This Is Not God’s Way

Winston Churchill told a story about a little boy who was playing on a pier and tumbled over into the water. The boy couldn’t swim and began to cry out for help. A soldier working at a nearby dock heard the desperate screams and dove into the sea. This brave young man swam out to the child, put him on his back, and brought him safely back to shore and into the loving and nurturing arms of the cheering crowd. The next day, the little boy’s mother came back to the docks looking for the courageous soldier. When the pier workers pointed her toward her child’s rescuer, she walked right up to him and asked, “Young man, are you the one who saved my little boy?”

The soldier stood up. His chest began to swell and a smile broke out on his face as he answered her, “Yes, ma’am, I am.”

The woman leaned in and looked right into his eyes, “Where’s his cap?!?”

We preachers and ministers and elders and other church staff believe we are called by God. We believe we are charged by God to do the things we do in the name of his Son. It’s a high calling. It’s a noble vocation. It’s not a nine-to-five gig. It’s an all-consuming passion that compels us to preach and teach and pray and serve.

So when we answer that call from our Lord and move into the ministry, we all believe we’re entering a holy, God-sanctified realm. But the reality for most of us is that we’ve entered a system, a man-created and human-perpetuated system that grinds up and spits out preachers and elders. Broken preachers and elders are all around us. A lot of them are still working. A lot of them are not. Burned out. Trashed. Used. Abused. Walked all over. Stomped on. Chewed up and spit out like the gunk on the floor of a major league dugout.

The expectations we place on preachers and elders, the ways we treat them, the things we say to them and about them — behind their backs and even to their faces! — the things we demand of them, the attitudes of ownership and entitlement that guide our interactions with them, none of that is from God. We’ve been a part of this sick system for so long, we think it’s God’s way. But it’s not. It’s the human way. It’s the world’s way. The way we generally treat preachers and elders is not God’s way.

The reason wives and families of ministers and elders resent the church, the reason so many of our best and strongest and most faithful men refuse to serve when the church calls, the reason so few of our most gifted young people are interested in the call to preach and minister is that they all know they’re not entering into a holy partnership with God and his people as much as they’re entering into a life-sucking, soul-robbing, energy-draining system.

It’s not supposed to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way.

It needs to change. We can do better. And we should.

The call from our God is for us to live in mutually-encouraging relationships in Christ. We are to “fan into flame” the gifts from God we see in our preachers and elders, not explode all over them with soaking wet, white fire extinguisher foam.

We are all holy people, set apart by our God to serve his holy purposes. Our interactions with one another should also be holy. They should encourage and inspire, not discourage and depress. We should express gratitude, not attitude. Instead of arguing and complaining and criticizing, our words and actions toward those who serve us should be motivated by the Spirit who lives inside us, the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. And no system.

Peace,

Allan

5 Comments

  1. Rob's Dad

    It is an interesting question – How do we change? You talk in platitudes such as “express gratitude, not attitude” and “encourage and inspire, not discourage and depress”. Well who wouldn’t agree with you on that? The rub is how do you put that into action?

    Nobody wants to do it because it takes time and it’s difficult, but why not do some root cause analysis? That means bringing dirty, earthly tools into usually what gets left to prayer and Spirit-led decisions. I freely admit that I don’t know the answer and I would also agree with you that it needs to change.

    Since I’m not a preacher or an elder (which makes all of us happy), I must be one of the “people”. And as such, we definitely need to be better yet I would pose that there is room for change with the preachers and the elders as well. Have you contributed to building the system you write about?

    I am an self-confessed back row spare. I don’t have a church frame of reference for elders but from a worldly/corporate view, why not institute term limits? You can only be an elder for 5 years max (1 term of 3yrs and 1 term of 2yrs). Perhaps that would help prevent the burnout and keep things fresh.

  2. Allan

    Allow me to argue with you first, and then acknowledge your excellent point and validate your important and relevant questions.

    I take exception to your characterization of “express gratitude, not attitude” and “encourage and inspire, not discourage and depress” as mere platitudes. These are certainly not trite, pie-in-the-sky sayings. These are practical everyday down-and-dirty truths that are taught in Scripture as the only way for God’s people to live together. Each of us has a choice before we open our mouths. Each of us decides how we’re going to treat other people. You either choose to encourage or you choose to discourage. Your call. Every day. Every time. There’s nothing unrealistic about it.

    I would say, yes, elders and preachers have definitely contributed to building the ungodly system I’m railing against. Elders make the situation worse when they cater to immature Christians, when they bow to pacify the gripers and complainers. When a Christian, especially one who’s been a Christian for decades, acts in un-Christ-like ways toward other brothers and sisters and the elders make excuses for him or cover for her or completely ignore the situation so as not to upset anybody, that fosters the very kind of sin that destroys church leaders. There are infinitely more verses in Scripture that speak to treating one another kindly and with love than there are about the things on which lots of elders decide to take their stands. Some shepherds would rather allow a preacher or minister to be run all over than attempt to stop it. They figure the preacher can take it. They figure the preacher’s not going anywhere but the old, cranky member might. Bad leadership. Poor shepherding.

    As for preachers, we should expect to be treated like second-rate employees of a corporation — bossed around, managed, scrutinized, criticized, reviewed — when we treat the church and its members as a business. All preachers say they just want to be regarded by their churches as members of the family. They want to be trusted by their elders and by their brothers and sisters just like everybody else in the church. But then lots of preachers use that church as just another stepping stone to some other thing. Their ears are always open, their eyes are always looking for a bigger church, a better church, a richer church, a more progressive church, a more influential church, a more visible church, a bigger paycheck, a more prominent congregation. Why would you show me any loyalty or trust if you can’t count on me to still be here in a couple of years? Why would you treat me like a brother if I’ve shown the capability to just up and leave whenever the mood strikes or the opportunity presents itself? Yes, preachers have certainly contributed to the problems.

    Some of this, I think, is that we don’t know each other very well. You wouldn’t treat me this way if you really knew me. I wouldn’t talk about you — or to you — that way if I really knew you. So, more table time would help. Small Groups. Church potlucks. Bible classes. Elders and ministers in the homes of the members. Visitation. Hospitality.

    Being led by the Spirit is also good. The Spirit of God would never lead you to yell at anybody or boss anybody around.

  3. Rob's Dad

    Good points – what do you think about term limits for elders?

  4. Allan

    I love the use of term limits for shepherds. Several churches I know make wonderful use of it. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. No burn-out. I also advocate regular sabbaticals for preachers. A couple of weeks a year to revive and relax and meditate and plan and pray and read and chill out. Both are very good ideas.

  5. a minister's wife

    Unfortunately, this bleeds over to ministers’/elders’ families too. I’m not a paid minister, but I am married to one. I support and love him and do my best to support (and hopefully enrich) his ministry. However, there is nothing more hurtful than being yelled at (has happened) or made cry (has happened) and told that I am terrible minister’s wife (has happened). It makes it hard not to resent my husband’s ministry – the ministry that he has been called by God to – because of the way I’ve been treated. It certainly enriches my understanding of “turn the other cheek”… and it terrifies me that members of churches might treat the seeking the same way I’ve been treated. Heaven help us.

    I think Jesus hit the nail on the head (doesn’t He always??) when he said to treat others the way you want to be treated. That would go a long way.

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