Several years ago while on a road trip, I got to connect with a dear friend for lunch. Over salad and sandwiches she made a statement that caught my attention: “Pastors’ wives have trust issues.” It wasn’t an accusation. Simply an observation from a wise woman who has had several close pastor’s wife friends.

At the time I was taken aback. I thought to myself, “I am a pastor’s wife and I don’t have trust issues.” At the time my statement was true.

Fast forward many years.

I, the pastor’s wife, have trust issues.

I don’t always feel safe in my own congregation.

I don’t always know with whom I can let my guard down.

I’m often hesitant to share my secret thoughts, my joys and struggles, my life with others—especially others in the church. I simply don’t know what they will do with my heart. Will they protect it? Ignore it? Attack it?

I’ve come to agree that my sweet friend was right. Us pastors’ wives do indeed have trust issues. Or, at least, this one does. And in case you are wondering why it seems that your pastor’s wife seems a bit distant and/or disconnected, there are a few things you can do to help provide a safe environment for her to come out of her emotional shell.

GIVE HER TIME.

She (her husband, too) has probably been burned a time or two when it comes to friendships within the church. And not only is there the personal pain of a betrayal, there are the implications of how that rift might affect her husband’s ability to pastor his congregation effectively. It might take her much longer to be comfortable in her congregation than you think. (Side note: Even after much time, it is also very unlikely that she will be good friends with everyone in the church. So be sure to manage the expectation that she will be good friends with everyone.)

GIVE HER FREEDOM TO BE HERSELF.

Treat her like you would any other church member. Don’t lay expectations on her to lead a team or be super-involved with a certain area of the church that you think is “typical.” And please, please, please don’t compare her to your previous pastor’s wife. She, like you, is a work in progress. She, like you, is uniquely created by God to serve in ways particular to her gifting, her season of life, and God’s call on her life. Give her space to figure out what and where that is within your particular congregation. And once she does, cheer her on like crazy and encourage her to stay put and not give in to the pressure that leads her to take on more.

GIVE HER DECENCY.

Think before you speak. Remember that she is not on the church payroll for being married to pastor. She is not on every committee and doesn’t know everything that is going on. She is not her husband’s secretary. Don’t expect more from her than you are expecting of yourself. And please don’t expect her to initiate every conversation. Even extroverts have their limits. Try to understand how it feels to live in a “fish bowl.” Recognize how your complaints (to her face and behind her back) about the church, her husband’s decisions, and/or the way her children act affect her. Treat her with the same respect you yourself would want to be treated.

GIVE HER GRACE.

Don’t make assumptions that just because she is the wife of a pastor she has it all figured out, especially spiritually. She misses her Bible reading. She yells at her family. There are days she wants to stay in bed and not go to church. She makes bad choices. She gets depressed. She sins. But she often feels like she needs to hide all of that from Y. O. U. Your trust issues may look different, but she is human and her natural reaction is to protect herself from harm, just like any other normal human being.

The difference between 30-something I-don’t-have-trust-issues Katie and the woman who is typing these words today? Hurt. Pain. Betrayal. Disappointment. Between our own experiences and the sad stories of my pastor’s wife friends, I’ve seen the worst-case scenarios one too many times. The evil one has attempted to use unhealthy, unstable, and untrustworthy people to tear apart the local body of believers. Again and again.

Ultimately, not one of us is called to a safe life free from risk. Us pastors’ wives need to work through our trust issues. We need to be able to risk pain and loss. We need to learn to love unconditionally and unhindered. We need to find our foundation in God alone—not a perfect friendship or job security. But while we’re on this journey toward trusting the hearts around us with our own, be patient. And pray for us.

This blog was originally posted over at LifeWay Voices

 

Whether we realize it or not, each of us is a teacher—a model of how to live out the faith we proclaim. We are guides to the generations who are currently germinating their lifestyle patterns and heart convictions. Whether we have kids and teens under our roof, around us in our neighborhoods, or grandkids on the weekends, we are portraying a picture of what Christianity is. From where we find our identity to how we spend our money, time, and energy, we are constantly teaching the children and teens in our lives what it means to follow Christ. Often without saying a word.

Children watch our walk. Absorb our attitudes. Perceive our priorities.

Unfortunately, our actions are often contrary to what we hope to project. “Do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t cut it when it comes to our spiritual life. Droves of young adults are leaving the church because they see our inconsistencies. Generations of children who grew up in church have abandoned the faith of their fathers because it never became their own.

Of course, there are men and women who grew up in loving, authentic Christian homes and still chose to walk away, but the majority of those who walk away do so because they were taught behavior modification without a relationship with God and submission to the rules without a love for or study of who God is.

What hope is there for change? God is always bigger than our mess-ups. But we can also take a good hard look at our lives and walk forward in repentance and allow God to transform our places of inconsistencies. As we do, we model the life of humility and change that marks the life of a true believer in Christ.

