A pastor I have known for 20 years was fired recently. I wish I could tell a tale of harsh Elders, or demanding congregants, but based upon first-hand accounts, he hung himself. Not literally, but literally figuratively.
As I often say, the crises of life are a way of revealing something that has been happening for a long time. The details are not important and I don’t want to betray his identity to him or those in the pulpit/church he has now left without a Senior Pastor. Let’s focus on the principles. In my experience, if a pastor does these three things faithfully he will have the support of the vast majority of his people in almost any church anywhere.
1. Feed the People
Jesus was fairly explicit about this in the closing sentences of John’s gospel. “Feed my sheep, feed my sheep, feed my sheep.” If he only said it twice, we might have wiggle room, but the three-peat kind of negates any plans to say, “We didn’t know it mattered.”
What are you feeding the sheep? Of course the entire circus of felt need, therapeutic preaching is like pita bread at a Super Bowl party, but beyond the obvious, what really does feed sheep? Scripture, and only Scripture, feeds the sheep, but even among those who claim biblical fidelity and “preach the Word” as appropriate descriptors of their pulpit ministry, are your sheep really fed?
Reading a text and then waxing eloquent about its theme does not feed sheep. Raising a contemporary subject of interest to the masses and unfolding it with biblical “post-it notes” at every turn does not feed sheep. Simply explaining the meaning of a text in a formulaic, classroom kind of “what it says, what it means” detachment, definitely does not feed sheep.
In my experience, the best feeding which produces the most satisfied sheep comes from a message formed in, saturated with, and continually connected to an extended portion of a single passage of God’s Word. Where the main point comes from a paragraph and the supporting points come from it’s verses, and the content of those points is the content of the individual verses.
2. Love the People
The guy who got canned was actually pretty strong in this category. The Bible says that love covers and that certainly applies to the way a congregation views the faults of their pastor. If he loves them and takes the time and energy to make that affection obvious, it goes along way in motivating them to love and look beyond his short comings.
I am amazed at the number of well-known ministers today who give no obvious signs that they truly love the people they serve. They don’t comfort in a crisis; others do that. They don’t meet personally even with leaders in the church, “we have staff to handle that.” They don’t express love from the pulpit or exhibit love in the lobby.
If your sheep had to prove that their shepherd loved them, would they have experience with you to produce as evidence? In a larger church the pastoral care they experience from you may not be actual, but perceived pastoral care matters, too. What do your people believe would be their personal experience with you based upon their observation of your conduct?
Bottom line: this is something you can’t fake. Regardless of the size of your congregation, if you are there for people in “prime time” and do what you can to express love and support for those you lead, they will know that you love them and that will cover a multitude of sins.
3. Admit when you are wrong
This is where most pastors go down, and this was the demise of the man whose firing prompted this blog. Pastors can believe grace, exegete grace, and preach grace with little sense of their own need for it.
Pastors are frequently wrong. Our opinion is flawed, our conduct is imperfect, our leadership is lacking, and even our best intentions can come up short. Where a pastor believes that admission of error is a diminishment of his capacity to lead, the clock is winding down upon his demise.
In a board meeting, at the front of the church, in correspondence, and in personal interaction, the pastor must continuously reach for the mea culpa. Failure to do so elevates self, undermines credibility and isolates dissenters. Simply admit it when you are wrong. If you can’t see it, accept it by faith, and you will lengthen your tenure with any even mildly mature gathering of God’s people.
Just those three things, do them consistently and you will do better as a pastor and last longer in any church for the glory of God’s great Son.