Posts Tagged With: pastors

Hostile Takeover in Churches?

When I work with congregations after a pastor’s retirement or resignation, my goal is to help them prepare for whatever’s next in their congregational life. I lead them through a SWOT Analysis—thinking about their…



O-Opportunities, and


This winter, I’m the Interim Pastor of a church in Connecticut. When we got to the “Threats” section of the process, it occurred to me that most congregations, no matter their denomination, are vulnerable to similar external dangers.

Partisan politics have entered the church house. In fifty years, we might have just three denominations: Republican, Democratic and None. Previously, men and women who’ve cancelled each other’s votes have been able to worship God and study the Bible together, acknowledging the Lordship of Christ. Nowadays, we talk past one another, emphasizing different portions of the Bible or ignoring Scripture altogether. Result?

  • “That preacher’s got to go.”
  • “I’ll never come back to that Sunday school class as long as that teacher is there.”
  • “Did you hear what the denomination did?”

Encroachment by those from different faith traditions. Some conservative Christians are fearful of the Interfaith movement. Hindus, Muslims and ISIS have never been a threat to the congregations in which I’ve worshiped. The problem we have in Baptist churches is crossovers from Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Evangelical and Reformed traditions whose beliefs are similar to traditional Baptists, but different enough to create havoc. “Christian” radio and television, as well as parachurch movements, create the impression that all Christians ought to think alike. But we don’t. That’s why, for hundreds of years, we’ve had Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist congregations in the same community. I’m an ecumenical soul, but I do not believe a lot of things some folks who show up in a Baptist church assume I believe.

Hostile takeover. That’s not a concept most people think about with regard to churches, but it happens every week. A new pastor sometimes has an agenda. Baptist churches call someone as their new pastor they believe is a “traditional” Baptist minister, whatever that means to them, only to discover they now have a Reformed Baptist or a Fundamentalist in the pulpit. Then come chaos and a church split.

Church shopping, combined with impossible expectations of pastors and staff. About one of every hundred preachers is what I call “lightning in a bottle,” with Billy Graham charisma, with clarity of voice and message. People look for a preacher that is the most humorous, the most inspirational, and the most charming. Denominational or church loyalty is almost a thing of the past. Megachurches with an entertainment mindset are sucking the bodies and the blood out of traditional congregations. The questions of this generation are,

  • “What have you done for me lately?”
  • “Is it fun?”
  • “Will it cost me anything?”

Secularism. Low priority for spiritual and church matters. Youth soccer games scheduled for Sunday morning at 10 a.m. are the norm, not the exception. Busy-ness. Crowded schedules.

When a culture no longer gives props to the church, Christians have the opportunity to demonstrate their own faith by acting counter-culturally. It’s not the culture’s job to do the church’s work.

Read the Bible. Pay attention to Jesus. Be still. Pray. Be grateful for what we have. Fear not. Think. Listen. Don’t worry. Make peace. Evangelize. Be generous. Let your light shine. Don’t judge. Learn grace. Speak the truth in love. Forgive. Major on the majors. Love one another. Serve others. Trust God.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Psalm 23: 1

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Lists/Top Ten | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

No Church Gets the Pastor They Thought They Called

No Church Gets the Pastor They Thought They Called

The reverse is also true. Pastors do not end up at the church to which they thought they had a call.

(The exception to both observations is when a church calls as pastor a well-known associate already on their staff. Each party knows in advance whether the match is a good fit.)

Church and candidate need to say as much as they can about their hopes, dreams, agendas and, even, to some extent, deficiencies. Potential pastors should not say they love hospital visitation or evangelism if they don’t. Churches should not say they are conflict free if they aren’t. This isn’t to say the church or potential pastors need to pursue every idiosyncratic thought during the search.

When a new pastor is installed, grace will be required on both sides. Selecting a pastor and accepting a call is like dating and marriage. There’s a lot about the courtship that is charming, exciting, hopeful and lovely. But, as in marriage, there will be surprises. The pastor search committee didn’t know about the pastor’s kickboxing hobby. The prospective pastor didn’t know he/she was expected to join the Rotary Club.

As a lifelong observer of and participant in churches, I’ve noticed that sometimes the members of a pastor search committee are the first to turn against their new employee—which they selected! I suspect that’s because of unrealistically high expectations: “We thought our youth program would double in size within six months. It didn’t happen and I’m disappointed. We made a mistake. We got the wrong person.“

Generally, our level of satisfaction is directly proportional to the level of our expectations. If we have super-high expectations, we are sure to be disappointed. This is a principle for life, by the way, not just for search committees and pastoral candidates.

Pastors are also surprised. In almost every church there’s a hot button issue that’s untouchable in sermons and possibly even in private conversation. I can give you a list of fifty. The unhealthiest congregations are without grace on a dozen or more fronts. It’s silly to think the entire congregation and the new pastor will agree on all subjects.