Here are several inconsistencies we may be unwittingly giving the next generation of potential followers of Christ:

Inconsistency #1: The body of Christ can be helpful, but following Christ is primarily an individual pursuit.

Yes, we each have choices to make for ourselves. Yes, our faith must be our own. But the notion that “me and God are good” without a need for His people is contrary to Scripture. A vast majority of the exhortations in Scripture assume the reader is gathering with a local body of believers. The idea that you could be a true Christian and not be an integral part of the church is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Following Christ is a corporate pursuit. You and I need the body of Christ in order to fully know and follow Christ.

Inconsistency #2: A deep commitment to the local church is more of a liability and a nuisance than a lifeline and a need.

I get it. People are messy. My husband is a pastor, and I’ve seen the ugly side of church life. But the call of a Christian to love and serve the body of Christ is not negated when the body is broken. Going to church is not about “me.” Too many of us live as if we believe that loving one another is impossible. And it may be, on our own strength. But what a testimony it is to the power of God if we choose to love those who are hard to love. (Not to mention, often we are the hard-to-love-people who need the love of the church.) Our call to lay down our lives for one another is independent of the responses and neglect of others. When we serve one another, we serve Christ.

Inconsistency #3: God created everyone equal, but not everyone is safe.

If we say that God loves and cherishes all people — red and yellow, black and white — but remain fearful or disrespectful of other colors and cultures, we teach an inconsistency. We need to love and respect people of every nation, epidermis color, and economic status, even if that “threatens” our own comfort and safety. We need to shape our views and values primarily on what the Bible teaches about the dignity of every human being — over and against any other preference. Let’s be driven by biblical values more than personal, cultural, and/or political ones and teach the younger generations that upholding God’s way is more important than any other societal structure.

Inconsistency #4: My home is in heaven, but I’m going to prioritize earthly comforts over eternal pursuits.

So often we live as if our plans, dreams, and needs are more important than God’s plan for our lives. We live with a need to be needed over needing Biblical truth. We seek our security in hefty bank accounts and sturdy plans instead of the presence and provision of God. We are more concerned with our outward appearance over our eternal rewards. If we say we follow Christ, the Bible is clear that we are sojourners on this earth with a mission to carry out until we get there. We ought not to live a life of settling down. We are called to a life of reaching out to the lost and dying souls around us.

Inconsistency #5: Bible study is a nice idea but the Word of God is not an absolute necessity for the Christian.

Ultimately, each of these inconsistencies points to how we treat the Word of God. Because if we see the Word of God as a book of nice suggestions useful to decorate a coffee cup instead of filled with truth that is imprinted onto our lives, then we will live out a pseudo-Christianity that is weak, powerless, and, frankly, Pharisaic. If our everyday lives are devoid of the truth of the Bible, it is also devoid of the power of the God of the Bible.

Do we see the Bible as the very word of God?

Do we know what those words from God contain?

Do we believe that His way spelled out in those words is indeed God’s best plan for us?

Do we believe that God’s best plan is for all of God’s people?

Do we believe that God has enabled all of His people to follow His plan?

You see, if we don’t understand that the way of God is clearly spelled out in the Word of God and if we don’t believe that the word of God is authoritative and inerrant and given to us for our good, then we will never be able to live the Christian life to its fullness. And if we don’t know what the word of God says and actually follow it — if we don’t understand that following the way of God is our greatest purpose here on this earth — what hope do the generations behind us have in learning this way from us?

We must love and follow God for the sake of our own good. But we must also love and follow God for the sake of those little eyes and tender hearts who are watching how we treat God’s Word, God’s people, and the lost in need of a Savior. We must pursue a life of obedience and worship so that we can experience the fullness of God’s presence in our everyday life, but also because of the young souls who themselves are searching to experience fulfillment and security — which they will only find through Christ.

Let’s be Christians who consistently point to the glory of God and the goodness of His Word, through lives that display the character of Christ. And pray that the children and teens in our lives see Christ is such a way that it transforms their lives forever.

Lord, help us.

This post was originally published on LifeWay Voices.

Church conflict is no fun. Understatement of the year, right? Whether it is a small fire that pops up in a small group or a full-blown congregational wildfire, church conflict is inevitable and ubiquitous. The church is filled with imperfect people in progress. Therefore, we will encounter trouble, and it is in these troubling times that your pastor needs your support the most.

Here are three gifts you can give your pastor, especially in times of conflict and unrest:

YOUR PRAYERS

Let’s face it: When it comes to church, there is no shortage of strongly held opinions. Criticisms abound and receiving those critiques is a weekly (if not daily) part of the pastor’s job. Sometimes they are silly and small. Other times they are helpful and needed. It is part of his job to listen to and consider every negative comment that comes his way. However, you and I can help him tremendously by filtering our thoughts through prayer before we bring them to our pastor.

