Sherri and I have spent over 25 years in Christian ministry, serving three small churches. I served over 21 years as senior pastor of a small church in our hometown of Emporium; served 6 years as president of the Cameron County Ministerial Association; 6 years as district leader in the Bradford ministry area and had been a part of many boards and committees as well.
Sherri and I often like to quote the Farmer’s Insurance moniker; “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two.”
A pastor’s job is pretty diverse and covers a broad range of duties that include things like weddings, funerals, graduation ceremonies, Sunday sermons, personal counseling and much, much more.
One of the biggest challenges a pastor encounters is trying to get the church-going folks, who call the local church their own, to participate in the outreach, upkeep and financial support needed to keep the church alive and thriving.
Many folks have a misinformed idea that somehow the church just exists and gets it resources from outside the local gathering; that the denomination must provide all the financial needs. For our local church, and all the churches I know of, that is simply not the case.
ALL the resources of time, talent, and finances, always come from the local congregation. So when it comes to keeping the building and grounds nice and well kept, it is up to the folks to get that done.
If the utility bills get paid, and the local pastor is to get a paycheck, the congregation needs to financially support the church in order for that to happen.
When the church folks are unable, or unwilling, to provide these resources, the church begins to struggle. For many churches, when this happens, the pastor’s paycheck is the first thing to go.
This leads to the pastor having to take an outside job to provide for their own family; which in turn causes the pastor to be less available for the spiritual needs of the church; which may cause grumbling inside the church body.
So the local pastor has to try and balance his or her life in such a manner as to be effective both inside and outside of the church; leading both the church and his family. When this balance gets out of whack . . . stress sets in!
During one of those stressful seasons inside our church, I allowed circumstances to overpower my reasoning and I lashed out . . . here’s how it went down from my point of view.
As many small churches do, we were struggling to maintain our facility. Having acquired a rather large structure; the cost of operations were beginning to eclipse our ability to financially cover them. I voluntarily ceased receiving a paycheck from the church and did small jobs on the side to make ends meet; too often the ends did not meet and I grew frustrated.
The responsibility for the upkeep of the building did not subside, but rather increased, so we needed to call out the church folks to help with these ongoing efforts.
However the volunteer turnouts were always very small and those who could actually do the kind of work we needed done, would rarely come out. Finances dropped even further and a sense of defeat and frustration began to well up inside me!
One of the blessings of being a pastor is that you know a great deal about all of the families inside your church; and sometimes that blessing can become a curse!
I noticed that many of the folks, who had the means to help, would not, while those who had meager means were giving all; and I grew even more frustrated.
I spent much time in prayer and seeking the Lord over how to address this issue without coming across as attacking any person or persons specifically; which is one of those “cardinal” sins a pastor should never commit!
So with God’s help, I crafted a stinging message that I would deliver, which I felt would address the problem.You can read that message HERE if you like.
Sunday came and I delivered the message with passion and zeal; you could say, as some did, it was a “Fire and Brimstone” sort of message! There were 14 visitors in the church that Sunday and I recall many of them were so encouraged and challenged.
One couple who lived nearly a 100 miles away from us who were visiting family that week; began supporting the church financially; giving over a third of our budget that year!
So, the message went very well, some of the regular folks went out that day with great conviction; so the mission was accomplished.
However . . . I could not leave well enough alone!
It was during the summer; that’s why the large group of visitors that day; however, there were many of our regular folks, who were out that Sunday, many of whom I perceived “needed” to hear this message; so I decided I would preach the same message the following Sunday for those who missed it!
I would give another blistering delivery; making sure they got the point!
Sunday came; and again, a number of the very people I had hoped to have in attendance were gone again; but I went ahead and delivered the message. There seemed to be a rather striking difference however; the power and presence of God was void; the message came out OK; same as before . . . the same Scripture, the same illustrations; but the Spirit of God was gone.
The faces of those in attendance went from conviction to guilt; the results of that second message were that a handful of people would leave the church and never return. In retrospect; I don’t blame them at all; I likely would have left too!
As I reflected on the situation later that week; I asked God; “It was the same message, same Scripture; what went wrong?” And that is when God said; “Rock, if you can’t say is out of love; even if you’re right, you’re wrong.”
A seasoned Free Methodist Pastor; Rev Bob Brest of the Bradford First Free Methodist Church, used to tell us in regards to being a shepherd; “You can sheer sheep really close many times, but you can only skin a sheep once.”
I skinned a few sheep that day and they may never recover, and for that, I will be held accountable.
In the following weeks, I would stand before the congregation several times, publicly apologizing for stepping out of bounds . . . lesson learned! I hope by sharing these lessons of humility, you may avoid some of the pitfalls that I fell into.
The most painful lessons we learn in life, are the ones we learn at the expense of others.
So, if you can’t say it out of love . . . don’t say it!