Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Making The Hard Choices

Sometimes being the pastor means making hard choices that no one will like...but it has to be done!
So, I'm sitting at my desk today fielding all manner of calls, signing checks to make sure the bills and mortgage get paid, and trying to decide if we have enough money left in the bank to cover what's left. In addition to all that, I'm also trying to prepare a sermon, get a Bible Study ready for tomorrow night, and fuss with my wife and kids about how much time I've spent at the office already! To top it off, tonight is music night, and the kids have to be back up at the church in a couple of hours for their lessons. It's not the glamorous life that many think when you pastor a small church.

To make matters worse, as if that previous paragraph didn't send half of you running to the hills in terror--resigning your pastorates before you've even begun, there's those really hard choices that a pastor has to make always looming in the shadows. The kind of decisions we try to put off until the last possible moment because we know no matter which choice we make, or which answer we give, something bad is going to happen. Someone in the church is going to get hurt, mad, storm out, raise a ruckus, quit paying their tithes, or force a scene at the next annual business meeting over a decision that had to be made with little or no easy way out.

I'm facing that kind of choice today. I've faced them before in every church I've served in. They usually result in a bonafide disaster either to my ministry, the church, or the congregation. Sometimes, it has seemed that the problems from one church to another have been identical, but when I choose the opposite direction from the one I previously chose at another church, the results are the same...just on a different side of the aisle. They are the "unpopular" decisions that everyone in ministry dreads.

Not all of them are church killers, thank God. Many are just pebbles in the proverbial shoe that make every step you take in ministry from then on seem more painful than it should be. Others are like trying to lie down in a bed made with sheets of 40 grit sandpaper! But you know the old adage, "You've made your bed, now you have to lie in it!" But at least you can be thankful it's not a bed of nails to boot! In either case, it can make your time in ministry there miserable and unbearable--if not for you then for your family.

Some of these decisions, like the one I face today, are brought on by the actions (or inaction) of former pastors. Others are brought on by the very church members you are called to shepherd. Still more can come from outside influences and pressures, but all will leave you feeling absolutely helpless as you struggle with choosing the "lesser of two evils"...at least from your perspective.

But every hard choice is truly different from church to church. And some are the same in outcome no matter which path you choose. To quote Admiral Akbar from Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, "It's a trap!" These no-win scenarios come into the church because of humanity...human-being's innate penchant for destructive, selfish, ungodly meltdowns. When we were kids, this kind of behavior was called a temper tantrum! And as adults, these temper tantrums can be a doozy, to say the least.

Making these decisions wouldn't seem so hard if you didn't have to deal with the fallout that inevitably follows. Whether it's a decision to paint the sanctuary mauve and put dimmers on all the lights, to selling the building you're in to move to a different location, there are just some people that are going to make it hard on you. But guess what? That's why you are the pastor and they are not. You have been called by God to be the shepherd of His people. Sometimes that means doing something harsh to ensure that the flock remains healthy--or if there's sickness in the body, to cleanse it so that life will go on!

But just because the power lies in your lap does not mean that you are freed from responsibility if your choice goes horribly wrong. An abuse of pastoral power can be just as detrimental to the church as a wise choice soundly rejected by the congregation can be. Stan Lee had it right when he penned the immortal words, "With great power comes great responsibility!"
Stan Lee said it best!
So how do we face those terrifying decisions that lurk in the dark recesses of our church offices and slink along the back walls of the sanctuary? Well, there's no easy answer--but there is a simple answer: P-R-A-Y-E-R. Talk to God about it! Get His input because it's His church, His flock, His call!

Seriously, I know it feels like all the weight is on you right now, but it really isn't. Remind yourself that you are just the "Under-shepherd" and that He is the "Great Shepherd". These are really His sheep--His people! Does it hurt you when they act the way they do to a decision you had to make? Sure. But remember, it hurts God, too. But if you have done what He has commanded, then He will take care of the fallout.

Yes, in case you're wondering, I have to remind myself of that truth all the time. This is NOT my church. This is NOT my ministry. This is NOT my flock. I'm just managing things for God. It's really all His anyway. Get His input on every choice you have to make. Hear His voice on the matter. Seek wise counsel from other ministers, but turn to God first and foremost. What happens afterward is His to deal with. If they storm out, God may be pruning them so the church can have better fruit. If they quit paying their tithes, that's between them and God, and God has said that they have cursed themselves! If they make a stink and a fuss and try to split the church, they will answer to God for that. It's not easy on us--and it hurts, but like I said before; it hurts God too. My mother once said that it wouldn't hurt so much if we didn't love them. And as much as we love our congregations, we cannot love them as much as God loves them. So imagine His pain at their tantrums.

In all things, love your church, lead them as Christ would lead them, and when those tough decisions come up--take God's advice and let Him handle any fallout. If you are truly following His direction, He will make a way through that leads to His ultimate glory. Keep following, and keep leading in His footsteps.