The conversation is always sad, always tragic. The pastor who left his church after a two-year affair with another church member. The student pastor who has been out of vocational ministry since he had a brief sexual encounter with his assistant. I have spoken with countless numbers of these men and women. And each time I am reminded of how much I need to love God with all my heart, and to be totally devoted to my wife.
During my 25 plus years of church consultations, I have interviewed a number of these active-to-inactive persons. Most of them shared freely and openly with me what took place in their lives, and how it impacted their ultimate decision to stop attending church.
Yet the topic of church discipline seems to be primarily reserved for the theologians and a few pastors. Those of us who write about practical ministry and church health rarely mention this topic, even though it is a clear biblical practice. Allow me to note seven observations about church discipline.
For many years I served as a consultant to churches and denominations, a role I relinquished when I became president of LifeWay over eight years ago. Part of our consultative process was interviewing church members. Inevitably I would hear issues of concern and issues among church members over which arguments took place.
Why are pastors no longer held in high esteem? What is behind the precipitous drop in favorable ratings almost every year? Allow me to offer eleven possible reasons. As you will see, they are not mutually exclusive.
I know I'm not smart enough to have predicted all of these major changes in churches the past decade or so. The changes have been profound in many churches, and they seem to be lasting changes. For clarity, please understand I am not making qualitative assessments of these paradigm shifts; I am merely noting them. And I understand fully that all of them are not operational in all churches. Nevertheless, they are pervasive on the congregational landscape of American.
Several months ago, I wrote a post about pastors' wives. The responses and comments were numerous and incredible. One of the greatest blessings about this blog for me is how much I learn from others. As I read the comments and the interactions, I came away with a greater appreciation for pastors' wives, as well as a greater concern for these ladies. I have attempted to summarize the primary issues the pastors' wives discussed. I am sure I've missed something. For now, here are eleven things I learned from pastors' wives.
I just received a letter from a delightful lady. She was a member of a church where I was ordained in the ministry. What I remember most about her was the way she offered encouragement to the pastors of that church. The letter reminded me of so many good laypersons who served sacrificially in churches where I have been. With that in mind, I asked several pastors to recall something very positive said to them by church members. I asked them to try to summarize it in one sentence. Though I shouldn't be surprised, each of the pastors did not hesitate to offer one "joyful sentence."
Dear Southern Baptists: Please hear me clearly. I am not writing out of any sense of superiority. Indeed, many of you could put me to shame. But my heart is breaking with what I perceive to be a loss of passion for those who do not know Christ. Many of you have seen the numbers. We are reaching fewer people for the gospel today than we did decades ago when we were a much smaller group.
It was not the response to a blog post I expected. Back in June of 2013, I wrote a post speaking on behalf of pastors for their kids. I summarized seven major things pastors wanted you to know about their children. The article had a big response when it was first posted. But, for reasons I have not completely fathomed, the post went viral a few weeks ago. Now almost 200,000 views and hundreds of comments later, we can see a pretty clear picture.
The order of the trends is random. They are not ranked in any particular priority. On Wednesday, I shared the first seven predictions. I conclude today with the final seven.
Predicting is as much of an art as it is a science. And if any prognosticator is honest, he or she will tell you that they don't always get it right. I know. I certainly don't always get it right. But I don't pull my predictions out of thin air. To the contrary, each of them has a reasonable explanation. For these fourteen predictions, I gleaned from several sources:
A seismic shift is taking place in American church facilities, a shift that will become even more noticeable in the years to come. Church worship centers or sanctuaries will become smaller than they were the past 40 years. As church leaders decide to build, a large number of them will decide to build smaller than most of their predecessors have in previous years.
I love pastors. I love affirming pastors. I love speaking positively for pastors. That's why this article is a bit different for me. Pastors, I want to talk frankly and, hopefully, with a spirit of love, about one of the biggest mistakes I see many of you make. Most pastors have little emphasis, or sometimes, even knowledge about the content that is taught in groups in their churches.
In early 1984, I began serving as a pastor for the first time. I would ultimately serve four churches as a pastor and nine churches as an interim pastor. In 1984 I was a young 28-year-old pastor without a clue. Today I am 58-years-old, and I'm still not sure I have a clue. So much has changed. So much has changed in pastoring in just thirty years. Let's look at major ways the pastorate has changed in that time.
Almost as soon as the ruling was made public, I began to receive inquiries through social media, by email, by text, and by phone. U. S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled unconstitutional a provision in the U. S. tax code that allows ministers to declare some or all of their ministerial income as a housing allowance. That allowance is not subject to federal income tax. Though it is still too early to gauge the full implications of this ruling, there are several questions many are asking. I will somewhat randomly try to respond to those questions I've heard.
Where is the hope in God? Do I not believe He can perform the miracles necessary to reverse the courses of these churches? Of course I do. But in Scripture, God usually works with a willing people, at least a willing leader. When He delivered the Jews from the bondage of Egypt, he had a leader named Moses. That leader was initially reluctant, but eventually He obeyed and the people followed.
I like to be a bearer of good news. I like to be able to be positive about situations, especially when those situations involve churches. At the same time, I refuse to deny reality. Such denial can only lead to a worsened condition. Churches typically do not move from good health to dying overnight. It is usually a more subtle deterioration. I have identified five simple stages:
Thank you pastor's wife. You may have one of the most selfless roles in the world. You are expected to be at the beck and call of church members, regardless of your own schedule. You are expected to adjust your life to the life of the pastor, who just happens to be your husband. You really have no independent life of your own.
While I'm not crazy enough to predict the total cessation of worship wars, I am willing to say that they will be ending in many churches. Here are three reasons why.
Please forgive me for the morbid and depressing title and content. I don't think posts such as these encourage many of you. I guess the impetus for writing such an article is the work I am doing to finish my next book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. I have dealt a lot with the death of churches in my research and writing for that book.
I recently wrote the names of 23 pastors that, at least from my perspective, seem to find the greatest joy in their ministries. While such an exercise is admittedly subjective, it was nevertheless enlightening and encouraging.
I confess. I used to hate meetings. In fact I was very vocal about meetings being a waste of time. In most meetings I attended, I daydreamed about a dozen other ways I could be spending my time more productively. Over time I would discover the problem was not the meeting per se, but the way the meeting was managed.
I wish I could respond to every phone call, email, text, Facebook post, Twitter direct message, blogpost comment, and several other forms of communication I receive. Pastors ask me questions, lots of questions. I am both honored and humbled that they would think that I could be a source of information or expertise.
Most churches—more than eight out of ten—are busy. Too busy. These churches need to slim down their plethora of programs, activities, and ministries. They need to go a busyness diet.