The God who called us into His service and sent us into the pastoral ministry has a vested interest in seeing that we do it right and well. The fact that we are all over the map–as opposed to the strait and narrow–and disorganized in our approach–as opposed to a sharp focus–lies at our doorstep and not His.
That God would want to use flawed and faltering creatures like us says volumes about His grace and mercy.
We are burdened for the younger generation of pastors coming along who are still trying to find their proper role, still trying to nail down their identity as pastors, and still trying to fine-tune the focus of their life-work.
This list of “10 ways pastors fail their people” is all about how my generation got it wrong. Not entirely, of course. But way too much.
In no particular order, they are:
1. We have led our people to believe that when they are happy with our ministry, all is well in the church.
The problem is our myopia. We see so little of the grand work of God, often only our tiny little speck of it. And if it is troubled with dissension and division, we know all is not well. So, when people are satisfied and compliments are flowing in, it’s natural to assume we must be doing well.
Consequently, we have churches filled with worshipers who believe that when they issue the pastor a passing grade on his Sunday sermon or feel good about the state of the church, they have done their job. We have raised a generation of pastor critics.
2. We have taught our people that giving to missions is more important than praying for missions.
The problem is our results-orientation. We can measure money, but who can measure prayer? We can announce we have met our goal for this offering, but we have no discernable way of detecting whether sufficient prayer has been offered for the work in Borneo or Malawi. So, we emphasize one and neglect the other.
We have raised a generation that does everything about missions except to pray.
3. We have allowed the congregation to delegate their mission to us the professionals.
The problem is laziness–theirs and ours.
The great commission–Matthew 28:18-20’s word to “go therefore and make disciples”–was given, not to the preachers, but to every disciple of the Lord Jesus. And yet, as far as the congregation is concerned, that’s the job of the ministry team, the evangelists, and the missionaries. They’ll even kick in money to pay salaries for these specially-called soldiers of the cross to do the work. Anything to keep from their having to obey the Lord.
And because we the ministers are lazy, we prefer not to resist the congregation in this and simply take the path of least resistance: we hire another staffer and tell him to reach the lost and unchurched.
We have raised a generation of pew potatoes–groan, sorry!–who do little and would be surprised to learn this is not the original plan.
4. The congregation has adopted the football coach pattern of leadership–if things aren’t going well, fire the old guy and bring in a new one–while we have stood by and cooperated with it.
The problem is our worldly template for greatness.
It happens just often enough to encourage the stereotype. A church gets rid of the old pastor and brings in a new one, and within a year, it’s bursting at the seams and making plans for new facilities. Other churches see this happening and grow antsy at their lack of growth, and so begin to pressure the preacher. Soon, they are firing him and looking for the next “star” on the ministerial horizon.
We have raised a generation of church members to sit as boards of directors in the Kingdom, not as laborers in the vineyard.
5. We have told our people to pray and then not shown them how or kept it before them.
The problem is we cannot say “this one thing I do” (Philippians 3:13). We try to do it all. So, we bring a sermon one Sunday on prayer, the next Sunday on stewardship, then on world missions, Bible study, racial justice, and so forth. No one area gets sufficient treatment. Our coverage is a mile wide and an inch deep.
The problem, I expect, is also prayerless preachers. If I’m not doing it, I’m sure not going to be able to encourage you in it.
We have raised a generation of prayerless, powerless warriors.
6. We have catered to their prejudices and ignored their idolatries.
The problem is our provincialism. In one area, high school football is ‘god,’ and everyone (including the churches) must organize their schedules around it. In another area, it’s community festivals or civic pageants or pro sports or the social calendar. One dares not speak out from the pulpit against the excesses and abuses of these idolatries, not if he wants to remain popular in the community or even keep his job.
Some areas of the country are still diseased with racism. Others have compromised their integrity by a marriage of the church with politics.
I pastored in the Mississippi Delta in the late 1960s–at the very place where the White Citizens Councils were formed and at the very time Martin Luther King was assassinated–and found out all too quickly that church leaders grow most uncomfortable when the pastor takes a stand on racial issues. I did it anyway, you might be interested to know. My only regret is not doing it even more forcefully than I did.
We have raised a generation who expect and even demand that the pastor respect the sensibilities of the locals and tailor the gospel to fit the situation.
7. We have smiled at their ignorance of the Word and done little to remedy it.
The problem is sin. Even though the Holy Spirit within us reaches out for the Word and our spirit feeds upon it, our “old man” resists picking up the Bible during the week and making a serious study of it. So, the typical church member ignores his Bible all week, then searches it out on Sunday morning in time to take it along to church.
We have placed Bibles in the pews since fewer and fewer of our people bring them to church.
Preaching from the Bible is easy enough. But preaching and teaching so as to make faithful Bible students of our people is another matter altogether.
We have raised a generation of flabby believers who “befriend” Jesus but hardly know Him.
8. We have given lip service to the presence of the Lord in our midst and ignored Him.
The problem is our traditions, our ruts. Used to the same order of worship all the time, we find it easier to insert a few hymns here and a solo there, a prayer here and the offering there, and the sermon here, and go forward. Too bad if the Spirit has other plans for the day.
We say all the right things about the Lord being in the midst of even two or three disciples (Matthew 18:20), but for the most part, we act as though that is some kind of spiritual principle but not an actual reality.
We have raised a generation of practicing atheists.
9. We have put our continued employment above faithfulness to the living God.
The problem is our selfishness. We have to pay our bills and send our children to school. And we do. And so, we allow ourselves to curb our enthusiasm for the cutting edge of the gospel lest people of affluence and influence be disturbed and take their support elsewhere.
You can understand why the Apostle Paul said it’s better for such a servant of the Lord to remain unmarried (I Corinthians 7:8ff). If they get crossways with worldly leadership in the church and find themselves jobless, it’s a lot simpler to load up the car and move on to the next town.
We have raised a generation to “keep” the preacher, almost as a lap dog. (I say to our shame.)
What is the answer? A rich relative, maybe. (another smiley face goes here) The answer is for pastors and spouses to accept when they enter the ministry that courageous leadership may well mean they will be asked to leave a church, and so to be prepared for all eventualities.
10. We have exchanged pleasing the Savior for compliments from the people.
The problem is our egos. We do like to be popular.
How did the Apostle Paul put it to young Pastor Timothy? For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables. (II Tim. 4:3-4)
It’s not clear from the Greek text, however, whether it’s the congregation with the itching ears or the preachers. I suspect one is as bad as the other.
We have raised a generation of self-absorbed members who are preached to and ministered to by self-absorbed preachers.
Sorry to be so negative. It’s no fun, I’ll tell you. Perhaps that’s one more way we fail: we want to be positive because it’s easier, more fun to do, and more pleasant to receive.
Medical doctors would love to deliver nothing but good news. But in a real world, that’s not possible.
When you entered the ministry, young pastor, you did not win a final battle with the world and its ways. You merely armored up for that fight. The struggle goes on all your days. Only at last when the Father calls your name and you step across that final line, only then will the warfare with the world and its standards, its seduction, and its promises, finally end.
Until then, with your eyes on the Savior, your face in the Book, your heart pure from all that would pollute it, and your love for the people of God constant, keep telling yourself, “One more day. I will be faithful this day.”
And on some of those days, God will do amazing things. But He will not tell you in advance which days they are.
After five years as Director of Missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner where he’s working on three books, and he’s trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way. He loves to do revivals, prayer conferences, deacon training, leadership banquets, and such. Usually, he’s working on some cartooning project for the denomination or some agency.
Source: CHURCH LEADERS