Integrity in Pastors: A Deal Breaker

joeeaster2012-228x300“I was the student minister in a fine church many years ago,” Will told me. “We had a wonderful ministry. The single negative about the entire experience was the pastor. You never knew what he would do next.”

“Case in point, one night in a church business meeting, the pastor announced that the property the church owned, including the former pastorium, was being offered for sale. At the time, my wife and I were living in that house! And now we learn they’re selling it. This was the first we had heard of it.

“That night, my wife was angry because she thought I had known about it and not told her. But that was the way this pastor worked. Staff members were nothing to him. Just pawns to be manipulated.”

I sat there listening to my longtime friend Will tell of that experience some 20 years previously, and thought once again that the number one trait a staff member is looking for in his new pastor (his employer, supervisor—and hopefully his mentor) is integrity.

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Without integrity, nothing matters.

Will said the only thing that really counted for the kingdom in that preacher’s mind was the mission work he was doing overseas. Everything in church either served it or had no use. The ministerial staff could be manipulated, violated and emasculated by the pastor if it served his purposes.

Is this extreme? Thank the Lord, it is. But there is enough dishonesty, misrepresentation, and deceit in the pastorate to make every potential staff member take great care before accepting an invitation to join a church team.

So how do you inquire about the integrity of a pastor who is considering inviting you to work for him?

Ask around. Former staff members will usually tell you freely if the man keeps his word, if he looks out for his staff members, if he is dependable. Ask denominational people who know him. Ask the pastor who preceded him at this church or the one who succeeded him at his previous church. Do not ask in a letter or email. Those things take on a life of their own, and people are afraid to put negatives in writing. This must be done in person or by phone.

Most will tell you enough that you can feel you know the answer. A clue: if they hem and haw, nothing more is needed; they’ve told you all you need to know. (Remember: you’re not looking to build a case for or against the man. All you want to know is whether legitimate questions about his honesty and dependability have been raised. If so, you are gone.)

Ask the Lord. Seriously talk to the Father about the preacher. If you have concerns, tell Him. If you have seen nothing but good, tell Him that too, but ask Him in so many words to stop you if this is not going to be a good match.

Ask your wife. Wives tend to be more sensitive about subliminal messages other people send out. So, assuming she meets this minister, pay close attention to her impression afterwards. (And never, ever move your family to a church without your wife being in on the interview—at some point—and the decision.)

Do not join a church staff where the pastor is a liar or cheat or con man, or is rumored to be such. This sounds so obvious, saying it may insult your intelligence; but not so. In fact, there are two problems with vowing you will not go where the pastor is deceitful and untrustworthy:

It’s such a good opportunity. Say, for instance, the young minister is eager to join the staff of a sizeable church and get to work pouring himself into teenagers. He has a passion for reaching kids for Jesus. And now, to his elation, he has been approached by a church’s “student minister search committee.” This is too good to be true. He is as impressed by the wonderful people as they are with him. There is, however, one little snag: A couple of friends keep telling him the pastor is a bear to work for and that the previous staff members could not wait to leave. That’s where the second concern comes in.

The committee gives such assurance. When the young minister raises the issue of the pastor’s questionable reputation, the chairman assures him that all of that has been taken care of, it’s ancient history, it’s overblown, and/or “the fellow you probably talked to was fired and didn’t like it.”  Most of all, the chairman assures the young man that he will indeed be able to work with this pastor because (ahem) “we will stand with you and take care of you.”

No, they won’t.

They may mean well, but they are promising what they cannot deliver.

You will work with and for the pastor. You will see him daily, and the laypeople perhaps weekly. Think of that. Furthermore, if you ran to the chairman with details of every conversation with the pastor, a hundred things could result from that, all of them bad.

Search committees go out of business once they have done their job. This committee will no longer be an entity in the church; its members will not meet regularly with the young minister they recommended, and if they did it would raise serious questions within the rest of the membership (like, “Why can’t they turn him loose? They’ve done their job.”).

Once you join a church staff, young minister, you will work under the pastor. And unless this is a megachurch, you will relate to him more than anyone else in the church. He will define almost every single aspect of your ministry.

So, choose your pastor carefully.

One Final Caution
Sometimes, the alert you sense in your spirit comes from the Holy Spirit and is not the result of a phone call or a bad reference.

As a young minister, I was a staffer of a large Baptist church and being contacted regularly by search committees. One day, the pastor of an equally large church in a nearby state called to inquire if I would consider joining his staff as his assistant. A few days later, he was in our city and came by my office. At the end of an hour, I knew this was not going to happen. Why?

The Holy Spirit put a “hold” on my spirit. And that is all it should take for any of us. We don’t need a reason and we definitely do not need to give the other person an explanation. But the crowning event came for me when this pastor, a man perhaps the age of my father, wrapped his huge arm around me as we walked down the hallway. I knew at that moment that were I to join his staff, I would feel like a child with him as the grandfather. And that is one thing no minister needs.

Listen to your heart, child of God. Obey the Spirit. Love God’s people. Rejoice always.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel, and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

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