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5 Things That Give Pastors A Bad Name With Unchurched People

I’ve been a pastor since I was 30 years old, but even now, I still don’t really like telling people what I do.

I have a heart for unchurched people and am always trying to find a way to build bridges and tear down barriers. But I feel like telling people I’m a pastor or lead a church almost automatically creates a barrier—a barrier that seems to grow with every passing year.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel there’s a funk associated with the idea of being a pastor that might be a combination of

ConfusionI’ve never actually met anyone who works at a church (that’s especially true in an unchurched country like Canada, where I live).

SuspicionSo what’s the deal with all those church scandals and are you in any way related to them?

IrrelevanceSo what exactly would you do all day or why on earth would your organization exist?

Pity..You really couldn’t do anything else with your life?

It’s easy to point your finger at high profile pastors who fell or who have given the church a bad name, but that lets the rest of us off the hook too easily.

Sure, we can use the negative association to vision cast and correct assumptions (and I try to do that), but what if pastors had a good name in most communities?

So let me ask a pointed question: Is there anything you or I do–as regular, average pastors–that hurts rather than helps the cause of the local church?

I think so. This matters because the more we become aware of them and address them, the better we’ll become at fulfilling our mission.

 What gives pastors a bad name

5 Things That Give Pastors a Bad Name

Please hear that I love the local church. And I love local church pastors.

The vast majority are hard working, mostly underpaid, sincere people who really love Jesus and want to make a difference.

But our blind spots can be our worst enemies. Identify them, and suddenly you can be more effective.

So here are 5 traps I try to avoid as a local pastor who loves the church and loves the people we’re trying to reach.

1. Speaking weird

I started to fall into this trap early in my ministry, and realized I had to correct it right away.

If you speak in code, you’ll have a hard time connecting with unchurched people.

If you find yourself saying brother, sister, amen, fellowship, tribulation and the like, it tends to bring less credibility to what you do.

Sure, that might work in your church circles, but if you’re trying to reach your community, it’s a barrier.

I also think the more titles you have, the weirder it gets. People ask all the time what to call me. I say Carey. I don’t even list my degrees anywhere (although I have three of them). I realize traditions differ, but I’m trying to connect with people who don’t go to church.

Here’s my rule. If you can’t talk to someone on the street the way you talk in church, you have a problem with the way you talk.

So don’t speak weird.

2. Pretending to be something we’re not

Unchurched people are tired of the hypocrisy. And, honestly, church people are weary of thinking of their pastor as someone who has it all together.

A pastor’s prayers don’t go directly to heaven. You struggle as a pastor spiritually. So do I. Sometimes we feel close to God. Sometimes we don’t.

Few of us have perfect marriages. And we need to say sorry as often as the next person.

What would happen if pastors were simply more authentic? Not as in super-raw authentic, but appropriately transparent. (I wrote about my personal rules about what to share and what not to share publicly in this post.)

Churches spent the ’90s and 2000s trying to be relevant.

Authenticity is the new relevance. Cool church isn’t nearly as powerful as authentic church.

So be honest. Talk about your struggles (appropriately).

3. Being known for what we’re against, not what we’re for

Many pastors—famous and not famous— have become known for ranting against the world.

Yes, there’s much to wring our hands over.

But I believe the general thrust of the of the Gospel is that Jesus loves the world and died for the world as an outpouring of that love.

You can think through that theologically, but also practically (most theology is practical in the end anyway).

Who would you rather hang out with? Someone who hates you, or someone who loves you, (even if they disagree with you)?

That’s a no brainer for all of us.

People gravitate toward love. You do. I do.

So…what if instead of being known for what we’re against, the local church was known for what we’re for?

I am tremendously inspired by what Jeff Henderson and the people of Gwinnett Church have done with their #ForGwinnett campaign.

They want to make significant inroads into their community, and they want to be known for what they’re for as a local church, not what they’re against.

You can check out their Facebook page to see the highlights of their #ForGwinnett campaign.

4. Being Experts on Things We’re Not Experts On

Local pastors are always being asked “What’s your opinion on [fill in the blank]?”

Many of us are scared to say “I’m not sure”. So we’re tempted to offer an ill-considered viewpoint on something we don’t fully understand. Even worse, some of us can gain social media traction through those ill-considered opinions.

I may have spent thousands of hours reading the scripture and studying theology, but that doesn’t make me an expert on everything except maybe coming to faith and growing in faith. I think I can speak into that.

I’ve also spent lots of personal time studying leadership, change and parenting. While I’ve got a lot left to learn, I can speak with a bit of expertise into those areas.

But I’m not an expert on the vast majority of issues. Do I have opinions? Sure.

But I’m not sure those opinions are helpful to the average person.

Increasingly before speaking into any issue I ask myself “Will this help move a person closer to Jesus or further away from Jesus?”

Many of our half-thought-through and even deeply held ‘opinions’ in all likelihood move Christians and non-Christians further away from Jesus.

So why offer them at all if they’re not core to the scripture or the Gospel?

