Getting Church and God Backwards

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Church, Family, Getting the Bible Wrong, Priorities, Problems Preachers Face
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As I finished reading Bruce Gerencser’s first post in the My Journey series, Why I Retired From The Ministry, I was left with two distinct impressions:

1. This guy undeniably had a mid-life crisis:

“I have become progressive in my thinking and I identify with more liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was but neither am I the man I want to me. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently “it is normal in mid-age to revaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.””

2. He somehow got God and Church backwards. It’s a common error. From Billy Graham to the preacher next door, clergy get it in their heads that since God is first in their lives, Church or ministry needs to be first as well. But that just ain’t what the Good Book says.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bruce’s sobering post lists many reasons for why he left the ministry, but we get the not-so-subtle impression that it was affecting his health, physical and mental…

“I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist work-a-holic. I worked myself into a physical collapse thinking all the while that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.”

“I came to the realization that I was was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s (or men who spoke for God) standard. I despaired for my life.”

…his marriage and family…

“I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.”

“I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life”

…and his finances:

“Thousands of Churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit on the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps and my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes all so people could say “we have a pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing,salary and reimbursements, was 26,000.00. While everyone one else progressed economically my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never had the Church (any Church) on their own volition offer a raise to me. I had to ask, and most often plead and beg. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores and yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”’

He right, of course, when he laments that a great many churches treat their pastors to salaries that they could never live on, but somehow expect them to! My dad was a pastor and I don’t anyone ever considered how hard it was to do full-time ministry and work a full-time job as well, simply to make ends meet for a family of five. A lot of Appalachian churches cannot pay their ministers much, and I suspect that there are poor churches across the US who are in the same boat. So this comes with the turf for most ministers in my neck of the woods. Of course, everyone still expects that preacher to visit the sick and imprisoned, preach on Sunday and officiate weddings, baptisms and funerals regardless of his work schedule. And, yes, this comes with the turf, whether folks appreciate it or not. I’m simply stating that I can empathize with his aggravation at seeing his family do without while church members blithely offered Bless Yous. Ye rich, howl and weep… [James 5:1]

The Bible plainly condemns the apathy that many well-off Christians show to those in their churches [including their pastors] who barely scrape by:

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?” James 2:15-16

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18

It even speaks specifically against this where clergy are concerned:

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his hire.” 1 Timothy 5:17-18

But some of Bruce’s problems were his own fault. God never intended for any minister [or any of the laity for that matter] to sacrifice their families upon the altar of church business or even ministry. Speaking of those who oversee the churches, the Bible plainly states the following necessary qualification:

“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” 1 Timothy 3:4-5

This brings up an interesting insight. If you cannot manage your own household, you cannot be expected to manage the household of God; therefore, a man’s ministry to his family comes before his ministry to the church. It has to, because it is the barometer of his fitness for ministry. If his family is a wreck, he’s not fit for ministry, so how then can he be expeced to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry??

The answer is, of course, that he can’t and that he shouldn’t. Yet so many Christians, clergy and laity alike, fall into this trap, where they suppose they are putting God first by placing their families after ministry. This should not be so. The very fact that the church is called the family of God is because God patterned his church after the family, the very first institution He established.

Bruce strained his marriage, his relationship with his children and his family’s well-being for a noble purpose. But it was wrong. God cares about the family. God is not Molech that He should desire the sacrifice of our children! Ministry together and mutual sacrifice for a greater cause is one thing, but if we put church before God, we’ve got our priorities out of whack.

I think a lot of us could learn from Bruce’s all-too-common mistake in this area.

God bless you,

Preacher

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