(Editor's note: October is Pastor Appreciation Month)
Put yourself in the pastor’s place; what would you do?
I want to say a word about the pastor’s difficult situation. The hope is someone may decide to cut him a little slack when he does something you disagree with or does not come through the way you were counting on.
You have no idea what tough calls pastors have to make.
As an example, take the Judge Brett Kavanaugh situation. This controversial appointment for the Supreme Court is sucking all the air out of newsrooms these days and dividing the nation. Few people are neutral.
Recognizing that this piece will still be on our website long after this crisis has been resolved and fades into history, I need to give a little background.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is a staunch conservative, we’re told, and his rulings over the years on the bench seem to bear that out. He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, endured a few days of their grilling, and seemed to be set for confirmation, albeit from a nearly evenly divided Senate. Then, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor, came forward saying that when she was 15 and Kavanaugh two years older, he sexually assaulted her at a party when he was drunk. He denied the charge.
So, on Thursday, September 27, 2018, Ford and Kavanaugh each appeared before the Judiciary Committee to answer questions. She was “100 percent sure” that Kavanaugh was her attacker. He was just as adamant that he was not.
And that’s where the matter stands as I write. The American people seem torn as to who is telling the truth and what it means.
Just after the proceedings of Thursday, I posted this simple question on Facebook: “Do you believe Dr. Ford? Yes or no?” And the answers flew in. Twenty-four hours later, there are nearly 500 responses, a great majority saying “no.”
Now, the question on everyone’s mind is “Who is right?” And that means, “Who is wrong?” The answer, it would appear, is: There’s no way to tell. It seems there is no evidence for the attack and the would-be witnesses know or recall nothing. (Note: The next day, that committee voted to ask the President to have the FBI do a supplemental investigation of Kavanaugh to check out these allegations and report to the Senate within a week.)
Now. That was just one example.
The pastor’s situation is unique.
What if you had to decide this case? Thankfully, we don’t.
But pastors do not have that luxury with decisions that come to them almost daily.
There are some issues where right or wrong is almost impossible to detect. When that occurs, good and well-meaning people will come down on all sides of the issue. And not all of them will be charitable toward those seeing matters differently.
Woe to the pastor who gets caught in that vortex.
In most cases, the pastor has to make a decision. And when he does, some are going to disagree, get mad, and react accordingly. It’s a rare pastor who has not lost members as a result of a tough decision he had to make. Had he decided otherwise, he’d have lost a different set of members.
Pray for your pastor.
A respected pastor friend–I’ll call him Roger–called me from another state. A member of his church wanted to be married in the city where I pastored, and he wondered if I would be willing to perform it? Roger assured me all was well with the request. On the strength of that, I agreed.
Not long afterward, in a casual conversation with a friend who was a member of Roger’s church, I mentioned the upcoming wedding. This was followed by a long pause, after which she said, “You’re kidding, right?”
According to her, that groom-to-be had abandoned his wife of many years and taken up with this floozy and it was the scandal of their city.
Yikes. What had I gotten myself into?
I called Pastor Roger back and told him what I’d heard. This was a few years back and I’m going by memory here, but he assured me he knew all the details, that he had talked to the various parties, and that this was the right thing to do.
Now I’m torn. Whom to believe? And do I really need to play the sleuth and try to find out exactly what happened? (As a young pastor, I would have done that. I felt that I needed to know if the divorced party had scriptural grounds. In time, I decided only God knew the full story on these matters and my efforts were pointless. I’ve watched as the Catholic Church holds councils to investigate such matters before it dissolves a previous marriage; it’s a no-win situation. I long since turned in my detective’s badge.)
I asked the Father for guidance.
I well remember how I felt. I did not want to do this. I hated being put on the spot like this. And yet, my love and respect for that pastor were so great that neither did I want to let him down. (Long story made short; that pastor had come through for me during a difficult period of my ministry. I owed him big time.)
Either decision I made would be tough.
Eventually, sensing no clear direction from the Lord, I went back to the pastor. “I’m going to do this on your word,” I told him.
And I did. Interestingly, my journal entry for that wedding took all of one sentence. Clearly, I was uncomfortable doing the wedding and just wanted to get past it.
Sometime later, I found that my friend, the one who had told me the story in the first place, had never gotten past what I had done. And another friend cited my deed as one more reason for rejecting the modern church. “Pastors no longer have the courage to stand up and do the right thing! They go along with the world and go where the money is.”
Did I do right or wrong? I have no idea. I’ve not seen that couple since the day I performed their nuptials. And Pastor Roger is in Heaven.
As with the Kavanaugh-Ford thing, it’s almost impossible to know the right and courageous thing in some situations.
Any decision the pastor makes is going to feel bad and offend someone. Should the pastor perform that wedding? Baptize that child too young to know what he/she is doing? (I lost a family when I said ‘no.’) Accept that family into membership when they have torn up other churches? Make that man a Sunday School teacher when his pastor in another church told me he was insecure and lorded it over his class? (We made him a teacher and he was wonderful in every way.) Build that building? Move that class? Relocate the plant? End that program? Honor this leader?
Second-guessing: The preacher’s occupational hazard.
It’s easy to beat ourselves up worrying about whether we did right or not. We did the best we could at the time and have to live with the consequence.
Someone said, “Life is understood in hindsight but must be lived forward.”
President Harry Truman was often asked whether he did right in ordering the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He answered, “I refuse to second-guess the decision. At the time, we did the best we knew to do.” Sometimes he would add that experts had predicted a war on the Japanese mainland would result in a million deaths. So, by dropping the bombs, he ended the war. (A seminary professor, Dr. George Harrison, took part in the battle for Okinawa. At the time the bomb was dropped, he said, “We were preparing to invade Japan.” Dr. Harrison would add, “No one who was on Okinawa and saw how fiercely the Japanese could fight ever questioned Truman’s decision to drop the bomb and end the war.”)
We see through a glass darkly. Sometimes we get it right; sometimes we don’t.
Sometimes the pastor will have to take a stand when no position is easy, well-defined, or popular. Whether his turns out to have been the correct stand or not, godly men and women will stand by him knowing that he is not omniscient and is not required to get things right a hundred percent of the time.
I heard a pastor say, “When I was a deacon, I was often critical of my pastor because I could see so clearly what he needed to do. When God called me to pastor, however, I saw the other side of that. Believe me, it’s far more complicated than it seems from the outside.”
Pray for your pastor. Support him when people criticize him. Speak up for him. Thank you.
(To read more from Dr. McKeever click HERE to visit his blog site)