What if we made it our gut-reaction to every bit of “church news” to hit our knees and pray for our pastor?

What if we chose to take our concerns to God first and ask Him for guidance and leadership and discernment to know if our critiques even need to be vocalized?

What if we prayed for our pastor more than we complain about what he is or is not doing?

Not sure what to pray? Here are some great places to start:

  • Pray for his spiritual well-being and protection.
  • Pray for strength to walk the road God has chosen for him.
  • Pray for wisdom as he leads.
  • Pray for protection from the enemy.
  • Pray that he gets rest both physically and emotionally.

YOUR PRESENCE

Once we’ve prayed for our pastor, as our first-response to concerns and conflict, now we can bless him with our presence. Empty seats bring forth feelings of defeat. Especially over time, the collective effect of seeing church members choose other pursuits (kid’s activities, family time, sleeping in, cleaning the house, constant traveling, etc.) over the body of Christ, again and again, is incredibly discouraging.

If you really want to bless your pastor—especially in times of dissension—show up. Prioritize your relationship with God and your commitment to His church more than your career, your family time, and your self-care. Those things are certainly important (and I am not saying we need to stop pursuing those things) but let’s be sure to make the weekly gathering with God’s people and the faithful serving the church body a non-negotiable in our lives and schedule these other important pursuits around our commitment to our church family. Being a healthy church member will enhance the health of your church and in turn the health of your pastor.

Beyond the commitment to being a faithful church member, if you encounter a specific concern, meet with him (after you give him the gift of your prayers first). Give him the chance to answer your questions and clarify any misunderstandings. Avoid passive-aggressive actions such as withholding your giving or attendance. Don’t give in to talking about your concerns to everyone but your pastor. That’s exactly what the evil one wants. Plus, it hurts the body of Christ and the reflection of God’s glory more than it hurts your pastor.

YOUR PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SUPPORT

Hopefully, after you have prayed for your pastor, and have come to him with any concerns you have about the church or decisions he has made, you can walk forward in support of your pastor. As you hear concerns expressed by others, encourage them to give these gifts of their prayers and their presence. If you see dissatisfaction and dissension forming, enter the discussion and be a gentle encouragement that points them to pray for the pastor, and taking their concerns directly to him, not primarily to each other. We’ve all played the game of “telephone” and seen how truth changes they pass from person to person. Support your pastor by debunking half-truths, and imploring people to take their concerns directly to the pastor.

Beyond your support within private conversations, be sure to support your pastor publicly, too. There is a tendency for church members to neglect the opportunities to support their pastor when he needs it most, particularly in business meetings. It’s one thing to tell your pastor you are on board with an upcoming change, it’s quite another to be present and vocally supportive when that change is being initiated.

Oftentimes, at the first sign of resistance, men and women who have told the pastor they are with him, unfortunately, fail to publicly state their support of the change. Most churches have some sort of meeting where church members are able to participate in the governance of the church. Don’t miss out on those important spaces where you can bless your pastor tremendously by not only casting your vote but also showing your clear and public confidence in his leadership.

Don’t underestimate the cunning of our true enemy. Satan loves it when we turn on one another. Because if we are too busy fighting ourselves, we won’t be bringing the gospel to the nations. When we choose to refuse to do anything that will add to the fire of conflict within the church, we put a damper on the evil one’s schemes. And if enough of us choose to do the same, the damaging fire will have no fuel to thrive on.

Ultimately, these three gifts are not about the pastor. It is about our obedience to Christ. We are all called to share all good things with our teachers (Galatians 6:6), to honor them (1 Timothy 5:17), trust and follow their leadership (Hebrews 13:17), and to respect them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). This is especially important for us to remember when we walk through difficult times as a church.

Lord, help me to love and honor my pastor better. Forgive me for the times I have been silent and have not stopped unhealthy and unhelpful conversations. Forgive me for the times I have entered willingly in spreading gossip. Give me the grace and resolve to treat my pastor with respect. Lay a great burden on my heart to pray for him regularly. Lead me to see your plan for our church, and how you are using this man to guide our church to greater growth so that we can glorify your name in our community. Show me what I need to change. Help me be a better church member. I long to be a blessing to my pastor and a benefit to the body of Christ. I thank you for my pastor.

This post was originally posted over at LifeWay Voices.

I’ve been a pastor’s wife now for over a decade. It is a beautiful privilege and heavy responsibility. It is a role that comes with many joys and sorrows, benefits and sacrifices, unexpected gifts and unstated expectations from others. That last one is often the hardest dose to swallow.

Most churchgoers don’t realize it, but they have a picture of the perfect pastor’s wife in their mind, and that projection paints every interaction they have with the wife of their pastor.

