In my previous two posts I suggested that we not do ten things: 1) speaking about a previous church too much; 2) always having to be in charge; 3) insisting that everything has to be done our way; 4) making visitors (guests) feel like prospects; 5) embarrassing people publicly; 6) insisting on always having a title; 7) being ashamed of our church; 8) putting down other ministries; 9) requiring that music and worship styles suit our preferences; and 10) flaunting our education or intelligence. If you haven’t already, be sure to read the first two parts of this three-part series. Now, let’s look at the final five things to a pastor shouldn’t do.
11. DON’T THROW PEOPLE UNDER THE BUS.
To throw someone under the bus is to let them totally take the fall for something that went wrong. As Dr. Lee Robertson of Tennessee Temple used to say, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” That means that as pastor you must resist the urge to blame someone else when things go south. If your worship leader made some bad music choices that evoked criticism or controversy, it’s not exactly fair to let her take all the heat when it was your job to review the program in advance. When a deacon gave poor advice or misinformation that resulted in conflict, ask yourself, “Did I communicate to him effectively?” Your people will forgive you for making a mistake and will admire you for admitting you were wrong, but they’ll not forget that you let someone else take the blame when perhaps it was your responsibility. Throwing someone under the bus is a real jerk thing to do.
12. DON’T USE YOUR CURRENT MINISTRY AS A STEPPING STONE.
Let’s be honest; most of us, especially when we were young, dreamed of pastoring a larger church. Perhaps in the beginning we assumed that the small church we pastored would become that large church. But when growth was nominal or non-existent, we started looking over the fence at the greener grass.
When you long to pastor a church other than the one you’re at, you begin to see your current charge as a stepping stone to the big time! While there is nothing wrong with wanting your church to grow, there is everything wrong with using your church until something better comes along.
When you see your church as a stepping stone, you’ll make disruptive changes, leaving someone else to clean up your mess. You’ll inadvertently use your church as a laboratory to experiment with your ideas and church-growth strategies. As a stepping stone pastor, you’ll never fully commit yourself to your congregation, seeing them as a quaint, naive, and passé group that’s holding you back. While trusting God for bigger things might be a noble thing, biding your time at the “starter church” is just a symptom of ego-driven ambition. It’s unfair to your church and a jerk thing to do.
13. DON’T PUT YOUR FAMILY SECOND.
I was standing near the casket of a pastor who had passed away after a long and well-reputed ministry. A couple of tearful elderly ladies lamented his home going as one said, “He hardly got to see his family but he sacrificed them so he could always be there for the church.” I decided then and there that I would not end up like that pastor.
Pastor, your family is your first congregation. They are your primary ministry. To fail as a spouse or parent is to fail as a pastor. Neglecting your spouse or kids for “the good of the church” is not a noble thing but a foolish one. As someone once paraphrased the scripture, “What does it profit a pastor to win the whole world and lose his family?”
14. DON’T MAKE THOSE WHO DISAGREE WITH YOU OUT TO BE YOUR ENEMY.
In one of my churches I led the elders to support me in asking a family to leave the church. This family needed to leave the church, as they planted discord and did not respond to godly admonition, but one of the elders was not comfortable in what amounted to excommunication. At the time I felt that this elder was an enemy, because he did not, as I saw it, support his pastor, and therefore was not in harmony with what I believed God was doing in our church.
In hindsight, I realize that, though I am still convinced that it was right to remove that family from the church, I was being a jerk to the one dissenting elder. While I never overtly showed animosity to that elder, I covertly resented him which was probably reflected in my dealings with him. In short, I was a jerk. I’m glad to say that I eventually saw my error and sought forgiveness, which he gladly rendered to me. Since then I have grown to realize that it is rare that another church member is my enemy, and even when that is the case, I am to be gentle, compassionate, and godly in my dealings with them.
In my dealings as the Director of the Association of Small Church Pastors, which has grown to around 300 official members, as well as almost 870 members of our Facebook closed group, and more than 4,600 followers on our public page, I have discovered that pastors can be the most contentious of all of God’s creatures. It never ceases to amaze me what comes from a pastor’s mouth, or in most cases, his fingers, as he carelessly types his negative verbiage and hits the “send” button.
Since the advent of social media, many people are more “brave” to say “what they really think” from behind a computer or smart phone screen. Hurling insults, rebuttals, and criticisms is easier than ever. Pastor, when you allow your emotions to get the best of you in such a vast arena as Facebook, you do more damage to the cause of Christ than any help you may naively think you are giving. Resist the temptation to launch public debates or respond negatively to something you disagree with. Remember, when you disagree with someone, that means that they disagree with you, too, which means that you both have an opinion.
If you feel that you must make a case for this or argue a point about that, do it on your own page or within your own forum, not the church’s or someone else’s page or forum. When I allow someone to be on my Facebook page, they have been invited to enter my house. I don’t take too kindly to being insulted in my own living room; that’s something a jerk would do.
15. DON’T MAKE YOUR CONGREGATION FEEL LIKE NUMERICAL GROWTH IS ALL THAT MATTERS.
“Where is everyone?” “Why aren’t there more people here?” “How come the Easter Egg Hunt didn’t draw more people?” These seemingly innocuous and often necessary questions can come across to your people as your frustration for the lack of numbers. The faithful who are there wonder why their presence isn’t enough for you. After all, they showed up, yet all you’re thinking about is who didn’t.
Take a look at your church’s official goals. Do they focus on numerical growth more than spiritual growth? Are they arbitrary? For example, “First Church seeks to grow by 25% by 2019.” Why 25%? What’s that based on? Your people will read that as: Pastor wants new people more than he wants to grow the ones he has. I’m a believer in tracking numbers. I think it’s foolish not consider numerical growth at all. However, I’ve also learned that when I have been virtually obsessed with numerical growth, I tended to see my church as too small, not effective, or not doing the right things. When the people who are physically there and supportive and active see me look into their eyes with a look of joy and contentment, they know that they matter to me. And when they know they matter, they will joyfully invite others to this amazing place called their church.
Most pastors I know are the best people in the world. They are godly, compassionate, intelligent, fun, focused, family-oriented, and true leaders. The “jerks” among us are few and far between. However, each of us has a little bit of jerk inside us waiting to rear its ugly head; don’t let the jerk in you see the light of day. Make up your mind to not be a jerk.