I’ve known a few pastors over the years who seemed to generate conflict, even taking it as a sign of faithfulness to God. Such as the pastor who fired the choir. There was some intrigue going on in music ministry and he simply announced from the pulpit that the choir was toast. I’m unaware of efforts he might have made previously to reconcile, but I always thought this was a good example of how not to win friends and influence people! A few weeks later he was toast.
But it’s also true that many pastors, while trying to be good shepherds to the flock, stumble into issues not of their making.
I was preparing to leave town on a Saturday morning several years ago for an out-of-state conference with an airline ticket in hand. I’ve always been diligent to fulfill these opportunities to gain new ideas and meet new people. The telephone rang minutes before I needed to leave. A church member announced her mother had died that morning and they wanted me to do the funeral on Monday.
Her mother wasn’t a member of our church, but a lady I’d met in the local nursing home.
I politely explained that I’d be out of town and that the deacons were aware that my associate would handle things for me until I returned. I’ve driven home to conduct funerals when this was possible, but this wasn’t possible with an out-of-state, non-cancelable event. She wasn’t happy with this and let me know when I returned that though my associate eventually conducted the service, she’d spent money on two long-distance telephone calls trying to enlist former pastors to speak at the service.
This was in the day when long distance tolls were 30 and 40 cents.
Years later when I left that place, the church had a reception for me.
“Michael, you’ve been a good pastor, but the only issue I ever had with you was trying to find a preacher to do mother’s funeral,” she said.
I’ve thought about this experience over the years wondering if I could’ve done something different. I don’t think so. But I’ve always been bothered to know that she felt I let her down, though I was as apologetic as I could possibly be.
The fifth petition in The Lord’s Prayer is that we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. This is the only petition that has a footnote, for Jesus elaborated on it at the end of the prayer.
The Christian life only works when we take God’s forgiveness and grant it to others. All of us need forgiveness for offenses grave and less than grave, but offenses nevertheless.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.