We are highlighting Leadership Journal's Top 40, the best articles of the journal's 36-year history. We will be presenting them in chronological order. Today we present #24, from 1983 and 1993.
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The thought of resigning passes through most every pastor's mind, especially in times of conflict. The greater the pain, the more the thought nags us.
Leadership Journal first published this article in 1983, and it struck a deep emotional chord among readers. One wrote us, "I was ready to quit my church until I read Don Bubna's ten reasons not to. I decided to stay, and now, past the crisis, I'm glad I did. The article's timing was perfect."
"I was feeling a lot of pressure when I wrote that article," says Don Bubna, then pastor of Salem (Oregon) Alliance Church. The ten reasons helped him continue to minister for four more years in that church. Eventually, however, after twenty-three years at Salem, he moved to another church.
"Now, ten years later, the pressure on me and other pastors is only increasing," he says. "People have higher and higher expectations of their pastor. Today, handling pressure is what ministry is all about." The ten reasons have helped him "stay by the stuff" for the last five years.
"Today I feel as though I'd like to quit, take a leave of absence, resign from the world, or something." So begins a line in my journal, penned about a year ago. I had never felt so much under attack.
We had just received another turndown from a potential youth pastor. The church seemed to be on a plateau, the elders stuck on dead center. In a matter of a few days, a young man from our congregation who had recently gone to Africa was killed in an automobile accident. A missionary pilot from our fellowship had been attacked by South Pacific islanders with machetes and almost died. A retired missionary, our esteemed pastor of visitation, passed into the presence of the Lord after a very brief illness.
During this same period, I received four letters in one day marked "Personal." This kind of envelope seldom bears good news. One was a complaint from a long-time attender who felt I had gotten soft on the gospel. The person was leaving the congregation in order "to be fed" elsewhere. Another was the resignation of a staff member with whom I had served for more than two decades.
Under such an avalanche, I could not help reviewing the many reasons why the North American pastorate is becoming impossible. People now watch tele-Christendom's finest as they munch their sweet roll on Sunday morning, then drive to see how the local reverend compares, sans makeup and retakes. And the generation raised on Sesame Street wants something more appealing than thirty minutes of straight talking.
The pastor must also be an extraordinary counselor these days to battle the disintegration of the home and the lack of moral standards in the community.
He must be a strong leader, so that people will follow; yet his authority is frequently suspect, like anyone else's in public service. Still he is expected to produce a diversified ministry for all tastes and age groups so folks won't leave to go to the superchurch across town. He must be a change agent-but the changes must never be thought to edge away from biblical standards.
All this ran through my mind as I tallied the reasons to quit. Then, one day, I had a change of heart and began rummaging for reasons to stay. Gradually I reconvinced myself that I loved my work. Here's what I came up with:
1. I need to grow in the new demands I'm facing rather than find an excuse to cop out.
In twenty-three years of leading multiple staffs, I had experienced only two resignations from associates. Suddenly within a one-year period, three had decided to leave. Needless to say, some of this related to differences with my leadership style.
The last year has been uncomfortable for me-but a time of growth. I believe I'm now a more sensitive servant to the congregation.
I also identify more with pastors in trial. I'm one of them. It would have been a shame to miss the growth God had planned for my life simply because pressures were greater than I had ever felt.
Too often we leave and start over, basically repeating the same experiences.
2. I refuse to be guided only by my emotions.
There is nothing wrong with "feeling like resigning." Wise counselors tell us to listen to our emotions but not believe them. Subjectivity must run the gauntlet of objectivity. A move could be a good thing, but it needs to be made on the basis of truth about my own gifts.
Any active pastor will pump enough adrenalin on Sunday to cause a natural letdown or depression on Monday. I recently noticed that Mondays, which I have always taken off, tended to be "bad days." I felt worn out. I was cross with my family. I dwelt on problem areas and felt very unproductive.
