Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.
Perhaps many of you can say both of those statements with certitude. I know exactly how you feel. As one who has received criticisms over the years, I want to share with you personally five perspectives that have helped me deal with them. To be transparent, I don’t always focus on these perspectives. But, when I do, I find God working in me in a redemptive way.
I deserve criticisms. My first reaction to criticism is usually defensiveness. I want to show why I am right and the critic is wrong. But the truth of the matter is I am wrong quite often. I am truly a sinner who has fallen short of God’s glory. Who I am to say, “I don’t serve those criticisms”?
No one made me accept this position of leadership. If you lead, you will be criticized. If you don’t want to be criticized, don’t lead. It’s easy to get excited about the fun aspects of leadership. But it comes with struggles, pain, and criticisms. Leadership is not always fun and easy.
I need to pray for my critics. I don’t know what’s taking place in the lives of most of my critics. I don’t know their own hurts and struggles. I need to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). “Others” in that verse includes those who criticize me.
Most criticisms last for a brief season. I should do a better job keeping the long-term perspective. I can remember too many times when I reacted viscerally to criticisms, only to forget about them in a week. Even though some of the criticisms become a part of the indelible world of blogs and social media, most are forgotten quickly.
I need to have a better perspective of the cross. There is no trial, struggle, or criticism that comes close to the pain of the cross. My Savior suffered for me. He died for me. I should be ashamed of myself when I act like my world is falling apart because of petty criticisms.
Many of you readers are pastors and other church leaders. You get your share of criticisms. You know the pain. While I think I am unqualified to teach you anything about dealing with critics, I hope my own personal reflections have helped a bit.
And I appreciate you readers more than I could ever express adequately.
He calls it “the most painful problem in business.”
Patrick Lencioni, in his book, Death by Meeting, looks at one of the greatest resource wastes in businesses: too much time in meetings.
I have worked with churches for over 30 years. It’s even more painfully true in congregations.
Here is one real example. I worked with a church of 250 in attendance that had a monthly business meeting that lasted at least two hours; weekly deacon meetings that lasted at least two hours; and 13 committee meetings that met at least one hour each month (yes, you read that right – 13 committee meetings).
The business meeting averaged about 75 in attendance. The deacon meetings had 11 in attendance, including staff. Each committee had an average of 5 in attendance.
Oh, I almost forgot. The ministry staff of four met two hours each week for a staff meeting.
Do the math. The total person hours in meetings each month for the church was 335 hours. The total person hours in meetings in a year was 4,020 hours.
Wouldn’t you love to have over 4,000 hours in Great Commission activity each year?
Many of our churches are dying to death due to meetings. While I would not recommend the total eradication of meetings, I do recommend churches conduct a meeting audit. Most churches are in meetings as much as five to ten times more than they need to be.
So, what can we do in our churches to reduce the time in meetings? What can we do to get more time in ministry from our members? Here are five considerations.
If you have a monthly business meeting, stop it! Consider a quarterly, semi-annual, or even an annual meeting. You can keep the congregation informed on such matters as finances and ministries through digital newsletters. And you can always call a special meeting if you need one.
Change most of your committees to task forces. Once the task force completes its work, it ceases to exist. One of the greatest miracles in our churches today is the multiplication of committees. By the way, you don’t need a flower committee; you just need someone to take care of the flowers, real or dusty plastic.
Change your longer weekly staff meeting to a 15- to 20-minute stand-up staff meeting. You don’t need a two- to three-hour staff meeting every week. Limit the longer meetings to monthly meetings.
Communicate with modern technology. Not every meeting needs to take place. Much of that time can be replaced with emails, texts, and communication through software like Slack and Asana.
If you must have a meeting, have a clear agenda with a specific time. I am a part of a homeowners’ association that will not cover any items unless they are placed on the agenda. The chairperson sets a time limit for each item with a visible stopwatch. Maybe such rigor is not for churches, but congregations can still follow basic committee time management principles.
How many person hours does your church meet every year? You might be surprised if you did an honest audit. And you might understand more fully why your members don’t have time to do real ministry.
One of the most toxic statements a church member or group of church members can make is, “We pay the bills at this church.” Not only is it unbiblical, it is clearly divisive. It creates an “us versus them” mentality in the church.
