Monday, April 23, 2007

A Precher's Dillema

My father-in-law is a good man. He has been a minister for more than 30 years. He was one of the original missionaries in Sierre Leone, Africa. He has currently been preaching for a small Indiana congregation for at least 15 years. He is sound in doctrine, kind, gentle, and a friend to everyone. He’s always willing to lend a helping hand, and carries a smile for everyone he sees.

He is being fired from his current position and is having great trouble finding a replacement position.

A few months back the elders at his congregation sat him down to tell him they would like him to leave. They were not really explicit as to why. There was something about a couple of members having some issues with him. They weren’t real clear on what that issue was, but it seems more of a personality thing than a doctrinal thing. They also would not say who these people were.

Also they stated they were not happy with the current membership numbers. In fact, they said that they had wanted the attendance to be up by a certain number by the first of this year, and that goal was not met. However, they did not relay this information to the congregation, nor to my father-in-law. They have given him until the end of this month to leave.

All kinds of emotions flair through my system.

If a member has a problem with anyone, let alone a preacher, shouldn’t they have a sit-down? Why wouldn’t the elders bring in this person or persons and let them talk with my father-in-law? They should try to work these things out, before they let him go. We have a hidden feeling, this person, is in fact one of the elders and he’s too chicken to actually talk to my father-in-law.

If an attendance goal was set, why was no one told? There are so many things wrong with it, I get all kinds of pissed. Attendance should not be the only goal of a congregation. Certainly we are told to teach and save the lost. Certainly we should be inviting people to come. But if all we care about is butts in the pew, we may in fact get that, but at what cost? Look to the TV to find giant congregations full of false teaching. Growing the current membership spiritually and brining the lost in by sound doctrine should be the priority.

Seeking and saving is not the duty of just the preacher. If an attendance goal is set, the membership ought to be involved. As Christians we are all to be telling the Good News, not just the preacher. But certainly he ought to be told of this goal. How is anyone expected to reach a goal, if they don’t know what the goal is, or that there even is one.

Even secular work places do better than that.

This Sunday we visited my in-laws and attended services with them. One of the elders announced they had found a new preacher and he would be starting in June. None of the two elders told my father-in-law beforehand. Luckily a kind member had let him know a few days ago, in private, or I don’t know what would have happened. My father-in-law asked the elders if they wanted him out of the preacher’s house now, and they said he has until June, and maybe a little longer because they were “working on something.”

Fifteen years of dedicated service this man has given them, and he’s treated like a dog. What’s the rush? Would the church be hurt if they waited until he was gone to start looking for a replacement? From a business perspective I can understand how you’d want to make the transition quick, and find a replacement quick. I can also understand how you might put the pressure on him to leave so that he won’t stay forever. From a business perspective this makes sense. But this is God’s Church. We are supposed to be better than that. It would be different if he was accused of preaching falsehoods. If he had taught from the pulpit unsound doctrine and led others astray, I can understand kicking him out. But the only reasons given for his departure is that he didn’t bring enough people into the building. That’s no reason to be treated this shoddily.

My mother-in-law told me that none of the elders have even spoken to her. Not just about this situation, but even a hello.

On the other end, he is having great trouble finding another job. He has been to probably 20 congregations and not heard anything good. Almost all of them have directly asked him how old he is (he’s in his 60s) and several have pretty much straight out told him he won’t get the job due to this.

In the secular world, you don’t even ask that question. Not even for jobs that require a great deal of strenuous activity. If you do you’ll get your butt sued for age discrimination. But apparently as Christians we don’t mind a little discrimination. Because, of course, a lifetime of service and experience doesn’t mean anything. Young people straight out of college with little experience will do a better job.
This completely depresses me on the state of the church.

13 comments:

Jamison said...

Since when does a big attendance = Gods happy with that church?

Well, there isn't anything we can say. I think this blog was good for you to get it all out. It is a sad state of affairs when the elders of a church can't just say to the members "If you have a problem with him, discuss it with him, like the Bible says... if he doesn't listen, take a few more folks with you. If he still won't, then come to us."

I don't like it when Elders turn into stock-holders, or Board of Directors.

Membership number goals are pointless. Dalraida has grown 20% in the 8 or 9 years I have been going there. No goals on memebership were ever set, we just have a desireable youth program, ALOT for families to do and ALOT of work to do for the Church, we also have a strong and growing college program that has grown from the pioneering Fred's 8 or 9 person group when the program was started, to a 30 or 40 + group of fine college folks who are active in the church. (That was NOT a dis on Ryan... he was the first college minister there, so numbers were naturally low... he grew it successfully).