Prepare for surprises. Life is a roller coaster. The pastor and congregation are on a pilgrimage together, at least for this season.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Problems and Challenges of Preaching in a Politicized Environment

The Problems and Challenges of Preaching in a Politicized Environment

Marion D. Aldridge


The Bible, in spite of its age, speaks to issues on today’s front pages: life, health, pain, suffering and death, war and peace, walls (pro and con), creation and environment, money (always an important spiritual issue). Can a preacher speak to these matters without alienating half of his or her congregation?

Yes. With one important exception: If someone (either the preacher or the layperson) is looking for a fight, they will find one. Some people can’t get along with their spouse or their children. They simply don’t know how to live with complexity and differences of opinion.

A pastor can’t make an unhappy person happy.

Otherwise, here are ten suggestions for preaching about hard subjects in politically charged times.

  • Possibly the most patriotic thing any of us can do is to pray for our leaders in government. That’s biblical. This week in worship, I prayed for our President, our Senators, our Legislators, our Supreme Court Justices and others who are in positions of responsibility in our nation and state.
  • Remember: in America, Church and State are constitutionally separated. The government cannot tell churches (or mosques or synagogues) what to do and our churches have no authority over the government. People can say almost anything they want to, but this safeguard is writ large in our First Amendment. Every year, not just this year, there are challenges, but for two hundred years, the wall of separation has stood.
  • Separate your rights as a private citizen from your responsibilities as a priest and/or prophet. Teach your congregants to do the same. As taxpayers, pastors and laity are entitled to vote, to petition, to march, to write their legislators, to serve on juries, to be involved in local, state, and national political activities. Sometimes, like husbands and wives, they will cancel each other’s votes!
  • Try to pay attention to what others are saying. No individual has the whole truth, the entire word of God. The Bible is a big book. The world is a big world. Humility about the limits of our knowledge is a good thing.
  • Be stingy with the phrase, “Thus saith the Lord.” Nobody wants to be beat up in church. There should be safety in the sanctuary. It helps me, during sermon preparation, to consider what my best critics would say. Sometimes, nuance is needed. If you are truly biblical, you may need to acknowledge, “On the one hand… On the other hand.” Don’t use the pulpit, often called a “sacred desk,” for every issue. Protect it from glib or careless comments. Some themes need a Sunday night discussion, not a Sunday morning proclamation. Note: The prophet spoke hard words to King David, but he did so privately, not in a sermon.
  • Remind the congregation of the enduring principles of scripture and the eternal reign of God. Preach these boldly. Pepper your preaching with phrases such as, “Thirty years ago, our parents and Sunday school teachers taught us…” or “During the era of Martin Luther…” to make the point that you didn’t choose to preach on an issue because of someone just elected or merely because you read a rant on Facebook. The timeless themes of scripture have been around a long time and people need to know them.
  • Balance the painful with the hopeful. If a pastor preaches a challenging and confrontational sermon one week, and sometimes that is necessary, maybe the lessons the next few Sundays ought to be grace, hope, faith, peace, love and joy.
  • Preach (and act) with love. Pay attention to your own heart. Be careful with your own spirit.  Be self-aware. Don’t let fear drive you. Don’t be reactionary, sucked into another’s anger. We bring the deficiencies of our own personality to the pulpit. Are you passive-aggressive, not missing the chance to dig at people with whom you disagree? Are you easily seduced by hysteria on social media? Are you too often angry? Beware.
  • Sometimes, prophetic words and actions are required. Dietrich Bonheoffer, Christian ethicist during the reign of Hitler, understood the landscape had been altered. Hitler was not an inconvenience. He slaughtered millions of human beings—Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and Jews. Different circumstances require different strategies. Christians need to remember, also, the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King, Jr. There is a time to break an unjust law. When we do, we don’t whine but we suffer the consequences with dignity.
  • Model a full, happy, and contented life. Take advantage of our magnificent American freedoms. Turn off the television news and the social media and take a walk in the woods. Go to a baseball game. Read a novel. Visit the Grand Canyon or New York City. Invite strangers into your home for a meal. Volunteer at the local food bank. It’s a big, beautiful country. Beyond our borders, the earth is a big, beautiful creation. Embrace and enjoy.
Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Health, Lists/Top Ten | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

No Wiggle Room on a Church Staff

No Wiggle Room on a Church Staff

Marion Aldridge

(This blog describes a problem I have never heard named. Unfortunately, I have not proposed a solution. I hope I am starting a helpful conversation, since I don’t have an answer. What are your ideas?)

Most churches are small. Compared to the government’s various definitions of “small business,” which can be up to 50-500 employees, our congregations are tiny. It is a rare church that has a dozen employees. Most have one (the pastor) or two (the pastor and an administrative assistant). Some have full-time or part-time employees with very specialized skills—financial secretary, minister of music, preschool coordinator.

If someone is a good employee, but in the wrong job, larger businesses can move a person to an assignment where he or she can succeed.


Churches can’t do that. We are too small. There is no wiggle room. Promotions and demotions are nearly impossible in ecclesiastical life within the same congregation.