Why is the statement so harmful? Here are five reasons.
It makes giving more like paying country club dues than biblical stewardship. Thus, a certain level of giving by a member or a group engenders a sense of entitlement. The people who give with this attitude never really let go of the funds. They continue to hold on to them with strings of conditions.
It is manipulative. In essence, giving becomes a controlling mechanism. If the church doesn’t do what I want it to do, I will withhold my funds. I have known church members and groups of church members that have held onto funds until they finally got their way. At that point, they released the funds to the church. They were truly holding the church hostage.
It becomes a way of circumventing the budget. Most churches approve a budget every year. It becomes the guide for the church to steward the funds given to the congregation. On too many occasions, a malcontent in the church decides he or she doesn’t like the approved plans for spending, so they threaten to withhold their funds. One person told me smugly he knew the church was not spending funds in the best way, so his implied threat to withhold funds was necessary. I wonder what he thinks of the biblical story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44). She gave without reservation, but I doubt the Temple was the paragon of stewardship excellence.
It creates different classes of members in the church. There are those who have and who can make such threats, and there are those who do not have and, thus, have insufficient resources to make demands. As noted earlier, this statement is both inflammatory and divisive.
It is contrary to the servant spirit of Christ. Jesus was crystal clear on his mission. He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Some church members utter the toxic statement, “We pay the bills at this church” to get their own way. Jesus made the sacrificial statement that He would put others before Himself, so much so that He would die for others.
“We pay the bills at this church.”
It is a toxic statement.
It is an unbiblical statement.
It is contrary to the spirit in which the Lord Himself came to serve, to give, and to sacrifice.
The confrontation was probably one of my more sobering moments as a pastor. The woman, a long-term church member, used the classic moment right before I preached to tell me God had spoken to her. He told her under no uncertain terms I was supposed to leave the church.
My first challenge was to figure out why God had told her and not me. It seemed like direct communication would have been far more efficient.
My second challenge was framed in a simple one-word question, “Why?”
She responded with smug certainty, “Because all of these new Christians are messing up our church.”
Of course, I am not alone in dealing with this perplexing reality. Many church members really don’t want to see their churches grow. Some of them are content with sufficient growth to pay the bills, but none thereafter.
I have learned from countless pastors and members over the years why this seeming Great Commission disobedience is so pervasive in many churches. Here are six of the most common reasons.
Relational patterns are disrupted. Growth brings new members to ministries, groups, and church social functions. Leadership may shift with the incoming new members. Many members are simply not comfortable with new attendees changing long-term relationship patterns.
Many are too comfortable with the status quo. They would rather obey the perceived mandate of the Great Comfort than the mandate of the Great Commission.
Some have a me-centric view of congregational life. Thus, the church exists for me, myself and I. It’s all about my worship style, my programs, my ministries, and my pew. The church is more like a country club where I pay my dues and get my perks. If the new people get in my way as the church tries to reach them, I will raise my voice loudly.
Church members may want the pastor on call to take care of them. Too much growth spreads the pastor too thinly. If my pastor can’t meet my needs 24/7, we have too many people in the church.
Others are simply uncomfortable with any emphasis on numerical growth. The pendulum has swung too far. For many years, many churches over-emphasized numerical growth, so much so that it seemed like the number was an end in itself. Today, many church leaders and members resist any emphasis on numerical growth, often to the detriment of Great Commission accountability.
New people are different. New Christians and non-Christians are particularly different from most longer-term church members. Their presence can make churches messy. Some members don’t like messy churches. Kind of like the Pharisees didn’t like Jesus relating to messy people.
But pastors also remember church members who are harshly negative, like those who resist Great Commission growth. My story took place a quarter of a century ago. I have moved on, but I have not forgotten.
Let us be church members who gladly obey Christ’s command to make disciples as we go into our communities. Such obedience will likely result in growth. And that’s not a bad thing.
I simply want to uncover a dark reality of which many church members have little knowledge: many pastors are being fired this Christmas season.
I know. I see it every year. I deal with it every year.
To be clear, I cannot be certain pastor terminations accelerate at Christmas. Perhaps the numbers seem high since the timing is so insidious. Regardless, these considerations apply regardless of the time of year.