Your pastor’s wife is in a very unique position. What she does (or doesn’t do) affects her husband’s ministry. For those of you who are married (except in the rare case of some very particular jobs), your behavior, your spiritual growth, your words, your involvement in church has no bearing to your spouse’s job security. He was most likely hired without as much as a glance your way. Nor are his clients, or whomever he serves day-in and day-out, holding strong opinions on what you should or should not be doing right now. This is not true of the pastor’s wife. Just last month a pastor’s wife friend shared that her husband, an interim pastor (who had previously served the church for years in another role), was not offered the permanent pastorate job because they thought his wife wasn’t pulling her weight.

Bottom line, so many people have tightly held opinions on what the church, the pastor, and his family should be/look/act like. Some realize it. Some don’t. Because of these realities, your pastor’s wife most likely feels that she cannot be herself. Consequently, she often finds herself with a heavy armload of her own secrets. Here are a couple:

“I am not perfect, but I feel like I need to be.”

As stated already, your pastor’s wife lives with the constant pressure of living up to the expectations of the congregation. Most churchgoers expect her to be more mature and knowledgeable than they are. All of this, alongside her desire to be an encouraging role model for the women of the church, leads to her feeling a massive pressure to be perfect. However, she is far from perfect. She messes up all the time. She is likely trying to live up to the pedestal on which she’s been placed yet, at the same time, she wants to be authentic and real.

This all leads to the feeling that there is no safe place within the church for her to lay out the messiness of her own soul. If she shares too much, she fears that your opinion of her will change (or worse…you’ll use this against her when conflict arises), and thus her and her husband’s ministry effectiveness is damaged. However, if she never shares her junk you will accuse her of being unapproachable and stand-off-ish (at best) or an arrogant snob (at worst).

“My church is not perfect…but I feel like I need to pretend that it is.”

There are things about your church she dislikes and is disappointed in. There are processes she wishes she could change, traditions she wants to undo, and people she would love to quiet down. It may very well be the case that if she were a normal church-goer she would have continued on in her search after visiting your church.

Ironically, though the congregation typically expects more from the pastor’s wife, her voice for change is often smaller than the average church member. She often doesn’t have an official place in the leadership of the church. Sure, she has the pastor’s ear at home, but beyond that, she has to be careful with her comments. Much of what she suggests is misconstrued as self-serving. Her motives are often in question. She can’t simply have an opinion about how something is run because many churchgoers take it as her just trying to get her husband elevated.

The evil one loves to stir up dissension, and often his first attack is on the church member’s view of their pastor and his family. If Satan can get church members to question their pastor’s motives and character, then he can easily erode the pastor’s ability to lead. The next best thing is to have them criticize the pastor’s wife’s motives and actions.

More secret thoughts of the pastor’s wife:

Here are even more secret thoughts your pastors’ wives may be thinking:

“I’m friends with both everyone and no one.”

“I can’t help with every ministry!”

“Parenting in the pew on display for the whole church is the hardest ‘ministry’ I engage in every week.”

“I’m more than ‘the pastor’s wife’ and my kids are more than ‘the pastor’s kids.’ These titles do not encapsulate us…we are real people also.”

“I want real friends who want to do fun things, people who don’t see me as eternally ‘on the clock’ as a pastor’s wife. Let’s just hang out and eat pizza.”

“My children and my marriage do not belong to you. Please don’t feel the freedom to demand information or offer ‘advice’ that wasn’t solicited for and give me the freedom to not follow it.”

“It’s hard for us to accept help/gifts. I don’t know if it will be used against us later.”

“I may not know everything that is going on in your life. Please don’t assume that I do.”

“I thought we were friends and then you left the church without telling me. It really bothers me.”

“Just because I am the pastor’s wife doesn’t mean I am an instant volunteer for every plan you come up with.”

“I’m lonely. It may look like there’s a lot of people around us on Sundays, but during the week people don’t reach out unless they need something. This fuels the lie that ‘I’m only useful/needed based on what I can give you.’”

“Trying to use me as a voice to speak to my husband or other leaders is annoying and not useful. I am not their secretary, administrator, or adviser.”

These are actual comments from pastor’s wives I interviewed recently. Can you hear the hurt, loneliness, discouragement, and exhaustion behind these comments? Unfortunately, these secrets are held by the majority of pastors’ wives, not the minority.

Here’s the bottom line:

It is very hard for your pastor’s wife to let you know what she really thinks and feels.

How you can help your pastor’s wife

Pray, pray, pray for her to experience the freedom of being her real self, even if just to a few trusted women in the congregation.

Think about how your words affect your pastor’s wife. I’ve had ladies tell me what my job as a pastor’s wife is (personally visiting church members in their homes, with freshly baked pies in tow), make comments on what I should or should not wear because I’m a pastor’s wife (Jeans? In the service?!), ask me to convey a message or ministry idea to the pastor (why not tell his office assistant?), and ask me where I was at some church event I was unable to attend (and it wasn’t because they were concerned that I was sick). None of these comments would have been verbalized if I was not the pastor’s wife. You may not think that your small comment is a big deal, but it is most likely not the only comment she has received that day. The weight of those comments and requests begin to add up.

