Young pastors enter the ministry expecting the people of the Lord to be healthy, sane, balanced, spiritual, biblically informed and Holy Spirit guided.
And then they run into reality.
The image of “running into a buzz-saw” comes to mind.
Some of them do not survive the experience, bless their hearts. But we remind them—when we have the opportunity—that our Lord said those who are whole do not need a physician (Matthew 9:12). If they were all healthy, sane, balanced, etc., etc., they would not need a pastor.
You are there for those who are the unhealthy, unbalanced, spiritually immature and so forth.
Sometimes, it’s a leader in the church who blindsides you.
Here’s my story (see my two notes at the end)…
First, the background.
Soon after I came to that church, I set out to visit all the deacons. If I was going to be able to pastor this troubled congregation (they’d been through a terrible split 18 months before I came; half the members remained to deal with several million dollars of debt), I’d need their help.
One evening in the home of Tommy and Doris, he showed me his certificates and diplomas on the wall. This man was thoroughly trained in the Lord’s work, if the framed papers were any indication. At one point he said, “But pastor, they won’t let me serve in our church. I want so much to be used of the Lord. I have these skills and training and the call of God.”
My eagerness to bless and help and affirm overrode my good sense at this point.
I said something like, “Well, we’ll see about this. We can always use a good man with your skills and abilities. We will definitely put you to work.”
The next morning, I related this to our assistant pastor, a godly friend who had served our church for many years. He said, “Oh, pastor, I need to tell you about Tommy. He kills everything he touches.”
At one point they put him over the church’s bus ministry, and he killed it. They put him in charge of the senior adult ministry, but he began ordering people around like he was the CEO and ran them off. Finally, they realized the truth about Brother Tommy: He did not want to serve people; he wanted to lord it over them. He did not want to be a minister; he wanted to be “somebody” with an office and a title.
That’s why they could no longer use him in any position in the church. Tommy had not told me that they had tried him in various ministries and that he had bombed out.
Question: Have you ever told someone they cannot serve in the church because they kill everything they touch? Imagine my trying to convey this to Tommy without destroying the man.
That was long ago and I have no memory of the details of my attempts to let him down easily. But evidently, I was not direct enough.
Now, the next stage of this story.
My journal for that year records a subsequent confrontation with Tommy, one I had completely forgotten. (I think you’ll see why; it was unpleasant.)
“Friday, July 3. Had 1:30 appointment with (Tommy). Nearing 60, he is a ‘ne’er-do-well,’ a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, took bankruptcy last year, lives off his wife’s earnings, says was called to ministry a few years back and got a masters of divinity from seminary. Had a short, failing stint as pastor of (name of church) and has approached me twice wanting a position on our staff. He has conducted a full campaign behind the scenes with church members for the associate pastor position when (present assistant) retires.
“His brother Bobby told me that Tommy only wants honor and position, but not work. When I inquired with our leaders last year, they were quick and unanimous in saying Tommy offends people and runs them off. So now, he had made an appointment to see me for the position.
“The visit was quiet, humble and candid. I told him I could not find any of our leaders who favored putting him to work, and that these were people who knew him.
“When he persisted, I said, “I’ve heard from several that you run people off. Now, Tommy, when I’m running references on a prospective staff member and they tell me he runs people off, that’s the end of the conversation. I don’t need to know anything else.”
(But he wasn’t through. The sheer gall of this man was amazing.)
He suggested that we pray about it. I said, “I have prayed about it over the last year.”
He: “And so have I. And God told me that I’m the one for this position.”
I said, “Tommy, several times over the years I have had people send me their resume saying, ‘The Lord is leading me to join your staff.’ I always respond, ‘As soon as He tells me, we can talk about it. But not until then.’
Tommy: “But I said God is leading one way and you say the opposite. What do we do then?”
Me: “Well, that’s true, but I’m the one who has to make the decision. And I say ‘no.’”
Tommy: “Well, I’m going to talk to other church members and get their counsel and get them to praying.”
Me: “Tommy, I’m your pastor and I’m asking you not to do that.”
Me: “Because it’s over. I’m sorry. You’ve applied for the job and I’ve talked to people who know you and none of them support you in this. So, I’m turning you down. I’m sorry. I love you. I wouldn’t hurt you for anything.”
“He wanted to teach the huge auditorium Bible class. I said this will be filled through the Minister of Education and the Sunday School director, and that we have a good prospect in mind, but I do not know if he has accepted yet.
“We prayed together and he left.”
SUNDAY, JULY 5. “Got word tonight that Tommy is phoning selected church members inviting to a meeting Thursday night at (a deacon’s) home. The chairman of deacons heard of it and asked (another deacon who is also a lawyer) to find Tommy and stop this in its tracks. Said for me not to worry, that they will handle.
MONDAY, JULY 6. Chairman called. He’s found out that Tommy was calling people together only to pray for him, that the Lord would open up a ministry. Later, Tommy called me and said the same. “But because so many think I’m trying to stir up a movement against you, I’ve called them all and canceled the meeting.” He told the deacons to remove him from the board.
“He ended by pointing out that our personalities conflict. I haven’t seen a conflict of personalities. The man is strange, that’s all. But not unlikeable.”
The rest of the story…
Tommy and his wife soon joined another church. The next time I saw the pastor of that church, I called him off to the side to warn him. He smiled, “Joe, they used to belong to my church. We know them well.”
After a year or two, they moved to another state. That’s the last I heard of them. I hope things worked out for them.
Pastors, you’re going to have these in your church. Do not be blind-sided.
Church leaders, you should stand with your pastor when he resists the difficult one who demands a position in the church. That person can rally supporters and family members and make life difficult for the minister unless the mature leaders support the pastor. Often, this unbalanced person is a longtime friend of yours. You will be forced to decide whether the welfare of the church—and the effectiveness of its ministries—are worth your risking that friendship.
Only people of courage should be called leaders of the church. God bless you.
FIRST NOTE: Readers may wonder about my telling such a story that involved a real person in one of my churches. First, it was many years ago. Then, I changed his name. Next, most of those in the story are no longer living. None are still in that church. Finally, I’m 74 years old; how long do I have to wait before writing this? (smiley-face here) Someone asks why it needs to be written in the first place? Answer: Almost everything in this website is to help pastors and other church leaders. That’s why.
SECOND NOTE: In an entry in the journal from August 17, we have this: “According to senior adult (lady; named), Tommy is representing himself as a minister and from our church. He visits shutins and runs me down to them. Tries to get people to call on him if they need a funeral (!). The chairman of deacons has set up an appointment with Tommy in my office for next Friday. Tommy told the chairman, “Brother Joe and I are 180 degrees apart on our theology.” I laughed and said, “Well, I love Jesus, believe the Bible and want to see people saved. Is he opposite?” The chairman said, ‘I’ve caught him in a lie. We need to confront him.’ Tommy canceled the Friday meeting and resisted all subsequent efforts to meet with us. Finally, they left the church.
This article originally appeared here.