What Pastors Wish Members Knew

What Ministers Wish Members Knew

So.  Jesus approached a group of disciples who were weeping. “Why are you crying my daughter?” “Because I’m blind,” she said. Jesus touched her eyes and she could see. He moved to the next disciple. “Why are you crying my sister?” “Because I’m lame,” she said. Jesus touched her legs and she walked. But in the distance Jesus saw a man totally overcome with emotion and tears. “And why are you crying, my son?”  “Because I’m a pastor,” he said……and Jesus just started crying with him! (I love that joke. Sue me.)

There is nothing more difficult than pastoring a local church. I did it for years. It’s an impossible job. What inspires one will irritate another. What makes one happy will drive another one crazy. And the opinions?! The opinions are endless. But if that’s your calling in life, there’s nothing better. It was like being paid for a hobby. A check for something I would have done for free. I absolutely loved it.

But today I train pastors and churches and I hear the comments and complaints from both camps. Last week we looked at, What Members Wish Pastors Knew. This week we’ll flip it and look at, What Pastors Wish Members Knew.

“I’m not your last pastor.”

Good or bad, each pastor is different. It’s understandable but unfortunate that many new pastors are burdened with the reputation of the former pastor. That works well if the former pastor worked well. But if the former pastor had challenges, the new pastor seems to inherit them.

When I entered the ministry, pastors were generally presumed innocent until proven guilty. But with the public fall of many leaders and the endless barrage of real and fake news online, many ministers face a skeptical audience from day one.

Pastors are eager to make their own impressions. Give them an honest opportunity to establish their own relationship with the congregation. One challenge is that some ministers who leave…don’t leave! Help the former pastor. Cherish the memories and even the ongoing relationship. But don’t’ encourage the former pastor to cross ethical and professional boundaries, by funding or supporting their projects at the expense of your local church

Help me help you.”

It has been said that the church is the only team that consistently tackles its own quarterback. It’s in the best interest of every church to foster a positive relationship between the pastor and members. Like it or not, everything rises and falls on leadership. When the local pastor is compromised, it is practically impossible for the church to be healthy. Here are some things you can do:

  • Use your gift in the local church.
  • Pray for the pastor.
  • Assume the best and not the worst of the pastor.
  • Go directly to the pastor with your observations and/or concerns.
  • Don’t make someone else’s issue with the pastor your own.

“Don’t help me hurt my family.”

Few church members realize how much pressure is on the pastor’s family. The kids are living in a glass house. Finances are under constant care. Expectations are unrealistic.  Churches talk a lot about the importance of the pastor’s family life, but few are intentional about supporting it. In fact, some of the church’s pastoral expectations are totally inconsistent with a healthy pastoral family life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Go to work. The best thing that you can do for a local pastor is to share the call to ministry. We are a priesthood of all believers. That means that everyone has a job. Find it. Do it.
  • Support the pastor’s family. Find creative and consistent ways to support the pastor’s family emotionally and socially.  Provide a safe place for the kids to be kids. Don’t burden them with unfair expectations.
  • Talk to the pastor and not about the pastor. Enough said.
  • Stop expecting the pastor to be at every meeting!! In fact, stop having so many dumb meetings! There are at least 2 things that all churches seem to have in common. They eat and they meet, and meet, and meet. And for many churches, a meeting is not a meeting if the pastor isn’t there. Save the pastor and the church by streamlining and reducing meetings.

“Say Thank You.” 

Those 2 words, thank you, can have an amazing impact on the life of a local pastor. They don’t hear it enough. I Timothy 5:17 is a passage among many that reminds us to demonstrate our appreciation to our pastors in very tangible ways.  How can we do that?

  • Open your mouth. Everyone lets them know when the meeting or the music or even the message went wrong. Be twice as willing to tell them when the meeting or music or message went well.
  • Celebrate the pastor’s anniversary. This is a part of the culture of many churches. They’ve done it for years and they do it well. Encourage your church to recognize the pastor’s anniversary.
  • Don’t forget Pastor’s Appreciation Month. It’s in October.
  • Send the family on a vacation. It supports the pastor and the pastor’s family. You’ll get a better pastor in return.
  • Don’t be afraid to celebrate financially. Cards and well wishes are great, but money is a present help in the time of trouble.

There it is. Members last week. Pastors this week. What do you think?

What Members Wish Pastors Knew

What Members Wish Pastors Knew

I live in a strange world. I’ve spent most of my professional life pastoring churches. Churches large and small. Churches large enough for multiple staff and multiple worship services. Churches so small that I had to wash my own feet at communion. (Think about it.)

These days I’m not pastoring. I’m training pastors and members. I live in that grey area between pastor and member and I hear the comments and concerns of both groups. Of course, people are different.  What turns one member on, turns another off. What makes one member happy makes another miserable.