Instead, why don’t we all get comfortable saying “I’m not sure” or even better, “What do you think?”

Then just listen.

You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and how you listening might actually help move someone closer to Jesus.

5. Claiming Privilege

Sometimes there’s a really good reason you need a reserved parking spot. But often there’s not.

You just want it.

Or worse, you think you deserve it.

Right now I have the smallest office of any staff who have an office. In the new facility we’re building, I have an office but it’s not the biggest one.

Jesus came to serve, not to be served. The more I claim privilege, the less I’m like Jesus.

The challenge of course, is that many of us are privileged economically or socially. So it will be a daily struggle.

But sharing what you have with others, taking the low place and serving alongside others can make a big difference, even if after it’s over, you retreat to an office to write your message in silence.

What Would You Add?

These are 5 things I see that give local pastors a bad name with unchurched people.

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear what you’re learning.

Scroll down and leave a comment.

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  • Robin Whitney Cromer

    I find this article interesting though I do not agree with it 100%. Why
    do we search so much inside ourselves as to what make a good or bad
    Pastor or what reaches the unchurched when ALL those answers and so much
    more are in God’s Word. The love of God, pure and unadulterated,
    always draws people to Him. The Word says, If I be lifted up, I will
    draw ALL men unto me. So it is simple. Preach the goodness of Jesus,
    and remember, it is not all fluff and feel good. Preach the truth of
    Jesus from His Word.

  • Emily Fravel

    Don’t assume that someone who doesn’t go to church doesn’t know “the truth”. Many of us know it, heard it, lived it and left. We left because of spiritual abuse.

    We don’t want to hear how your church is different. We don’t want to hear about giving church a second chance. We don’t want you to offer to pray for us.

  • mary

    Someone recently told me their reason for choosing a particular church: “The pastor actually spoke to me.”

    Unfortunately, I’ve experienced what this person was talking about, too. The pastor does his sermon and goes to his office, or stands out front shaking hands and saying a couple words to this person and that, but isn’t truly available to anyone. Who wants to go to a church where leaders don’t say more than a quick hi, and never respond to emails or calls?

  • Mr. Cadillac

    Being excessively overweight. You look like someone who is living off others.

    • Emily Fravel

      I have a transgender child. It never fails that those who tell me that what I’m doing to my daughter is a sin are overweight. I look at the pics of their families and it’s a fat couple, often who share a Facebook page (which is Christian for “one of us cheated”), with fat kids.

  • grace

    I don’t go to church and I don’t go because I don’t believe that there should be any professional clergy. because of the corrupt and ungodly nature of most American churches, in many cases as much as 97% of the money they bring in through tithes and offerings is spent on overhead. In a recent study 59% of millennials who were raised in the church do not attend church. Once the baby boomers who are faithful tithers retire the American church will be defunded. I believe that this will be a positive development. I am a Christ follower to my core, but I will most likely never attend church again in this life, at least I hope I don’t have to.

  • Jim C

    I disagree, or rather would change, number four. While I agree that we, as pastors, aren’t and don’t have to be experts at everything (I believe you can’t be a proper theologian without a good dose of “I don’t know” in your vocabulary.), I do believe that studying God’s word for thousands of hours doesn’t limit you to “coming to faith” and “growing in faith”.

    Two things…
    1) It enables you through the Holy Spirit to speak to principles/designs/commands that God has clearly shown about the world. Thousands of hours gives you God’s perspectives on things that others may not yet possess or at least, be able to show a framework that clears up misconceptions. As Christ followers, we are all a part of what God is trying to do here. I can’t totally count out what anyone is saying, because I’m asking myself “What is God saying through them?” or “What’s the point God is trying to drive home, not necessarily through the oration, but through this encounter?”

    2) Insight the Holy Spirit gives you because you were put in the position to answer. Often, my wife and I are put in the position in counseling to speak to issues we haven’t experienced or aren’t “experts” on, and for a while, we felt unqualified to give direction. What freed us was the realization that we aren’t speaking from simply human knowledge, but we speak from God’s wisdom which is appropriate in ANY circumstance.

    The Holy Spirit is the great Equalizer, because he can make you an expert on anything, even more than human study and years of experience can. I don’t think it’s for the sake of you being an expert, but to get what God is saying through you, to bring glory of Himself and people closer to Him in that moment. He did that with Joseph and many other people.

    The point is that you actually are following the Holy Spirit and aren’t speaking for the sake of personal hubris (truth, but in love). I usually find that the Holy Spirit pushes me to say more when I want to say less and to say less when I think I have all the answers.

    It’s had nothing to do with whether I’m an expert or not, but who I’m truly following, who I’m honoring and who I’m speaking for, rather than my credentials to speak on anything.

    • Erik Humphrey

      Hi Jim.
      Can I ask your age?

      Carey isn’t suggesting we shy away from “normal” discussions, just that we don’t walk around always trying to be the expert. Or having input to every topic.