Allow her to be a normal church member, and don’t expect more from her just because she is the pastor’s wife. You hired her husband, not her. She has her own jobs to take care of.

Pray again for your pastor’s wife: that her significance would be rooted in her relationship with God. That her moments would be continually dependent on the power of His Spirit. That her heart would be renewed through the promises in His Word. And that all this would lead to resiliency and grace to navigate this unique role she’s been called to.

This post was originally posted over at LifeWay Voices.

My first mean street preacher encounter was as a college student at Auburn University. These “preachers” were actually other students who angrily proclaimed messages of damnation to their peers passing by. They left me livid. I hated the lopsided image they portrayed of the God I loved and followed. In my own fervor (and naivety), I heatedly engaged them in their declarations and attempted to address their mode of operation, in the hopes that I could get them to see how poorly they were representing Christ. I always walked away even angrier. They made Christ look bad. They made me look bad. And I felt that they would harm the witness I was attempting to have with my unbelieving classmates.

The frustration with the methods and motives of others in ministry did not remain in my college days. There is a constant temptation to criticize the methods of other church’s efforts to get people in the door. I am bombarded with aggravation when people take to Twitter to stir up trouble or fan the Facebook flames of controversy just to get more reads. Of course, I can never know for sure the motives of others, but often times there is little room for doubt. It leaves me feeling like my 20-year-old self, angry and frustrated with the portrait it paints of the people of Christ.

“It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance.” (Philippians 1:15-19)

The apostle Paul found himself in a much more frustrating and personal situation. He was in prison and had been receiving reports of polarizing firestorms amidst God’s people. There are two important actions Paul takes during that stressful time.

Paul Rejoices

The first time I deeply studied Philippians, these verses put me to shame in the best possible way. I’d spent so many years wasting so much frustrated energy on others with whom I did not agree on their methods or motives. It angered me that they “won.” The very people we had been trying to reach got all caught up in the song and dance they had to offer. Those people we’d invested in and loved on and pursued eventually chose entertainment and comfort over truth and depth. Then there’s also the public sphere where Christians post and share that which is less than ideal for the image of God’s bride. These instances and more prove to be difficult for me to navigate.

Yet, here we see a man who rejoices amidst the controversy and bad motives—even when that involved a deliberate stirring up of trouble for him. These were personal and deliberate attacks and Paul rejoices in them. He doesn’t agree with the method or the motives, but He recognizes that Christ is being preached. And so, he rejoices.

Paul Remembers

Beyond the choice to adopt a perspective of joy, Paul is also intentional to cling to the character of God:

  • He remembers that God is more powerful than the impure motives of the jealous proclaimers.
  • He remembers that the Good News of Christ can outperform the manipulations of man.
  • He remembers that his Deliverer is not dependent on or deterred by the troublemakers.
  • He remembers that prayers of God’s people and the power of the Holy Spirit—not the silencing of the troublemakers—is where to put his hope.

So, when others prevail, though their motives and methods are not what they should be, let’s choose to rejoice and remember. When the choices of others lead to damage and discord, let’s choose to rejoice and remember.

Let us share a prayer for the situation: God, lead us to a deeper hold on your sovereignty and power. Help us remember that you are full of mercy and grace…even for the ones who are missing the mark in their ministry motives. Grant us humility to examine our own ways. Help us walk in the example of Christ to do nothing from selfish ambition, but instead in humility count others more significant than ourselves. You are not threatened by attempts to thwart your plans. You are always in control. Help us, Holy Spirit, to remember and depend on your goodness and grace, your power and provision.

The post was originally published over at LifeWay Voices.

It’s pastor appreciation month, and while baked goods, tie trinkets, and gift cards are usually welcomed (though not expected!) your pastor may be blessed by something a bit out of the box this year.

My husband, Chris, is a senior pastor and I have seen the best and worst sides of church people. We have been blessed beyond measure (a trip to Paris!) and wounded more deeply than I knew was possible, both through the actions and inactions of people in the pews. Although there can be difficult, unstable, and/or power-hungry people within the walls of the church, most of the heart-level hits a pastor receives are from the “everyday” church member: Words spoken or not spoken. Actions taken or not taken. Groups forming or splitting. All in the name of what they think is best for the church.

Chris and I have loads of pastor friends and I reached out to some pastor’s wives this week to help me with this post. Because as wives, we see what no one else sees. We know what church ministry does to our husbands. How it continues to forever change them and shape them—for good and for ill. As I submit this post, the comments from my pastor’s wife friends are still pouring in. With over 30 wives contributing, the thoughts below are a collaborative effort. Just like any wife would, we long to stand up for our husband, but because he is the pastor we often feel we can’t. It just seems self-serving. We each want to help our husband and support him in a public way but, selfishly, we usually lay low out of fear of putting our own conduct in the cross-hairs, if it is not already.