But I want to share with you some comments about pastors that seem to be fairly consistent no matter where I go. These are some things that members may not tell pastors directly, but they wish pastors knew. Incidentally members, before you get too excited, your turn in the spotlight is next.

“We Need A Pastor, not a Preacher!”

Now they really don’t mean that. What they actually want is both. But something has shifted. If I had a dollar for every time I heard this comment I’d be a rich man. “All these pastors today want to do is preach. But they can’t pastor!” Since my default is to protect pastors, I try to listen without being defensive. But it’s impossible to ignore the comments.

Fairly or unfairly, many members think that priorities have shifted and we are producing better preachers than pastors. Some of this is nostalgia, a selective memory of the “good old days.” But some of this is probably true. Preaching resources and workshops are everywhere. Gifted preachers are on line and on television. It’s probably a lot easier to be a great preacher these days and the rewards seem greater.

But we live in a broken culture that’s begging for healers, for listeners, for pastors. Ministers function in many roles, but the role of shepherd is desperately needed today. The shepherd certainly feeds the flock through effective preaching and teaching, but the shepherd also: loves the flock, leads the flock, tends the flock, and protects the flock.

Given the size of our churches, it’s not possible for one person to shepherd the congregation one by one. It seems that even Jesus could only reasonably attend to 12. But according to Ephesians 4:12, the primary work of a pastor is to make sure that the work is being done.  Shepherding is a shared responsibility, but it must start at the top.

“We Want You To Succeed”

The vast majority of members want their pastors to succeed. Now, I’m not talking about the weekend warriors. The frustrated few whose purpose in life seems to make everyone miserable, especially the pastor. Frankly, those are largely people who are badly broken and deeply hurt. And it’s true that hurt people hurt people. But in the main, members want their pastors to succeed.

Most members want the pastor to be productive and happy. Most members want the pastor’s family to feel loved and supported. Most members dislike long and unproductive board meetings.  Most members hate out of control business meetings. Most members want the church to grow. Most members want visitors to feel comfortable. The problem is that the handful of complainers can seem like the crowd. But they aren’t. The vast majority of church members sincerely want the pastor to succeed. When he or she succeeds, so do they.

You Don’t Know Everything”

It’s the curse of leadership. Omni competence. The idea that because I can do one thing well, I can do all things well. It is a pressing problem of leaders from the local church to the General Conference. It is particularly problematic for local pastors. Why? Because pastors are immediately confronted with people who know more about the church, the city, the context than them. There are certain things that the members absolutely know better than the pastor!

There is a distinct difference between the school house and the church house. Some things that fly in a classroom fail in the church. When a pastor arrives at a church, any church, some things will be working and some things won’t. Even if it’s working for the wrong reason, there’s a reason that it’s working and the pastor needs to discover the reason. Pastors who are convinced that their way is the only way or always the best way will eventually find themselves proving it. Alone.

“We Don’t Know Everything Either!”

Here’s a little secret that many pastors don’t know. Most of the members know that they need help.

  • They know that some of their friends are nuts!
  • They know that the church isn’t growing as it should.
  • They know that only a handful are showing up for business meeting.
  • They know that the bathrooms are dirty or in disrepair.
  • They know that prayer meeting is boring.

You get my drift. Pastors can get the feeling that they are living on an island with no visible or vocal support. But the reality is, most members are busy Christians trying to navigate their own crazy world. Many of them are experiencing some of the same issues as the pastor where they work. They want to do better, but they need help to do better. And they want the pastor to help them do better.

“We’ll Be Here When You Leave”

Most members have seen pastors come and they’ve seen pastors go.  Some churches have been the “science experiment” of many a starry-eyed pastor. Other churches have been the “training wheels” for many a young pastor. They have heard it all and they have seen it all. Since most of them will be there when the pastor leaves, the pastor should keep at least two things in mind.

  • Make changes that will last – Don’t move things around solely because of your taste or comfort level. Make changes that are consistent with the culture of the church and community. If not, the church will “put all of the furniture back” when you leave. And it will create a mess for the next pastor.
  • Don’t start fights you can’t finish- Even necessary change is challenging. Every pastor will have battles. The problem is that people take sides. These people will be living and working and worshiping together long after the pastor leaves. Pastors should work to resolve conflict, especially conflict that grows out of changes they started.

So, there you are. What do you think? Anything else you think members wish pastors knew?

The Disappearing Anglo Adventist

The Disappearing Anglo Adventist

I’ve been thinking about this for a week, and now you’re going to help me think about it.

Last Thursday, I was sitting with a good friend, enjoying the dedication of the new North American Division conference office in Columbia, Maryland.  A large academy choir marched in and my friend leaned over and asked, “Is that Pine Forge?” He asked because the choir was all black and Pine Forge is a predominantly black academy down the road. I also assumed it was Pine Forge until, to our surprise, we were informed that the choir was not from Pine Forge but Takoma Park Academy.  Things have really changed at Takoma Park!