      Even with the Holy Spirit, there are topics we know nothing about. If one asks about those, maybe we shrug and say “Wow! I’m stumped along with you! I’ll be praying,”. And help find a better advisor for them…

  • Sou5

    Beware if you come to Malaysia. There’s a pastor who preaches and teaches do this do that don’t to this don’t do that if you can’t accept teaching you are proud and etc.. but his actions contradict his teaching. When he has something against someone or when someone does something bad to him he will curse you,threaten to harm you,bypass you proudly and gossip bad about you in his church,to people and etc.. and even his assistant pastor and church members are like that too. I’m fed up and fume up with this kind of hypocrite proud pastor. Before he became a pastor he was not proud and arrogant but now that he become he is proud and has change 360 degree. Moreover when he does wrong, he does not admit and acknowledge his wrongs and does not apologize(Like he teach(Truly disgusted with this pastor)). This pastor and his church members especially his assistant pastor and one brother have caused TREMENDOUS hurt,offense,strife and horrendous ordeals to a lot of people & families.. Pity them..
    If only these pastor don’t exist.

  • ZombieStomper

    As an associate pastor, I know that we in church leadership are held to a much higher standard. That being said, we pastors shouldn’t use our position (which should be of servant, shepherd, and protector of the flock) as an excuse to treat others with despite, condescendingly, or like they’re a bother when they come to us with a problem. We need to also realize that as pastors, it most certainly does not give us the right to project an air of superiority; as you mentioned, we are there to serve, not to be served. I appreciate your writings, and look forward to reading many more of them.

  • Steve Walker

    you walk around with the church credit card and buy coffees for people making them think that you are spending your own money on them

  • Rick McNeely

    Hi all. I’m an atheist. If more pastors acted as you believe, there would be fewer people like me. I’m not going to offer an opinion on whether or not that would be a good thing.

    • Rick…thanks for reading this post. And thanks for being open enough to leave a comment with a trace of hope. A bunch of us are working on it. I pray your path leads you to Jesus. He is far more amazing than any of us or all of us.

  • John Crowe

    I would add a very important flip side to number 4. “Not being an expert in what we should be an expert in” We expect a lawyer to know law and how to apply it to our lives. We expect a doctor to know medicine and sometimes extra medical knowledge in a specialty.

    I think we hurt ourselves when we know far more about all sorts of issues in life and society but we don’t know our book, the Bible, well enough to help real people with real lives churched or unchurched to connect them with biblical truth and ultimately with God in dealing with their questions and issues.

    We should after years of being in ministry know the Bible better and see how to apply it better than we are able to like at the start of our ministry. We expect the same of more experienced lawyers and doctors. I think we should expect no less of ourselves.

    I think we hurt ourselves by not being and growing as an expert in our book which is our major tool. By expert, I mean more that knowing a lot about the Bible, but actually knowing the Bible. Too much of what passes as bible study gets all focused on areas about the bible instead of making the actual content of the Bible our focus while letting other things function as tools.

    I’ve met many clergy who can tell me a whole lot about what they learned in seminary about the bible as well as about various theologians and issues, but are woefully ignorant otherwise.

    Even if a pastor does not know or ever want to know NT Greek, many would benefit from reading an old classic “The Minister and His Greek New Testament” by A.T. Robertson.

  • Carry… I LOVE your stuff! I was a pastor for 20 years, and for the past 25 have observed a lot of things. I, too, love our Lord and His Church, and find your insights on target and highly valuable.

  • obumom

    Accessibility…but maybe that’s just a problem of being a member of a huge church.

  • Lisa Mior

    Keep on doing exactly what you are doing. It’s working. Based in the faces and overheard conversations exiting Connexus Orillia today (Jan 18/15) for the second installment on “Overwhelmed”, your delivery was amazing. Showing the human side of you and sharing your struggle with discouragement years ago and your fight back was so heartfelt and real. You even said this was a difficult issue to talk about however Carey, you touched upon all of our lives this morning. Jon Gonzales expressed his feelings that Connexus and all it stands for helped him and continues to feel like a safe and warm place to be. I get so enthusiastic hearing the various bands every week. You, Dan and all the wonderful staff keep it real. I live for Sunday services and wouldn’t ever say that growing up. Once again, thank you for your inspiration.

    • Lisa…Wow! Thank you! I really appreciate the feedback and I’m so glad God used the service and the series so far in the way he did.

      Love that Jon Gonzales…he has such a great heart.

      So thankful for all that God is doing at Connexus these days. Very grateful to be part of it.

  • Jeff Hooper

    Great post Carey! As I am praying (that is all I am doing right now) about church planting it excites me to read your posts. I really believe the local church (no specific church, really) has complicated church at so many levels. Thank you for being authentic, real and a great teacher. Go get ’em! 🙂 My wife and I would love to come and visit you church this year, especially since I have dual citizenship.

    • Jeff…thank you so much for the encouragement. Really appreciate it! We’d love to host you. Let us know when you’re coming!

