Reforming the Deacons (Part 2):
How to Help a Pastor Get Better
By Joe McKeever, Preacher, Cartoonist, Pastor, and retired Director of Missions at the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.
Read Part One Here.
Here’s what happens.
A few deacons fellowshipping over coffee deal with various subjects about the church. Eventually, someone brings up the preacher and that ignites the interest of the rest of the group. One or two have some concerns and suggestions.
“The pastor is so effective, but he could be more so if he would just do this.”
“I agree. And the thing my wife mentioned, he should be doing that.”
“Well, who’s going to tell him? And how would he take it?”
From there, the group decides on a plan. After all, how could the pastor not receive this well? Aren’t we all in his corner? Haven’t we shown him how much we appreciate him? And hasn’t he been preaching about how we are to grow and improve? Surely, he’ll want us to bring these suggestions to him.
What the deacons either do not know or do not care to know is that Pastor Tom carries scars from his dealings with a rogue deacon group in his previous church. And even though he loves his present flock and sees God blessing his ministry, something inside him expects another bomb to go off, for some little group to show up at his door demanding that their wishes be met if he wants to remain in that church.
This is a delicate moment in the relationship of Pastor Tom and this assemblage of deacons. The problems are twofold: the pastor does not see it coming and thus is not prepared, and the deacons have no idea what they are about to stir up.
It does not go well, and here’s why.
Most men are not gifted with delicacy. They are not naturally endowed with sensitivity for how a criticism or a helpful suggestion will be received.
So, the men descend on the pastor’s office, certain they will be well received, confident they are affirming him and doing the church a favor.
“Preacher, we have here a list of improvements we’d like you to make.”
“You’re a wonderful preacher and everyone loves you, but….”
In the coffee shop discussion, the men began with a short list. But as they talked, the list expanded to include the preacher’s clothing, the versions of Scripture he uses, the youth minister’s facial hair, the condition of the men’s bathroom, the renovations the preacher is doing on his own home, the frequency of his golf outings, and his wife’s reported refusal to take her turn in the nursery.
The pastor is overwhelmed. Remembering the pain from the confrontation with the trouble-making deacons in the last church, all the old feelings of hurt and anger, of resentment and anguish, come rushing back. He feels as though his visitors have backed up a dump truck and deposited a ton of bricks on his shoulders.
He does not react well. The deacons are surprised by his reaction and begin explaining and defending their position.
It goes downhill from there.
Each side digs a trench and burrows in. Within hours, they will tell their wives and (ahem) one or two other deacons. Soon, two things happen: the word spreads throughout the church and everyone begins to choose sides.
It did not have to come to this. There is a better way.
There is an effective way for deacons to make suggestions to their preacher, even to confront him if he is seriously out of line, and for everyone to come out winners.
1. Let the deacons support their godly pastor and put the church’s welfare first.
If the pastor is doing something unethical, unscriptural, illegal, or immoral, then do not support him. He needs to be removed from the pulpit and the sooner the better.
Otherwise, get behind him.
The unity of the church–and therefore the effectiveness of its ministry–is at stake. Ephesians 4 contains a great essay on the importance of unity.
But what if you don’t like the sport shirt the preacher wears in the pulpit sometimes? And you wish he used a different version of Scripture? And you don’t like the way he took up the offering last Sunday, or the frequent mention of money?
No pastor is perfect and no church member gets everything he wants.
Your church is made up of hundreds of members (in some cases, it’s scores of members and in other churches, thousands of members) and you are upset that you cannot have your own way? It’s not going to happen. The sooner you realize that, the better off everyone will be.
Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21) This humble attitude more than any one other thing is the key to unity within a congregation. Submission means the opposite of each one wanting his own way.
2. Show your support visibly. Speak up. Take an active role in affirming the Lord’s man.
When you honor the shepherd the Lord sends to your church, you honor the Lord.
This week a church near here will be ordaining its new pastor. Michael has belonged to that church for decades, first as a member and later as a deacon. He is about to make a discovery that will take him completely by surprise: He does not know his members as well as he thinks he does.
The members are different when you are the pastor.