Then I heard a counselor of many pastors say that from an adrenalin management standpoint, we would be much better off to make Monday a light working day and have our day off later in the week. I decided to alter my tradition.
Now I try to spend the first couple of hours Monday alone in devotions, reading and thinking. I then refine my schedule for the week, do my dictation, and spend the last part of the morning working with my secretary. This is often the only major block of time we have all week. Most of the staff is gone for the day, and the interruptions seem fewer.
I've learned not to take Monday breakfast meetings. I refuse to begin early with people. I try to limit my appointments to two.
Now I take Fridays off. My attitudes are much better with my wife, I feel less pressure for the whole week, and the break late in the week helps me store up for the heavy weekend.
3. My family needs love and stability.
Many moves tend to hurt children rather than help them. My wife was the daughter of a man who pastored numerous small churches throughout the Southwest. The moves were so painful to her that she has actually blocked many of them out of her mind.
Since part of my calling to ministry is my family, they have become a balance to the tendencies to move. The one move we did make while our children were growing up was decided in conjunction with them. I asked to bring my whole family along on the candidating visit. Our family prayed about the decision together, and all had a voice in it, even though the children were elementary and preschool at the time.
Children need a support system. They need a church body that loves and cares for them as individuals. Our congregation has shown unusual love and acceptance. If our children exhibited nonconformity at times, that has never been a problem to our leadership. Even if our children were to fail utterly, I believe our people would still love them.
Our son is not a great letter writer. But when he was overseas for almost a year, we were both surprised and pleased by the people in the congregation who reported hearing from him. He wrote not only his peers but also an old gentleman who had deeply touched his life and a middle-aged couple from whom he had sensed special support.
On the night stand in our youngest daughter's bedroom is the picture of a married couple in their seventies. They are not people of material means, but they have radiated a quality of life over the years that has made this young lady feel they are special friends.
4. Building people takes time.
I had arrived early to speak at a pastor's conference, and a young pastor was helping me set up the overhead projector. Suddenly he asked, "What are you going to try to sell us?"
He was convinced I was coming in to pitch some new technique for building a church. I told him I had come to teach and share out of my life, and that I had no gimmick.
I'm not a medicine man who comes to town to go through his bag of tricks and leave. God has called me to be a people builder. He can grow a squash in three months, but it takes years to build an oak. I want to be part of developing people, particularly leaders. I don't want simply to attract existing people from other churches.
I want to counsel couples and conduct their weddings, to dedicate their children, to see their family taught and grow to maturity. I want someday to counsel and conduct their children's marriages. I want to be a part of their time of sorrow when they lose loved ones. I want to be part of the whole process of building what is needed into the lives of people.
5. I want our missionaries to have a sense of permanence in their home church.
Missionaries give up a lot to go overseas. To live in another culture and minister as a church planter makes one feel cut off from home base. Repeated changes of pastor in the home church only add to that.
To see missionaries we have commissioned go out for a second or third term is very fulfilling. Not long ago a returning missionary said to me, "The longer I'm there, the more important a sense of tie to my home church gets." Recently another missionary referred to himself as "part of your overseas staff." That kind of togetherness takes maturing over the years.
6. A longer ministry better serves the church and community.
"Don, what's your view on abortion?" asked the newspaper reporter on the telephone. He was writing a feature article and wanted some local input.
"I know you're Pastor Bubna," said the lady in the supermarket. "I've been to your church and appreciate what it stands for."
"Ten years ago you conducted my uncle's funeral. I need to talk to someone. Can you help me?" asked a spouse in a struggling marriage.
To be seen as one of the senior ministers in the community increases one's responsibilities and opportunities to serve. The johnny-come-latelys are not called by the newspaper editors for opinions nor asked to serve on significant community boards.