  • Heidi Murdoch

    It really bothered be that a pastor who visited me in the hospital who told me I was there because I didn’t have enough faith in God. Yes, I was emotionally distraught but it had nothing to do with my faith. Come to find out it was due to work-related sleep deprivation, stress, poor nutrition and food sensitivities. I was on call 24/7 for days at a time. I didn’t ask for his opinion. I needed ministered to with a few of God’s promises, but that didn’t happen. He prayed and that was the only positive thing. I am not sure what you want to call this experience.

    • Heidi…that’s just really sad. I think that’s what you call it. I’m so sorry. Keep believing. Keep trusting.

      And I hope you got a break. I love the quote from I think Dallas Willard that says “70% of discipleship is a good night’s sleep”. There’s truth to that. Sometimes we underspiritualize things. Sometimes we overspiritualize them. Hope you’re feeling better.

      • Heidi Murdoch

        Yes, I am, Thanks for asking. 🙂 It did not shake my faith one bit. The heavenly father is there for us when others fail us.

  • Rian

    I recently visited the UMC in Ormand Beach, Florida. They had several spots near the front door designated “visitors only”. Hmmmmmmmm………….

  • Thank you, Carey. These are all things that have been a concern to me for years. I have failed to find the words. “Preach against” in the Word, but easy to find, “Proclaim the good news (Gospel).” Years ago, as an associate pastor, I intentionally sat at the back of the room at a banquet and was called to the front table. The Word works. I now consider myself working “under cover” for the most part. I love it. I can be normal and when a situation comes up that needs some “pastoring” I sometimes get the privilege. Wouldn’t have it any other way, but I still have a lot to learn. Taking Jesus’ words literally has helped me immensely!

  • Judith

    Interesting discussion of parking places. We are trying to foster an awareness of all baptized Christians being called to minister so, one Sunday, our Senior Warden printed “Minister” on all the parking spaces in our small lot. Despite all our education, many people drove around the lot unsure of where they could park since they thought the spaces were reserved for the “ministers.” We have more teaching to do…

  • Joshua Wilson

    How bout posting politically pointed FB posts that knowingly isolates half your audience?

    • Great point Joshua. I think this is where my Canadian neutrality is an advantage (I realize some will not call it neutrality…but I digress). I sometimes see posts from US folks on Facebook that really make it seem like God belongs to a political party. I don’t get that. I think Tim Keller addresses that issue brilliantly from his pulpit in Manhattan, doing a great job of transcending both Democratic and Republican worldviews.

  • Skip

    Our church has limited parking that is pavement, so even though I am almost the first there every Sunday, I park as an example in our grass lot carrying all the things I have to bring to church. But if I can’t park there I can’t expect my people to park further away either.

  • Skip

    I enjoyed the article however, Not sure what you meant on #2, “A pastor’s prayers don’t go directly to heaven.” Where do they go then, cause every child of God has access to the throne, including pastors.

    • Great catch. Probably should have said “A pastor’s prayers don’t go directly to heaven any more than anyone else’s do”. Bingo.

      • Matt

        I thought the same thing. Thanks for clarifying your view there.

  • Anton Lim

    As someone who attends the church you lead Carey, I am very aware of the conscious choice of words you choose to communicate. I’m sure after many years of experience a lot of it is sub-conscious, but every week I listen to you communicate I’m very aware of the words you choose in place of other church-speak jargon.
    Even as Connexus heads towards moving into a permanent location, leadership has been very purposeful in referring to the building as a permanent facility from which we can operate out of for two cities. If I’m not mistaken, there is a conscious choice not to use the phrase “We’re going to move into our church soon.”
    All the other points you made are great. I just felt compelled to affirm you in the first one. Thanks Carey.

    • Anton…so appreciate you and so appreciate this. And yes, you are right on. We chose the words very carefully and try to always be intentional in what we say. I think words have power we don’t fully appreciate. Thanks! So thankful you and your family are part of what God’s doing at Connexus.

  • Mr. Cadillac

    Then there’s the pastor who quotes the Greek as though it solves the issue because he knows that no one (he supposes) knows Greek. I’m a Greek scholar and find that those who dangle Greek words have no idea of the correct nuance of them. Study κοινη Greek in your office, but turn it into common English in the pulpit. Remember if there is mist in the pulpit, there is fog in the pews.

    • Good point.

    • Matt

      Its not a bad idea to use a greek or hebrew word in the pulpit but use it as an illistration. Translate it for them like you would with latin. break it down and help them.

  • Circle Thomas

    This is good stuff. I’d add to #4, pastors/priests who feel the need to answer a question they don’t know with some Biblical verse, which oftentimes just feels completely random and irrelevant to the hearer.

  • ralph juthman

    How about pastors who use vulgarity or crude language just to sound like ‘one of the guys’ people still expect more from us and they should.

  • Steve

    A wonderful article…just think the title needs to be changed…these are 5 things that give pastors a bad name with ANYONE.

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  • Kit Sonoda

    Thanks Carey for your thoughtful and insightful words.

  • Betty

    The last few I been around are good at getting other people to do stuff, but they don’t do task themselves.

    • That’s not leadership. Effective leaders don’t do everything, but they work hard at what they can do best to further the mission.