Many pastor firings occur because one or a few malcontents are spreading rumors. Please check the sources of these rumors. Please ask people other than the malcontents and bullies.
A number of pastor firings occur due to underhanded actions by other staff. I know of one situation where the executive pastor did not like the leadership of the pastor, so he worked in darkness with the personnel committee to get the pastor fired. The personnel committee never asked for the pastor’s side of the conflict.
Many pastors are fired without any explanation. I am surprised how often this reality transpires. Typically, the personnel committee or similar group tells the pastors they will not get a severance if they challenge them or question them.
Very few pastors get adequate severance when they are fired. It typically takes several months for a pastor to find a job. Severance often runs out before then.
Your church is labeled as a “preacher-eating” church. Your church’s reputation and witness are hurt in the community. You will wonder why other pastors decline to interview for the open position. They know. They’ve heard what you did.
If you had been willing to be patient and Christ-like, pastors would likely seek another job without your firing them. If you let pastors know their job is in jeopardy and give them six to nine months to find another position, many will do so. Pastors can always find another church much easier if they have a church. And the church avoids the pain, conflict, and dirtied reputation that comes with firing a pastor.
So why did I write this article in the midst of the Christmas season? The answer is simple. I am working with three pastors who have been terminated almost identically as the points I noted above. I don’t want to rain on your Christmas parade, but these three families are already hurting deeply. I wanted you to hear the other side of the story.
Christmas Eve is less than a month away. Most churches have some type of Christmas Eve services, but we are seeing clear trends in how churches approach them. Every time we write or podcast something about these services, we get a lot of comments and questions. In that context, here is an update on nine clear trends we are seeing:
It is growing in importance. Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. Church leaders get it. They are putting more prayer, preparation, and strategic thinking into the services.
There are three popular times for the service. Whether a church has one or multiple Christmas Eve services, three times are more popular than others: later afternoon (typically for families with young children and for older adults); early evening (the more traditional time); and late evening (for empty nesters and families with teenage or grown children).
The services are traditional. They include traditional hymns and carols. They may include some time for the lighting of the final advent candle.
The services are brief. The typical length is 30 to 45 minutes.
The pastor’s message is brief. The typical length is 10 to 15 minutes.
Most churches include candlelight services. They are now expected by Christians and non-Christians alike.
More unchurched are attending these services. As I noted in the first item, one of the reasons for the growing importance of Christmas Eve services is the increasing number of non-Christians who attend. Anecdotally, they seem to be more receptive each year.
Churches are building in processes for follow-up. That means they have processes in place to get contact information, and processes to provide some type of non-aggressive follow-up such as a text message, an email or, most effectively, a handwritten letter.
All ministry staff are expected to be there. Because this day is the single most important day to reach unbelievers, more churches require an “all-hands-on-deck” presence.
Some of these trends have been around a while. Some are only recently growing in importance. Please share with us what your church plans to do for Christmas Eve.
I love the fact that the community of this blog is growing with pastors, church staff, and laity. The latter category, laity or church members, has been very receptive to many of my posts and suggestions. A church member from Virginia recently told me at a conference where I was speaking, “I read your posts because I learn things I would have never known from the perspective of the pastor.” The lady who said that is now the leader of the intercessory prayer ministry of the church, a ministry that includes specific intercession for her pastor.
It is in that spirit that I offer these seven sentences. My purpose is simply to convey information you might not have considered otherwise. Many pastors hear these sentences frequently, even though the church member may think his or her comment is both novel and helpful.
“I heard a podcast pastor preach on the same text. Let me tell you how he dealt with it.” The pastor often receives this statement as, “Let me tell you how good preaching actually sounds.”
“We believe we should pay the pastor as low as possible to keep him humble.” Of course, that church member rarely wants to practice the same humility.
“Our church is big enough. We don’t need any more new members.” Perhaps the church should place a sign outside saying. “Closed for business. No longer practicing the Great Commission.”
“I wish I had your schedule.” Translation: “It must be nice to work only one day a week.” Sigh.
“I love you pastor but . . .” The pastor knows the purpose of that statement is not one of love, but everything that follows the “but.”