After serving on staff of two churches, my friend Jim became a senior pastor. He will tell you nothing was as he had expected. Previously, his nights were his own; now, the phone rings at all hours. Before, the pastor sheltered him from harsh criticisms and unrealistic expectations from members; now, there is no buffer between him and the congregation. Before, he had lots of buddies in the congregation; now, while he still has some close friends, many of his members are like babies needing pacifiers. He had never seen them in this light until he became pastor.
Michael is going to find that church members who were his peers and friends will now look upon him as their employee. Not all, thank the Lord, but some. (And, it doesn’t take many to many one’s life miserable.)
So, faithful deacon, speak up for your pastor. When he’s going through stressful or demanding times, find ways to encourage him. When he brings a recommendation to the church, be quick to jump up and thank God for the vision He has given our pastor.
This is not a plea for a plaque of appreciation, a vote of (ahem) “one hundred percent approval by the deacons,” or a church fellowship where everyone comes by and shakes the preacher’s hand or hugs his neck. I’m not suggesting you thoughtlessly rubber-stamp everything he proposes, but rather that when he is doing well, you lead the team in supporting his efforts.
Each pastor is different. What blesses one will not touch another. A gift certificate for him and his wife at a B & B in the next town will be well received by some but meaningless to another. A new book will bless one pastor but another reads only eBooks on his Kindle.
You will want to pay attention to your shepherd and do the things that encourage him most.
What encourages a pastor more than any other single thing? Answer: For you to knock yourself out serving the Lord Jesus Christ through the church and its ministries.
3. Only those who support him as God’s man–and have built a track record of faithful service and positive affirmation–may go to the pastor with their criticisms/suggestions.
Every church–I mean EVERY church–has members who like nothing about the pastor. They criticize his ties, his sermons, his shoes, his wife, and his children. They find fault with his theology, his office layout, and the car he drives.
Do everything in your power to see that such people are never, ever appointed to anything in your church. Well, maybe the latrine committee, but that’s it until they get their attitude right.
These people have spiritual problems. They are taking out their rebellion against God on the one He has sent to them. (That principle is seen all through Scripture, friend. Count on it being accurate.)
There is a philosophy that goes: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” So, well-intentioned but thoughtless members will suggest the pastor’s critics should be appointed to places of influence and leadership in order to a) see how wrong they are, b) change their position, c) let them belly-ache in committee meetings and not on the floor of church business sessions, and d) possibly get a few of the changes they desire in order to see if that placates them.
Do not let this happen.
Only those who have shown their love for God by faithful service and contributions and their Christlike attitude can be trusted with congregational influence and leadership.
In our church, I could name a few deacons who epitomize servanthood so completely, if any one of them had a suggestion to the pastor, I guarantee Pastor Mike would welcome them and hear them gladly. They have earned that right by their faithfulness. (Such faithful men are then willing to leave their suggestions with the pastor for him to follow, ignore, or postpone.)
Earn the right to influence, deacon. That’s the point.
4. Before bringing criticisms or suggestions for improvements to the minister, have them vetted by the godliest, most mature person in the church.
And pay close attention to what they tell you.
In many cases, they will warn you off. If they are indeed godly and mature, in counseling you not to go forward with this, they will use soft words, something like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Pay attention, friend. That is their way of saying, “Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? Not in a hundred years should you do this to our preacher!”
If, however, the consensus in your group is that “we ourselves are the most godly, mature people in this church,” then you have a problem. An ego problem.
Anyone who thinks of himself first when someone mentions the godly and mature is living in a fantasy world.
When a little group who see themselves as the spiritually elite approaches the pastor with a program for reform or a wish list or a few suggestions they want him to consider (that is, if he wants to keep his job), nothing good will come from it. The pastor has no choice but to comply if he wants to keep on their good side. They have put him in an untenable position.
Should you run your list by several “godly and mature” church members? No. You do not want to appear to be building support for your pastor-improvement program. One person is sufficient. You’re simply asking, “Do you think taking this to the preacher would be a good idea?”
5. Watch for these diversionary tactics trouble-makers employ in trying to manipulate the pastor.
The control-wannabes will tell the preacher, “A lot of people in the church feel this way.” Okay, who exactly? Give me some names. “Too many to name,” is the only answer you will get.
