It Fell Like a Ton of Bricks
It happened this past Sunday. One of the greatest fears of a pastor, at least a young pastor. I had just finished my morning sermon, given an invitation, and dismissed us in prayer. I was talking with members who wanted to encourage me and ask questions about the sermon when a deacon walks up and says those dreaded words, “The deacons would like to meet with you tomorrow at one. Can you do that?” It fell like a ton of bricks on my chest. Surprised, and a little thrown off my game I said yes. I was kicking myself just moments later. I should have asked what the meeting was about. I shouldn’t have let him drop this anxiety bomb on me and walk off without an explanation, but I did. After church I took my family to eat at a local place for lunch, but this anxiety was just eating away at me.
Some Back Story
I know everyone has heard the horror stories of controlling deacons and bad meetings organized in secret. And a fair many people have had the misfortune of experiencing these kinds of meetings. I have the scars of meetings like this from the past. One church in particular where I was a youth minister was particularly harmful to me with this type of meeting happening a few different times. So when I was asked to come to this meeting, on top of the anxiety of the meeting itself, all the emotions and fears of meetings I’ve had like this in the past came flooding over me. I kept telling myself that I needed to trust in God. I reminded myself that God is sovereign, and that this was all part of his plan for my life. This didn’t seem to calm me down. My brain was in war mode, and I needed to batten down the hatches. I was already formulating plans in case they asked me to resign.
I Knew I Couldn’t Go Into The Meeting With This Mentality
So I decided to talk to one of the men I trusted to give me an honest answer. Not immediately, I didn’t want to cause a ruckus. I waited until the afternoon and text him to ask if he could meet me to talk about this meeting that had been called. He agreed to meet with me and we met at the church about an hour before our PM services were supposed to begin. I was calm and direct in asking what the meeting was about. After a few minutes of awkward hesitation he told me that one of the issues they wanted to discuss was my preaching style. Another issue they wanted to talk about was my visitations to the shut ins and sick in the church. While I still didn’t like the way the meeting was dealt with, I was comforted to know what the main issues were going to be. He informed me that they had planned this meeting a few weeks ago, but I was sick one week, at a convention the next, and then they didn’t want to do it on Father’s Day. I corrected the man concerning the process they went about to plan this meeting. I pointed him to conflict resolution from scripture where brothers are instructed to go to one another in private if there is an issue (Matthew 18:15-17). That a group meeting like this would be a second, or possibly third step only if I had not repented of any sin I was accused of, or we had not come to a resolution privately. While the deacons obviously thought these were serious issues. I felt like I could reason with them. At this point, with my anxiety turned down several notches, but not erased, I was able to go and lead our evening service. I had already decided what I wanted to do next, but I needed to get through this service first.
Seeking Godly Counsel
Satan wants pastors and Christians in general to feel alone and isolated. He wants us to struggle and feel like we have noone to help. This is a lie, and God has given us not only himself, but our brothers and sisters in Christ to come along side us in times of trouble. So once I got home from church I texted my mentor about the situation. He encouraged me to stay humble, and to look for the truth in their statements. This is something I have seen him do over and over again, and it was a good reminder for me. When someone comes to you with a problem in the church, or with you, find something to affirm about them or their concern. Accept blame where it is appropriate and apologise. Then correct any misunderstandings or outright lies. I had sat in on meetings with my mentor in the past and seen this method work time and time again. This is a very practical application of Proverbs 15:1-4:
15 A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
4 A gentle[a] tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
My wife and I spent time in prayer about this before bed, and I think I prayed more than slept through the night. I just couldn’t rest knowing this meeting waited on me Monday.
I wake up and for just a couple of hours I didn’t think about the meeting at all. I got ready with my family, and talked with my wife about her day. I dropped my son off at daycare, and went to Hardee’s for breakfast. Every Monday morning a group of pastors in our area meet to fellowship for breakfast at Hardee’s. I told them about my meeting and the concerns that would be discussed. They all encouraged me and prayed over me for the meeting. This helped calm me, and I felt pretty good about the meeting. Then I got to church and sat down in my office. It was then that nervousness and anxiety started to creep into my mind. Slowly at first, but building as the morning went on. I’ve always been this type of person. I can have something extremely stressful in the future, and I can stay calm and unbothered by it, until its actually about to happen. Then my stomach churns in nervousness. I get sick to my stomach, literally, with all of the stress. So to try and counter act my nervousness I spent the morning praying, reading scripture, and singing hymns. It helped a little, but what really solidified my confidence going into the meeting was when the director of missions for our county association called me. He had heard from one of the pastors about my meeting and he wanted to call and pray for me. He talked to me about how no matter what happened in this meeting, it didn’t affect my calling. That God had called me, and equipped me, and I was under God’s authority to be responsible to that call; not the deacon’s authority. He prayed for me, and promised to be praying the whole hour from one until two for me. And if you knew this man like I do you wouldn’t doubt that he spent the entire hour in prayer lifting me up to the Lord.
