Altar Call -- Opelika-Auburn News
April 1, 2001
Iíve had it! At my age I figure I donít have to put up with any more complaints of unhappy
people, so I have decided to get out before it gets any worse. My letter of resignation will be
on the bishopís desk Monday morning.
Trinity is my last appointment. After 50 years it is time to hang up my spurs and go fishing. Never again will I hear those words made famous by the bishop and his cabinet, "This church is a wonderful opportunity for you." Every Methodist preacher learns to tremble when he learns that he is being sent to "a wonderful opportunity."
Wonderful opportunities are usually those churches which have earned a reputation for giving pastors a hard time. Some churches are good at making preachers miserable. You can recognize these churches by the fact that they never keep a preacher more than three or four years. Older pastors offer you sympathy by saying, "That church is hard on pastors; I hope you can survive."
When I came to the end of my fourth year in one church, some of the "old guard" said to me, "Preacher, you have done a good job, but in 150 years we have never kept a preacher more than four years, so you need to move on." I checked the log book and he was correct.
His logic, however, did not prevail and I stayed on for a fifth year. By the time the year was over, I figured I had stayed a year too long. I learned the hard way that some of us preachers are too hard-headed to know when to fold Ďem.
A preacher has a tough assignment. If he is too liberal, the conservatives donít like him. If he is too conservative, the liberals give him a hard time. If he tries to find safety in some middle ground, then he is accused of being a "people pleaser" who has no strong convictions.
Most preachers start out with four or five churches on a circuit. By the time they trust you enough to give you just one church, you realize some of the advantages of serving several churches. For example, if folks in one church complain, then you simply tell them that you were busy serving the folks in one of the other churches. But with only one church you can no longer use that excuse.
There are many benefits, of course, in serving a large church with a big staff. On a circuit, the pastor gets hit with all the criticism. In the large church the pastor can shift the fault to one of his staff members. He can say, "Hey, it wasnít my fault; I told my associate to take care of that!"
Methodist pastors usually inherit a staff that is in place. In other words, the pastor must work with people he has not picked to work with him. I have often wondered what it would be like to land in a situation where the entire staff was required to turn in their resignations when a new pastor was appointed. There have been a few times when I wished that had been the case for me.
On the other hand, sometimes you can work better with people you did not choose than with some of the ones you did choose. Along the way I made a few poor choices which I lived to regret but had to live with. There are some people who, having made a good first impression, fail to measure up to your expectations of them. That can make life so miserable that you begin to wonder if those letters you saw in the sky, "P C," really meant "plow corn" instead of "preach Christ."
Some weeks a preacher never hears anyone offer words of encouragement. All he hears is fussing and complaining, what the Bible calls murmuring. And to be honest, I have learned that Methodists are sometimes good at murmuring. I have heard that the Baptists and the Presbyterians are also good at this, but I will let my fellow pastors speak for themselves.
I imagine the Pentecostals can complain pretty loudly too, but no doubt they know how to make their grumbling sound rather "spiritual." A Pentecostal complaint might be expressed like this: "Pastor, after spending the last 17 days on my knees in fasting and prayer, the Lord told me to tell you that he has removed the anointing from your ministry, so you might as well move on."
Actually the Methodists have treated me much better than the Baptists have treated some of their pastors. At least I have never had the Methodist "old guard" to meet on a Wednesday night and give me my walking papers, though some may have wished they could.
But no matter all the problems, the time comes for every preacher to move aside and let a younger pastor take his place. It has been a great run for me, and I have enjoyed every minute (well, almost!) of it. They tell me there are no complaints to be heard out in the pasture where they send old pastors, so thatís where I am headed. My thanks to all my friends and supporters, and my good wishes to all who wished this day had come sooner.
May the next preacher be what every church wants: a handsome, brilliant and articulate orator, who makes everybody happy, and who is 35 years old, with 40 years experience.