If you love your pastor and want to bless him this month (and beyond), we urge you to prayerfully consider these three deliberate choices:

CONTINUE READING at LifeWay Voices …

With summer in full swing, you may find yourself on the road. If so, I encourage you to use this opportunity to visit another church!

About twice a year we get to visit other churches while we are on vacation. We make it a priority to attend church, even when on the road, and it is always a refreshment for this ministry family to sneak in the back and worship without feeling the pressure of so many eyes on our every move.

The benefits of attending a new church are not reserved for the ministry family, however. I think it is a great practice for all church members to use their Sundays away to visit another church. Here are three reasons why:

It reminds us of what it’s like to be the newbie

We’ve all walked into someone’s home to be hit in the face with some strong smells. Often, the owner of the house can no longer notice it. Whether it be mold, trash, or pet problems, the smell is most obvious to the nose that is new to the offense. Similarly, the visitor notices things we don’t. Or maybe we noticed it way-back-when but have forgotten all about it.

Not only do visitors notice some of the oddities we ignore, they also don’t know how things work. Too many churches assume that everyone understands where the nursery, bathrooms, and/or fellowship hall is located. Bulletins are filled with event names with no description, groups with no specifics, and loads of information with out any invitations.

Additionally, when we visit a new-to-us church, it reminds us of how uncomfortable and vulnerable it can feel to walk into a crowd where no one knows you. It gives us a new urgency to be a friendly face to the visitor when we return home.

Being the newb—even for just one Sunday—can be a powerful agent for change in our church back home.

It gives us ideas for how (or how not) to do something

We’ve been a part of several churches where many of the attendees have only attended that church. For others, they have maybe only attended 2 or 3 churches, all in the same area. This is a situation ripe for an in-grown and shallow view of what Sunday morning church should look like. Just because it’s all you’ve ever known doesn’t mean it is the authoritative way to do things.

The Southerner can learn from the West Coaster. The Northeast from the Texan. There is even more to observe between nations. In Haiti, years ago, we attended several church services and there was much to learn from their passion, reverence, and devotion to the urgent and sincere hearing of the Word of God.

Using our travels as an opportunity to get out of our “this is the best way to do things” bubble, can be a powerful agent for refining change in our hearts, which can overflow into our church experience back home.

It reminds you of what you love about your own church

Hopefully! Even when visiting a stellar church who seems to get so many things right, being away from your home church ought to give us a sense of missing out and an urgency to get back home.

Say it with me now,

This is not my church.

Church is not about me.

My pastor is not out to get me.

We’ve been chatting about the mindset shifts we all need to make for the sake of the church and reflection of Christ. Here is one more along with an action plan we all need to consider: My pastor has been called to be my pastor and I need to follow.

Your pastor has been hand-picked.

We’ve been through the pastor search committee process three times now. All of these committees were either close to or over a year in the process when Chris was finally called to the position. If you’ve ever been on a search committee, you know what long and difficult work it is. In case you haven’t let me paint you a picture of how much effort those team members put in.

Even a small church might get 50 applicants. Some of the really large churches receive thousands of applications. This last job Chris accepted had around 400 applicants. That’s 400 applications that were read through, considered, and narrowed down … which brought them to the end of the first round of eliminations and dozens more rounds to go. Every search committee narrows the applicants down using different methods, but they all (if the committee is doing their job well) include researching (which would include things like a bit of Facebook stalking), reference checking, follow-up interviews via email, phone, and/or Skype, completing background checks, and sometimes traveling to view the pastor in his current church. Countless sermons are listened to, tons of discussions are held at their committee meetings, and many, many hours of prayer are put in.

From the other side of things, it feels a lot like American Idol. At first, we are just another number in the masses. Then we make it to the top 24, then 12, then the final 3. At this point, there is usually another round of interviews, often including me (SIDE NOTE: There aren’t many other jobs where an interview with the wife and a consideration of what she “brings to the table” is normal. But it is very much expected in this process.) Sometimes we’ve been picked, and sometimes the team decides to go with someone else.

Here’s my point: This is not applying for a job at Burger King and getting hired on the spot. It is a long, drawn out, prayerful, Spirit-led process. But it is a year-long journey (again, if the team is doing their job) that God uses to guide a church to the man He has chosen for them, and vice versa. So when you begin to second-guess your pastor’s decision making, preaching style, walk with God, and facial hair choices, remember that he has been appointed by God to be your pastor. He’s been called to serve God through this unique role, which includes leading your church toward God’s will.

Your pastor has been equipped.

Just in case the fact that the man you call pastor has been hand-picked and called to be right where he is right now isn’t  enough to get you to follow him, pray for him, and support him in every way you can, here’s one more thing to consider: He’s been trained to do this job! Now, I know not all pastors have been to seminary, but the vast majority of them have. They have attended classes, read books, and written papers all about how to do their job. They’ve hit on topics such as how to deal with the difficult people in their churches that just won’t follow…

In just about every other arena, someone who tells someone else how to do their job is considered rude. In the church arena it’s unfortunately, it’s considered common.