“People are saying . . .” This sentence is the ultimate cop-out statement. It is a cowardly statement. The church member attempts to hide behind the anonymity of “people” when the member usually is the real source of the statement.
“I was here before you came here. I will still be here after you leave.” This statement is ultimately a threat. “Don’t make any changes that I don’t approve. I am in charge. Don’t even try to lead.”
Sometimes these statements are said with malice. Other times they are said out of ignorance. But almost all times they are painful to the pastor.
Be a source of love and encouragement for your pastor. Please avoid these seven and similar sentences.
Please hear me clearly: I am a strong proponent of longer-term pastorates. I love hearing about pastors passing tenure thresholds of five, ten, and fifteen years. All other things being equal, I would much rather see a pastor have long tenure in a given church than not.
But recently a member of this community challenged me. He is a longer-term pastor himself, and he candidly and transparently shared some of his struggles of serving so many years at one church. I took his admonition to heart and reviewed several long-term pastorates that did not turn out well. I saw five common themes in their struggles:
The pastor can coast. Because longer-term pastors have earned the trust of members over many years, it can be tempting for them to go through the motions of ministry and leadership. They may also be weary of the ministry and, thus, have little desire or energy to lead the church to a new level.
There can be too much familiarity among the staff. It is not unusual for longer-term pastors to have longer-term staff. It is possible this staff becomes too comfortable with the pastor and the pastor’s leadership. Simply stated, they no longer look at the pastor as their leader as much as they view the pastor as their friend.
The pastor can stay for the wrong reasons. In some cases, the longer-term pastor hangs on for financial security or fear of finding another place of ministry. The call to ministry thus becomes a defensive call rather than a proactive vision-laden call.
Church members can get too comfortable. The longer-term pastor becomes a source of routine and tradition for the members. The pastor becomes a symbol of longevity, stability, and change aversion.
The pastor can stop learning. Longer-term pastors must be highly intentional to learn about the world outside their own churches. Because they have been at one church for so long, they can see their particular experiences as normative. One pastor shared with us, “After twelve years at my church, I started learning about other churches, even visiting a new church once a quarter. I was amazed to learn how much had changed in church practices that I had missed the past several years.”
For certain, longer-term pastorates have great advantages. I have written about those advantages and spoken about them on my podcasts several times. But it is possible for a longer-term pastorate to have its own challenges. It seems that those longer-term pastors who avoided these problems were highly intentional in moving in a positive direction.
I would love to hear your perspectives on pastoral tenure, and specifically on longer tenure. Let me hear from you.
Counseling was listed last, at least indicating it was their least favorite aspect of ministry. So, I went back to these pastors and asked a follow-up question. I wanted to know why so many pastors were avoiding counseling ministries today. Their responses were clear and consistent:
Not qualified. In many ways, this response overlaps some of the others. The pastors told us they have not been trained in counseling. They told us they were not equipped to counsel. They told us they felt totally out of their element when they counseled others.
Concerned about liabilities. Many of the respondents were transparent about this concern. Some are not certain what they are required legally to report as a consequence of a counseling session. Others feared lawsuits as a result of counseling. Still others wondered about confidentiality issues and counseling.
Not fruitful. A number of these pastors did not see their counseling sessions as fruitful. They did not know if they were helping, hindering, or hurting. They did not know how to evaluate the effectiveness of their counseling. Some wondered with transparency if they were wasting their time.
Time consuming. Most pastors are overworked. Their workweek can be 60 or 70 hours or longer. They are on call 24/7. When they look for places to find margin, it is not uncommon to see them choose to reduce or eliminate their counseling hours.
Fearful of blame. A noticeable number of pastors told us the most-needy church members are most likely to seek counseling. Those same people are also likely to assign blame to the pastor if the counseling sessions do not meet their expectations.
Availability of referrals. Most churches and church leaders know someone who is a counselor by profession. That man or woman, in their opinions, is much more qualified to counsel others, so the pastors refer their counseling requests to them.
Opposite gender. This problem has become even more exacerbated by the #MeToo movement. Understandably, pastors are becoming more and more hesitant to counsel people of the opposite gender.
The audience of this blog includes a nice mix of pastors, church staff, and church members. I would love to hear your different perspectives on this issue.