Itchy Feet? Shake the Dust off!

Matthew 10:14

Moving…again. I remember a conversation I once had with a parishioner who happened to be a high school coach.  He said, “Being a preacher is a lot like being a coach. If you’re good, you move on. If you’re not good, you move on.”  We both had a laugh about the precarious nature of tenure in the two professions.

In some Christian denominations, the congregation has no say in who their shepherd is. The denominational leaders appoint priests and pastors, based on their understanding of the needs of the congregation as compared to the strengths of a particular minister.  In others, there is a sort of confab between the local congregation and the upper administration, an agreement between the two. In Baptist churches, the autonomy of the local church is a prized and protected distinctive.  The local church votes on pastors. They vote them in, and they vote them out. A wise pastor will sense when his leadership is no longer effective. Given some time, he will seek another flock who is more open to his leadership style.  Occasionally, though, a minister will be caught off guard by a called business meeting.  It is an ironic occasion, as many inactive church members suddenly appear in the sanctuary for the first time in years. The old adage is “they wheel them in from the nursing home” in order to ensure the pastor they welcomed three years ago will now be sent packing.

I know of two such occasions in my father’s ministry. In one instance, he was ousted of a church in deep East Texas because he invited a black man to attend services. Word of his offense got around, and he was met in the parking lot by deacons with shotguns. “Ain’t no #@%$ n—–r comin’ in this church!” He let them know, in no uncertain terms and in their own vernacular, that if his friend couldn’t come, he couldn’t stay. On another occasion, I really don’t fully know what happened. On a Wednesday night, we had prayer meeting. Immediately afterward, the deacon chair announced a business meeting. My father must have had advance warning. He immediately took out his key ring and started removing the keys to the building. “I’ll save you the trouble” he said.  He then excused his family from the room, instructing us to wait at the parsonage. An hour later he returned, placed a baseball bat by the front door, and said, “They had better not come in here.”

On both occasions, we packed up to move – without really knowing where – and he stood outside the U-Haul truck and stamped his feet, shaking off the dust. “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city” (or for that church).  There are certainly mean preachers in the ministry, but there are also mean churches. One church leader berated my father for having the audacity to wear red socks in the pulpit. In my own ministry, I was called to task for not wearing a jacket on Sunday night, although I was wearing a tie. It seems the jacket without a tie was more appropriate. I have endured being yelled at in a meeting. (I had neglected to obtain a photo of the evangelistic team coming in for a revival meeting.)

Moving-Day-3_0

As a child, I never really minded moving. It meant a new town and a new adventure and, hopefully, new friends. I am older now, and moving is not as appealing.  They say, “three moves equals one fire.” Something important always gets broken.  Not too long ago, I realized I have now lived in the same house for seven years.  That’s a record. The ministry can be ruthless when a disagreement with the church board means losing not only your job, but your home, as well.  Whether moving is a result of a forced resignation or a better situation, that background in my life gave me itchy feet. After a few years, something in me said it was time to start looking.  That’s not always healthy, though, and I must confess that my congregations were mostly very congenial and sad to say good-bye when we left.  A couple of them have a tiny pile of dust somewhere in the parking lot.

Jesus’ instruction to those he sent out was plain.  Don’t spend a lot of energy where you know you’re not welcome. If your message is falling on deaf ears, move on. If you are not welcome, there are no heavenly brownie points for simply making your own life more miserable for another year.

I think I may have one more move left in me. I have often fantasized about a small beach cottage. At Christmas time there is a commercial showing just such a home. You hear someone whistling “Oh Christmas Tree,” then a palm tree lights up with Christmas lights. That serene setting appeals to me.  Maybe when I retire.

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Published in: on August 2, 2017 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  

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