7. The support of elders comes gradually.
In several different ways, word had come to me about a brother who was considerably disturbed about changes in our church. A visit to his home was revealing. He was deeply exercised by what he termed a lack of content in my preaching, an unbiblical emphasis on psychology, and even the sparse mention of the name of God and the person of Christ. Pretty heavy charges for an evangelical pastor!
With his consent, I phoned some respected elders. The man agreed to meet formally with them and present his charges. The loving way in which these mature men listened to his concerns, yet affirmed their pastor, displayed not a blind loyalty but a deep, watchful support.
This grows out of praying together as leaders. Many of the key persons in our church meet weekly with me in one of three or four prayer groups. An openness develops before God and with one another. This allows a free interchange and mutual, loving confrontation on issues.
The support I sense is not one of cheap words or resolutions written on paper. Rather, it is that we "stand firm in one spirit" (Phil. 1:27).
Short of being a one-man tyrant, any visionary pastor must have the support of his church's leadership. This does not mean they agree on everything. Rather, they are striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and are not frightened by opposition (Phil. 1:27-28). It is not the lack of conflict that makes a great church, but how conflict is handled.
8. Our people have been generous with me.
My salary may not be what it would have been if I had stayed a school administrator or entered business. I may not even make the salary of some of my peers. But I have always been given a livable wage.
Perhaps more important, our congregation has always been generous in giving vacation time. Our elder board has consistently urged that my wife and I take quarterly study breaks, extended times of preparation and togetherness. Their sensing these as urgent helps me.
Our leadership has also encouraged my extended ministry as a lecturer in colleges and seminaries, as a workshop leader for pastors and for missionary groups around the world. This generosity has inevitably enriched my own ministry. I never return without receiving more than I gave.
9. I must not avoid confession and forgiveness.
One day when I told the staff I had a special announcement to make, the coffee cups came down on the table. "You are all aware," I said, "that we've been under some special stresses lately. I've come to understand that I have not handled these as well as I should, and I want to ask your forgiveness."
A momentary silence followed. Then one associate said, "Don, we accept that. You are forgiven, and you are loved. Thank you for being vulnerable."
I have made my share of blunders over the years.
I've needed to ask forgiveness from fellow staff members, elders, and even the congregation at times. Some of the other leaders have themselves been guilty of a few blunders. I need to learn to extend forgiveness to them. To leave the church because sin has not been dealt with is to contribute to the immaturity of the body and deny the process of learning to be a confessing fellowship.
10. I can trust God and not panic.
God has this congregation's welfare in mind as well as mine and my family's.
I don't have to find an immediate solution to every problem or pressure. God wants me to develop a sense of trust, of perseverance, of waiting before him. Staying here facilitates this. Leaving too soon would only prevent me from learning some of the most precious lessons God wants to teach.
My feelings over the past year have risen and fallen with my circumstances, or what I perceived my circumstances to be. Many a time I've had to exercise my will, choosing to take my eyes off things and people and place them on the God who does not change.
Not very long ago, I experienced one of those unforgettable weekends. On Saturday I received a harsh letter from a family who was resigning from membership. They admitted being bitter. They saw their action as the only way to protest the lack of action by a leader in our denomination.
On Sunday, a special children's presentation to the senior citizens "bombed out." The lay leader was embarrassed. The children had tried hard, but some interpreted their presentation as a lack of the right kind of training.
On Monday, I received a critical letter from a colleague I greatly admire. The wounds of a friend sting.
I am glad weekends like that are not common, but they do happen to all of us. Nevertheless, because I believe I'm God's person and have the support of my family and our elders, I have chosen "to stay by the stuff." To contribute to the church, the people of God, is to be a part of the only thing that is going to last for eternity.
God is interested in what is happening to me as a person. He has my maturity in mind as well as that of his whole church. All of these pressures are part of the process. I need to expect them but not be overcome by them.
Someday the time may come for me to move. I only want to be patient enough for God to do his work in me and not spoil it by rushing too quickly elsewhere.
Copyright © 1993 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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