Thom Rainer, President AND CEO of LifeWay, the Southern Baptist Convention’s ground zero for false teaching, did NOT say that. But, if you spend a little time perusing his website, you might think he did.
Rainer is vocal about his support, advice, guidance, and defense of pastors. Okay. That’s fine. But defense? From whom do they need defending? From the religious-liberty threatening, big brother agents of an encroaching government? From hordes of militant atheists storming the church doors? From battalions of the LGBTQ-ee-ii-ee-ii-oo crowd screaming for toleration outside the stained glass windows? Or perhaps from irate deacons protesting Monday night meetings during football season?
Nope. None of these. Rainer defends pastors from the most pernicious foe of all … you … me … and our fellow pew-sitters. And because Rainer is the grand-poobah of the SBC’s publishing outlet, he’s got an endless supply of digital and fluid ink from which he can pontificate in their public defense.
A few days ago, Rainer penned his daily blog under the title, Ten Sentences That Make Pastors Cringe. No, they aren’t texts of Scripture that warn of God’s judgment against the unrepentant. Instead, they are the painful words pew-sitters speak to pastors. It’s that serious. Pastors feelings are being hurt.
Rainer proceeds to “take you behind the scenes again in the life of a pastor.” (It’s almost like the holy of holies, ya’ know.) He lists “ten of the most common painful sentences uttered to pastors,” though “your pastor is not likely to let you know the pain these brief sentences cause.” Not to worry, though. Rainer rushes to the vicarious defense of mistreated, cringing pastors. He’ll tell you what you’ve done, even if they won’t.
“I love you pastor, but …” Understand that your pastor only has partial hearing. When this phrase comes at him, he can only hear the words after “but.” And those words, people, “usually are painful.”
(Somebody grab a violin, ready the dirge, and grab a box of tissues, please.)
“Gotta minute?” Frankly, this is just a malicious, presumptuous, verbal attack on Reverends, and almost always ill-timed. You should always assume that the pastor does not have a minute. That’s the safest bet since what you’re likely to say will just be plain mean anyway. Go find your pew.
“Have you heard this podcast pastor?” Oh, the horror! Unless you’re referring a pastor to his own podcast (most of them have one, you know), you are being incredibly insulting by suggesting that he might have anything to learn from anyone else. Now, you see that “gotta minute” guy sitting over there? Yeah. Go sit with him. He needs somebody to chat with.
“We’ve never done it this way before.” It’s surprising that Rainer would include this belligerent statement, since, frankly, it’s one more easily defensible from the pews than from the pulpit. We’ve never had a pastor water down the Gospel like this before. We’ve never had a pastor who gets visions from God and casts them. We’ve never had a pastor who disregarded Scripture instead telling us stories of their baseball card collections in an “it’s all about you” sermon. There are more examples to be sure, but the greater harm by such authentic laments is in the pews, not the pulpit.
These are but a few of the painful displays of blatant, hurtful, targeted commentary Rainer highlights in his blog. They may be egregious, to be sure, but what’s more shocking are the delicate sensibilities of these men of God. Who knew they were such a tremulous, timid, cringe-likely lot?
If you happen to occupy a pew under a pastor who is so emotionally delicate, or so substantially elevated, that your comments might make him cringe, you’ve got a problem. Rainer would doubtlessly suggest the problem is you and your rude comments. In fact, the problem is the overly sensitive pastor who probably has no business shepherding the flock of Christ. There are always problems, always issues, always differences of opinion – in any and every job. Such things NEED to be brought to the pastor.
If he’s incapable, sans cringes, to handle possibly negative, or justifiably critical, commentary or queries, he and Rainer might want to review Proverbs 12:1.
“Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid.”
Rainer defends the stupid pastors, apparently.
(Deacons, elders, please immediately establish a protected “Pastor’s Safe Zone” on church premises in which he may never have to hear anything cringe-inducing. The rest of you, go find your pews.)
