Yesterday I posted this rather brief, yet complementary (to Rick Warren) and self-disclosing (since my highlighting this one quote out of an entire sermon did not come out of a vacuum) statement on my Facebook Timeline:
Rick Warren rocked it today @R13 conference. “The average Pastor leaves because of 7 people.” Woe to those who run out their pastors.
The response in terms of both “Likes” and “Shares” and comments took me completely by surprise.
Sadly, Warren’s observation resonated with a whole lot of people.
So with that in mind, allow me, ever-so-briefly, to pull back the curtain and let rank-and-file church members in on a dirty little secret — an inconvenient truth that not too many worship service attendees know, but one that every pastor without exception fully and completely and sadly understands.
At first blush, one might be tempted to think, “7 people? How can only 7 people (on average) commandeer an entire congregation?”
Well, before I answer that, let me assure you that Warren’s observation is spot-on. I’ve been devastated by two churches, both times because of the influence of — yes, it’s true — only 7 people.
Add to that the fact that within the last few weeks, I spoke to a now-former pastor of a mega-church who was kicked to the curb by the negative influence of — Are you ready? — a grand total of only 3 families. Do the math. We’re talking 6 adults out of a congregation of some three thousand, who effectively and systematically spread such malicious gossip about my friend to the masses that he could no longer minister effectively in that church.
How does it happen? you ask.
Here’s how. The inconvenient truth:
Those who oppose their pastors may be small in number, but they are free to spread their discontent about the leadership to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen.
Not only that, but they are free to name names. They are free to level any accusation that they want with impunity. They are free to spread outright lies. They can twist the truth and shade it to their advantage. Or they can tell the truth out of context, creating out of the truth a totally false reality. It doesn’t matter which tactic they employ. The results are the same. The damage caused is far-too-often irrevocable.
Now, here’s where we pastors are sitting ducks, defenselessly so.
We refuse to lower ourselves to that level. We strive to stay above the fray. We do not name names. We do not traffic in malicious gossip. We take the high-road.
Simply put, they are free to say anything that they want to about us, while we refuse to return evil for evil, and therefore we say nothing. We can’t. We don’t. We won’t.
We refuse to discredit our critics, even as they work overtime to discredit us. We do not respond to gossip with gossip. We do not engage in a he-said, he-said defense of ourselves. We do not tell our side of the story. We can’t. We don’t. We won’t.
We do none of that because 1. It would be sin to do so; and 2. It wouldn’t do any good anyway because such self-defensive measures only intensify the conflict, leading to endless meetings producing conflicting/contradictory/confusing information. Congregational food-fights never lead to any positive or productive outcomes. And frankly, to engage in such worldly tactics is beneath the office of Pastor.
We can’t. We don’t. We won’t.
Look, not to put a personal spin on this by making this all about me, but only so that you know that I know where so many pastors are coming from. Much to my everlasting sorrow, there are people in my community (perhaps even some who will read this blog) who believe that I am fundamentally evil. They turn away from me when they see me coming down the aisle in WalMart. They warn other Christ-followers about me. In some cases, bad reports about me have been spread by individuals who have never even met me!
Why do you think that Jesus said,
A prophet is not without honor except in his own town…
Jesus knew something about being on the receiving end of malicious gossip. And He, in response, said nothing.
Neither do we.
God is our defense. And I’m OK with that. God takes care of His own. And that’s fine by me. He has, and He will.
But the devastation caused to the innocent bystanders — in churches of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands — is incalculable. Not to mention the damage to countless pastors, many of whom have left the ministry. This because the viciousness of a few (an average of only 7) cost them far too much in terms of their families and/or their health. Men and women who just wanted to serve God and love their people.
Yes, as I posted yesterday on Facebook, so say I now…
Woe to those who run out their pastors.
So what’s the answer?
First: STOP LISTENING. Gossip is gossip, whether you are on the telling end, or the hearing end. Both the gossiper and gossipee is equally guilty before God for all of the damage done by the gossip.
The next time someone approaches you with a complaint about a pastor, humbly, graciously, lovingly, but firmly tell them to SHUT THE HECK UP!!! And then calmly walk away.
HAVE NOTHING TO DO with those who traffic in malicious gossip. Is that too strong for you? Then ponder this niggling little point: If they gossip about the pastor, what makes you think they won’t one day gossip about you???
I mean, look… Silly me… I thought church was about worshipping God. When did it become about finding fault with one another? Finding fault with our pastors?
How can we keep our eyes focused on God when we are looking for the faults in others? How can we keep our ears attuned to God’s Word when we give an ear to other peoples’ gossiping words? Especially about the pastor, the one tasked with teaching us God’s Word?
This is not complicated, my friends.
Second: PRAY FOR YOUR PASTORS. We’re just human. No one of us ever claims perfection. (If we did, you should run for the hills!)
Please. I beg you. Let us be imperfect. Let us lead from weakness.
Let us in our brokenness help to heal your brokenness. And when we do need breaking, trust me when I say that God is perfectly capable of breaking us without others lending Him a helping hand.
You know, it wasn’t long after I was thrown under the proverbial church bus that I stumbled into a friend’s church on a Sunday morning, and literally broke down and wept. Know why? Because the pastor of that church said this to his congregation:
You just love me, and are thankful I’m here.
I sobbed because that’s all I (or any pastor) has ever wanted. Just to be loved, and for the people to be thankful that we are here.
I really don’t think that’s setting the bar very high. Do you?
Finally: If you just can’t bring yourself to support your pastor, QUIETLY walk away. Don’t pitch a fit. Don’t raise a ruckus. Don’t devastate a church by sowing seeds of division within the church. If asked, just simply and quietly tell your friends that you are being led to worship elsewhere, period. Nothing else needs to be said.
Want to hear a lie? I mean a devilish lie. Straight from the pit of Hell itself. A lie that goes like this…
Pastors come and go, but this is my church.
Ummm, excuse me. Your church? I thought it was Jesus’ church. If it is Jesus’ church, it’s His call, and only His call, as to if or when He removes a pastor. Not yours! And certainly not the self-appointed seven.
So let Jesus be the head of His church. And if you are uncomfortable with the way Jesus is leading His church, QUIETLY find another one.
“Wow,” you might now be thinking. “You sound so angry.” To which I say, “I don’t sound angry. I am angry.”
I am angry about all of the many pastors who once filled pulpits who are now sitting on the sidelines, this because of an average of only 7 sinning people in those churches.
I am angry about all of the “innocent” people who once went to church and loved it. But today, they will not darken the door of a church because of all of the in-fighting caused by an average of only 7 ungodly people within those churches.
I am angry about the many hurting people in our communities who will never turn to the churches in their communities for their longed-for answers. But why would they? Not when we can’t even keep our church-houses in order. All because of an average of only 7 self-focused people inside of those churches.
Listen. Don’t you worry about me being angry. Worry far more about God being angry. Because He is.
So, yeah. My Facebook post — or more accurately, Rick Warren’s astute observation — sure did resonate with a lot of people.
I am just oh-so-thankful for God’s gift of grace in my life, a humble little fellowship of loving, affirming, committed Christ-followers called The Safe Haven. A redemptive community where they just love me and are thankful that I’m here.
I pray that every pastor is as blessed as me.