A Dog In A Tree

At a recent session of the Wednesday Morning Men, a men’s Bible study I teach every Wednesday morning (what else would the Wednesday Morning Men be except a gathering for men and when else would it meet except on Wednesday morning) one of the regular guys, Wayne Mitchell, talked about something his grandmother said to him when he was in his late twenties. Wayne questioned her about prominent pastors who promote themselves, become well known, and then fall. She said, “They’re like a dog in a tree.” Wayne had never heard that phrase before so he wondered what she meant. She replied, “You will never see a dog in a tree who got there on his own. Someone had to put him there, and he cannot get down without help. Dogs can’t climb trees, and when someone puts a dog on a limb he barks, growls, whimpers, but if no one gets him down, all he can do is jump —and usually he gets hurt when he jumps.”


That’s so much like a pastor who promotes himself and then discovers he’s like a dog in a tree. The only way he can get down is to fall and he always gets hurt when he lands.


How does a pastor become a dog in a tree? There are several ways.


1. He can get there on his own by becoming caught up in himself and promoting himself only to discover that he doesn’t belong in the prominent place he sought out, that he is failing, that he is being criticized, that he brought pressure on himself he doesn’t’ want, and no one will help get him down. So he has to jump, and it always hurts him when he lands.


2. He can get there because some well meaning people have told him he’s so great—you’re the next Swindoll, pastor—he believes this and expects others to recognize how great he is, only to find out few, if anyone actually believes this to be true. However, he’s out on a limb that inevitably breaks and dumps him to the ground and leaves him in great pain.


3. He can get there because some people who want to use him to advance themselves tell him he’s the greatest leader his church has ever had, and he believes them and acts as if they’re right, only to find out others don’t think that at all. So the limb he’s put himself on breaks off the tree and crashes him to the ground.


4. He can get there because some self-promoting woman wants to add his scalp to her belt so she tempts him, engages him in adultery, boasts about their secret rendezvous, and shames him for her own glory so that His secret becomes public, his wife becomes devastated, his children become crushed, his congregation becomes shamed, and he becomes destroyed. Who can say how great the pain this fall brings to a pastor?


How can a pastor avoid becoming a dog in a tree?


1. By telling himself he’s not as important as he thinks he is, not as good as he believes he is, not as big a deal as he wants to be, not called by God to promote himself, but to give glory to God and do this by focusing diligently on prayer, the word, and others around him who will help him turn from exalting himself.


2. By genuinely thanking the well-meaning people who admire him and then going to the Lord through prayer and the word to gain the humility he needs to promote Him alone and not himself.


3. By remembering that most people who claim they want to promote him actually want to promote themselves and they will become a source of division in his church if he lets them, so he must realize that his refusal to respond to such people may well cause them to leave and take others with them, a painful season of blessing even if some people he deeply loves are gone.


4. By building a powerful public relationship with his wife and also by keeping his leaders informed concerning potential self-seeking women so it becomes known throughout his church that their pastor has an exclusive commitment to his wife.


A pastor in a tree will end up barking, growling, and whimpering like a dog in a tree, but the only way most pastors get out of a tree is by falling down and crawling away in shame, shattered and broken by the despair his pride brought him.


A pastor in a tree is no better than a dog in a tree. Neither was created by God to be there, and neither can get down without failure and pain.


Bill Lawrence is the President of Leader Formation International, Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Adjunct Professor of DMin Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary where he served full-time for twenty-four years (1981-2005). During this time he also was the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Leadership for twelve years.