The month before the elders confronted the pastor about his and his wife’s decision regarding schooling options for their child, and where they told the pastor he needed to control his wife’s speech, these elders brought up another concern of theirs. Specifically, they noticed that he was under stress and in their opinion that was sinful and a mark of a bad leader.
“We are concerned that you are burdened down with something. People have noticed. The trustees have even talked about how you seem to be stressed and burdened. It shouldn’t have to be a topic for discussion. It’s causing you to be ineffective” Elder Claude declared. He then proceeded to bring up another matter of concern to them: “We believe you and your wife should get counseling.” Quite puzzled the pastor asked, “For what?”
“You and your wife take separate vacations. I have to say that that is selfish and unloving. You are not loving your wife.”
Now quite troubled by the two accusations, he paused to collect his rattled thoughts. “What do you mean I am unloving?” he defended.
“Who ever heard of a husband and wife taking separate vacations?” said the other elder. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. It’s not normal. Something must be wrong!”
“Plenty of couples take time away! It’s not that unusual!” The pastor was too befuddled to think and respond to their judgment. But that was beside the point. Of the four weeks allotted vacation time the pastor would often take five or so days to be alone. The remaining three or so weeks was spent vacationing with the family. Sometimes the pastor’s wife would take off for several days to visit her family in another state, or take their child on a special trip. The pastor determined that something else was going on here since the elder’s wife also took trips to see her relatives in another state. In fact, most of the couples in the church practiced the same thing, so the pastor could not see what the real issue was.
The elder leaned toward the pastor with a look of compassion, “It would be good for Frank to come and meet with us to strategize how to deal with your problems with you. I suggest that you call and have him come to meet with you and your wife and then with us.” Frank was a seasoned pastor and counselor.
The lead elder waited for the pastor to respond - for about twenty seconds. “No, we need to insist that you meet with Frank,” as he turns again to look at the other elder and continues, “So, Herb, if you concur…” turning back to face the pastor, “We direct you to contact Frank and arrange for meetings with him!” Now the pastor was stunned. He couldn’t think through the implications or didn’t know if they had the authority to order the pastor to see a counselor, let alone a particular counselor. Sheepishly he nodded in the affirmative. The meeting ended shortly thereafter.
Over the next couple of weeks the elder took the initiative and arranged a meeting with Frank. He told the session that it was urgent for all of them to meet with Frank. But the week before the arranged meeting the pastor called for a special meeting. The pastor had consulted with several other pastors and counselors. What these two elders were wanting appeared quite irregular. At minimum they had no authority to order the pastor to do something that violated his conscience. So he determined to try and dialog with the elders to resolve the issue.
“Are you denying that you appear burdened and stressed?” the elder asked, five minutes into the meeting. “Two of our trustees noticed you’re stressed out and brought it to our attention at a meeting.”
“I’m not denying it at all. What is so wrong that trustees or anyone else should notice?” replied the Pastor.
The question was met with silence. “If they were so concerned, why did they not come to me first? That’s the proper and biblical thing to do.” More silence. “If it is such a big problem, why did you two not just come to me personally and ask if there was anything wrong, or if there was something you could do to encourage me?”
“That’s why we need Frank to come and help sort this out when he meets with us” said the dominant elder.
“Are there any particular things about me or about my being stressed that are of such a great concern to you that you had to order me to get counseling?” the pastor inquired.
“Yes. There is a list.”
“Could you not just simply tell me? Why not just help me as a brother and friend rather than making accusations and imposing some counselor I don’t want to see upon me? Why not start now?”
“Being stressed and burdened is a sin. It is wrong to let other people see you, as a pastor, stressed. Besides, you are to bring your burdens to the elders, which you haven’t done.” declared the elder.
“A sin? What?” said an astonished pastor. “What’s going on here? Why the urgency? Why do you believe we as a session must meet with Frank? What’s the objective here?” insisted the pastor.
“We’re very concerned for you ministry. We love you and want to see you grow in your ministry and be assisted in every way possible. Perhaps we can help you see areas in which to better you in ministry, to seek counsel to better you in your work. We believe it is best to discuss this matter in formal counseling.”
“I concur.” piped up the quiet elder.
“Well and good, but that is NOT what you originally presented. You brought up the matter of me being stressed and burdened and now say it is a sin and …”
“Do you deny you are stressed?” objected the elder.
“Not at all. Is being stressed a problem in itself? Am I sinning in any particular way?”
The elder returned, “Hmmm, no. I don’t know. But it is affecting your ministry.” He went on to explain how being stressed is the mark of a bad leader.
“How so? In what way?”
“That is what we need to talk about in the presence of a counselor. We urged you to have this meeting with Frank and us to work through these things in order for us to learn how to best help and assist you in ministry. Second, to learn as a session how to communicate with one another.”
A dialog ensued rehearsing the past few meetings.
Pastor: “You still have not given me any specific issues as to what you intend to bring up with Frank. Do you have particulars written down?”
“But you have concerns you’ve registered mentally?”