  • FlowerPower89

    General Patton was terrified of being called to be a minister, he wanted to be a soldier, not a minister! He knew, when you got the call to be a Minister, you could NOT say “NO” to God because it was the highest calling of all! He was relieved when he didn’t get the call! 🙂
    Joanne K

    • Did not know that! Wow.

    • Don

      Priesthood of all would suggest it’s not the “highest” calling since all are called … that could be number six, talking about being called which is only meant to elevate one person over another.

      • Matt

        That depends on the denominational view of the person though. Some don’t believe in Priesthood of all.

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  • Roger Fritts

    Interesting responses. “Employee only parking” is fairly common in our society at hospitals, schools and other institutions. My ministry involves coming and going from the church to attend community events and visit members. My congregation apparently does not think it is a good use of my time to cruise around looking for a parking space each time I return to the church, so they provide me and other full time staff with designated parking spaces. This makes me feel good because it says to me they value my time and the work that I do. I suspect that people who get upset because a minister has a parking space have been hurt by religion in bigger more important ways and the parking spot is symbolic of that pain.

    • Roger, I think in truly urban areas where parking is at a premium reserved parking can be essential. Many leaders simply see it as a perk. That’s what I’m against. We’ll have lots of parking at our new facility. I won’t reserve one for me. Sundays, I’ll park out back so guests get prime space.

      • Jimbo

        I am a Pastor in a church in Georgia, and I removed the Reserved for Staff parking signs, and encourage staff to park furthest away and walk, to allow others to use the better spots. Not slamming the other guys, but I just think when we think we deserve something special for what we do for God, we’ve lost sight of the the essential teaching of Jesus that says we must become servants of all…others before ourselves, always.

        • Matt

          Jimbo, can I ask what church? Im also in Georgia and I love visiting other Churches when I’m not preaching.

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  • Roger Fritts

    I have a reserved parking space. When others park in it, I put a note on their window. “We are really glad you are here and we would never tow anyone. However, next time you visit please do not park in my space. Having my own parking space is one of the few perks that I get for serving as a minister. It makes me feel good to drive up and park in my space. Again, we are glad you are here! The minister.”

    • Elldee

      If I ever had a note like that put on my car, I would think “who does he think he is?!?!?!” and probably would not ever come back.

      Many years ago, when I was fairly new to my church, I brought my mom to our mother-daughter banquet. She asked me who one of the men serving the women was, and I said that he’s the pastor. She was incredulous. You see, in her church, the pastor always had a seat at the front table, and even at a buffet, he was served first and didn’t have to go through the line. My mom was so impressed with my pastor’s humble attitude of service that she attended my church often, and when she knew she was dying, made it clear she wanted my pastor to participate in her funeral service.

    • karstealy

      I think that’s a terrible idea. How selfish. Unless you are handicapped and absolutely CANNOT walk, you should park as far away as possible. What a terrible way to “welcome” someone. I would never return.

      • UrbanGirl

        “Selfish” on whose part? The person parking in a designated spot knew the spot was reserved and chose to park there anyway. If that was done anywhere else, the car could have been ticketed and towed. If that person is already so selfish as to park in a clearly identified spot, maybe it isn’t so bad if they don’t return.


    • vbscript2

      I really hope you’re joking…

    • Karen Johnson

      Is this a real comment? If I got a note on my windshield like that, no matter how nice, I would never return to that church. Really arrogant of you pastor

    • Glinda

      I’m on the staff of a church. We have a tiny parking lot (7 spaces) for the staff to use during the week. The city-owned lot adjacent to the church charges $3 per hour M-F, so having our own lot is very much appreciated. So, when anyone (who isn’t staff) parks on the tiny lot during the week, this forces the staff to pay to park on the city lot. We are not reimbursed for this. The staff have never left a note for anyone. We just take our lumps.

    • See Roger’s comment above everyone. I’ve seen inner city churches with no parking. Thanks for the clarification Roger. I share my other thoughts above. 🙂

      • Dennis

        I’ve been pastoring in the same city with many of the same people for going on 41 years. It’s funny that all this parking opinion has missed a simple servants heart on reaching unchurched people. Jesus didn’t even own his own donkey.

    • hummingbug

      This would be entirely off-putting to me… especially where you put “having my own parking space is one of the few perks I get for serving as a minister.” It just isn’t worded in a way that brings glory to God or credence to your calling. It says, to me, “look, getting here each Sunday is a feat. I’m weary and exhausted of the work I do. I deserve this space because despite that, I’m still here with a smile plastered on my face and that means something.” I could be off base, but That’s how I would read it and I would infer that you didn’t really care to be at that church since clearly this is one of the few “perks” your congregation could afford you.

      In the end, it’s just a parking spot. And if you didn’t get a chance to speak with that person (people) who parked in that spot before they left your church, you spent more time critiquing them than you did building them up…

      • Roger Fritts

        From the NYT
        By VIVIAN S. TOY
        Published: August 1, 1996

        For years, many doctors, teachers, politicians and reporters have been able to do something that most New Yorkers could only dream about: park legally in an illegal space. Yesterday, the City Council voted to create a new category of privileged parkers: the clergy.

