Early on in my pastoral ministry, I noticed something happening with my peers. Some (certainly not all) of the men I started with in ministry seemed to distance themselves from me when I left youth ministry and entered the pastorate. For some reason, I was no longer a peer. I’m not sure what all happened during that transition. I’m sure I probably did something that caused some of those reactions.
One day, I was talking to a pastor who was about fifteen years older than me. I asked him why most of my friends in ministry were older than me. His reply startled me. He said, “Michael, we’re not threatened by you. We’re where we are in ministry and we’re secure in it. Your peers will always say they want you to be successful (but not too much). Pastor’s older than you rejoice in what God is doing in your life. Those who think they are in competition with you can be jealous or envious. If they perceive you as a threat to their climb up the denominational ladder, it could be a problem.”
I read something by Jess Moody years ago. He wrote, regarding one minister who was criticized by his peers, “Nearly all criticism came from well-educated ministers, practically all of whom were in his own age bracket. Contemporaries seldom forgive or appreciate. The elderly and younger praised (his election to a denominational office). He received far more congratulatory notes than the condemning sort. But practically none of the wholesome ones came from contemporaries.”
Not that long ago, pastor’s offices would have pictures of some of the great preachers of the past hanging on the walls. Today, more often than not, there’s little recognition of those who have gone before. Unfortunately, some just want to hang other preachers.
When I was pastoring in Oklahoma, I met an old acquaintance at the state convention for my denomination. We were standing in the lobby of the church exchanging small talk. Suddenly, he turned and said, “Look, I know all the ‘God’ answers but just tell me how in the heck (he didn’t use heck) did you get to such a large church?”
A little background might help here. I spent fifteen years in youth ministry. I served some great churches and some that were like going through a root canal. When I knew God was leading me out of youth ministry, I thought it would be into Adult Education or as a number two guy on a staff. I didn’t know God was going to call me into the pastorate.
Another thing you need to know. Vance Havner poured into my life during my early years in ministry. One of his famous sayings is, “You don’t have to chase key men when you know the one who holds the keys.” In all my ministry, I’ve never sent out a resume. I’ve never played politics to try to get a job or a pulpit. I figure God knows my address and if I’m faithful, He’ll open the right doors at the right time.
Back to the pastor in Oklahoma. His problem was he had been pastoring for years and was in a church running around 300 in worship. I was in my first pastorate and we were running 700 and growing. He apparently had a problem with me being in a larger church.
First of all, I had nothing to do with selecting the pulpit committee. The week before they came to hear me, they hadn’t even seen my resume. I didn’t even know they existed. At the time, I hadn’t finished my seminary degree, I had fifteen years of church experience but no pastoral experience to speak of. I was preaching every week either in a youth service or on Sunday nights for the pastor, but other than that, I wasn’t what most pulpit committees were looking for.
What happened is simple. The committee had gone through 70 resumes. They were home one weekend and the interim pastor preached on churches calling Saul when David is out there somewhere. The committee met later that day and realized they were reading resumes, looking at degrees and experience, but they weren’t asking God to send them to the right place and person. Little did I (or they) know that the right person would be me.
While I was at that church, we saw God move in some incredible ways. There were battles, but also blessings. I said no to several opportunities to leave, including being an Executive Pastor for one of the largest churches in the state of Texas. In my last year there, I said no to the chairman of the pulpit committee at my present church three times.
I thought I was settled in. We had turned the corner, some of the old power structure was gone, and I was finally able to see some things happen that I had been praying for. The church was now running about 900 in a town of 17,000, and I thought it would be a great place to raise my kids. God had other plans.
When we finally agreed to come to Georgia, I immediately began hearing about men who had really wanted to be pastor here. Some of them had openly politicked for the position. Some couldn’t understand how the church could call someone so young and inexperienced.
In pastoring the largest Baptist church in this part of the state, I’ve discovered something ugly about my profession. It’s something I don’t really understand. My heart’s desire has always been to be an encourager to other ministers. I spend a lot of time talking to ministers who are in troubled situations. Our church does a great deal of work in the community to try to be salt and light. We’ve helped and housed men who were in transitions. I grieve when I hear some of the horror stories that go on in many churches.
I’m not a sheep stealer. I refuse to visit anyone who visits our church from another Baptist church. I will not grow this church at the expense of another church or pastor. We started a conference called “Bridge Builders” and the website www.2ProphetU.com because of our desire to help men in the ministry. I want to see men succeed and prosper in their ministries.
At the same time, I have found it difficult to develop friendships with pastors in this area. I’m not sure why. Maybe you can help me. I was reading where one pastor working on his doctoral dissertation said that the most insecure profession he found was pastors. I know I’ve invited men to go to lunch and there’s always a reason why they can’t go. Once I invited every pastor in the area to a free meeting and meal with a pastor of one of the largest churches in the country. Only two of the sixty-four invited showed up.
I believe if a man doesn’t know some basic things in his heart, he’s destined to be threatened or jealous.
1) He has to be confident of who he is in Christ. He can’t be trying to figure that out.
2) He needs to not be threatened by another leader. When I have a guest in the pulpit, I want a guy that stretches me, and causes me to work harder. I don’t want a good old boy or a “payback preacher” who makes the membership say, “Thank God you’re preaching again, that supply preacher was terrible.” That’s a disservice to the pulpit and the pew.
3) He needs to believe he is where God wants him. God knows our gifts and abilities. We had nothing to do with that. Gifts are God given. Open doors are from the Lord. We must not aspire to that which is outside the will of God for our lives. That’s coveting. While it is tempting to push a door open for greener grass, we usually find it’s astroturf.
4) There are no small churches and there are no big preachers. In the eyes of God, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. A church is a church. Size isn’t as important to God as sort.
If we aren’t settled on those four things, we’re likely to become jealous and critical. Preachers who succeed are often called ego-maniacs, office seekers, politicians, grandstanders and a whole lot more, some of which I can’t put in print.
Now understand me. Most ministers do not fall into the category of the jealous, critical type. Most of the men I know are godly, humble servants of the King. They are secure in who they are in Christ and grateful to be called into the ministry. But the few who aren’t give us all a bad name. The sick are very sick and it’s very sad. It shouldn’t be this way. We’re in a battle. We need to not shoot our own just because they seem to be blessed and we feel like we’re not.