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?