Now, I’m not a D.C. expert, but I have traveled to the area regularly since my wife taught at DuPont Park Elementary School years ago.  But that little incident made me curious. I did a bit of searching and discovered this.

Practically every Adventist institution in the D.M.V. (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) that was once predominantly Anglo, is now predominantly black.

It’s a sensitive subject and it defies easy answers. The problem is influenced by birth rates, and death rates, and baptismal rates.  And there is probably the influence of house churches, internet churches, café churches, and boring churches. Again, there are issues to explore.

But make no mistake about it, a consistent culprit is one of the oldest enemies of racial progress, white flight. It is no respecter of religion and certainly no stranger to the Adventist church. It seems that when people of color, particularly African Americans, begin to join Anglo institutions, at some point the Anglos begin to leave. And it’s not just a DMV problem. It has been repeated so often that in many major urban areas, there is no appreciable Anglo Adventist presence at all.

The Experiment That Should Have Worked

In August of 1993, Dr. Henry Wright became the pastor of an Adventist church in Alexandria, Virginia. The vision many had was a multi-cultural church that could provide a model for others with the same vision and passion. And frankly, they had all the right ingredients. A multi- gifted pastor/teacher with a once in a generation preaching gift. An Anglo congregation declaring to be open to an influx of new energy and members.

Did it work? Yes, it did. The church grew from 57 members to 1200 with a tithe of over 2.4 million dollars. They planted another congregation that grew to 600 and counting.

Did it work? No, it didn’t. Both of the congregations are predominantly black and the original vision is a fond memory.

Why do I care?

Good question. In some ways, I don’t. I’m not criticizing a church or organization for being predominantly one color or culture. People attend churches for all manner of reasons.  We have different missions.  I teach at an institution that has been called to do a special work for people of color and that mission will last as long as the need exists.  I’m also a proud product of the black church, black community, and a black university. I like black shirts and if I had my choice I’d only drive a black car. I am perfectly fine with spending the rest of my life working for and with black people.

But I’m not stupid. I am critical of any organization, mine included, that doesn’t look for best practices and relationships in any color or culture. When you only listen to yourself, you live in a dangerous echo chamber.  Every culture has its bright spots and blind spots.

So, what I do like is collaboration. What I don’t like is hypocrisy. And what I see in the DMV, the home of the General Conference and North American Division, is hypocrisy.

The issue is not THAT a church has shifted from white to black, the issue is WHY a church has shifted from white to black. If the answer is White Flight, then we have a significant problem. Here’s why white flight among Seventh Day Adventist Christians is a problem

Because it reinforces age old stereotypes

White flight is not a racial myth, it’s a historical fact. The term originated in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s and applied to the large-scale migration of people of various European ancestries away from urban regions and minority communities. White flight was marked by redlining, mortgage discrimination, and racially restrictive community covenants. It was real then and it’s real now.

The old joke is that black members don’t need to buy new churches, all they need to do is coordinate their visits to white churches and pretty soon they will have the church to themselves. When Anglo Adventists migrate away from churches and communities of color, for reasons of color, it’s white flight at its worse.

Because one-way integration is fool’s gold

It is true that some of our churches and institutions are experiencing an integration of sorts. Some of them even advertise their multiculturalism.  But take a closer look. Where there is integration, most often it’s people of color moving toward Anglos and rarely if ever the other way around. Southern Adventist University, Washington Adventist University and a host of academies and churches are examples.

That type of integration is deceptive. It might look good in an Alumni magazine or enrollment brochure, but it’s fool’s gold. It’s not the real thing. And it actually works against real change by providing an illusion of progress.

Because the church seems to have nothing to offer

Our nation is in a racial mess. Over 80% of white evangelicals voted for a president that over 80% of African Americans voted against. That’s a symbol of a nation in racial trouble. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. This witches brew of racial tension, religious fervor, white fright, political pandering, and fake news is a recipe for disaster. And in the area of race relations, the church seems to have nothing to offer.

My fear is that we’ve lost a generation of urban young people who can’t separate the Christian church from the Republican party because the two seem to be joined at the hip. Racism is explained away. Sexism is explained away. Greed is explained away. Many evangelical Christians seem to have placed “safety” and self- interest and a supreme court justice above the gospel.

I am absolutely convinced that the community that can make the greatest contribution to this racial divide is the Anglo community. My response to those who complain about racism in the church and community is that nothing is going to happen until Anglos lead the charge. Until Anglos begin to sacrifice. Until Anglos get some skin in the game.  Complaints from people of color are often dismissed as whining and self -serving. People of color have neither the power nor platform to get at some of these protracted racial issues.

And where are Anglo Adventists at this moment of need and opportunity? Well, many of them seem to have disappeared.

What do you think? Am I reading it wrong? Am I reading it right?  Any suggestions?