One way to be kind to your minister is to encourage them to take time for themselves and their family. Our #SummerSabbath series includes lists of free or low-cost retreat options for ministers and their families.
Almost a year ago two of my friends lost their jobs. One as Minister to Music and the other as Senior Pastor. One was let go due to budget issues and the other, as simply as I can put (which is not fair), due to upsetting the wrong family. Since that time one recovered and continues his call as pastor in a much healthier place. The other did not recover and has left the ministry for the time being.
Many more ministers will lose their jobs this year due to church budget issues, speaking out against wrongful practices, upsetting the wrong family, standing up against bullies, conflict with the deacons (elders), some will lose their jobs because they have stolen or cheated or lied or for some other moral dilemma. Some will even lose their jobs because the So & Sos are no longer attending.
Being a minister, especially a “professional” one, is risky. Our jobs struggle to find the balance between administrator and pastor, the ever present struggle of preaching the gospel in honest ways, caring for the church, caring for our own family, and an assortment of responsibilities that require meetings and conversations.
I believe our profession may be the only one in which we can be removed without any due process and for any reason. A majority of the time, the removal of a minister can cause a lot of hurt to both the church and the minster and his/her family.
I picked up a book at Barnes and Noble titled, The Devil in Pew 7, which tells the story of a pastor and his family being terrorized by an angry church member, to the point in which the church member took a gun and shot the pastor and his wife (his wife died). Eventually the pastor would pass away from a clot caused by the stress of the past years.
Ministry is difficult enough as the minister is bound to preach the gospel and preach what they feel God is speaking to them. Because of this, it is expected there will be resistance, anger, and conflict. The problem is we have come to believe that conflict is not allowed within the church and because of such idealism, conflict becomes hidden or it is pushed down until it boils over, causing horrific chain reactions.
When a church ousts a minister, they do not just oust the minister, they oust their family. The church removes the entire family from the church, often treating their spouses horribly and bullying their children. Inside the church is the hardest place for a minister and their family to feel truly safe.
The stories I could tell…
I have witnessed ministers lose their jobs due to a deacon wanting the job. I have witnessed ministers lose their jobs because the wrong kids were showing up. I have witnessed ministers lose their jobs because of the other ministers they worked with (maybe we’re all guilty of this).
I have witnessed ministers lose their jobs because of what they preached, where they stood on “hot topic” issues, church budgets, arguments, power struggles, and even how they voted in the election.
I have witnessed ministers stumble and fall in their marriages and as parents. I have watched as the church eagerly removed them from their community.
Rarely, only once really, have I ever witnessed a church seek to reconcile with their minister and the one time was when our music minister had an affair.
I came home from college one weekend and at the church the following Sunday, our pastor began, “I come here this morning with difficult news. A member of our community has sinned.”
Of course I was nervous, thinking it was all about me, he continued, “My wife and I prayed all night, we have not slept, we prayed that we were doing the right thing..”
And then he said it, “(Music Minister) has been having an affair with another woman. There was stunned silence as the MM and his wife came out from behind the sanctuary and sat in the front as the pastor urged the church to seek reconciliation and pray for him and his family.
The pastor urged the church to not to forgive and fire but to forgive and help them become a family once again. It is the only time I have ever seen a church leader call out another in love and speak truthfully with a strong sense of grace and kindness.
The impact of the church’s behavior…
I think the church really believes their behavior only affects the minister. I do not think we truly understand that our behavior towards our minister affects not only the minister, it affects their spouses, their children, their family, their friends, other members of the church, and even their potential replacement.
The impact of our behavior and how we treat our ministers is not limited to the minister. It is, as the saying goes, like throwing a pebble in a pond. The pebble may only land in one spot but the ripples can be felt through out.
How we treat one another in our churches matters. As of now the church remains one of the unhealthiest places to work or attend. It remains unhealthy because we have yet to find the balance to speak in love, in truth, in grace, and from a place of humility.
Too many, in their conversations, refuse to listen as the other speaks, and too many await their turn to drop their “boom” statement; that statement to put the other in their place. We are willing to sacrifice relationships and community in order to feel superior, feel righteous, or to think we were right.
This behavior is more vindictive than it is justice. When we treat our ministers with hostile voices and with hostile intent, we create an atmosphere where others are going to be treated the same.
Once upon a time a friend, who believes in a lot of things differently than I do, spoke out against a group she once supported in their efforts to remove the pastor, and found herself quickly removed from their community because, in her prayer time, she felt God was asking her to act differently. The same hostile attitude this group held toward the pastor, was held against her. They took on the attitude of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Our hostile attitudes not only damage our relationship with our ministers but it can (will) damage our relationships with others; and too often that damage is irreparable. As someone once told my wife, “I stopped coming to church because I hated ______. She died last week and I rejoiced that I could come to church again.”
The impact of our behavior extends beyond the recipient.
As Paul says perhaps even better as Christ says…
Paul writes, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35).
And if we are to be imitators of Christ, then how we treat one another matters and how we treat our ministers matters as much as well.
It is not your church…
A former minister once told me that a congregant came into his office and said, “This is my church. I was here before you got here and I will be here after you leave.” It is a statement that may be seen as both positive and negative. The positive is a reminder, as a minister, that what we do matters and there is a history that we must come to know.
The negative is this: When we say, “This is my church” we place ourselves, our needs, desires, ideas, and philosophy, above others and we take the church away from the one who the church actually belongs to, Christ.
It is, and will always be, Christ’s church and we need to remember this and trust Christ is working in our churches. A larger number of congregation/minister conflicts arise out of the fear and worry of what’s happening to “their” church.
We need to remind ourselves that it is not “our” church. “And God placed all things under his (Christ’s) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his (Christ’s) body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
It is okay to disagree with our ministers or our pastors. It is okay to talk with them about our concerns or where our difference in experience and context converge. It is even okay to not “like” them or be their best friend.
It is not okay for us to treat them inappropriately or less than human. It is not okay for us to mistreat their spouses or their children. It is not okay to mistreat our ministers by bullying them or threatening them with their jobs or withholding our money, or any in form that we ourselves would not wish to be treated.
Just because it is a church, where grace is expected, does not give us the right to treat each other in anger or with malice. If we do, then we are not behaving in the manner of Christ and we have sinned against one another.
Simply put, be kind to your minister. Speak out of kindness and gentleness and love; and they too will speak out in such ways. Put away your stones.