Your pastor deserves to be listened to, respected, and followed.

It should go without saying that your pastor is not perfect. He will make mistakes and have mixed motives. But just because he’s not perfect doesn’t mean you get to disrespect him.

I am not calling for congregants to shut up and sit down. I am calling for the people of God to consider that the man of God behind the pulpit has feelings, too. And there is not much that will take the wind out of his sails than pews filled with people who refuse to trust him. Who chose to just drag their feet until he picks up and leaves. Or worse—who manipulate, plot, and make life as difficult as possible in order to force him out.

If you want him to boldly lead you through the big stuff, let him lead you through the little. If he meets resistance at every corner … and if all he’s tried to do so far is update the toilet paper dispensers in the bathroom and spruce up the website … it’s going to be really hard for him to believe that you are going to follow him through the important decisions that are going to lead to the lost walking through the doors of the church.

Lord, give us mercy.

Not only do we each need to make the mental shift that This is not my church and Church is not about me, but we also need to take a look at how we view the pastor.

Your pastor is not out to get you.

I know that there are some bad apples out there, but the vast majority of pastors I know have given up much to become a pastor. They’ve given up higher salaries, being closer to family, having a normal work schedule with reliable, predictable boundaries, and other sacrifices you will never know about until he is rewarded in heaven. There can be loads of blessings and “perks” for the pastor, and it is a high and worthy calling. But the job is extreme and there are constantly targets on his back. If he was all about just pushing people around and getting a power fix, I think he would have chosen a different profession.

Yet, there are some of you who have a tendency to see every move made by the pastor as an attempt to take away your power. Again, I know that there are some men out there who are in the ministry for all the wrong reasons, but most are there to serve, to build up, and to glorify God with their moments as a pastor. But if you are viewing everything from the lens of power, influence, and/or attention there is bound to be trouble.

If there is one action step I could encourage you to take, if you struggle with feeling attacked, ignored, or marginalized by your pastor’s decisions, it would be this: Believe the best about your pastor until he gives you ample evidence to believe otherwise.

What does this look like? Here are a few examples. Choose to believe that:

  • He is there to faithfully preach the Word in the specific way God has gifted him. He works diligently for hours, prayerfully crafting each week’s message, and depending on the Spirit of God to help him deliver it.
  • He is there to steward the people, resources, and time God has given him with this assignment and he does not take this call lightly. He does not make decisions lightly. He is prayerful, careful, and when he choses to do or not do something, it is because he believes it is what is best for the church. (Also, he can’t do everything at once! Change takes time.)
  • He is there to love on and reach out to the lost in the community surrounding your church. He is continually thinking of how to connect with and serve the needs of the community.
  • He is there to teach, train, and employ the saved in his church to reach those lost in the community. The job of evangelism is not primarily on his shoulders. It is a commission given to each and every believer. The pastor is there to assist, encourage, and equip YOU for the work of evangelism.

There are many more I could list … but these are several that I think many churchgoers need to be consistently reminding themselves of.

Bottom line, I think more churchgoers need to stop taking things so personally. There is NO WAY IN THE WORLD that the pastor can keep everyone happy—nor is that his job. Yes, he ought to lead with compassion, sensitivity, and love, but that doesn’t mean he will always agree with you or make the same choice as you would. (In most cases, he may not even know what your opinion is! A pastor is many things, but a mind-reader he is not.) So if he makes a decision or doesn’t do something that you think he should be doing, pay attention to why you are so upset about this decision. Is it really because you care so much about whatever the decision was about … or are you miffed because you feel disrespected or overlooked somehow.

Lord, give us grace!

So where some of us, like me, need to grow in seeing things through the lens of the faithful men and women who have served and served and served and served God’s local church for decades, there is yet another group who needs to be willing to let go. Because this is not your church either.

Today I want to address those who have been in church for a while. This is not about generations, or age. This is about mindset. There are many faithful men and women who I know that have served the church for 50+ years that I would not put in this group. Moreover, there are some who have attended church for only a few years but they do fit in to this category. In fact, I think the majority of churchgoers have their chubby little hand in this cookie jar, and they need to seriously contemplate how they view the church (not only as “mine” or as God’s) but also why church even exists.

Church is not about you.

This is the other side of the this-is-not-your-church coin. You are not the captain of the ship nor are you a passenger to be pampered. The church does not exist primarily for you, or me. The church exists to reflect the glory of God. All aspects of church life ought to be primarily about God’s glory. Period.

