It came to me today that many of you have probably felt that this web site was remiss in offering practical encouragement to those who are laboring in the work of ministry. Here I am, 33+ years into this business, and I haven’t really shared much of the wisdom of my own experiences. I intend to correct that with today’s post.
In the following paragraphs, I am going to rescue those of you in ministry from the feeling you have that no one could ever be as bone-headed as you. From the annals of my own life and ministry, I share with you now the following true stories meant to encourage you to start tomorrow with a smile, saying “I may be an idiot, but I’m still way ahead of Spencer.”
As a bit o’ background, I was a youth minister- mostly- from 1976-1988. Then I pastored four years, but also did a lot of youth ministry in that church after the youth minister quit. NONE of the incidents recounted below happened where I’ve served since 1992.
BTW- in order to protect the innocent, I will change a few facts here and there, but I assure you that what you are reading is not fiction. 100% true.
1. I love hayrides. Ours got rained out, so smart guy here gets the church bus (used for senior adult trips), fills it with bales of hay and drives the kids around for a couple of hours. I’m not sure that bus ever was clean again. I got yelled at, deservedly.
2. I showed a movie to a large mixed group of families that had a flash of a woman’s breast. Everyone gasped. Of course I didn’t preview it.
3. I took my youth group to see the movie “Darkman.” I just didn’t realize that it was rated “R.” No sex or language, just a lot of intense violence, much like the average meeting of our junior high ministry. This one did not go unnoticed by a parent, so she arranged for a called deacon’s meeting and read the schedule of every movie ever played at that theater for the last couple of years. It was the closest I ever came to being fired and I totally deserved it.
4. Two of my deacons made a big deal about me taking the a.m. service ten minutes too long two weeks in a row, and they humiliated me in front of the rest of the deacons over it. No affirmation of my preaching at all. Just p.o.-ed that I had gotten them to the restaurants a bit late. I was angry; really angry. The next week I preached for 12 minutes total and dismissed the service at 15 minutes till noon. The reaction was predictable. I actually consider that one of my finer moments. If your view of preaching is “How soon do I get to dinner?” you deserve to be accommodated.
5. I scheduled a concert on a Friday night after football season was over. Well sort of over. It was the Saturday of the state championship game for our division, and our town’s team had been 0-11 the previous year. So what were the chances? Turns out pretty good. They made it all the way to the state championship. I had to cancel the concert and eat the deposit personally. (To soothe the pain, my kids took all the posters and plastered them on the walls, ceiling, floor, desk, etc of my office. Then stuffed the room with crumpled up posters that fell out when I opened my office door. Never say kids don’t care.)
6. We played soccer in the sanctuary. I think. I blanked this out. No one ever knew. I think a dog was in there, too.
7. A few of my students apparently used mission trips as an opportunity to get to know each other in the Biblical sense. I didn’t know it at the time of course, but several have told me about it since they’ve become adults. While I thought we were doing backyard Bible clubs, some of these little church angels were fellowshiping like bunnies at the first opportunity. I wasn’t totally unaware of this though. During a Christmas play rehearsal one year, I took some kids to a room to practice and walked in on two kids (not working with me) practicing something unrelated to Christmas in a Sunday School room.
8. I rented and showed “Bambi vs. Godzilla” at a mid-week Bible study. This was back on reel to reel. I have no idea what I was thinking.
9. I used Van Halen music as a wake-up call for a Baptist youth camp. Quite a few complaints, but I thought “Dancing in the Streets” was a good choice.
10. When I was in my first regular preaching gig at age 18, I tried to preach on the prophecy of Daniel’s 70 weeks. An old man stood up about half way through and said, “We have no idea what you are talking about, son.” Thanks to that man, I abandoned dispensationalism.
11. I had Jesus try to quit a Passion play I was directing. He said it was just too intense for him. (Totally true.)
12. One of the Oak Ridge Boys- I am not lying — crashed a revival I was preaching and demanded to be able to sing in the service. I said no and the guy said, “Do you know who I am?” and left cussing me. He had great hair and a hot wife.
13. I was hired to be a summer youth director only to discover there was a lay couple there, loved by the kids, busy doing great ministry for the past ten years. The pastor neglected to tell me he didn’t like these people. (He turned out to be a jerk no one could work with.) So I did nothing for two months but hang around while kids kept asking “Who is that guy?”
14. I brought in a band to do a concert, and the lead singer told such incredible, explicit drug use stories that the pastor pulled the plug on the show and sent everyone home.
15. I have attempted to work with a host of people- I mean several in various churches- who were all determined to fire me and I knew it. After working with one for weeks on summer recreation leagues, he brought me into the pastor’s office and promised to personally build and fund a new youth facility if the pastor would fire me immediately. He didn’t. I asked the guy for Reds tickets the next month. (I have a strange attraction to my enemies. It’s bizarre.)
16. I once hired a guy as an intern who spent the next three months trying to consolidate support to take my job. I kept asking him what he was doing and he’d say nothing. I finally got the nerve to fire him and he left the church and the faith. He married one of our youth group girls in a few weeks. He eventually became a lawyer, so he was in league with the devil.
17. I let some kids watch a movie on HBO (long ago) in my office. Listen folks. Don’t ever do that. I had more angry parents than I could count, even though the movie was harmless. I don’t know how I made it through that one. (I have problems with movies. Have you noticed?)
18. I once took our kids on a mission trip that we’d planned for months. Our contact was a local director of missions, not the pastor we would work with. All seemed fine. (Can you see this coming?) When we arrived, the pastor had no idea who we were, had no housing, no places for us to work and DIDN’T WANT US THERE. So we negotiated with him and he agreed to let us sleep in the church basement, feed ourselves and find our own places for Backyard Bible Club. He wanted nothing to do with us. The next morning was pouring rain, and there we were, on the streets, door to door, asking for homes to do Bible clubs for the area kids. This was not an area that liked Baptists, by the way. By noon, we had four places, none connected to the church. We had a great week, though the pastor treated us like a disease. When we were leaving, three of our boys were mooning him in the bus windows. I was almost angry at them. Almost. Lesson: ALWAYS make an advance trip yourself.
19. My first mission trip (1980) was worse, but it makes me look like such an idiot that I can’t tell you the whole story. It’s amazing my kids didn’t starve. I’ll just say that the two other youth leaders I worked with took me aside and had a talk with me at the end of the week. I got the message, and eventually became very good at mission trips to the inner city and Appalachia. And much better at planning.
20. Yes, I drove off and left a kid at a rest area once. Are you happy now?
21. Oh yeah. I was the lowest paid guy on a church staff where I worked, and the parents thought I did a good job, so they commandeered a business meeting, amended the budget and gave me a big raise. This was back in the day when $16k + benefits was normal for a new, full time, youth guy. I won’t tell all of this story, but I was counseled, for the good of the staff, the process, etc., to turn it down. And guess what? I did. I went before TWO morning services and declined the raise. I look back on that now and I hang my head in shame. Mama and Daddy did not bring up a boy to be that dumb, I promise. But that’s what church work will do for you. I think God has kept me poor ever since because “Well, OK…if you don’t want it…”
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Talk about Stupid Ministry Tricks! Michael Spencer once wrote, “If I become Lutheran, Anglican or Catholic, it will be because I watched this too many times.”