Sunday, December 28, 2014

Biblical Exhortations For Battered Pastors (pt. 5)

In this, my final post in the series, I (Todd Pruitt) am picking up where I left off in part 4...

4. Devote time to reading works by and about battered pastors.

All pastors need companions. This is especially true for the battered pastor who, out of a sense of shame, will draw inward into isolation. It is in those times when he needs to know he is not alone. Devote time to reading the accounts of pastors who experienced great pain but nevertheless endured. We need the stories of these men who persevered. Specifically, we need the stories of those pastors who endured through personal attacks, betrayals, and unrelenting criticism and slander.
Become acquainted with the following works:

The Roots of Endurance by John Piper - When I was undergoing my own experience as a battered pastor, this book became a very good friend. The chapter on Charles Simeon is well worn. Also you will want to listen (over and over) to Dr. Piper's outstanding biographical addresses on Charles Simeon and Charles Spurgeon. They are a wealth of sober thinking and encouragement.

The Full Harvest by Charles Spurgeon - The pastor of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle goes into excruciating detail about the terrible slanders leveled against him. He was battered by outsiders in the press, doctrinal compromisers within his denomination, physical maladies, and a tragic event which haunted him until the day he died.

Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon - The chapter entitled "The Minister's Fainting Fits" is worth the price of the book.

New Life in the Wasteland by Douglas Kelly - This little exposition of 2 Corinthians pays special attention to Paul's sufferings as a pastor. Highly Recommended.

5. Shun self-protection.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wise Counsel For Discouraged Pastors (part 4)

Pastor Todd Pruitt offers some very helpful advice for battered church leaders. Before you offer biblical counsel to a wounded pastor prayerfully consider this blog series. It is obvious that God used Todd's suffering for good.

"All people experience hurt at the hands of others. But we are all also, without exception, the source of hurt. We are all simultaneously receivers and inflictors of pain. This is true of pastors. What pastor believes that he can somehow be insulated from the sorts of pain we inflict upon each other? He is, after all, a sinner called upon to lead other sinners. Parishioners often project upon their pastor a whole set of expectations that no ordinary man can fulfill. As a result, being criticized is an inescapable feature of being a pastor. If you cannot tolerate being criticized then don't be a pastor.

These common sorts of criticisms and pains are not what I have been writing about in this series of posts. Rather, I am seeking to shine a light on the very real problem of toxic followers, those who mob the pastor and seek his downfall. The battered pastors I am writing to and about are competent pastors but have found themselves in churches who, for whatever reason, are pastoral "meat grinders" (I learned that phrase from an elder at a previous church).

At the risk of sounding alarmist, I do believe that the church (in the West at least) is going to see (is seeing?) an increase in the number of churches which batter their pastors. It makes perfect sense. With the demise of the very idea of authority it should not be surprising that more pastors are being driven from their churches. A consumerist church cannot abide a prophetic pastor.

Douglas Kelly, in his wonderful little book New Life in the Wasteland writes, "Wherever there is a faithful ministry in today's culture, it is very likely that those who begin feeling the authority of God coming through the preaching of the Word, will first of all start attacking the minister...People feel more free than ever to give the fullest reign to their dislike and their criticisms of the leadership" (34-35).

If you are a battered pastor, I offer to you seven exhortations (three in this post, four in the next

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Bruised Reed: Some Questions For Lay Leaders (pt. 3)

This series was written by Pastor Todd Pruitt and has been republished with the approval of the author.

Questions for lay leaders:

"Every organization has leaders and followers. While this structure is sometimes informal, normally it is a deliberate arrangement. Because of this, not everyone is or can be a leader. Organizations are as dependent upon good followers as they are upon good leaders. In an organization, if everyone is the leader then no one is. This is certainly true for the church. God gave his people a structure of leaders and followers and accountability for both. The church is to be led by a plurality of elders with those who labor in preaching and teaching (pastors) being given "double honor" (1Tim 5:17). These God-called, congregationally-recognized leaders are to be followed obediently (Heb 13:17).

It seems obligatory at this point to mention that men like Hitler, Jim Jones, and Willy Wonka (the creepy factor) ought to not be followed obediently. But we must be careful to not disobey the biblical command by killing it with a thousand qualifications. Certainly, churches ought to have proper accountability for their elders in order to keep wicked or unqualified men out of that office. This is yet another way in which proper denominations and well-functioning presbyteries serve the church well. But I digress.

Much ink has been spilt examining what happens when pastors fail to lead, lead poorly, or behave wickedly as leaders. So much has been made of the failure of pastors that I fear an assumption of pastoral guilt has been established to explain every problem in a church. What is easily forgotten is just how influential followers are within the church.

The authors of the helpful book Handbook for Battered Leaders, which I've previously referred to in this series of posts, identify the sorts of problems that arise when followers become toxic. In chapter three they refer to six assumptions about followers taken from Barbara Kellerman's book Followership: 

 A. Followers constitute a group that, although amorphous, nevertheless has members with interests in common.

B. While followers by definition lack authority, at least in relation to their superiors, they do not by definition lack power and influence.

C. Followers can be agents of change.

D. Followers ought to support good leadership and thwart bad leadership.

E. Followers who do something are nearly always preferred to followers who do nothing.

F. Followers can create change by circumventing their leaders and joining with other followers instead. (52-53)

All of this means that followers are quite powerful. I suggest that this is particularly true in a church. The leadership of pastors and elders is highly contingent upon the willingness of the followers to follow. Certainly, there are times when dissent is necessary. Leaders within the church must understand that theirs is not an autocracy. Sometimes needed change can be delayed or missed entirely when good followers fail to confront poor or ungodly leaders. But, as the Balda's point out, there are times when followers "simply act in a contradictory manner, frequently without considering the impact of their misplaced loyalty and misguided behaviors" (p. 53). This is when followers become toxic and pastors are battered.