It’s the ultimate act of cowardice.
In most cases, the “lot of people” is the speaker and his wife.
No deacon should ever bring anonymous criticism to the pastor. It’s unfair to him and prevents him from knowing the significance or scope of the problem. When people come to a deacon criticizing the preacher, he should say, “Come with me and we’ll go see the pastor right now.” If they refuse, he should say, “All right. I’ll go, but I’ll use your name.” If they refuse that, the matter ends there. Period.
Another method they use is to warn the pastor that failing to follow their changes will stir up trouble in the church. “We want peace, pastor,” they will insist. But the way to have peace is for you to obey them.
In 1939-40 after Hitler’s storm troopers invaded Poland, England declared war on Germany. Hitler acted offended. “Why are you doing this? We have nothing against England. We haven’t invaded you. You are trouble-makers. The British are warmongers.”
In I Kings 18:17-18, King Ahab accused Elijah of being a “trouble-maker in Israel.” The man of God responded, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and you have followed the Baals.”
When pastors refuse to go along with the manipulative agenda of the troublemakers, they accuse him of causing strife in the congregation. If he tells the congregation what the little group tried to pull, the membership rises up and reacts against them. This makes the strife more public, people get angry at the abusive, and some will leave the church (not always a bad thing). To the controllers, it was all the preacher’s fault for taking it public.
These people want it both ways. Let us sabotage your ministry in private; if you make it public, the resulting warfare is your fault.
The typical church member has no idea that some congregational leaders can be evil and quite willing to destroy the church to get their own way.
I say tell them.
Church members attend worship, sing the hymns, enjoy the choir, hear the sermon, give offerings, greet old friends, and head back home–all without a clue as to the underhanded maneuvering frequently going on behind the scenes. And even if you told them, many would not believe you. “No, not Brother Smith. Why, he teaches our Sunday School class and there is not a finer man anywhere.”
Church-destroyers who are most effective have learned to function on various levels. They do their most destructive work behind the scenes and send their lackeys to represent them in public. It was not they who visited the pastor to demand changes or face termination, it was their underlings.
6. If your church is to be healthy and the deacons a team of faithful servants, leaders must take a strong stand against pastor-manipulators and church destroyers.
Let good and faithful deacons stand up against trouble-makers in their midst or within the congregation.
The general rule is to abandon the pastor and let him handle it alone. While that may sometimes work, generally it is disastrous to his ministry and to the church.
Church bosses–real or intended–may get pastors fired and ruin their ministries for years if not for decades. The fact that the preacher needs an income to take care of his family puts him at a serious disadvantage.
There are some people, however, over whom the would-be church bosses have no power: the other members. I suggest that in church-wide business meetings, once you get wind that a group is working behind the scenes to undermine the pastor’s ministry, you stand up and ask key questions about these issues. Often, those questions sound like: “Who decided this?” “By what authority did this group do that?” “And what does the pastor think of this? I’d like to hear.”
The light of day is the worst thing vermin fear.
7. Determine that you will never be a party to any attempt to undermine a pastor’s ministry.
The only exception, as stated above, comes if he is involved in something immoral, unethical, illegal, and/or unbiblical.
The email yesterday from a pastor pointed out that this little group of deacons ran the previous pastor off after 30 months of ministry. He noted, “I am now in my 30th month.” Last week, the team of self-appointed church bosses confronted him with changes he has to make or face termination.
It would not do for me to address such a group. I do not have the patience or the temperance.
I would tell them they are messing around on holy turf. That they are angering God. That they are trying to cripple a good man’s ministry in ways from which it may never recover. That the issue is not the silly little list of changes they are demanding. That the issue is control of the church. And they are treading on thin ice, since the church is neither theirs nor the preacher’s.
“I will build my church,” said our Lord in Matthew 16:18. It’s His, and He shares ownership with no one.
Keep your list of recommended changes, disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. And pray the Lord never makes you a pastor. Or if He does, that He will give you sweet and faithful servant-minded workers like the kind you intend to be from now on.
This article was posted earlier from joemckeever.com, and is reposted here by permission of the author.