Meeting Time: Three Concerns and How I Responded
First, They were concerned about the visitation of members who were sick, in the hospital, or home bound. They didn’t think that I had been doing enough to care for these people. My first response was to admit that they were right in part. I had been convicted of late that I had not cared for these home bound people enough. After the crisis event this past Friday that I posted about (link) I began to meet with members and make plans for the whole church, not just myself, to recommit to caring for these members and include them in the life of the church as much as we possibly can. It helped my case that I began this effort before I knew about the meeting. I then called on them as men and leaders of the church to help me in these efforts. I talked about the need for our church as a whole to minister to its members, and how the deacons and pastor were to set the tone in that. They all had to confess that they had not visited or cared for the shut ins, but that they had just expected the pastor to do it. I took them to Acts 6 where the first deacons were called to care for the widows and the distribution of food. I reminded them of their biblical role as servants to the church.
Second, they were concerned about their perceived lack of evangelism in the church. I have planned to go on a foreign mission trip in September with other pastors from our association on a vision trip to see how our churches can best come and aid our foreign missionaries. They didn’t understand why I wanted to go over seas to share the gospel when people here needed it. At this point I took them to the Great Commission in Acts 1:8:
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
I explained that we are to try to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth simultaneously. That it’s not an either/or situation where we can take the gospel to either one place or the other. I also reminded them that I am not the sole evangelist of the church. That all members are called to share the gospel. The specific question asked was this, “What would you say to someone who thinks you aren’t sharing the gospel here, so why should you go to Peru and share it.” I told them that if the person came to me and asked me that question I would ask them, “My ministry is not lived out before your eyes. I will not submit reports to the church every time I minister to someone or make a phone call, or have a gospel conversation.” and I would ask that person, “When is the last time you told anyone about Jesus and his gospel?” I encouraged the deacons that the men of the church needed to be the ones setting the example of sharing the gospel with people. That we can never hope to reach our community for Jesus if the pastor is the only one sharing the gospel. It takes all of us.
Third, and probably the issue they were most passionate about, they had a problem with my preaching. I am an expositional preacher. I preach through books of the Bible verse by verse. I was interim pastor here for six months before they met with me about calling me to be full time pastor. I had preached expositionally through Romans for those six months, and I continue to walk through Romans now. I was upfront and honest with them about my preaching style and convictions before they called me as interim, and again before they called me as pastor. I am their first pastor who preaches expositional sermons. Every pastor before me has been a topical preacher.
So, I let them all have a turn to speak their concern on this topic before I responded. Phrases were thrown out like, “We are used to more fire and brimstone kind of preaching” and, “Sometimes we just need you to let the Holy Spirit work in your preaching” and, “We want sermons on topics more relevant to our lives” and, “You are a teacher, and we need a pastor.” and, “If a visitor comes and hears that, they won’t come back.” and worst of all, “I just don’t believe that if a lost person came to our church they could be saved under your preaching.”
I addressed them calmly, but firmly. I told them that I was upfront with them about my preaching style and vision for the preaching aspect of my ministry here before they ever voted on me. I turned to 1 Timothy 3 and read the qualifications of an overseer to them. I pointed out that the ability to teach was the only requirement that was not tied to the character and maturity of the man. Teaching is the primary biblical role of a pastor. So the fact that my sermons included teaching was not unbiblical. I took them also to Nehemiah 8 where Ezra read from the Law of Moses and pointed out Nehemiah 8:5-8:
5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites,[a] helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,[b] and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
I talked to them about the biblical example from Ezra of reading God’s word to the people and then giving the sense of it so that the people understood. I explained that it was my desire to do this every Sunday. I told them that the Holy Spirit works through study and preparation just as much, as in moments of standing to preach. I pointed them to the words of Jesus in John 6:37-40, 44:
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
I reminded them that my ability to preach has nothing to do with God’s ability to save. That God will draw whomever He pleases to Jesus. And that ALL the Father draws will come to Jesus. No matter what the quality or style of my preaching. I also confessed that my preaching isn’t as good as I would like it, and that I hope to grow in that area of my ministry over time. I also addressed the issue of preaching through books of the Bible verses preaching on topics. I talked with them about the dangers of topical preaching. How if abused it can allow a preacher to preach his whole ministry and never cover certain topics or certain portions of God’s word. How that kind of preaching leaves the church anemic and starving for the whole counsel of God’s Word. I assured them that I believed firmly that the books that I preach through are God’s will for our church, and that the message each week is intended for someone in the church. I then pointed them to a few more scriptures,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[a] may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I reminded them that all scripture is useful, powerful, and profitable. They seemed to think that was a sufficient answer to their issues.
So to wrap things up with the meeting I told them that I didn’t want this to ever happen again. That if any of them, or anyone in the church had a problem with me or my ministry to come to me directly. I assured them that I loved them and that they had my ear if they ever needed it. I assured them that I wasn’t mad at them, or hurt in any way. I told them that if anything this meeting had encouraged me because it reminded me that they loved their church, and that they desired with all their hearts to see it grow. I just needed them to help me in directing those desires into efficient, effective means of serving our church. And that squabbling over preferences of preaching style was not going to help our church grow. I was genuinely encouraged by our meeting, partly because their issues were nothing too major, but mostly to see them recognising their faults and submitting to God’s word on the issues. These men are not evil dictator deacons, they are men who love their church. They are men who are awakening to the desperate need for life and growth in our church, but in that desperation they need guidance. As a shepherd, when my sheep are frightened and in a panic, I must guide them by still waters and green pastures. I have to shepherd them through these desperate times.
Soli Deo Gloria