Dalraida elders, deacons, and ministers worked together to come up with ways and programs that HAPPENED to attract people. Not for the PURPOSE of attracting people.

It all sounds pretty sour... but, at the same time, there is always another side of the story, but if your telling of events is 100% accurate, then yeah, it sucks.

I dont think preachers get a fair shake. Like you said, when I go to a job interview, I am not asked if I am married, have kids, or how old I am. And certainly my chances of getting hired are not based on any of that.

Mat Brewster said...

Thanks. This is definitely a vent from a long weekend. I'm, of course, getting everything from my in-laws so it may be a little skewed, but I don't think all that much. We've been there a few times since the initial anouncement (oh I forgot to mention that when the elders first anounced the in-laws leaving they made it sound like they wanted to go not they were being fired) but none of the elders have talked to me, when they are usually quite friendly.

There are other things I'm sure, and it's true that my father-in-law is not exactly a really dynamic, exciting preacher. And I can see where the church might want a change of face after 15 years, but they way they are doing it is rotten.

lilsip said...

When did you slip into my life and make an exact copy? This happened to my dad, nearly word-for-word, about 5 years ago. 18 years of service for this particular church, and was sent packing for no apparent reason. Personality conflicts, probably, like you said. We still haven't gotten over it.

The elders actually had the gall to tell him to get up in the pulpit and LIE to the congregation, saying he'd decided to move on, or else they wouldn't give him the few months they did to find another job. And he had to preach/minister for those months like nothing was wrong.

I don't want to be discouraging, but he never did find a preaching job. The problem was a combination of age and salary. He would've taken less than what he was making after 18 years of tiny raises, but no one would offer it. They wanted to hire a young, inexpensive preacher.

My dad is just now starting to feel comfortable at church at all, from what I can tell. He and my mom have truly suffered in their relationship with the Church. It breaks my heart.

Mat Brewster said...

I've been trying to encourage them with things like how they could get secular jobs and do fill-in preaching and the like. My mom knows a retired preacher who does fill-in work and holds gospel meetings. Works all the time and never travels more than 200 miles.

My worry is that they will become bitter over this. Mother-in-law is starting to head that way. She's very angry, and upset. My prayer is they will find something, anything soon so they can move on.

Jamison said...

I have not experienced any of this... But my experience has been this (Which will explain why I immediately leaped into the "other side of the story" mode.)

At my home congregation, the preacher and his wife were all close pals with my mom and dad. The preacher was asked to leave and he made us all think on a personal level that the elders had snapped and just "didnt like him" etc...

A month later, we learned he was having an affair, the elders knew of it, and his wife was none the wiser. Naturally they got a divorse, and moved on and we got a new preacher, but I was very upset that he was our friend, lied to us, and made us hate the elders for that period of time.

But hey, I guess no church is perfect... when 'men' start running the church, it starts getting flawed.

Jason said...

Brew,

My sympathies man. Sadly, I am not surprised. I have had personal experiences in churches that speaks volumes of emphasis on many things while neglecting many others. Like the Pharisees, the outside of the cup is spotless, inside is corrupt. And focus on the weightier matters-forget it. Above all else love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Doesn't sound like a whole lot of neighbor loving going on. Jamison is right too, you never know the whole story. Seldom does anyone, but God.

I hope and pray that your Father-in-law does not feel betrayed or abandoned by God. But, only by those men playing church. I hope this frees him up to experience the love of the body of Christ in a more biblically sound church modelled after the character of Christ. After 15 years at that place, sounds like he could use some love and grace.

It sounds like this experience has really affected you too. Wondering what your perspective about God is in all of this is?

Ryan F. said...

Brew, I hate that for your Father-in-law. In my opinion, no one who gives their life to the work of the Lord should ever be treated like that. What if Paul were shown the door by elders back in the day? You're right, whether or not the congregation grows is the responsibility of the entire group, not just the preacher. Usually though, he is like the scapegoat. Kind of like the QB of a football team. He's the center of attention so to speak, so it naturally falls on him.

What we need today are shepards that will lead the flock by example. In other words, if they aren't out making the church grow, they can't expect anyone else to follow. That's the great thing about Lake Forest. We've been pushing evangelism very hard so far. We have Elders that lead by example. One of our shepards a few weeks ago studied with a couple that had been coming and they are now Christians. That's what I'm talking about.

There are though, unfortunately, many elders that are not sheparding. They are, just like Jamison put it, a "board of directors". They run the church like a business. We need Elders that are humble and will get down on their knees and pray for their congregations.

