Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why I won't sign up for a beating - Part I


It's a shame you don't figure some things out until you have lived half your life. Sometimes I find myself saying, 'WHY DIDN'T SOMEBODY TELL ME THAT LONG AGO?" This is one of them. So if you haven't figured this one out, allow me to be the one to set you free from your pain.


One glorious thing I have figured out at this point is that I don't have to sign up for a beating from anyone. That's right, there is no need for us to endure, nor sign up for a physical nor verbal thrashing from anyone. God never asked anybody to do that! Amazing.

The thought occurred to me that none of us really need to endure toxic conversations if we don't want to. Adults can just refuse to go there. Some of you reading this who are not in the ministry might think, 'of course that's true! What is the need for this blog??!" But, would you believe most pastors think they have to sign up for verbal beatings? It's true. Read further and I'll tell you why. I used to be one of those people who signed myself up to be chopped up to smithereens by people and then I discovered not only what a waste it was but an utter tragic way of spending my time.

Over twenty years of ministry I have seen some really strange behavior. This could be the topic of a blog in itself. Pastor Lindsay (one of our associates) and I would like to do a reality series someday on TV just called, "THE CHURCH" but we're afraid many people would not get saved after seeing it. Quite frankly should unbelievers be exposed to what we are exposed to as pastors on a regular basis, they might not want to serve the same Jesus we do. Because unsaved people aren't able to look beyond mean Christian's behavior and see Jesus. Mean Christian should be an oxymoron, but just serve as a pastor for longer than five minutes and you'll see, it's far more common than you think. You see, unbelievers first have to see Jesus in people, because on this planet -- we're his reps. It's just the way it works. But that's another blog in itself, so let me just get back onto the post about verbal beatings here...

Most pastors out there have had their share of mean e-mails, faxes, letters (anonymous ones are always my favorite - they go right into File 13!) Most of us at one point or another have thought we needed to give attention to these in some way, but I've found personally it's much better not to. If it's not "of good report" as God's Word says, I really don't want to focus on it. A few months ago, someone called our office and tried to cuss two of our staff members out. I promptly got on the phone and told them, 'don't ever call this office again.' That was it. No need for anyone on our staff to have to endure that. And if my husband or I have anything to do with it, they won't! One time a person went ballistic on one of our pastor's wives. My husband promptly picked up the phone, called them and said, "don't ever speak to one of our staff wives in that disrespectful way again." And he told the staff wife, "don't ever put up with that again."

I truly believe some people think that to be like Jesus, we need to allow the people to crucify us. I believe Jesus took all that on the cross so we don't have to. He was wounded for my sins, my transgressions, my diseases, and while I believe serving Him includes sacrifice, I don't believe it calls for abuse. Let me say we have an overwhelmingly loving church family. However, there are always things that may happen now and then, like any church, we're not absolutely perfect.

There are many ways in which I see pastors sign themselves up for or allow toxic conversations. However, to zero in on just one type of verbal beating, we on our pastoral staff have noticed the rather bizarre behavior of many people who decide to leave the church. They make that intention clear to people, and then wonder why the pastor or some pastoral staff member has not called them so that they can verbally unload on them and share all the things they don’t like about us. The fact is, although we pastors find this strange - that someone would declare their decision to leave, then want a chase to ensue - the majority of people don't find it strange at all, in fact many consider it a common expectation. They make their displeasure clear, and just wait by the phone for a call from the church office. However let's keep in mind, man's expectations aren't always God's. In fact, no where do I find in scripture where God expects this.

Now of course let me say up front that there are times people have circumstances such as - they are moving, they have been transferred, they have been offered a ministry position elsewhere, etc. These are all good reasons to leave a church, and when somebody meets with their pastor to tell them this in the right spirit, of course that (although sad to have to say goodbye to those folks) is a good thing. You always want to meet with people who have good reason and the right spirit about them. No problem at all there. In this case, you really want to bless those individuals.

But, with those who are ready to give you the verbal beating...some will bring up that pastors need to chase people and find out why they are disgruntled. Many believe this is because in scripture in Luke 15, we see the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep to find the one. Let's be clear that story is about a lost sheep who doesn't know Jesus. That scripture isn't about a disgruntled sheep. A non-Christian sheep? Yes. A depressed sheep? Perhaps. A backsliding sheep? Maybe. But a disgruntled sheep? No, the scripture makes it clear, they were lost, without Christ. Verse 7 makes this clear where it says, "I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." Christians who leave a church are not lost. They know exactly where they are headed. Luke 15 is a text that shows the care that Jesus has for each of us in going to the cross, even if it would just be for one. I get so mentally TIRED of people taking scriptures like that and trying to twist them to support the viewpoint of grumbling sheep. One time somebody in the church gave me Isaiah 1:18 as scriptural backing that I needed to meet an angry person who was leaving and hash the whole thing out. The scripture says, "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Obviously it's talking about us personally repenting to the Lord for our sins, not somebody meeting with their pastor to beat them up with their mouth. But people will twist scripture, I've found, to justify just about anything they think.

One thing I found out many years ago in pastoring was that when people make a decision to leave a church, it's usually very final. They have been thinking about it quite some time although they might have only recently formulated an excuse that sounds plausible. First, they don't change their mind to come back 99 percent of the time. And second, even if they would be "coerced" into coming back, is it really good for someone who has such attitudes to stay in the house? Honestly, that would just be a hindrance to both of you. So, once the decision is made, it's made. So, why the expectation of a phone call from you, or an "exit" meeting? Two reasons, I believe.

1) Attention

Dr. Earl Baldwin, a well known pastor in the Northeast, was once speaking at a pastors event my husband and I attended and he said that some people come into the church planning their departure from the moment they arrive. He says they "come to leave." There are some people who love the attention they get from making a "splash" in a congregation by dropping in, becoming an integral part, and then dropping out. They love the thrill of the chase...the chase to get them in the church,the chase to keep them, and then the chase to try to get them to come back. They love to leave, then get begged back, then upon coming back hear the people's accolades of, "YOU'RE BACK!!!!!" When they are feeling like they need a little attention, they pull this again, sometimes just hopping from church to church to get this attention they are so craving.

When pastors don't play the game, these people tend to get really angry. The focus many times changes from the intial reasons they gave for leaving to, "well, the reason I'm leaving is because they didn't even bother to call me! Where is the CARE in this church?!"

My question is, if they have so obviously heard from God and made a decision, why the need for you to contact them and rehash everything? If God Himself has told them to do this, can or should a pastor's phone call or visit change their mind?

The ironic thing is, many people say they have heard from God and they tell you about their decision and you respond, "okay, well God bless you," and they get angry. I wonder why they are angry when the pastor is simply blessing a decision God made for them? I guess it's because they were secretly hoping, perhaps, that the pastor would try and talk them out of it? In my mind, it's a game sort of like when you are buying a car and the salesperson keeps going out to talk to the manager and comes back in. They didn't really mean what they said five minutes ago...it's just a game and they are wanting negotiation. The thing is, I don't see this kind of "game" anywhere in the Bible. Which brings me to my second point...

which I will share in "Part II" tomorrow.

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