There has never been a day in my church ministry where everything has gone the way I would have liked. I would have chosen different songs, on a different key with different instruments. I would design systems differently, make changes to the sanctuary, and nix a ton of (what seems to me) ineffective events. But I’ve had to learn that church is not about me. I am not all-knowing. My point-of-view is limited. And what I think is the best route to take is often, simply a deep-seated preference I am unwilling to let go of. I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes those antiquated systems were actually the very thing that gave God most glory. The broken systems that shouldn’t have worked showed off the power and provision of God.

I am not God’s gift to the church. Neither are you.

So, let me spell this out plainly:

  • Worship style is not about you.
  • The sermon format and length is not about you.
  • Church curriculum is not about you.
  • The sanctuary colors are not about you.
  • Budgeting details are not about you.
  • The landscaping is not about you.

Now, I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t care about these things nor am I saying that we should never speak up about them. We should. But only so far as we are called to.

Because, church is not about you.

If you are a church attender seeking a church home, you are in gathering mode, and should be. This is a time for observation and contemplation, but be careful to keep first things first. Pay more attention to the CONTENT than the DELIVERY. Because worship teams can practice and get better. Church leadership can grow and get more organized. Preachers can become more polished in their delivery. Children’s programs can grow. But if the Word of God is not being faithfully preached, and the kids’ program is primarily glorified babysitting, that is most likely not going to change until there is a new pastor, and maybe not even then. If this is a church that is used to their ears being filled with feel-good fluff, their next choice will probably be full of the same. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen people choose a church primarily for their worship style and/or children’s ministry, while the pulpit lacked any sort of solid truth being delivered and the kids (though snacked-up and entertained as they are) are given a watered-down moralistic version of the Gospel.

May I also encourage you to look for a church who needs what you can give. What has God gifted you to do? What are you passionate about? What experiences and expertise do you have that can help the church better shine for God’s glory? Don’t just look for a church home that you can settle into and get comfortable. God has given you specific gifts for the purpose of serving Him through loving on the local church (see 1 Corinthians 13). Don’t waste your time being a pew-dweller. Get to work.

Because, church is not about you.

If you are a church member, you ought to be an informed and involved one. You should feel freedom to directly* state your opinion and/or concerns on any one of these things, in gentleness and respect, at the appropriate time (HINT: this is typically NOT on Sunday morning as the pastor is preparing to preach), in great humility, knowing that you do not have all the information (nor all the training and experience). I encourage you to consider the following when it comes to your complaint:

  • Bring it first to the Lord.
  • Bring it second to the leadership of the church (so, not to all your friends, in a spirit of complaint).
  • Bring a preparedness to be the answer to the problem.

If there is a certain area that continues to bother you, week after week, and month after month, and that area is suffering because there is no one overseeing it, or the person who is serving there is overworked and out of ideas, consider the possibility that God is nudging you to step up and serve in order to fill that very need which is pressing on your heart.

*Directly=not complaining in a Facebook post or over lunch to your buddies where everyone can hear. Directly=to the face of your leadership. Not through an anonymous letter, or passive-aggressive behavior (like stopping your financial giving or attendance to make your point.)

Because, church is not about you.

If you are on a committee/team that serves one of these elements of church, you ought to lead prayerfully and with confidence. Use your expertise and passion in a synergistic way with the rest of your committee members, and any other committees you overlap with to make that area run with excellence. (And, of course, all of the above suggestions for the church member applies to you, too.)

Because, church is not about you.

So what should you do when opinions clash? Remember that church is not about you.

When you want blue carpet and everyone else wants red? Remember that church is not about you.

When you love upbeat songs that are familiar to you but a solemn song you don’t know is played? Remember that church is not about you.

When someone does or says something that wasn’t quite the “right” way (according to you)? Remember that church is not about you.

And please, please, please (as I say often to my kiddos): be kind or be quiet. Because some of the most damaging things to the image of Christ, to the fame of His name, to the reflection of God’s glory to the lost and dying world around us? The words of His people to one another. The mean, selfish, foolish, prideful, angry words we sling at one another.

If we say that we follow Christ, then we ought also to follow in His footsteps to be about His Father’s business. And the Father’s business is all about His glory being known among the nations (which includes the lost souls in your family, neighborhood, workplace, and grocery store). Why on earth would we expect those who are perishing without Christ to tag along with us to this building we call church, to spend time with people we don’t really like anyway, and listen to music we can’t stand, and a preacher we constantly complain about?

We must pay attention to our motivations. There are more preferences and opinions than can ever be satisfied—even in the smallest of congregations. But if we can each learn to be driven primarily for the glory of God—not the glory of an individual or the glory of the church itself—we can finally begin to move forward TOGETHER in UNITY toward that goal. Because, once we have this point settled in our minds, we are able to view our preference and opinions through the lens of what gives God more glory. Blue carpet or wood floors? The organ or electric guitar? Jeans and flip-flops or a 3-pice suit? We will see them for what they are: surface-level stuff. Small potatoes. Instruments that God can use equally for His glory if He so choses.

Lord, help us.