It was my first call as head pastor. Before coming to this Sacramento church, I had ably served another as youth pastor, but like many young men, I had been itching for my own command. When I interviewed for the position, I remember saying brash things like, "Growing a church is not all that difficult." That sweeping assertion was grounded in the fact that I had taken two classes in church growth at seminary some five years earlier. Such are the foolish things young men say when they crave authority.
My first few months at this church were pretty rocky, as there were two or three elders who also craved authority and did their best to sabotage mine. One had an indirect and snide way of doing so. He never complained about my leadership to my face, but he sure would let others know what my faults were. He knew the gossipy nature of the congregation well enough to know that his words would soon enough make it to my ears: "You know, Mark, Stanley didn't care for that last sermon …"
After a few months of being humble and forbearing, I'd had enough. I invited Stanley out for lunch. It didn't take long for the conversation to move to the topic of church, whereupon I said: "Stanley, I understand you don't care for me or my leadership. That's your prerogative. But one thing I will not abide in this church is people talking to others about me behind my back. If you have a concern, you need to bring it to my attention personally, man to man."
This long-time elder had for years put the fear of Stanley into many members; he was not used to anyone talking to him like this. He stared back at me a little wide eyed as I went on like this, with evident frustration, for a couple more sentences.
Then to make sure he got my point, I concluded ...