Reading the tone of Rainer’s articles you almost get the sense that you, pew sitter, simply do not need to even be talking with your pastor. From Six Observations About Speaking to Pastors Right Before They Preach to Ten Things You Shouldn’t Say To A Pastor Right After The Sermon, Rainer makes it pretty clear that the safest choice is just not to talk to your easily distraught pastor. (And if you do, it better be “yes sir,” “no sir,” “great sermon, sir.” None of these outright verbal attacks on the anointed, got it?)
Now, though I lack the credentialed, ivory towered, voluminous voice of Rainer, I’d like to respond with the insulting, idiotic, or otherwise Scripturally-unfounded things pastors say from the pulpit. Things that don’t make we pew-sitters “cringe,” but make us bristle. So I queried members of the infamous Pulpit Bunker on Facebook about it.
(The Bunker, FYI, is an ultra-secret Christian corner of the internet where, to become a member, you must pass certain cringe-inducing questions about your faith, your theology, and your tithing record. I’m kidding. Joining the Bunker is as easy as joining a Baptist church, easier, in fact. You just have to ask. You don’t have to repeat a prayer!)
Here are some of the ludicrous things we hear. On behalf of fellow pew-sitters, I’d exhort, advise, and encourage pastors to quit using, saying, quoting, or commenting about these things. Failure to exercise due diligence could cause upcoming bouts of cringing … on your part, not ours.
“Can I get an ‘amen?” or “We’re an interactive church here. When I say amen you say amen.”
No. If you have to ask for audible applause because you said something you think is of such import, of such staggering insight, of such remarkable wit, that we haven’t already so applauded, then forget it. If you have to ask, it probably ain’t worth it. You can put down the “applause now” signs and move on in your message.
“Everyone turn to your neighbor and say …” or “Everybody say…” or “Turn around and greet your neighbor during our time of fellowship”
These instructions do cause bristling, especially among guests. No one likes this. Stop doing it. You cannot force fellowship and, if I have something to say to someone, I’m gonna be using my words, not yours. Furthermore, if, during the midst of your sermon, you ask me to turn and say some word or phrase to some other person, there’s an equally likely chance I’ll use the phrase “Preach the Word,” spoken in the direction of the dais. Frankly, the fact that you’re telling me what to say makes me extra cautious about what you’re about to say. Which is good. You need some Bereans in your pews. Just beware, we will speak to you after the sermon, unless the Lord tells us to speak to you during it. (See the next batch of clergy cliches.)
“I had a message prepared today but …” or “The Lord told me…” or “God gave me a vision…” or “The Holy Spirit put this on my heart today…”
Really? Just stop. Any comment that implies you’re getting direct revelation from God may sound awfully “spiritual” to the unregenerate or to the false converts or to those whose false faith is based on feelings, but those of us being sanctified know better. And if YOU really believe you’re getting such revelations, well, that’s a whole nutha’ thang.. Quit being spiritual and start being a shepherd.
“I remember when I was ten …” or “When my sister and I were growing up…” or “As my grandma used to do or say…” or “It’s like the time when I …”
Guess what? Everybody has those kinds of stories. We can sit around in our dens and repeat them to ourselves. We don’t come to hear you base a sermon on “my teenaged years and how they prove God has a wonderful plan for your life.” Stop it. We came there to worship, to hear the Word of God proclaimed and (hopefully) taught, not to hear your pulpit-proclaimed autobiography. Pertinent, referential stories are okay, from time to time. But it’d be best if you’d stick with the true-life stories God chose to include in His Word. Your Mom’s charred thanksgiving turkey is not a match for Moses and the Burning Bush.
“Now I’m no theologian …” or ”You won’t need your bible tonight” or “That’s an interesting passage I’ve never read before” or “Doctrine divides, Jesus unites” or “There are too many hard to pronounce names in this passage so read it at home” or “We won’t go over all these verses this morning”
Oh brother. (and by brother, I don’t mean, tell me about yours) I mean, are you kidding me? You’re the pastor. To those of us who know something about Scripture, these things curdle our spiritual blood. Nothing from that pulpit is more important than theology, than doctrine, than Scripture, than the Gospel. (remember that?) When you casually admit you don’t know it, that’s not an endearing confession or a faith confidence-builder; it’s a problem. Your job is to “Preach the Word.” That means you must be in the Word. Trust us, some of us are in it and we can tell when you haven’t been. Either read your Bible and study some theology, or quit.
