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From the Pastor's Pen
Pastor : Allen Thomason

I wrote this article during a year’s sabbatical from being a pastor.  It was published in the Bismarck Tribune and on TheOOZE.com website.  Now that I am back in the role of a pastor, I think it is only fair that I repost this here and “own” what I wrote.  New comments about our church – FBC Mandan - are in parentheses.

7 Things Your Pastor Wants to Tell You but Doesn’t Have the Guts

Every preacher wants to preach with power and passion.  Every preacher wants to change the world through the gospel.  However, that isn’t an easy task from a church pulpit.  There is a reason that some of the greatest and most challenging preachers in the English speaking world have not been on a church staff.  They never had to rely on a church congregation to pay their salary.

Having spent 24 years as a pastor and minister, I regret that I didn’t speak up more often to my churches.  Those churches might think I didn’t keep my mouth shut enough.  But I know that every pastor has things on his or her heart that he or she would love to tell the church, but they never get said for fear that it might cost them their job in the long run.  Every preacher wants to speak prophetically to the congregation.  But it seems what congregations want to hear are platitudes that reinforce what they already believe and makes them comfortable.  The amount of things your pastor might say to you if he or she wasn’t scared is only known to your pastor and God.  But here are the seven things I think might be among them.

  1. The Pastor is not responsible to do all your “Christian Stuff” for you.

Every pastor spends a great deal of time visiting folks in the hospital, nursing homes, jail, etc.  She gives her time to soup kitchens and other charitable endeavors.  He works hard at raising awareness for missions.  The pastor does a great deal of these type things.  But it is not the pastor’s job to do them FOR YOU.  If you as a Christian aren’t visiting the folks in the hospital, nursing home or jail, then you are failing to do your job.  Please don’t be so hypocritical to complain about how much the pastor is visiting when you aren’t doing it yourself.  Many people say “but that’s the pastor’s job.”  Wrong.  That’s a Christian’s job.  Read Matthew 25 and get back to me. 

  1. I can’t treat you as more important just because you are rich.

Ministry needs money in order to happen.  It is a simple fact of life in this world.  In this world, people who are rich are considered to be worthy of attention simply because they are wealthy.  Money speaks louder than anything.  Wealthy people attract admirers like sharks attract pilot fish.  They are just waiting for a chance to pick up some of the crumbs.  This is true of this world but is NOT supposed to be true of the church.  And yet it is.  Pastors get seduced by lunches at the club, bonuses from “anonymous” church members who really aren’t anonymous, rounds of golf at exclusive courses and other unofficial perks.  Your pastor probably knows that Jesus is most evident among the poor, but still she is expected to be more available to those more “influential” members.  Any pastor can tell you that if he makes a rich person mad, then the flow of money can get cut off and the screws get tightened.  Frankly, it’s blackmail.  Christians are supposed to treat each other as “one in Christ.”  If you are rich, try and be humble for God’s sake.

  1. You’re still bigoted.

Yes, you read that right.  Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in America.  Lots of churches have indeed become multi-racial, and kudos to them. It’s true that many churches have made great progress in this. That’s the gospel at work.  But most still haven’t even consciously addressed the issue.  Remnants of racism and homophobia are evident everywhere in the Church.  This is actually a really simple thing.  Look at your congregation.  If it is all one ethnic type, if it is mostly made up of the same economic demographic, if there are people in your community who will never come to your church because they won’t “fit in,” then something is VERY wrong.  Regardless of your particular theology, ALL PEOPLE should be welcome in every Christian church.  The truth is that just because the sign out front says “Church” on it doesn’t mean that there is actually one there.

(I am very proud to say that FBC Mandan is a very inclusive church and is intentional about it.  We are a multi-ethnic congregation and skin color or other considerations are just not an issue.  Everyone is welcome in our church.)

  1. Your commitment to Christ is anemic and embarrassing.

Jesus died for us.  All of us Christians have professed to give our lives to Jesus.  So why is it so hard to find dependable church members to fill volunteer slots for programs and teach Sunday School?  You have said you gave your LIFE to Jesus.  How can that not include 2 hours a week prepping a Sunday School lesson?  Perhaps if the pastor is less abstract with the altar call (give your heart to Jesus) and more specific (give 2 hours a week to visit a nursing home) then perhaps we would have more dependable followers of Jesus.  The real problem is a lack of commitment and passion on the part of all us Christians.  It’s that simple.  We are content to follow Jesus to church once or twice a week and occasionally give some money, but beyond that we have other things we have to do.  We have compartmentalized our religion so that it fits into our lives.  We were supposed to arrange our lives around our following of Jesus.  No wonder the world considers us irrelevant.

(My sense of FBC Mandan is that we are focused on Jesus and reaching people for Jesus.  But what is even better is that we are striving to be better at it.)

  1. You don’t know your Bible from a Cookbook.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how many people have quoted their favorite scripture to me “God helps those who help themselves.”  That’s not in the Bible.  It’s not God.  It’s Benjamin Franklin and it’s from Poor Richard’s almanac.  Somehow we have raised a couple of generations of Christians that are biblically illiterate.  Our people do not know the stories of the Bible.  I’m not talking about memorizing a few passages here and there.  I am talking about knowing the Bible as a whole.  The people in the pews for the most part are ignorant of the greater themes running through the Bible.  The stories are rich and relevant.  I am pained by how many church services I sit through where the Bible is only referred to and not read.  It ought to be central to our existence.  Your pastor tells you to read your Bible.  Listen and then do it every day.

  1. You are not as loving as you think you are.

Every church I have ever had the honor of being a part of has considered itself a “loving” congregation.  Yet most of them were not perceived as such by anyone outside their own membership.  Our job is to love others in the name of Christ.  It takes no effort to love those close to you, and it is certainly not a virtue.  Even Hitler had a girlfriend.  Jesus calls us to love radically and fearlessly.  A church that is not reaching out in love, but rather huddled around itself, is just a club with stained glass windows. 

(FBC Mandan is one of the most loving congregations of which I have ever been a member.  That’s one reason I joined this church about a year before they called me as pastor.)

  1. Most Churches are dying.

Most churches are dying and don’t want to see it.  “Not my church!”  Maybe, maybe not.  How many new Christians did your church create last year?  Did you baptize more new believers than you buried church members?  I am not talking about new members added to the role.  Lots of bigger churches are growing by taking Christians from other churches.  Transferring membership does not increase the kingdom of God.  Unless your church is willing to change everything about itself in order to reach people with the gospel of Christ then it is probably only a matter of time.  Your pastor knows that the word “change” scares the daylights out of you.  He wants to tell you what needs to be changed, but he wants to keep his job, too.  She has great ideas and you ought to listen to her.  But more important than that, you and your church should be the kind of place that your pastor doesn’t need to have “guts” to tell you the truth.  True followers of Jesus will listen.

(FBC Mandan is currently growing and growing new Christians.  I pray this will continue.)