Two, Four, Six, Eight — Who Do We Appreciate?

Unknown-1Words have power.

That’s what I love about what I do. I am a painter. But my paints are not oils or watercolors. My paints are words. And words have power.

Case in point: I am about to introduce you to eight words. Eight words which, when grouped together in the following order, contain within them enormous power. The power to save a church. Or, if neglected or ignored, the power to destroy a church.

We’ll get to these eight words in a moment.

But first, the backstory. This past week, I have been in contact with three pastors — more specifically, two former pastors, and one current pastor.

Each of these godly, supremely and supernaturally gifted men was (in two cases) and is (in one case) a God-given gift to the churches they led or lead.

Each is broken. Broken by the trials and tribulations that tragically confront every pastor. Broken to the point where two left pastoral ministry never to return (or so they say today), and one is teetering ever so precariously upon that precipice — admitting even as recently as two days ago his desire to walk away and never to look back.

My heart aches for these men. 

Trust me, I am uniquely positioned in their lives to ache with good cause, because each is a dear and precious friend of mine. Each has opened his heart to me. Each was or is in a church with which I am totally familiar. And each did or does indeed have good reason to relinquish the reins of leadership with feelings of soul-crushing defeat.

The common thread that links these three together? Congregations that include a small but vocal minority who have rejected the principle expressed by eight simple, but oh-so-powerful words.

What are these words? Well, let me put it this way: If I was given a platform from which to address these three churches, I would implore the people in regards to their pastors to do this one thing… Are you ready? Eight words:

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

For the life of me, I don’t know what gets into people. But I know for a fact, witnessed by my own eyes, heard by my own ears, that there are people — God-loving, Jesus-following people — who, for whatever reason, gripe and complain about their pastors.

“He preaches too long.” “I’m not getting fed.” “His wife walked right past me and didn’t stop to talk.” “He didn’t come to the hospital until the third day I was there.” “He didn’t remember my birthday.” “He’s not the friendliest person I know.” “We really could use someone younger.” “We really could use someone older, with more experience.” “He’s boring.” “He’s not very funny.” “Look at his daughter’s haircut.” “He’s not working hard enough to grow our church.” “He’s too political for the pulpit.” “He never takes a stand on anything political.” “He ______________” “He ______________” “He ______________” (You fill in the blanks.)

(If you could hear me, your ears would have tingled with the breathy sounds of my letting out a prolonged and exasperated sighhhhhhhhhhhhh. Why? Because it’s so not that complicated.)

It is as simple as this: People, please, please, PLEASE…

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

Most every pastor I know — including these three — are grossly overworked, grotesquely underpaid, stressed out beyond belief, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders as far as their congregants are concerned, weeping with those who weep, laughing much too little with those who laugh much too rarely, enduring what is for so many pastors the burden of their calling, doing their dead-level best to serve God and the precious people whom He has committed to their care… And doing all of that, and so much more, with so little thanks that it makes me cry just to think about it.

And just like me, and just like you, they so desperately need to feel APPRECIATED.

Yet, even though it takes so little for you and me to express our appreciation — a kind word, a smile, a hug, a note, a $5 gift card for coffee or frozen yogurt, an occasional text message that takes approximately 14 seconds to type and send — pastors are dying out there because of the constant drone of never-ending, nitpicking criticisms.

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

Well, in two out of the three encounters I had this week, the pastors finally gave up and resigned. As the saying goes, “abuse it, and lose it.” Well, there were those who, through their incessant criticisms, abused their pastors and — surprise, surprise — lost their pastors. And now, these two churches are literally struggling to survive. In both cases, serious thought has been given to closing the doors. All for want of eight simple but powerful words:

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

The third church is, by all outward appearances, doing just fine, thank you. As is so often the case, the overwhelming majority of people are blissfully unaware of the termites that are slowing but steadily eating away at the foundations of their beloved church. Unaware that these termites weekly take good-sized bites out of their pastor. And that their criticisms are so unnecessary, so petty, yet so deadly.

Look, I’ll happily stipulate the fact that no pastor is perfect. Every single one of them has room for improvement. For crying out loud, the Apostle Paul was up to his hips in alligators who criticized him relentlessly. Yes, it’s true: the celebrated apostle was not good enough for many, if not most, of our churches. And I don’t even need to bring Jesus into this discussion. Good Heavens, the religious establishment killed Him.

So maybe, just maybe, your pastor deserves a break.

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

When I try to imagine what these three churches would look like today, I want to cry because it would take so very little to change the temperature of each of these congregations. Not to mention the fact that three pastors I know would be thriving in their ministries today. If only the individuals in these three churches would, to a person, embrace just 8 little words.

Eight simple, but oh-so-powerful, words. Words written in reference to the pastors of these three churches. Words that would transform every church if every person in these churches would hear and heed and take these words to heart:

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

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