“What’s your vision? Where there is no revelation the people perish!” or “I love the Message translation of this …” or “Don’t put God in a box” or “Everyone needs to go see War Room” or “Yay God!”
Any church tolerating any pastor uttering these things really ought to consider adopting a courtesy introduced by the airlines. Right next to those unused seat back Bibles, please include a complimentary vomit bag. These words, phrases, and sentences are ample evidence of your ignorance of Scripture, doctrine, and theology. It’s highly unlikely that I’m gonna invite anybody to come listen to this and I’m kinda upset that I even have to.
You could also discard those other over-used and over-spiritualized words like “missional,” “intentional,” “purpose,” “purpose-driven,” “relevant,” “authentic,” et al. If you say things like “word of knowledge” or “gospel expressions” or “cultural engagement,” it’s abundantly evident to us that your focus hasn’t been in Scripture. Wherever it’s been, it’s not edifying us. And please, don’t ever, ever, ever quote Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Rick Warren, Ken Copeland, or any other false teacher. In fact, if their picture’s on a book sold in LifeWay, just skip them too.
“I feel the anointing here” or “Do ya feel that? Can’t you feel the presence of the Spirit?”
Someone please pass the vomit bag. My faith isn’t founded on feelings; it’s founded on truth. Spend some time in Scripture and you might figure it out. It’s truth that we’ve come to hear; I can get warm fuzzies all I want by watching Old Yeller. “Preach the Word.”
“Every head bowed, and all eyes closed …” or “With all eyes closed, raise that hand…” or “I see that hand…”
Look, Charles Finney is dead. (Smitten by the hand of God, I tend to think.) Can’t we leave him there, along with his manipulative, crowd control, emotionalism? God is not going to save someone because they raised their hand, or fail to save them because they didn’t raise their hand. This is why you get false converts. It’s why pews are full of them. Just stop. Frankly, you’re the one putting “God in a box” if you’re gonna hype this emotional nonsense as predicative to salvation. Quit it. If you’ve clearly explained the Gospel, you’ve done your job. God will do the rest. After all, it’s the Gospel that “is the power of God for salvation,” not your pulpit performance and emotional pleas.
Also, if your deepest expression of Biblical truth can best be conveyed by referencing the Message Bible, please make a note. That next hand you see raised. It’s mine. It’ll be waving goodbye as I exit the premises. I’m doing it because the Lord told me to.
Let me now close by making this point. (No, that’s not one of the things pastors say that cause us to bristle, unless it’s being said longer than 90 minutes from the start of his message)
There are men standing in pulpits, bedecked with the title of Pastor, who are there for the notoriety and “look at me” glory the job offers. These men assume for themselves an aura of “anointing”, of knowing God, of speaking with God, and of understanding God much more capably than you or me, the lowly pew sitters.
Such men are not “called.” They are on a self-absorbed career path built on ego-stroking self-promotion. You know these men. I know these men. These men bring dishonor to the calling. But these men are not the norm; they’re just, perhaps, the most visible, as they like it that way.
There are far more authentic MEN of God who truly are called to the ministry in order to actually “minister.” They understand it may often be a thankless task, but it is one in which they are called to serve Christ. He said “Go” and they went. They serve Him by serving His flock.
They do not crave attention for themselves; they point to Christ. They do not “cringe” when questioned, challenged, or critiqued. Indeed, they want those opportunities for through them they learn to be a better slave (doulos) of Christ.
They weep when you weep. Rejoice when you rejoice. They care for your souls, your salvation, and your sanctification. They are loving, selfless, and humble. But understand this, these true men of God are a hardy stock. They do not tremble at complaints. They do not cringe at criticism. They do not fret the wiles of the evil one. They toil for the Lord. They preach the Word. They feed the sheep. They serve from the bottom up. These men love.
If you have a shepherd like this, praise God, pray for him, and always, always, always, talk with him. But, if you’re a pew sitter without a pastor like this, then find another pew.
Contributed by Bud Ahlheim