him, some 20 years ago, I asked what he had in mind and then declined. He was looking for someone to meet with regularly, with whom he could share his every wayward thought, and who would function as his manager in spiritual things. I was his pastor, admired a hundred things about him, but simply did not have the time or energy for this.
Just call these guys your “friends.” That’s what they are and all they need to be.
Second, if you have had a favorite professor or pastor along the way who lives in the area and is still working in the Lord’s vineyard, call him up for coffee. That’s how you start. And, under no circumstances should you tell him you want to meet with him like this every week or month or whatever for the rest of your life. That sounds burdensome. Don’t do that to him or yourself.
Just enjoy the visit. Be sure to ask what he’s doing and what you can pray for concerning his work. And don’t overstay. Thirty minutes may be a tad short. Forty-five minutes is ideal. An hour is pressing it. Two hours is too long and will cause him to hesitate the next time you call inviting him for coffee.
Third, wait two weeks, then call him again. If the meeting place was ideal, stay with it. If it was too crowded or noisy or the chairs were uncomfortable, find another coffee shop. This time, have a situation in your church or your sermons for which you need his advice. Take notes. Jot down his advice, scriptures he mentions, books he recommends.
Then, wait a month before you do it again. After that, you will know–and so will he–if this should be an ongoing thing.
Remember, it’s fine to have several such friends. You are not betraying the first to do the same thing with one or two others.
Finally, if you are leaning heavily on those two or three friends, at least annually drop them a personal note to say how much you appreciate them. Every couple of years, give each one a gift card to a local bookstore with a note of thanks.
They may make the difference in your ministry.
Now, while you’re at it, look around for some younger minister who may be needing you. What comes around should indeed go around.
Pastor Joe McKeever