In conversation with one of my friends who owns and manages a fried chicken franchise, he contended that one of the tasks of a successful supervisor is to get a person in the right job. My friend, for example, hires someone for a three-month probationary period to work the front counter. He soon discovers the new person doesn’t have the social abilities to work with customers face to face. The individual is faithful in attendance, shows up on time, and isn’t afraid of work. So my buddy makes the employee a dishwasher. The boss keeps a good employee and the worker keeps his job as a wage earner.

Most churches are too small for a similar scenario. A good receptionist does not necessarily make a good financial secretary and vice versa. An exceptional Minister of Music does not necessarily make an exceptional Minister of Youth. Like other businesses, churches enlarge and shrink. Change happens. Difficult choices must be made. What does a congregation do with a pastor when they discover the nice person they called doesn’t have the skill set required to lead a church? A “probationary” period in calling a minister would be extremely rare. What happens when, even after a time of magnificent ministry, it is obvious that an individual and a church’s current situation are no longer a fit?

The exceptions in ecclesiastical organizations are denominations with a Catholic or Methodist polity, where the system and not the local congregation is the employer. In those settings, clergy can be moved from one place to another without fear of being terminated for the “sin” of a bad fit.

Exacerbating the problem, most churches use pious language to describe a hiring as a calling. I like that language. We talk about a “call” being the will of God. It is hard to move from a deeply held spiritual conviction about vocation to saying, “We no longer believe you working here is the will of God.” But, to be fair, other jobs are also callings, and teachers and accountants are not exempt from forced career changes.

Furthermore, churches are volunteer organizations that depend on the generosity of members to pay salaries and meet the budget. Even an employee despised by 90% of a congregation may be loved by 10%. That ten percent might leave if there is an involuntary resignation. If the percentages are different, the results can be even more disastrous. Church sometimes lose members when a terminated pastor or minister of music takes 30%-40% of the congregation to start a new church.

Does anyone have a solution or even a suggestion regarding this painful predicament in our churches?

In the meantime…

As Christians we claim to be people of the Resurrection. We believe that life comes after death. Pain is not the end of the world. We say we trust the transformative power of God working in our lives, even when we suffer. Christians, when we are in our right minds, know that more growth happens in the valley of sorrow than on the mountaintop of pleasure. How many times have we heard someone eventually say, “They did me a favor,” after the unpleasant experience of being dismissed?

We know the Bible says, over and over and over, “Fear not,” but, when it comes to paychecks, we live fearfully.

“Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Romans 5: 3

Most of us would prefer that the Bible not say such things, but it does. Still, my question is a serious one: Is there some solution to our vocational dilemma, within churches, that could be less painful for good people doing the wrong job or doing the right job in the wrong place?

Categories: Faith/Spirituality | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Admitted We Were Powerless…


You don’t have to get on an airplane or traverse an ocean to make discoveries. About twenty-five years ago, I began visiting church basements and other community rooms where, once or twice each week, men and women gathered to talk about what life is like living with addiction. A counselor friend recommended that every pastor, teacher, social worker and nurse should attend Al-Anon meetings, so I began going.

I became a fan of Twelve Step groups, the most famous of which is Alcoholics Anonymous. Other “self-help” groups related to or similar to AA include Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Alateen and Al-Anon.

Al-Anon is designed for family members and friends of those who have addiction and/or dependency problems.

“Hi. My name is … .”

“Hi … .”

My life was changed by listening to the wisdom of people who dealt daily with problems they faced as family or friend to someone with an addiction. Here are some lessons learned from Al Anon meetings:

• Don’t overreact. Don’t underreact. React Appropriately.
• Fake it till you make it.
• First things first.
• How important is it?
• I can’t start the next chapter of life if I keep re-reading the last one.
• I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.
• I’m not as good as I once thought I was, and I’m not as bad as I sometimes think I am.
• It’s like getting rid of an alley cat. You don’t have to kick it. Just don’t feed it.
• Let go and let God.
• Mind your own business.
• Nothing changes if nothing changes.
• One day at a time.
• Tend to your own affairs.
• The only thing that’s the end of the world is the end of the world.
• We are powerless over alcohol… and powerless over the people in our lives who are addicted to alcohol or to anything else…

When I attend church, I know there is some sort of pain on every pew. When I attend Al-Anon meetings, I know there is pain in every chair.

It is important to say I do not represent AA or Al-Anon or any other Twelve-Step group. This blog represents my desire to share something important in my life with friends. Anonymity of participants is vital. It’s in the name! At the same time, the twelfth step encourages us to “carry these steps” beyond ourselves. My motivation came when a friend with whom I was talking said she had never heard of Al-Anon. This blog is my effort to say how important this program has been to me.

Meetings begin and end with the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.


Categories: addiction, Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Buyers Remorse for Pastor Search Committees

This is a republishing of a blog I wrote for Associated Baptist Press:


Categories: Faith/Spirituality | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Blog at