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For a part of my time in the military I was the “classified material control chief” for a Marine Corps Battalion. That sounds really cool. It wasn’t. I was a vault monkey inside concrete and steel managing secret information of a very modest variety. Most of the classified material I handled was on the level of secret ingredients for the mystery meals served in the chow hall. I occasionally left my cage, armed with my black briefcase to retrieve additional modestly important classified material. No one but me knew just how unimportant most of what I carried was.

The same is true of the secret agendas and expectations that every church member carries in their secret briefcase. A few secrets are about other church members, the choir or trivial things—but the majority are about the pastor. And pastor, you won’t know exactly what expectations are in that briefcase until you fail to live up to them. Here are a three of the possible secrets lurking inside.  

1. Preach things that affirm what I already believe. People trapped inside of false belief usually don’t like to have their glass cages shattered. I’m convinced this is why some churches grow phenomenally. When the preaching revolves around what people want to hear about them—that they are beautiful and worthy and God is just dying to bless them—they grow gangbusters.

Start preaching the whole counsel of God, and things may change. Teach and preach directly against false beliefs by filling that deficit with truth. Pastors and other church leaders must be willing to preach the whole counsel of God, even if and especially if it confronts what people already believe.

Paul was pretty clear to Timothy. Preach the word of God. “Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching” (II Timothy 4:2 NLT). Some people honestly want preaching to always affirm what they already believe. To them, “good preaching” is whatever is consistent with what they already believe.

2. Don’t challenge my idols. Some people will gladly sink to the bottom of the ocean clinging to life preservers before letting go of the idols that are killing them. Like the man who made it oh so clear that it would be over his dead body if I removed the softball trophy case in the church. It didn’t matter that it obstructed a main entrance in the church or that the newest trophy was 30 years old. That sacred cow was there before the pastor and will be there after the pastor.

There is no easy way around this one. It may be softball trophy cases, memorial plaques, tables given in honor of so and so with the legs falling off them that cannot be moved—but whatever the idol is, church teachers and preachers have to confront them. We have to do so courageously in our lives, and we’ve got to teach against idolatry. “So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols” (1 Corinthians 10:14 NLT).

3. Visit me when I’m sick whether I tell you or not. Several church members seem to be under the mistaken impression that all pastors have the spiritual gift of knowing when they are in the hospital by mental telepathy. When you don’t see them, they get hurt because they rigged the game to get hurt.

As you preach, take time to remind the church once in a while that you can’t visit somebody if you don’t know they are sick. Church big or small should create a visitation team to help. Make it clear to the congregation whom they should tell when they are sick or when they know of someone who is sick. This won’t solve it, but it helps.

These are just some of the contents of those secret envelopes in the briefcases of church members. What are some you’ve encountered? How have you dealt with them? Church leadership is hard. How has God led you through these things?

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

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Jeffrey Wickert

commented on Jun 30, 2014

Chris...You nailed this one!

commented on Jun 30, 2014

Yep nailed it, but I'm not so sure how top secret these are? Here's one for you: "We don't see the elders and staff at the Sunday evening prayer meeting enough, so they don't care about prayer"

T.j. Conwell

commented on Jun 30, 2014

#3 is absolutely right on target for revealing the core of the human heart (it's all about me). It never ceases to amaze me how many folks get upset by my "lack of spiritual telepathy". Thanks for sharing this brother!

Chris Surber

commented on Jul 5, 2014

Lack of spiritual telepathy. Love it. I'm going to start using that!

Gabriel S. Onukak

commented on Jun 30, 2014

Nothing, but the truth. Church nowadays they left the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ behind and focus on physical and material things. In the book of John15:12 says "This is my commandment, that ye love one anther, as I have loved you"kjv. If this love is burning in the Church, i see no reason a preacher will not will look for his members or members to their follow brothers and sisters. Well done Chris for this article.

