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After years of operating a Christian School for 36 years, I often remember taking the time to say to the faculty that there are certain things you can never do when it comes to teaching. They will devastate a situation and significantly impact the direction of your professional life. Let me highlight two of them . . . .
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Supervision: The top one might be failing to ensure the personal safety of the children. If a child is injured or hurt and you were not present and/or proactively taking steps to prevent that injury, you may find the situation irrecoverable. That was especially true when it came to any injury to the head, face, or eyes. Those types of injuries have long-lasting personal consequences for a child. If a child is seriously injured or even worse, you may not be able to overcome the enduring memories of that event!
Comments: Certain words should never come out of your mouth in speaking to a student or a parent. One is, “I don’t have time to . . . .” That parent has enrolled their child, their most precious possession, for you to have the time. In fact, they are paying a good $ because they are expecting you to take and spend the time. Another word is “stupid.” Never use the word “stupid!” You can make comments that are indefensible and severely hinder recovery with a parent — and even the child.
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Likewise, there are “mistakes” that a pastor can make which will devastate and significantly impact the direction of your professional life as a ministry leader or pastor.
#1) Lying: We all understand that there are different ways to lie or deceive. Lying is the telling of an outright untruth. “Deceiving” comes packaged in many different wrappings — not saying what we know is being asked, using nuanced words and /or parsing statements to mislead, making statements that are true as far as they go, but not answering by telling the whole truth, etc.
What a ministry leader or pastor cannot do is “outright lie.” I am not sure that it is recoverable. One may have to move on to another ministry after being caught in a lie.
While sometimes there is an argument to be made for misdirecting-deflecting, partially answering, or making misleading comments (i.e., “I wasn’t going to answer that question directly because I don’t and didn’t have the permission to do that.”), lying destroys all credibility.
That is not to say that giving answers (and particularly to cover your own actions) that do not reflect what actually took place is not and will not be rightly viewed a lying! Any attempt to cover up what actually took place with nuanced, parsed, or weasel words will probably equally destroy one’s credibility!
The direction of the ministry changes, and you are now geographically the pastor of a different church, or positionally the leader, without credibility and impact in that church.
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#2) Financial Impropriety: The misuse of ministry monies, church credit cards, allotted monies in a pastoral expense account, or any hiding of important financial details will inflict some serious damage. Mistakes are made, but not discernable or repeated mistakes. I say “discernable” because there is no plausible explanation for those kinds of mistakes. Plausibly, they had to be known when engaged in by the person.
Even the spending of money on this-or-that is rightfully the concern of the ministry. A ministry leader or pastor cannot preach and teach the truths of Scripture, including the obvious truth that “this world is not our home, we’re just a passin’ through,” and then financially behave in ways that obviously shout that maybe it is.
The direction of the ministry changes, and you are now geographically the pastor of a different church, or a pastor with little ability to persuade or move others to live for the Lord.
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#3) Covering Up Wrong-doing: We have all heard the statement, “The coverup was worse than the crime.” Any attempt to cover up wrong or manipulate a situation or an outcome will be seen as duplicity. Any realized game playing never ends well.
I might suggest that even when it comes to the wrong-doing of others on the staff or part of the membership, attempting to cover the awareness of, or manipulate the damaging consequences of another’s actions, there will be significant damage to one’s credibility.
The direction of the ministry changes, and you are now geographically the pastor of a different church, or a pastor with little moral authority that is needed for a preaching ministry that challenges and changes lives.
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#4) Moral-Sexual Impropriety: Untoward, indecent, or unseemly behavior involving those of the opposite sex is irrecoverable — or should be. I say “should be” because today, that is seemingly no longer the situation, even among those who claim to be the most biblically-based ministries.
Even when it comes to the misconduct of others within the church body, ministry leaders and pastors are often walking on dangerously divert roads to not do what so obviously ought to be done. Because it is so obvious, the ministry leader or pastor finds himself as discredited as the perpetrator. Far too often, the account follows the same storyline — sexual wrong-doing, pastor acts as if he has a better read of the situation, pastors vouch for the person’s innocence, leaders decide that they have other and better solutions, everyone is pulled into the quagmire of the damaged and shamed.
Deal with sexual impropriety swiftly, cautiously, and clearly. “Swift & cautious”? Yes, start with something like the suspension of the individual as you investigate. As you proceed, make clear and prompt changes to that status as the facts unravel.
The direction of the ministry changes, and you are now geographically the pastor of a different church, or a pastor who is unknowingly a figurehead, or no longer a pastor at all.
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#5) The Mishandling Of People: Ministry is about people, about relationships. The two elements that make a church a church are preaching & people, the pulpit and the pew, edification and fellowship. Some of the greatest damage happens when ministry leaders and pastors mishandle and man-handle people! Without examining all the ways that happens (indifference, insensitive comments, harsh responses, display of favoritism, dismissive, unconcerned, scrapped, et al.), the experience is real to those who encounter it. In fact, the experience is, more often than not, consequential! #5) The Mishandling Of People: Ministry is about people, about relationships.
√ There is a reason that pastors move on, from ministry to ministry, after only a few years. One of the reasons is that they have so damaged their relationships that they realize that they no longer have an impact on God’s people and/or the direction of that ministry.
√ There is a reason that pastors see the church turnover in membership, yearly attendance widely fluctuates, long-time members leave, and/or churches slowly decline over those years. Pastors have explained away their failure in the hard work of “the people business.”
“The ministry is great,
if it just wasn’t for the people,
and I am working on that!”
Over time, ministry leaders and pastors can slowly believe that the ministry is about them. Understandably, they are so much the focus of ministry, “they begin to believe their own press.” They are vital, and if this-or-that member or friend of the ministry leaves, even if they have been serving and giving for decades, that is not material or noteworthy.
The direction of the ministry changes, and you are now geographically the pastor of a different church, or the pastor of a much different church in makeup, effectiveness, and/or size.