In the chapter entitled "These People Can't Be led," The Balda's write:  "A classic follower response in certain situations is the palace coup. This is the point when the mutiny begins flexing destructive muscles and everyone but the leader realizes a corner has been turned. We all know of situations where a powerful and evil despot abused followers...We are less convinced that simply misguided, or even evil, followers can bring down an otherwise competent leader on their own. However, there should not always be a presumption of innocence when confronting followers who have an agenda, as they can eventually destroy leaders and organizations" (p. 59).

The church seems to be wired to lay most if not all of its dysfunctions at the feet of the pastor.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Battered Pastors (part 2)

"The call to be a pastor is one of unparalleled privilege. It is a joy, though a sobering one, to apostle paul.gifpreach God's Word for the benefit of God's people. For battered pastors, however, (and they are numerous) the glad labor of being a pastor has become detrimental to their well-being and that of their family.

I have written previously that the reality of battered pastors is a scandal upon the church. A startling number of pastors leave the ministry every month. The proof is in the research. The anxiety of caring for the church (to use Paul's words) is simply too much for many pastors to bear. They leave not because they lost their love for Christ. They love Jesus and they love his church. But the battering they have received at the hands of a congregation or elders has left them too wounded to go on. It is for these men that my heart aches.

In 1989 the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development embarked on an 18 year study that revealed some rather frightening statistics about pastors. It is important to point out that this particular study focused only on evangelical churches. Mainline denominations were not included in the testing.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Battered Leaders and Toxic Followers (part 1)

Just recently a ministry friend sent my wife and I the following note.  "I don't know if you listen to this broadcast or not but all I could think about was you guys!"  Our Christian friend then directed us to the most recent Mortification of Spin podcast.

After downloading this twenty minute recording I understood why this Christian friend thought of us while listening to this program.  First of all, the topic of abusive members (congregations) and battered leaders is something I have reflected on quite a bit over the past many years.  After our first few years of ministry in Freeport we had a much better understanding of what Paul encountered while seeking to shepherd the flock in Corinth (by the grace of God much has changed for good over the past 7 years).

Secondly, though Todd Pruitt is a Reformed Presbyterian and I'm a Reformed Baptist, Pruitt's ministry testimony is quite similar to my own "revitalization" story.  The lessons Pastor Pruitt recounts in his ministry blog are many of the same things the Lord has been teaching me over the past six and half years.  Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

Todd and I have both observed that many books and blog articles are published each year that highlight the common pitfalls, problems, and temptations faced by pastors and church leaders alike.  Paul David Tripp's recent book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry is one such example.  Most of us have read  and witnessed firsthand various horror stories of how 'fleshly' pastors have wrecked havoc and heartache on well-intentioned congregations.   Having said that, not many books and blog articles draw attention to the role unhealthy churches and toxic church members play in the current evangelical landscape.

Whether you are a church member, an elder/deacon, or a pastor the following blog series is well worth your time. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

When the Pulpit is Bullied

"How high should standards be for a pastor and his ministry? Do we rate his success in congregation size, fame, or by how white his teeth are? Standards can be unrealistic and unbiblical when a new pastor comes on the scene, and comparisons can foster a culture of critique and criticism. Bad pastors are also a reality. However, the church has a common crisis at hand: are we firing, disrespecting, even "bullying" otherwise competent men who don't live up to our superficial standards? But what if there is a real problem with your pastor? How do you deal with it?"

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals answers these questions and more here. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Overcoming the Flames of Ferguson

In the aftermath of the controversial Darren Wilson grand jury verdict and the Ferguson city riots each of us has read dozens of opinion and cultural commentary pieces.  The Gospel Coalition offered two different perspectives on this tragedy through the writing ministries of Thabiti Anyabwile and Voddie Baucham (both men are faithful, gospel loving, black pastors).  I personally believe Voddie Baucham and Bobby Scott offered the most discerning insights in their respective blog posts concerning the situation in Ferguson. 

Having said that, I have not read many articles that have offered a positive alternative to the racial tension that seems to be growing in America.  Here are some thoughts on how Christians can work to overcome the flames of Ferguson and how we might go about minimizing the personal distrust that exists in many of our communities.

 1) Show the love of Christ to your neighbors (Matthew 22:38-39).

In Carmel, Indiana our family enjoyed a special relationship with our Muslim next door neighbors (immigrants from Turkey) and had a wonderful friendship with our (Christian) African American next door neighbor (Kim). These relationships began with small talk. They grew with “random acts of kindness” and eventually they blossomed into friendship meals in each other’s homes. Matthew 22:38 is not rocket science but applying this verse will require prayer and Spirit-empowered effort.

In our current neighborhood we strive, by the grace of God, to be good Samaritans to all of our neighbors. This includes taking meals to the widower next door, talking over the fence, showing interest in the lives of our neighbors, etc. We also enjoy a very friendly relationship with our black neighbors who live across the street from us. I have shoveled their driveway before and they have brought us over some delicious baby back ribs.

Our neighbors seem to really enjoy our children (most of the time anyways) and our kids enjoy our neighbors. Children often bring people together as they are a source of much happiness, joy, and life. Teach your children the virtue of serving others and show them how believers can care for all different kinds of people (old, young, white, black, etc). Help them to understand what Matthew 22:39 should like in your unique context.

2) Get to know other Word-centered pastors and support one another in the ministry of gospel reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).