Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Impetuous Pastor

The pastor and deacons had a customary meeting scheduled for early Sunday morning prior to Sunday School, probably not a good idea nor a good time for any pastor/deacon business save for prayer.

At this meeting prayer was perfunctory and then the pastor put before the deacons a request which was refused. It was not a matter of grave importance but, as some pastors and most deacons realize, for a pastor to have a group of church leaders turn him down on a request can be a matter of some delicacy and sensitivity.

In this case the delicacy of the matter led to the pastor's quick exit of the meeting.

He walked, er stormed, across the church parking lot to the pastorium.

There he stayed.

He did not return for Sunday School.

He did not return to preside over the morning worship service.

He did not return to the evening service.

He never returned.

This story is no joke but does put a new wrinkle on the old, boilerplate preacher joke about a man in bed who refuses entreaties to  get up and go to church on Sunday morning. You know the joke by its ending, "But you're the preacher. You have to go."

This incident, unfortunately, is a true one and is perhaps the most striking of many, many anecdotes I have about pastoral impetuosity.

I have heard my pastor colleagues speak of Monday morning letters of resignation. I have heard regularly if not frequently a pastor declaring that "God just moved on my heart that I should resign, then and there." The latter is what I would call the ecclesiastical version of "Take this job and shove it."

Joe McKeever, who writes more often and far better than anyone in the SBC on practical pastoral issues, assesses this matter of abrupt resignations:

10 reasons not to quit abruptly, pastor

I will subscribe to each of his ten and could add a few more.

In the case above, the consequences were far more pronounced on the pastor, on his family, and on the church than if the relationship of this pastor and church had come to a more normal close. The deacons were left trying to explain to some in the church what they did to 'run the preacher off.' The pastor's family, as usual, suffered more than any involved. The pastor himself faces a long emotional recovery time.

Our denominational sages tell us that most pastors will at some point in their pastoral career leave a church under undesirable circumstances. Probably true and not good. It is a fact of life as a pastor or a church staff member.

The pastor was hurt. His family was hurt. The church was hurt.  They all suffered.

The greater cause of Christ was hurt. 

Sure, there is likely a longer back story that may have ended with the pastor resigning sooner rather than later but his impetuousness both accelerated and intensified the grief and turmoil shared by all.

Some suggestions for impetuous pastors:

1. Thinking, and praying, about a serious decision is always preferable to hasty action.

2. There is likely someone in the church that you can find reliable and trustworthy to share grave concerns and serious decisions. Find them and talk before acting.

3. Your wife deserves a chance, actually many chances, to discuss this with you before you cross the Rubicon and it is too late to turn back. Talk to her. Better, listen to her.

4. Your church is probably more sympathetic and patient with your concerns than you think.

5. Sometimes, often, it is better to sit, sleep, think, pray, jog, play golf...or a host of other things before making a major decision.

As Joe McKeever says,

Now, get up off the ground and get back into the ring, preacher. The worst thing they can do is kill you and all that does is send you to Heaven.



Tim Dahl said...

I loved this. Thank you.


Tim Bonney said...

True till you get to the last sentence. There are a few churches that have done much worse to a pastor then kill them. They broke their spirit. I know of more than one pastor no longer in the ministry because of "clergy killing" or really "clergy abusing" chuches that so abused them that they just couldn't bring themselves to do it any more.

At least one of them I know had an astounding record of church growth and leadership and he is now doing something outside the church experiencing far less abuse. But to the great loss of the kingdom of God.

Anonymous said...

"clergy abusing" chuches[sic]

Perhaps there will be a follow-up post on "clergy abusing" pastors. Some senior pastors are not beyond abusing ministers they supervise. Some don’t understand the difference among authority based on expertise with authoritarianism, which the latter conceptually undermines any claim to expertise. And if the latter type of pastor leaves due to not getting his way, then good riddance. Impetuousness has become your friend for a season. It’s called functional turnover.