I’m having lunch with a friend of mine, Todd. He’s a pastor too. Maybe that explains why he irritates me.
He always likes to talk church strategy, from a business perspective. You know, “what demographic group your church is focusing on”, and “which churches are blowing and going in the area and which are not”. He’s actually pretty knowledgable with all that stuff. But something about it really gets under my skin after a while.
“Hey buddy, I visited another church’s service last week. The guy preaching was their associate pastor, and he was AWESOME!”
Oh really (trying to act nonplussed). What was so great about him?
“Man, he got up and did the whole sermon without looking at one note. And the guy was young, good looking, athletic build. They’d better hold on to that guy!”
Then he switched topic to the church facility.
“The place ran like a well-oiled machine! Their systems, children’s ministry, all top notch. The service started on time and was out right at an hour. These guys have really got it together!”
I’m nodding, but thinking to myself, “In and out in an hour – just like Jesus did it. Praise the Lord”
I spent the rest of the day highly irritated.
Why? Because I knew what Todd had described was not much like my church.and I knew he knew it as well. He’d visited us to give me the benefit of his “expert opinion”, this guy who had just been booted out of his church earlier that year. This talk was his way of trying to “challenge” me to “up my game” and “move to the next level” and a hundred other expressions you read on motivational posters.
My little church? Well, we’re a family, and we love each other. I care for them with a pastor’s heart, and we’re a true spiritual community. BUT…we’re only a few years old and meeting in a school auditorium. Not real impressive, facility-wise. Since some of our folks come from a different cultural tradition, we rarely start right on time. And since we don’t have a lot of money, a lot of our “systems” are a little more “organic” than others.
Sometimes, we’re just trying to make things work. Admittedly, it’s not always professional-looking, since I’m the only one who gets paid (and not even that is a full salary). And that brings us to an honest evaluation of me.
Young? Nope. I’m in my early 50s.
Athletic build? Um…let’s just say I try to wear a sport coat when I preach, to cover over “a multitude of sins”.
Memorized sermon? Not usually. Unlike young Biff (or whatever his name was), I am not an associate pastor, nor do I have an associate. I preach EVERY WEEK, not once a month. And if I’m sick, I preach. If my wife and kids are home sick, I preach and leave them to fend for themselves. That’s because there is no one else to step in. It’s all on me.
What Todd doesn’t know is that I’ve actually been to that “blowing-and-going” church he talked about. I’ve been on the platform and talked to the staff. Even have a couple of friends who work there.
Saw one of them the other day when I was sick. I whined to him that I had to preach the next day, in spite of my cold. He said, “You know what you need? An associate.” Yeah, that’s it. Why didn’t I think of that? I’ll just pretend there’s actual money in my non-existent budget and run out and get me one of them! Yee haw!
I’ve learned a few things over the years about what ambition will do to you in the ministry. Sure, I’d like to have the big church, but I know some guys got them by feeding their big egos. Not all, of course, but more than you’d guess. I’ve worked for pastors who drove their staff like a foolish teenager drives a car with no oil or up keep. Just drive it into the ground until it quits.
They’re like my friend Todd, whose ambition angered his leaders so much they had no problem giving him his walking papers. They knew his ministry was “all about him” and he truly didn’t love them. So that made firing him all the more easy.
Yeah, he acts like he’s the victim, and I truly feel sorry for him. But he’s been playing a game too many men play. It’s like that game some little boys play in the school restroom at the urinals…only now they do it with churches and people. “Who’s the biggest?”
What my friend Todd doesn’t realize is that the awesome young buck he heard preach at that oh-so-perfect church isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. As an associate, he gets a month to work on one sermon, as opposed to the rest of us who have to come up with one every week. And as far as having his sermons memorized, I know a little trick he has from when I wandered onto their stage once when I visited my friends on staff there.
He has a tv monitor recessed into the pulpit. It flashes all his notes on it. There are also monitors on the floor, so he can move around and look like he’s speaking all his brilliant thoughts extemporaneously off the top of his head.
I guess he’s playing the game too. Trying to look a little better than the guy down the street. Hoping to build a church just a little bigger than the guy in the stall next to him. Never realizing these are games played by nasty little boys, not the mature men of God they aspire to be.
Remember: to God, size doesn’t matter. Only to little boys.