        The Council unanimously passed a bill that would allow clergy members to park next to their places of worship for up to four hours, and near hospitals or funeral parlors for up to three hours — allowing them to avoid the time-honored tradition of driving first one block beyond their destination, then two, then three or more, just to find a legal spot. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is expected to sign it, making New York what Council members say is the first city in the nation to extend parking privileges to the clergy.

        Clergy members from a variety of denominations had lobbied the Council for years for the privilege, complaining that they were constantly getting tickets while doing their jobs. They argued that since doctors and dentists could do it, why not them? After all, they said, doctors may heal the body, but the clergy heal the soul.

        Council members concluded that because the clergy often have to respond to emergencies, they should not have to circle block upon block looking for parking spaces.

        ”It is difficult when you are called to go to a hospital in the middle of the night and you can find no place to park, or you conduct a funeral and come out to find your car has been towed,” said Wendell Foster, a Bronx Councilman who is also a senior minister at the United Church of Christ on Forest Avenue. ”This is a necessary bill.”

        Mr. Foster said he had tried to introduce a similar bill more than 10 years ago, but backed off when conflict of interest questions were raised because he is a part-time minister. But he said the new bill defined ”clergy” narrowly enough to make him ineligible for a clergy permit. (Of course, as a City Council member, he has a special permit that allows him to park in illegal zones when he is on ”official business.”)

        Under the bill, only full-time clergy members whose primary source of income is their religious work would be eligible for the parking privileges. The Department of Transportation would issue permits to officially recognized houses of worship; each permit would cover up to three clergy members affiliated with that house of worship.

        City officials said they expected that the restrictions would limit the number of clergy permits to ”a couple hundred” — only a fraction of the thousands of ministers, imams, rabbis and priests in New York City.

        The specifications are intended to guarantee that only legitimate clergy members ministering to the sick, dying, or bereaved would get the parking privileges, and to weed out church volunteers who want to park illegally while dropping off a pot of spaghetti for a church social.

        ”We tried to work it out so there would be no abuse,” said Noach Dear, a Brooklyn Democrat and chairman of the Council’s Transportation Committee. ”Because, of course, I was concerned about issuing another permit,” he added, rolling his eyes.

        Council members said they also tried to define houses of worship carefully enough to make sure that enterprising New Yorkers do not suddenly decide to start calling their bedrooms places of prayer to get free parking in front of their apartment buildings. The bill explicitly excludes residences. Any church, synagogue, temple, or mosque also would have to be used principally for ”divine worship” and be registered at the city Buildings Department as a place of assembly to be eligible. But the bill does not specify which religious denominations it applies to.

        For Rabbi Larry Sebert, who lobbied the Council for the bill on behalf of the New York Board of Rabbis, the bill’s passage was welcome news. ”On any given day, I’ll have to do a funeral, three hospital visits, the whole gamut,” he said, noting that he is ticketed a few times every month and received a $55 ticket on Tuesday for parking in front of his synagogue during morning services.

        The combination of parking fines and hefty garage fees to avoid tickets was a hardship for many clergy members, he said. ”Being able to stop quickly at the hospital is certainly a tremendous help, both for the clergy, and I believe, for the congregants,” Rabbi Sebert said.

        Councilman Martin Malave-Dilan, a Brooklyn Democrat, introduced a more sweeping bill in early 1994, but no decisive action was taken until recently, when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York and leaders of Protestant and Jewish groups started lobbying Mr. Dear.

        The bill passed yesterday was significantly narrower than the original version, which would have allowed unlimited parking near houses of worship, hospitals, funeral homes and jails.

        ”We made sure this is not just a new, free parking spot for them,” Mr. Dear said. ”But it was the right thing to do, because they’re God’s messengers and this is a way to show respect for what they do in a practical way.”

  • Richard A McKinley

    The thing that is very, very off-putting for me… and maybe it is more prevalent here in the southern US… is to be asked… or assaulted… with the question: Are you saved? Often before we have even begun to converse. And often after I have been asked what church I go to… and the questioner doesn’t like the answer. As a Christian I hate that question. I can only imagine how a non-churched person must feel when that is the first or second thing out of your mouth.

    • keith

      I once went to a church and the pastor spoke directly to me saying I was holding back and should crossover the threshold and accepting God. He didn’t know I had previously been a worship leader at several churches. That in itself doesn’t mean I worship in spirit and truth but, based on the sermon he gave, I believe he just wanted to add me to his donor list.

      • Great—and sad—points Richard and Keith. Thank you.

  • Mark

    I am a different Mark than the one below.

    The same things could be said for giving a pastor a bad name among churched people. If the pastor is only doing the dirty work of the leadership, then there is a problem in the congregation. If the leadership is upset over something, they should have the guts to get up and speak, not hide behind the pastor. I have heard sermons which I knew the pastor did not want to give. I have a strong feeling that he was told to give it.

