As a young pastor, I took Jesus command to be a fisher of men seriously. My goal was and is to make disciples, equipping them for ministry. That goal is not unique or cloudy; it even seemed achievable in my community. I went to seminars and read books on church growth, consuming all the information I could get. I practiced what I learned and God blessed our little church plant with numerical and spiritual growth. Then, something started to happen that I did not expect. I should have expected it, but thought that our church was the exception. People started to leave the church. Some left because they got divorced or moved away. Others left because they had an interpersonal conflict, didn’t like the music, or didn’t like my preaching or leadership in general. I knew people change churches all the time, but in my head, I really didn’t think they would leave our church. Why would they? We had everything they needed and we were doing ministry, lots of ministry. My expectations were not only unrealistic, they were unhealthy. For years I lamented those who came to our church and eventually left it for one reason or another.
Unwittingly I had envisioned our church as a pond of sorts. People would come and I would minister to them and with them. I imagined the pond growing larger and larger eventually turning into a lake or reservoir. We would fish and God would draw people in, that was my logic. Unfortunately, this analogy set me up for failure. What I envisioned to be a pond is in reality a river.
The difference between a pond and a river is simple. A pond is where water collects, and fish live. A river is moving, it ebbs and flows as the tributaries supply it. Fish live in the river as well. Small streams add to larger streams and larger streams lead to rivers. Rivers typically flow into the oceans. When you think of yourself pastoring a pond of people you only pastor those that are in the pond. When you think of yourself pastoring a river, you pastor a section of the river and people ebb and flow through it. Some stay for a while, possibly even years or decades and others pass through your area rather quickly. Either way, you are responsible to pastor those who flow through your slice of the river.
I used to get upset and take it personally when people left our church for a different one. Now, I remind myself that I am only responsible to pastor those who are in the river in front of me. They may stay for a while or pass through quickly, and how long they stay is always a mystery. Do I want people to connect with the church and grow there? Absolutely. Do I want them to stay for a long duration? Absolutely. But if they swim to a different church I should not take it personally because they are still in the river and they are still being fed.
Changing my mindset to pastoring on the riverbank has helped me navigate the COVID-19 fiasco, stay in ministry for over 25 years, and look ahead with anticipation of what God will do in the future. After all, I pastor God’s church and shepherd God’s people, they don’t belong to me. All I can do is fish and feed them while they are part of our church community. You need to have the same mindset if you plan on being in ministry for the long haul. If you don’t, you will start to resent people if you haven’t already. You will be mentally and emotionally better off if you think of your ministry as part of a river.
Having been a pastor for more than 23 years, I can say with a high degree of confidence that there are many things that us pastors want to say to certain people within their church, but shouldn’t. If we did, it wouldn’t be very Christ-like or mature even if it made us temporarily feel better. I know that there have been plenty of times you wish you could have said what you felt, but chose to keep silent. Just for fun, I put together a list of eight comments every pastor wants to say to certain people but shouldn’t. As you read the list someone in your church might come to mind. Just promise me you won’t snicker when you see them this weekend. Enjoy.
1. I don’t like you.
I don’t like you and never have because you are a jerk. I try to love you and see you through compassionate eyes, but it’s a real struggle. Maybe it’s because your arrogant or you want public praise even though you contribute nothing. Maybe it’s because you have no integrity or insist on creating controversy over everything. Whatever the reason, I don’t like you and probably never will. There, I said it and I meant it, let that soak in you jackwagon.
2. Stop pretending to be generous because you aren’t.
You complain that the church isn’t giving enough to missions, that it should do more outreach, and that it has too many paid staff. At the same time, you put your kids in our kid’s ministry, attend services in a climate-controlled facility, and have even taken up my time receiving counsel and yet you don’t give anything. Really? Jesus called people like you hypocrites. In fact, you would make a really good Pharisee. Thanks for nothing, literally nothing.
3. You never share your faith so stop telling me how to do it.
Every week we talk about making disciples and it goes in one ear and out the other. You say “It wasn’t the right time to talk about my faith,” “I didn’t feel led” and “I’m waiting for the Lord to prompt me” knowing full well Jesus already told you to go tell the world about him. These lame excuses bore me. You don’t talk about your faith with anyone and then complain about how I share the gospel. Maybe our church isn’t growing very much is because you don’t share your faith, ever thought of that?
4. You need to shut up.
If Gossip was a sauce, you would smother everything in it. For being such an “upstanding” Christian, you have a big mouth. And when you say “bless their heart” it doesn’t mean that your criticism magically turned into a godly comment. Stop cutting others with your comments, it’s wrong and you should know that.
5. Do you actually listen to any of the message?
You are fascinated by the so-called “deeper” spiritual truths, but in reality, you don’t even apply simple truths like “make disciples of all nations” “love your neighbor” or “care for the poor.” All you do is consume and complain. Here is a thought: Get off your butt cheeks and serve somewhere, anywhere. Just stop asking to go deeper and start doing something with your faith.
6. Don’t just come to church to pick up chicks.
I know we have awesome coffee and an incredible environment. We have these to reach more people for Christ not just so you can sip coffee and try to pick up chicks as they walk in. That’s just wrong. It actually irritates me that you want to find a biblical woman but have no intentions of treating her like one. The next time I see you I might just kick you in the junk. You’re still single because you’re a prick.
7. Stop being a spiritual a-hole.
I have noticed that you have a “holier than thou” attitude and it’s irritating. You are not a better mom, dad, husband, wife, disciple, and person in general than me or anybody else. You put on a good show but behind your hyper-spiritual attitude we all know you have issues. Your farts still smell like everyone else. Knock it off and admit you are a work in progress like everybody else.
8. Feel free to leave anytime.
You have sat on the sidelines complaining about everything from the nursery being too crowded, the band being too loud, the music too fast, and that we don’t do enough to care for our members, and that the Elders have no idea how to lead the church. I have to be honest, why don’t you just find another church? Don’t worry about me; I’ll get over you leaving sooner than you think. And no, I’m not going to call and beg you to come back because I’m happy you are gone.
That’s the eight comments I would love to say. I could add dozens more, but these cover the basics. Ministry is tough, people are mean, and that’s life. We can laugh together because every pastor has those people in their church they want to throat punch. You are not the only one. Let’s laugh it out and get to the real work of making disciples. Remember to have thick skin and a tender heart, it will keep your first love in first place.