Dear President Trump: I occasionally write my parishioners a word of encouragement after having prayed for them. So I’d like to do the same for you. You are my duly-elected president, and I pray for you to succeed.
At the risk of seeming officious, I have experienced some of the same leadership challenges you are enduring. I pastor a church of 1,300 members, so my burdens are considerably smaller than yours, but the principles apply to both of us.
- Don’t get hung up on attendance. I know you’re upset about the count at your inauguration. I’ve been there. Some Sundays, I know the balcony is much fuller than reported by our worship counters. But I just have to put on my big boy pants and accept the total reported and published. And here’s the thing—the more I protest, the smaller I look. To keep on harping about it makes me look desperate. I know of colleagues who have inflated their attendance numbers. In doing so, they lost credibility. No leader leads when he or she tries too hard. Leadership contains a strange paradox. The more we insist on authority, the less we have. Besides, you and I should just be philosophical about attendance. Thank God our salaries don’t depend on head counts. (Oops. I just remembered. I read that you might refuse your presidential salary. Please don’t let my church’s stewardship committee know about that; they might get ideas).
- All my members are important, not merely the ones who agree with me or like me. Yes, you are our president, but please remember how many millions voted for someone else last November. And speaking of all our constituents, I get that you are pro-life. Frankly, I am pretty conservative on the abortion issue myself (to the chagrin of some of my progressive friends). But remember that you are president of born children as well as unborn ones—children of all ages who need access to healthcare and a decent education, and who long to live on safe streets. As many of our Catholic friends have pointed out, a consistent pro-life position runs from the womb to the tomb.
- You and I have to read and follow all of our governing documents. For me, it’s my church constitution. For you, it’s the U.S. Constitution. Please remember there are other amendments to that sacred document besides the second one. The First Amendment discusses freedom of religion and freedom of the press. I would say more about this, but I saw on TV last summer that someone has already offered you a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
- You and I both deal with challenges as we seek to balance safety and hospitality. I pastor a downtown congregation in our state capital. Our building has six floors, and because we are on a steep hill, four of those floors have ground-level entrances. Again, the size of my situation is nothing compared to yours. But the issue is the same. How do you and I keep our people safe while at the same time live out our mission of welcome and hospitality? I’d like to suggest you and I work at both-and instead of either-or. Our church has a security protocol in place. But we must never forget why we are here–to treat each guest with dignity. The Bible admonishes churches to welcome the stranger (James 3:1ff). Nations are instructed to do the same (Matthew 25:31ff).
In summary, Mr. President, please remember one of the most helpful leadership lessons I ever learned: Even the most unfair criticism leveled against us contains a grain of truth. We can always learn from our detractors. In fact, when we do so, and thus improve, our adversaries will be silenced. Please know I am praying for you. God bless.
Dr. Doyle Sager serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo.
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