When Someone Makes Your Job Harder
And the ensuing frustration
“If people are turned off by how you treat them, they will not be turned on by what you teach them”
Though I pastor a small church, I still “moonlight” in my former occupation as a Multi-modality, Diagnostic Imaging Technologist, sometimes called more simply a Radiographer. Yes, I did maintain my credentials after going into ministry. I guess I couldn’t bear to lose the few letters after my name, ha! Actually, I just figured I might one day need the money. Consequently, I was right.
Back in my full-time Radiology days, I once worked with a guy that made my job harder. He left examination rooms messy, he missed the trash cans when he threw things away, he never put equipment away, he would always leave drips of sticky, Omnipaque Non-iodinated Contrast (dye) on the floor next the CT table.
I would come in later to set up for an exam and I’d have to take a few minutes to clean up after him. Worse yet was when I would bring a patient in without first checking the room only to find that he’d left a mess again. Then the patient would think I was the slob! The room should have been left ready at the end of every exam.
His distorted way of doing his job made doing my job the right way more difficult.
The Same Thing Happens in Churches…
There have been many times in the last four years that I have dealt with this same dynamic in ministry. Some, not all, preachers of a generation ago had a distorted way of doing things and it had made the jobs of those of use today who seek to do things right much more challenging.
For example, I live in a part of the country where the pantheistic cop-out of “Spiritual but not religious” is pretty much an epidemic. The reason why is that most of the people (no exaggeration here) that I meet had a bad experience in a church when they were young, and then swore off the whole thing.
Now, in the minds of those people, I’m a suspicious, possibly insane predator of their souls. I have literally had a few conversations with people that were completely cordial until I mentioned that I’m a pastor of Baptist church and then they back away uncomfortably as if I’m going attack them with a Bible at any moment! Again, no exaggeration here.
Most recently, I spoke with a forty-three year old man who is “Spiritual but not religious”. When he was thirteen years old he sat next to two unruly teens on the front row of a Baptist church and the preacher quieted them a couple times. On the third time, the preacher angrily called all three of them to the platform and forced them to sing “Joy to the World” impromptu and a-cappella in front of the church in order to teach them a lesson (it was around Christmas time).
This, frankly, is shameful behavior by a pastor. As someone who has been around pastors since before he could walk and eventually became one, I can say that man was a poor shepherd, at least in that moment. Perhaps he was having a bad day, but honestly, it should have never happened like that. Sadly, I personally know of dozens more stories just like that.
The result of that pastor’s actions in that one moment are that now thirty years later, when the Lord would bring another Gospel witness into that person’s life, he would reject it out of hand because of a memory that scarred him. Like in my Radiology days, the “work area” should have been left ready for the next time, but it wasn’t. Now I’m left looking like the slob.
In All Fairness to the Preacher…
Now, to be fair to the pastor in that story, often times unsaved people who are already resistant to the Gospel tend to look for reasons to reject what they call “organized religion”. It’s possibly that in this case, the boy would have left and never looked back anyway even if the pastor had done everything right.
The man actually told me that he was “dragged” to the church by his grandmother. My point is, Christ-rejecting people often don’t need a reason to abandon spiritual things. However, if you give them one, they will take it readily and they will use it for the rest of their life, case-in-point.
I also was witnessing this week to a man who is a Respiratory Therapist who also had a bad experience. He hasn’t darkened the door of a church in decades.
It almost goes without saying, but if unsaved people are turned off by how you treat them, they will not be turned on by what you teach them, no matter how compelling.
What does the Bible Say?
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:16b “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
Also, James would have considered the actions of the pastor in our story to be unwise: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:17-18)
Pastoral qualifications include, “A bishop [same office as pastor] then must be blameless” (1 Timothy 3:2"). This doesn’t mean he is perfect. That’s not even possible. It does mean that any accusations leveled should not be able to stick. People sometimes accuse unjustly, but for a pastor, his conduct and testimony should be such that none of the accusations can fairly stick. He should be above board.
Later in the same chapter, Paul writes, “Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:7).
That means that even “non-church” people cannot fairly have ought against the pastor. He should have such a shining testimony that even the unsaved world can respect him.
A Big Step Forward…
This week I was sent a link to a sermon by Bob Gray II who honestly said some amazing things about all this. His father and their church have been long-time influencers in the world of Independant Fundamental Baptists. Honestly, I was not familiar with them until much later in my life, but I know their “style of ministry” quite well since many of my forbearers a generation ago borrowed from their example.
I was pleased to hear him literally renounce and apologize for the very style of ministry illustrated above in the story of the forty-three year old man. He, of course, did not purport to be a representative of all Independent Baptists (we’re independent), which was fair, but we Independent Baptists know exactly what he was getting at, and I think churches of that old “whip-driving” style would do well to take an example from the video.
It was the first sermon I’d ever heard by Bob Gray II and honestly, he hit the nail on the head in a most succinct, pointed, and eloquent way. He got to the heart of the problem and even acknowledged that there are many who have nothing to do with churches because of that shameful ministry style.
All I’ll say is that I’m glad to hear such an influencer finally acknowledge and apologize for an old ministry style that has made my present vocation harder as well as that of many others like me. It certainly isn’t going to reverse the entire effect, but at least no one can ever look at them and say “they never made it right”. It’s a good step forward.