A prominent senior pilot for a major airline slid a large check across restaurant table to me. It represented a major gift in our new struggling congregation. In the early days of a church, needs are very basic. Any size offering and people who can breathe and stack the chairs are an enormous blessing!
This gentleman had arrived in the fellowship only days earlier. Whether naïve or as giddy as a kid over free candy, I ignored the purpose of the check and his glaring desire that I see the amount and be duly impressed - he was attempting to buy influence, position and ultimately, authority. It wasn’t for sale and things didn’t end well.
The desire of some members to rise in prominence and control the leadership or manipulate decisions is an opiate and emotional high some people simply cannot resist. And for pastors, the temptation to be numerically successful, recognized easily in the community, seen in the news, viewed as financially astute, and featured at pastoral conferences to present and market our particular set of skills to the less informed is a heady experience, indeed. The late Presbyterian pastor and author Eugene Peterson of The Living Bible fame fired this shot over the pastoral bow in his remarkable book, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work:
Pastoral work gathers expertise not by acquiring new knowledge but by assimilating old wisdom, not by reading the latest books but by digesting the oldest one...deliberate effort must be directed to the old continuities in pastoral work. Otherwise, we float on fads... too much pastoral work in our times is a consequence of that kind of procedure – a gerry-built structure, hastily and desperately put together out of whatever is at hand from graduate schools, the bestseller list and the latest opinion poll listings of what people want.
Although the antithesis of a pastor or faithful believer, the self-absorbed character of Haman featured prominently in the Esther narrative serves as a clear warning for us today, all of us.
Haman relished the prestige heaped upon him as the king’s servants bowed before him and was equally miffed when the Jew Mordecai resisted showing him such honor and essentially told Haman, not doing it. Nothing Haman loved more than bloviating over his successful years, displaying “the glory of his riches,” and wallowing in the fame the king heaped upon him. Sitting next to the power was as addicting as a drug and he was high quite often. In a display of dominance, Haman had gallows built for the annihilation of Mordecai and crafted an elaborate scheme for local Jews to be killed. Pride struck hard - but much less hard than his downfall.
Thankfully, Esther stood up to him and exposed his evil plot to the king. In the end, Haman was hanged on the very gallows he had constructed to destroy others, a distant reminder of Geoffrey Chaucer’s words in The Parson’s Tale ... the birds come home to roost.
Today’s pastors will do well to enjoy the Word, look intently into the eyes and needs of others as we respond with grace, relax in our pastoral roles, and resist the temptation to wear success as a badge of honor or stepping stone to prominence or financial reward. God may raise up an Esther to humble us when we act like Haman! And fellow believers must serve Jesus with no thought of spiritual pride or dominance in the fellowship. Thankfully, there are precious few Hamans among us, and may his tribe decrease. With rare exceptions, today’s pastors serve well, live humbly, love Jesus, care for our souls, and bless us greatly.
And a final thought, pastor. When looking for leaders in the fellowship, pay careful attention and select the one who prays quietly, speaks with grace, and stacks the chairs without being asked. Haman is not your man. Haman really doesn’t like stacking chairs.