By the way, the reason why they won't even talk to your mother-in-law, is more than likely because they feel guilty about what they have done. They will answer for it.

Mat Brewster said...

I'm definitely upset about it. In some ways I'm closer to my in-laws than my own parents. Not that my relationship with my folks is bad, but I see the maybe twice a year, where I see Amy's folks about once a month.

I wouldn't say this disillusions me about the church, or rather it doesn't disillusion me anymore than I already was.

Like Jamison says, the church is made up of humans, so of course we're going to screw it up. I'm just amazed at how many ways we screw it up.


The chruch there is made up of some really great people, and the elders aren't bad men. They just seem to be making this decision like CEOs instead of christians.

The sad thing is there have been half a dozen new converts over the last year or so as a direct result of my father-in-law knocking doors and doing Bible studies. Already a couple of stopped attendign when they heard he was fired.

Oh, and I'm quite sure he isn't naving an affair.

Jamison said...

I take alot of comfort in the passage in revalations (cant remember which it is, but it is to one of the churches...). As best I can remember, the letter is saying some pretty bad things about the church and how they are screwing things up and doing all sorts of things wrong... then it goes on to say that there are a few good folks there and they are gonna be okay....

We go to churches "run by" (for lack of a better term) by men. Yet, as much as they may screw things up at the church, God won't hold it against me that they are doing all the screw ups and I am trying to worship and live right.

Chris said...

Mat,

I am really sorry to hear about your in-laws. My heart is broken because this story plays itself out again and again in churches everywhere and not just the cofC.
Jamison hits it on the head when he says, "Since when does a big attendance=God's happy with that church?"
He's right. I am not sure that God intends every one of our churches to be large. I just don't think so.
That doesn't mean that each church isn't a vital part of the body as a whole.
Now, what I am about to say, is not a widely accepted sentiment, well maybe, but not really.
The biggest issue in most of the churches like this that I see is the fact there is an intense desire to "add people to the church." Thus, the institution grows and everybodys happy cause hopefully more folks are comin' and that means more money for new buidlings and programs and....
Are we missing something? I think so.
Sounds like growing a business to me.
We've been so focused on growing the institution that we have forgotten about two things that are much more important.
1 - Jesus - what happened to brining people in to a saving relationship with Christ, where we love those people and help them journey with us as we all follow Christ.
Nope, we dunk 'em and put em in a program to learn how we do things around here so that they can become more like us and amazingly they begin to forget about the friends they have who don't know Christ, spend more time with other Christians. And we start all over isolating ourselves from the world, except to make others like ourselves. Sounds a little like what I read somewhere around Matthew 23, can't be sure though.

2 - This way that we organize ourselves is the biggest reason that people in our age category and younger who don't know Jesus have little or no interest in the church. It isn't because they are unGodly, with no interest in "Spiritual things" it's that they see the church and Jesus as two completely different things, non associated.
What happened to your FIL is a symptom of a larger issue.
I am not sure where we got off track. But in order for us to get back on as a whole it's going to require a major paradigm shift.
Sorry again Mat, I know this hurts.

X-orter said...

Hey guys. Sorry to barge in on your conversation like this. Unfortunately, it goes with the territory. I don't know if it is exactly the same for youth ministers but most ministers will be "fired" at least once in their life. When I was in Hillsboro, TN, the elders met with me one night and simply said, "Your services will not be needed in 2001." They never told me why. Just last night, I was talking with the preacher that is conducting our Gospel Meeting. He has been preaching for over 55 years. He had told me about a similar instance in his life. It only becomes a problem as you get older. For some inexplicable reason, every church wants the same 30 year-old man with 50 years of experience and the perfect family. For your father-in-law to continue preaching, the sad reality is that he may have to find a small, struggling congregation that is in desperate need for someone to work with them. But...even sadder than that is the truth that far too many of those type of congregations exist. He's definitely in my thoughts and prayers.

Jamison said...

Brent Pollard ladies and gentlemen... wow, this post brought the old school out of the wood work... welcome

Mat Brewster said...

Thanks fellas. Talking like this helps.

Welcome Brent! Good to see you, and no apologies necessary. Come by anytime and join the conversation. I think he may have find a small struggling congregation who can't pay much. He's found a few where he'd have to find a side job, and I think he'll wind up with something like that. I just hope it doesn't kill him.

Good thoughts Chris. I know the tendency is to talk about what's wrong with the church, but there really are good people and churches out there. Even in this situation, there has been some rallying of support from folks I would have never expected it.