    • Mark…ouch. Oh man, that’s hard. I can honestly say I have never delivered a message I haven’t personally been convicted over. I can’t imagine the dynamics behind giving one you were told to give. Wow.

    • Matt

      Mark, thanks for that. I see it a lo. Its one of the reasons myself and the associate pastors at our church are hesitant at connecting with a denomination that may force a decision that we can’t work with.

      • Mark

        This was in a nondenominational church.

  • Mark

    I’m a pastor, and I do not have a reserved parking spot. I don’t want one. Just today I pulled into the church next door and saw they have a spot reserved for the pastor closest to the door. I had the same thoughts you did. It just didn’t seem right.

    • Doesn’t make sense to me. My reserved spot happens in my driveway at home, that’s all.

      • PeaceBang

        Not that this is the most important part of your post, but these boastings about not wanting a reserved parking spot are very gender-based. I am alone in the building a lot late at night. I want to be able to get out the door and to my car without walking through a dark parking lot.

        • Matt

          If you are alone late at night, park where ever you feel safest. I think this is meant for service times where the church has others there. I would think that it would be fine to have a spot right next to the door during working hours or late at night, but for a time that you want the church to be full (sermons, special events, ect.) park in the back. Thats what Im getting from this post at least

          • PeaceBang

            Matt, have you ever hear of mansplaining? You’re doing it. I know what Cary meant. What you’re not getting is that being a woman pastor has a completely different set of security issues, some of them around personal boundaries. Have you ever had a random guy meet you at a church service and give you unwanted and unwelcome sexual attention? Have you ever gone to church intending to stay a few hours and wound up there until 9 PM, alone in a wooded area? Have you ever had a violent ex? Or a stalker? Or been raped by a “friend?” Stop interpreting blog posts for women and start making the world safer and more sane for us. That’s what would help. We shouldn’t live in a world where we need to get into our cars fast and safely at day or night.

          • Matt

            No, I’m explaining my take on the article and comment. That’s it, nothing more. And its the same set of security issues. The town I’m from has people get stabbed and shot all the time so its a similar issue of safety. Have I ever had a random person meet me at service and follow me around? Yeah. Stayed longer than I meant to? Yeah. Had a stalker? actually, yeah. (No ex’s to have to worry about though, so there’s that). Raped, no but beat up and threatened with death, yeah. I wasn’t attempting to interpret anything for women, but simply making a comment. Please re-read that with the lens of speaking to either gender. I wasn’t attempting to be rude but I do stand by what I said. (And if everyone leaves and you’re still there for some reason, just move your car around while its day light so you dont have to worry about it)

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  • Keith

    Seeming to not care by not being connected to people. I have been in church leadership and I’ve heard this many times. I was out and no one called or showed any interest at all. I was in a church of 700 members, on the worship team and signed up as a member. I invited people to lunch, birthday parties, bible studies etc. However I never could develop any close friendships. No one had time. Everyone loved God but not each other. I can understand a pastor can’t call everyone all the time but, the church culture is a result of the structure and expectations of the staff and laypastors of a church. I have many secular friendships.

    • Big Giant Head

      Churches of 700 never allow a pastor to have time to develop relationships. Its impossible. The average person has the ability to know, somewhat, about 150 people.

      • keith

        I totally agree. But shouldn’t he know the church leadership. I.e. the worship team.

        • I think you guys are keying into something: capacity. But I agree Keith, knowing leaders is key. We have over 2000 people who call our church home and about 400+ volunteers. I try hard to know all their names but it’s work! Also work to remember the names of as many people attenders as I can.

          • Big Giant Head

            I pastor a church of 350. I have been criticized for not visiting (at their homes) everybody. It’s impossible. I have worked hard for eight years to create an atmosphere that people can call me at any time if there is a pastoral need. I’m getting there. As I reach an age where I think retirement (whatever that may look like) is viewable in the future, I really would like to pastor a church of less than 200, I think there is an opportunity to impact more lives if one can focus better.

          • FlowerPower89

            Carey, I think you do a wonderful job of remembering our names. I can tell you work at it. It does matter! Thank you!
            Joanne K

    • vbscript2

      While a preacher should try to get to know as many people as they can at the church… so should everyone else. No one person can know what’s going on in everyone’s life in a large congregation… especially if they’re not told. This is part of the reason why the Biblical model assigns this responsibility to a group of elders (also referred to as overseers, bishops, etc. in the Bible,) not to a single person who also happens to the preacher. Also, while the responsibility is not as great as it is with the elders, knowing and caring for others in the church is *every* member’s job, not just one person’s or a small group of people’s job. No one can have a close relationship with 500 people, let alone 2,000 people, but those people can – and should – have close relationships with others in the church.

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  • john

    I think you are a nice guy. Great points. Ok so you needed a pseudonym and grabbed tiles from a scrabble bag. . Could you try another handfull of letters. . Aim for a pronouneable set .. try a few times. I have time here.. I can vet them for you. 🙂

    • Good stuff Jon. Deleted the h. Just too much for me. 🙂

  • Leo

    Hello Carey, I just want to ask if you have a blog about Young Pastors who are already leading a church. Im Leo from Philippines.

