1 Peter 2:19-21 (NASB): “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.”
I mentioned in my blog last month that I had presented a seminar at the Moody Missions Conference about the opposition pastors face in this country. The title of the seminar was “Do Pastors in North America Experience Persecution?” As you notice from the passage above, Peter recognizes the fact that believers can foster self-induced difficulty. We can sin, and because of that sin, others will treat us harshly. Alternatively, we can suffer for doing what is right.
In my seminar, I considered both causes of “harsh treatment”—our own sin or mistakes and the doing of “right” that causes opposition. In this blog, I want to consider the various ways that we can cause problems for ourselves. These are sure-fire ways to develop opposition in the church. In the future, we are going to have to pay even closer attention to avoiding self-inflicted wounds. Like it or not, we probably lost some or much of our credibility as pastors with the revelations about Ted Haggard. Here was a pastor who built an extremely “successful” church and was one of the leading representatives of the evangelical movement. It doesn’t matter that we had no say in his selection as our leader, or that we disagreed with his charismatic theology; he represented us to the outside world. He has given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme and occasion to distrust every pastor who claims that he walks with the Lord.
Ted Haggard and others like him have weakened our credibility even in the small communities where many of us serve. So then, what are some of the ways we can “sin” as pastors, thereby creating deserved opposition in the church and to our ministry? In my seminar, I mentioned twelve general areas where we can create problems for ourselves. In this blog, I will consider seven of those areas.
Of course, immorality will bring us harsh treatment and deservedly so. A pastor today needs to be especially on guard against immorality. The number of pastors involved in internet pornography or some type of immoral behavior is staggering. Paul had only the highest standards of personal conduct and called the Thessalonians as witnesses to that conduct. He reminded them of his high standards, writing, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
Ted Haggard ought to be a reminder to us that God will expose our sin, no matter how much it reflects badly on His Name. We need to enact safeguards around us that guard us from falling into immorality.
Do you have safeguards on your computer?
Is your computer screen accessible to others and can others view your files? If not, why not? Do you think that you are stronger and more able to resist temptation than other pastors who have fallen?
Do you have someone that holds you accountable?
Do you have a policy against counseling a woman alone?
Are you seeking to cultivate your relationship with your wife? Does she know where you are at all times?
The examples of fallen pastors ought to make us fearful of allowing ourselves any leeway in this area.
Another way we can create opposition in the church is laziness. Some pastors are simply lazy, sleeping in, goofing off, and playing when they should be praying. Paul described his hard-working approach to ministry, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9). A congregation, especially in the country, quickly discovers whether a pastor believes in what he is doing enough to work hard at it. They soon detect lack of preparation in messages and lack of dedication in visiting. A poorly fed and cared for flock quickly becomes a restless flock that scatters and creates problems for its shepherd.
Leading a congregation before we earn the right to lead, often a pitfall of new pastors, will stir opposition in the church and in our ministry. Paul spoke of how he had earned the trust of the Thessalonians, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Have you proved to be gentle among your congregation? Then they might be willing to follow you. Depending on the previous circumstances in a congregation’s history, it might take you years before you earn enough credibility to lead. Are you willing to invest the time necessary, demonstrating character and commitment to Christ and demonstrating that they can trust you? Unfortunately, many rural churches have had pastors who claim to love them, but really don’t. Dr. Glenn Daman, director of the Village Missions Center for Leadership Development comments in his new book “Leading the Small Church” about the disturbing tendency to use rural churches as steppingstones to career enhancement. He writes:
Too often, freshly minted pastors view small churches as steppingstones to bigger and better things. They approach ministry as a profession to pursue rather than a calling to develop. They treat the church as a business to expand rather than a living organism to nurture. Although they may enjoy a season of ministry in a particular congregation, they often leave to pursue a more dynamic and growing ministry. They preach faithfulness in marriage and ministry but model adultery in their commitment to the congregation—too often leaving to pursue a more alluring and attractive suitor. Daman, Glenn, Leading the Small Church, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 61-62
No wonder congregations, especially rural congregations, distrust their pastor!
Not understanding the culture will often create undue opposition in the church and for our ministry. For example, many small churches have a family, relational, culture. This is wonderful in terms of care for one another but can be frustrating in terms of speedy decisions. The patriarch will have to come on board and a decision will have to go through a time of percolation. It is an interesting passage to use, but evidently Paul wanted Titus to know something about the culture of his church people. He wrote in Titus 1:12-13:
One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith.
I think Titus knew a thing or two about serving in a difficult culture! I have heard some Village Missions’ fields described in a negative way but none quite like Crete!
Trying to be the dictator will most certainly create opposition in the church. Some pastors will “Lord” it over the flock, making sure they control every decision. I knew of one pastor who even refused to let anyone else make the coffee or choose the color of the carpet. Others control board meetings, making sure that they get what they want. Asserted authority in the church never holds as much sway as earned authority. Paul leaves us the right example when he writes, “nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority” (1 Thessalonians 2:6). If the Apostle Paul did not assert his authority as an apostle, why should we assert our authority as a pastor?
Another sure fire way to stir opposition in the church is using people to achieve success. People will quickly sense whether you genuinely care for them or whether you are using then to achieve your personal goals. What a contrast Paul presents to a pastor driven to succeed and willing to step over people to do so!
Again reminding the Thessalonians of his ministry, he writes, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Ministry must be about a pouring out of our lives to people. Their good, their benefit, their walk with the Lord must be always placed above our gain. We need to be careful here. We will never be so crass as to say, “I want to achieve success.” We will speak of building God’s kingdom and advancing the church, but deep down our motive may be building our own kingdom. We must cultivate a spirit of servanthood where the spiritual benefit of others is our chief concern. Similar to using people to achieve success is a programmatic approach to rural ministry. In today’s church culture, programs are king. Pastors are often in a vain search for the magic program that will draw people to their church. Yet often, because the rural or small church is so relationally driven, programs, unless they are carefully adapted, will not work in a rural setting. In 2 Corinthians 11:19-20 Paul writes of how readily the church accepted manipulation:
For you, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly. For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face.
A glitzy advertisement arrives in the mail promising to double our attendance in one year if we implement, at an affordable cost given its proven worth, their sure-fire program. We try to get all our people on board, devote all our energy to adopting something that does not fit our culture and then wonder why the results are much less than we were promised! We blame the people for not getting behind our program, and they rightly blame their shepherd because he does not understand his sheep! Next month’s blog will continue this subject as we look at five more ways we can create opposition in the church and to our ministry.