Gabriel S. Onukak

commented on Jun 30, 2014

Nothing, but the truth. Church nowadays they left the commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ behind and focus on physical and material things. In the book of John15:12 says "This is my commandment, that ye love one anther, as I have loved you"kjv. If this love is burning in the Church, i see no reason a preacher will not will look for his members or members to their follow brothers and sisters. Well done Chris for this article.

Rev. Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht, United Brethren Communi

commented on Jun 30, 2014

Point Number One may be more important than you realize - and the most difficult point to deal with in the context of what is being taught in many modern day churches. You would stir up a hornets nest in a hurry if, in many churches, you were to point out that Tithing is an OLD Testament concept - and that Jesus freed Christians from the need to attempt to "buy" their salvation by observing Old Testament rules and regulations. Many modern day church LEADERS do NOT want to hear about -- 2 Corinthians 9:7 -- Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give. Not grudgingly, or of necessity. For God loves a cheerful giver. -- Many church LEADERS do not want to be reminded of Paul's advice to the Colossians in Colossians 2:16-17 - Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath day - Which are a shadow of things to come. But the body is of Christ. -- It is, unfortunately, church LEADERS who often do not want to be reminded that, when the early church leaders decided what was important for early Christians to remember - tithing did NOT make the list - Many modern Church LEADERS do not want to remember the early church's discussions which are recorded in Acts 15 - For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things. That you abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication. From which, if you keep yourselves, you shall do well. Fare you well. - Acts 15:28-29. Perhaps Point One should be expanded to include those portions of New Testament Scripture which are likely to challenge the possibility that many church leaders are failing to study the Old Testament in the light of revelations made in the New Testament.

Tony Bland

commented on Jun 30, 2014

I think you missed what the author said... look like you are upset about the church asking you for a tithe

Rev. Colin Nieass

commented on Jun 30, 2014

The best comment I ever heard on tithing came from my mother. Tithing is part of the Old Testament Law. We are under grace - how much more do we owe God!

Ricky Dean Mauldin

commented on Jun 30, 2014

Oversold, even if true. 2 Cor 9:7 covers it; next topic. But grace is always asked more than law was (adultery v. looking, murder v. anger, etc) - Law asked 10, grace asked the whole enchilada (Gal 2:20) - none of which can be done in the flesh. Good article.

Jared D

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Don't go messing with my religion by including actual scripture! Just kidding of course! Always, always, always preach what God has said, not merely the traditions of men. Great comment.

John S. Marquis

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Sooooo true! This is why denominations must support pastors in churches where these behaviours are prevalent and usually habitual, rather then throw the pastor under the bus because that?s the easiest way to deal with the situation. I irony of the situation is that pastors aren?t giving good Biblical preaching and teaching in favour being ?seeker sensitive?, ?culturally relevant?, and ?hip? because they have forgotten that ?wide is the path?.? believing that successful ministry is measured by numbers instead of authenticity, sincerity and relationship.

Russ Painter

commented on Jul 1, 2014

Point # 1 - As a prison chaplain I get to visit many churches of various denominations and sizes. I have yet to visit a church where the whole Gospel is not preached. Maybe pastors of non-growing church what a "boogie man" to blame.

Jared D

commented on Jul 1, 2014

The author said "the whole counsel of God" not simply, "the whole gospel". Further, if you have never been to a church that was preaching a gospel other than salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ - then you haven't visited very many "churches".

Bill Williams

commented on Jul 2, 2014

The whole gospel IS the whole counsel of God. The gospel is not a part of what God has revealed in Scripture, it is the fullness of what God has revealed in Scripture.

Chris Surber

commented on Jul 5, 2014

Thanks for the feedback. Surely there are more secrets in many of those church members briefcases. Along with those added above, there are even more. God help us shepherd with love that is strong enough to be used to bring conviction.

Jerry Rittenhouse

commented on Sep 1, 2014

Good insights and well presented. The great people we pastor do these things unknowingly and need loving pastors to help them rethink these realities. Your article gets the ball rolling to make us ponder how to help our flock upgrade their positions on doctrine, to know what's really sacred and pastoral care. Thanks Chris.

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