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  • There’s not much worse than a pastor earning a bad name among his/her own staff. And micromanaging can definitely cause this. When we simply cannot allow our staff to lead and make decisions in the church without our rubber stamp of approval we communicate mistrust. When we do that, overall morale and creativity inevitably shrivel up and vanish. This never helps the kingdom reach the lost.

  • Carey, this may be a hybrid of 3 & 4, but it’s very easy for us to slip into advice giving mode–with people who aren’t actually seeking advice. Nothing is more annoying than being told what your problem is when you haven’t asked. Even if the speaker is correct.

    One more? There’s a kind of pastorish persona, especially here in the Midwest, that I think is terribly off-putting. It’s not so much the language (your #1) but a way of acting that is falsely warm, happy, and concerned all that the same time.

    • So true. Great points Larry!

    • Richard A McKinley

      This is soooo true. I’m not a pastor, but a lay leader. I am a chiropractor, and I cannot tell you how many times I have seen healthcare providers immediately jump in and start giving advice without even asking rudimentary questions first or seeking to find out what is really the matter… all of us… medical, chiropractic, holistic, etc. I am thinking of one particular church conference where the announcement went out “Is there a chiropractor in the house?” to minister to the speaker who couldn’t go on… I went out front to see him and he was being lectured by an MD about what exercises he should do in the mornings, etc. The man was in pain and couldn’t stand up straight!! He didn’t need to hear what he should do when he wasn’t in pain… even IF the MD’s advice was correct which it might not have been. And another prayer meeting where a parishioner asked me about her friend with migraines. I replied that I would have to see her and ask her questions and figure things out, but a holistic provider jumped in and started prescribing a whole course of treatment. The patient wasn’t even there! So… you’re right!! LISTEN!! ASK!! Don’t assume. And don’t come across as a know-it-all.

  • keli

    Defending bad behavior of other pastors.

    • Great point. I don’t think you should malign other people publicly, but that doesn’t mean you have to defend them. You can empathize with the situation, express concern and leave it at that.

  • Robin

    Great blog… I always enjoy the benefit of your wisdom Pastor Nieuwhof!

    As a ministry leader and devoted church member… here’s what I would add:

    1) that you need to be visible in the community. Many pastors and leadership teams who are trying to reach the unchurched are relying on members and attenders to ‘invite, invite, invite’… which don’t get me wrong.. isn’t necessarily a bad thing… but it sort of negates the command to “go out.”

    2) the other thing that I would add… is to value your key leaders and volunteers… don’t treat people like they are disposable. If 100 people… key leaders and volunteers… seasoned Christians leave your church in less than a year… AND they’ve tried to handle their “discontent” biblically and walked truth in love multiple times… but you’ve simply ignored them… well.. that’s fairly telling.. don’t you think? ESPECIALLY to new people and baby Christians.

    • Robin

      p.s. hit share before I could go back to #1 and elaborate.. lol. When you are visible in the community… ministering the lost and broken… it tells your community you care about it. Being inward focused tells the community at large that you only care about your own small community of believers.

      • Great points Robin. Thanks. I agree with both. Sounds like your church has been through some tough times lately. Sorry to hear that!

        • Robin

          Thank you… although I will admit that I’m a little embarrassed that some residual pain came through in my comments.

          Honestly it’s all good. God called me out of the boat back in April which was super scary and completely caught me off guard… but despite my fear… I had peace with my decision, obeyed… and the work He is and has been doing both in my respective ministry and my “new” church as a whole has been nothing short of amazing. Of course people are people and people go to church.. so it’s not “perfect”… but God is definitely moving.

          As an aside and given that it was apparent I was speaking from experience… I would like to be completely honest here and say that I certainly didn’t handle myself 100% rightly towards the tail end of the hurt and conflict in my previous church. Regardless… I love my former pastor and church family and pray for them often.

          But I digress… I worry for pastors and leaders during these times. I fear that in our quest to be relevant… to be the “cool church”… that we actually end up being the antithesis of relevancy… especially due to the insidious nature of sin / ego.

          • Robin that’s awesome…so glad you are working through that. You may have done this, but if you ever have the chance to tell your pastor what you own and to have a final conversation, I think that could be very healing. People often forget that as much as ‘they’ have to work through broken relationships, pastors do as well. It hurts on both sides. Thanks for raising this issue. Appreciate it and I wish you well!

          • Robin

            I agree… I attempted biblical reconciliation a few times. Sadly when one side is demanding grace and forgiveness but unwilling to reciprocate – it’s hard to achieve genuine restoration. It’s okay though… he has my forgiveness even if he doesn’t receive it.. God knows my heart 🙂

          • Good for you Robin. That’s a hard one, but it sounds like you did your part. Way to go.

    • Robin, I so agree, especially with #1. It’s very easy for pastors (I speak as one) to become systems managers, even in smaller or mid-sized churches. You’ve got to be out there in the mud.

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