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Goldilocks and the Preacher's Plight

By John E. Moore II

religion, articles, christianity

As a child, I loved the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It was cute. However, it was a fairy­tale. The following is not a fairy tale.

One day a preacher sat in his office. One of the men of the congregation came by and said, "About your evangelistic efforts, I think your methods are too hot for this area of the country. You need to cool it." Then he left.

Minutes later, a second man came into the office. He said, "I have been wanting to talk to you about your evangelistic methods. It seems to me that they are too cool. You need to get on fire and heat things up." Then he left.

As the preacher thought about this a third visitor came, who said, "I just wanted to stop by and let you know how much I appreciate you. As I look especially at your evangelistic efforts, I think your methods are just right. Keep up the good work." And he left.

After lunch, the first man returned to visit with the preacher again. "By the way," he said, "when I was here earlier, I meant to tell you that I find that your sermons are too hard and you need to use less scripture. People have their own Bibles and can read them for themselves." Then he left.

That evening when the preacher was sitting with his family at the dinner table, the phone rang. The second visitor of the day was on the line and said, "I forgot to tell you earlier, I am worried that your sermons are too soft. You need to use more scripture and hit those hypocrites right between the eyes with both barrels. We'll talk more. Have a nice evening." Click!

Shortly after that a knock came at the preacher's door. The third visitor was standing at the door, with his wife, asking to come in for a while. "Just wanted to let you know how much we are getting out of your sermons and Bible classes. You have a knack at balancing scripture and real life situations that bring the lessons home. We are glad you are here." After coffee and cookies, they, too, left.

As the days went by the preacher kept getting visits and phone calls.... You spend too much time visiting the sick.... You don't spend enough time at the hospital visiting the sick....You show such great compassion for the sick. Thank you for visiting my mom so faithfully while she was in the hospital.

You are too involved in community outreach. ...You need to do more community outreach....Your ability to touch lives in the community with such ease amazes me. Keep doing things just the way you are. ... You need to spend more time with the members of the congregation and less time knocking on the doors of strangers. You need to spend more time knocking on the doors of strangers and less time working with members of the congregation. I like the way you work with both members and nonmembers seeking to help anyone you can.

Every part of the preacher's work was scrutinized in this way-too much, too little, just right. It was not just the preacher who was evaluated, his wife faced similar criticisms, even though she had not been the one hired by the congregation. In time, the climate in the congregation shifted from those who wanted the preacher to those who had been seeking to fire him for a long time.

One day a visitor came that surprised the preacher. It was his little girl. She said, "Daddy, can we go to church someplace else? I don't like the way these people treat us." Then she left. The preacher thought to himself, "This is not how I want my child to feel about the church for which Jesus died."

Like Goldilocks, the preacher ran away. Not because he did not want to serve God, but because he could not sacrifice his family's spiritual well being for the opportunity to stand in a pulpit seeking to save others. He did some preaching and teaching of Bible classes. He studied with individuals seeking to teach them the truth, but he refused to hear another church treasurer say, "You need to remember who signs your paycheck."

And God said to those who sought to evaluate the preacher who had tried so hard to serve him, "Who are you to judge the servant of another?" (Rom. 14:4). "But YOU, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God" (Rom. 14:10).

Last week I saw another preacher step down from the pulpit. Battered and bruised by his brothers, he and his family cannot take it anymore. I know he will preach when the opportunity presents itself and teach when asked. How much greater good could he do, if he had been allowed to serve God full-time-not worrying about his family's spiritual well­being or his paycheck.

Many preachers quit because of the damage their position causes in the spiritual lives of their wives and children. They would not have taken the insults for so many years if they were not committed. They just cannot take it anymore. So they work in the secular world. Then churches wonder, "Why don't more young men want to become preachers?"

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Published August 1997