Recently we had a special congregational meeting to affirm the call for Joe French to be the senior pastor of Mayfair-Plymouth upon my retirement in early October. It was a great time together as a people of God.
We took a private vote of affirmation on slips of paper. The call for Joe to be the new senior pastor passed 81 for and 1 against. When I was called to be the senior pastor 39 years ago I also had one vote against me. I told Joe, “I thought I had performed the funeral for that person by now.” More likely the legacy of being against everything had been passed on from one member to another!
You aren’t in pastoral ministry very long (or any kind of position of leadership or responsibility) before you realize you can’t please all the people all the time. Then why do we continually find ourselves frustrated when we hear of some grumbling in the ranks?
The ideal is to have consensus, but we live in a fallen world and serve a congregation of fallen people (who have a pastor with a fallen nature). It should come as no surprise, then, when we don’t see things the same way.
I heard of a leader who said, “Behold! There go the people. I must hasten after them, for I am their leader.” True leadership often means leading people who don’t know (at least not yet) where they should go. As leaders we don’t get it right all the time either, but that doesn’t get us off the hook of carrying out our call to lead. I’ve found I can’t lead without sticking my neck out, sort of like a turtle who can’t move forward until he pokes his head out of his shell.
It’s a fine line to walk, wanting to be sensitive to the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of our parishioners while on the other hand keeping a grip on the bigger picture of what we believe God is calling us to be and do as His people. The challenge for those of us who pastor is even greater because we’re wired to have a pastoral heart for the people, so we can’t be a tough CEO type of leader. Then, too, we’re called to minister to the needs of the very people who voted against something (or we think they did) that’s dear to our heart and, we believe, dear to the heart of God.
The key for me is to keep the focus on God’s call upon me and not my desire to be liked by all the people. Calling has to trump opinion every time and all the time.