“So why can’t you divulge them to me now? We need to be biblical here.”
Elder: “Are you saying you don’t want counsel?”
The dialog continued along this vein without resolution.
“I’m willing to tell you in the presence of godly counsel…” defended the elder. “There are areas in your ministry that would benefit from Frank’s counsel. Are you saying that you can’t benefit from counsel? I thought Frank was someone you admired?” explained the elder.
“I do. But not when my hand is forced to get counsel about some nebulous matters. You are not making it clear to me at all what your concerns are and what the objective of the meeting is?”
“You already agreed to the meeting with Frank. You can’t back out now.”
“That is true I did agree to meet – under duress! Yet I have had time to seek other counsel with pastors and counselors. I’ve had time to think this whole thing through. There is something going on here that is very troubling to me. I am not willing to come to some meeting where the two of you wish to sit down with a counselor of your choice and begin to accuse me of things, or begin to correct me about these so-called areas of concerns or sins. I refuse to be blindsided. I’ve been there and done that and vowed never to go through that again. And it is not the process of Matthew 18 and it is not acceptable for you to order me to do something that violates my conscience.” clarified the pastor.
It seemed a trifle matter. Why not just sit with the elders and the counselor and get it over with? The pastor did not want to get into the history of his previous encounters with Frank. Pastor-counselor Frank had been helpful in the past about church matters and even some personal issues. However, Claude and the elder had a particularly close relationship, and the manner and language the elder was using, such as ‘directing’ or ordering the pastor to be counseled was Frank’s mode of operation. It was clear the elder had been told what to do by Frank. He seemed to be calling the shots. At the church where Frank served it was a practice that when he or the elders ordered someone to get counseling and they refused they would proceed with charges and put the individual under discipline. Many had gone through that agony at their church. This pastor did not trust the men and feared things would get worse by inviting Frank; especially since the elder was keeping particulars a secret and was declaring stress to be sin.”
“I don’t see the problem. Why are you changing your mind now? Why the resistance? You seem to be very defensive.”
“Of course I’m defensive! You are putting me in an awkward situation. You’ve made statements about me, my wife, my child and schooling, and now about stress and being defensive as sins? These are all problematic for me.”
The elder then proceeded to declare that the pastor had an exaggerated defensiveness and it was sinful. The list of sins were slowly being divulged. Getting frustrated the pastor announced he strongly objected meeting with Claude under the circumstances.
“I take note of your objection to that…So are you saying you will NOT meet with session and Frank this Thursday?” the elder asked.
“No. Not under these circumstances!”
The elder now red faced and surprised pronounced, “I’m stunned. You will not meet with the elders if we ordered you to?”
“Especially so. I deny that you have any right to do that whatsoever.”
“You will not receive a charge to you to meet for a session with Frank?”
“I don’t know what to say?” (long pause) “Why not? Even if we made it official or brought a charge against you?” the elder insisted.
Quite saddened and yet angry, the pastor said, “Go ahead. You have no foundation to stand on in this! I’ve already consulted with our denominational parliamentarians. Let me say again, here is the proper way to deal with this…” the pastor outlined what he had said before, instructing more carefully on Matthew 18, but putting special emphasis upon how much more effective the elders would be if they simply came to him informally and asked what things were burdening him and how they might be able to come alongside and help.
The elders and pastor studied each other. It was an impasse; that is until the elder changed his tact. He broke the silence, “We need to know how to work more effectively together as a session. This is a perceived need on session’s behalf. Can you agree we can stand to improve?”
“Of course we can always improve. This is fine for counsel, but this is not the matter you brought up.”
The elder, “We believe that there are areas in your ministry that could benefit from session’s encouragement. Are we effective in encouraging you? Do you think we encourage you in your ministry?”
Laughing, the pastor remarked, “Not at all!”
“So there is another thing we all could benefit.”
“It is my preference to address any other issues in the presence of Frank. Can you not agree that we all could use his help in working through communication, or encouragement and other things too?”
The elder pleaded, “Will you please, for the sake of our relationship, the sake of your ministry, the sake of our effectiveness as a session, for the sake of this church, consider meeting together with us and Frank?”
There was a very long pause as the pastor was trying to contemplate his proposal.
“If you don’t want his counsel about the problem with your wife and child or schooling we can accept that. You can seek anyone you wish. This is for us and our sake. I’m asking you to do this.”
Another long pause. Given what the elder had spelled out and the very nature of the conversation certainly underscored a big problem here. On that basis his argument was legitimate.
Against his better judgment the pastor gave in. “I VERY reluctantly agree to the meeting with Frank this Thursday. You must note that those areas you mentioned are off limits and will not be discussed….”
Both elders sighed with relief. The one sat back in his chair while the leader smiled and said, “Thank you. Will you call Frank and confirm the meeting or should I?”
“I most certainly will talk with him about this.”
After prayer the meeting adjourned. The pastor did call Frank and confirm the time and place of the meeting, but he was also very candid about his reluctance and the reasons why. His intuition would later turn out to be correct.