November 26, 2020

Billy Gillispie and Your Pastor: What do they have in common? (Part 1 of 2)

The commonwealth of Kentucky where I reside is currently completely captivated by the drama surrounding the firing of University of Kentucky Men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie. Gillispie had only been at UK for two years. Both years featured lackluster performances in comparison to fan expectation, but Gillispie was just starting to recruit his own players. It’s odd- very, very odd- to see a coach dismissed after two years, but we’re talking about a state where University of Kentucky men’s basketball is the official religion of 90% of the population.

Gillispie’s firing followed one of the strangest and most dramatic paths of the demise of any coach of a major sports program. Gillispie was hired because of his single-minded focus on basketball. He was fired, apparently, because of his single-minded focus on basketball.

The mystery resides in that part of Gillispie’s job description labeled “being an ambassador for Kentucky basketball.” As former Coach Joe B. Hall, the successor to the legendary Adolph Rupp, said, the job of being the UK coach involves being custodian of the entire legacy and meaning of basketball in the state. It’s a job that happens at the practice court, in recruiting and on the floor, but it also happens in visiting high school games, signing balls, going to hospitals, speaking at Rotary, having dinner with boosters, participating in charity, getting along with the press and carrying yourself with the awareness that the program is basketball royalty.

Signals are that Gillispie did not sufficiently excel at this aspect of the job. (Gillispie himself disagrees.) He initially canceled a speech with the Lexington Rotary Club, a tradition for many years. He had running arguments with reporters. Rumors were constantly floating about behavior in public. Gillispie made some decisions about the program that didn’t set well with the parents of some players. When he lost games that sent the UK faithful into cardiac arrest, he seemed too accepting. Clearly nervous and uneasy with the public aspects of the game, Gillispie eventually made public statements that he was not hired to be a celebrity or to do the non-coaching aspects of the game.

Local reporters, who often know more than they can write, had been after Gillispie’s ouster for weeks and they left no doubt that it was the non-coaching aspects of the game- as well as some on court decisions- that made Gillispie a “bad fit.” One reporter, looking fondly back to the Rick Pitino era, reminded the public that Pitino had opened a restaurant and written a book. I thought at the time, that if Gillispie has said in his first news conference that he wanted to open a restaurant and write a book, it would have been a bad start.

Now….what am I doing writing about this? Well, you obviously haven’t pastored a church lately.

Gillispie was encountering something many pastors know about rather well. The church hires you with a list of tasks in their hands: preach, evangelize, grow the church, administer the programs, increase missions giving and involvement, supervise staff, go to the hospitals, be available for funerals.

Three or four years later, you’re out for reasons as follows (former pastors: prepare for deja vu.)

-You didn’t visit someone’s distant relative who was not only not a member or prospect, but was hospitalized two hours away.
-You were always at the church.
-You studied too much.
-You didn’t spend enough time hanging out at members’ homes, drinking tea and talking.
-You spent too much time at your home.
-You didn’t recognize Mrs. Smith for her large donation to the nursery fund.
-Your children weren’t in every program the church put on.
-Your wife occasionally missed services.
-Your wife had a job. (Apparently the salary we’re paying you isn’t enough.)
-You bought a new car that was too expensive.
-You bought a used car that was too shabby.
-You didn’t come to very many high school football games.
-You canceled the monthly gospel sing at the church.
-The Clark girl got pregnant. When was the last time you preached against premarital sex?
-Your wife didn’t have a Christmas reception for the ladies of the church like the previous pastor’s wife always did.
-We don’t like the worship guy.
-You moved the American flag out of the sanctuary.
-You didn’t wear a suit and tie during the week.
-You were seen at a restaurant that served alcohol. (By a member who was eating there. This really happened to me.)
-You played drums in some kind of rock band.
-Your last sermon seemed to be talking about our congregation.
-I don’t see why you keep telling us we need to fund missionaries in Africa when we’ve got people right next door who don’t go to church.
-I wish you’d stop telling us to bother our neighbors about where they go to church. That’s their business.
-You said some critical things about having a full worship service on Sunday nights.
-You don’t go to the hospitals every day.
-The picture of you and your wife on the web site looks too romantic.
-You’re always trying to start something new. What’s wrong with what we have?
-You don’t smile enough. (No people, I’m not bitter.)
-You don’t ask Kathy Brown to sing very often.
-You ask Kathy Brown to sing all the time.
-If you don’t preach on money this place is going bankrupt.
-All you ever preach about is money.
-Your children dress like everyone else’s kids.
-You are eating out almost every day. Where are you getting that money?
-You didn’t speak to Mr. Samuels. Well, you spoke, but you didn’t seem friendly. Yes, you asked about his gout, but there was just something wrong with the way you said it.
-You pay too much attention to visitors and new members.

I better stop or I’m going to need to make a call to my counselor.

Coach Gillispie is working in a state where this sort of thing has been happening to pastors for a very long time. The spoken and the unspoken are both very real. No matter how well you do at the task you agreed to do, there are always aspects of the ministry that are unspoken. After a while you may be able to write them down, but by then it’s usually too late. If you find yourself preaching against them as if they are real, you’re really asking for it.

Is it fair to ask a pastor to read the minds of a congregation? Is it fair to find a minister unacceptable for a list of things that appear on no list anyone’s ever written or read?

How much should the unspoken expectations of ministry play a role in the success or failure of a ministry?

I sympathize with coach Gillispie. My pastoral experience was much the same as his coaching tenure. (I did escape without being fired. A minor miracle.) I was focused, loyal and worked hard at what was important. But I’ve never been much on unspoken expectations. I recognize their reality and importance, but I feel like I’m being manipulated. I don’t want to be judged on what I never agreed to do or consider important. I didn’t believe everything was the congregation’s business. I didn’t try to pretend that what was not the job was the job. I was prepared to disagree with my people, which was definitely poking the hornet’s nest with a stick.

But this is what it’s like in ministry. There’s no denying it. I’m sure more than a few readers have experienced the reality of unspoken expectations, and some may have lost their jobs because of them.

Billy Clyde…..I’m right there with you, man. Right there.

In part 2, I want to look at the interesting response of many evangelicals to the changing view of the pastorate.


  1. Michael, are you describing the SBC? 😉

    No doubt this happens across the board. I think some, if not a lot, of it comes out of a wrong understanding of church leadership and their roles, especially those gifted with Eph 4:11 functions. These 5 (or 4) ministries are given to equip the church so that THEY can get on with the ministry of serving. But, unfortunately, we think the paid people are the ones that are to get on with the ministry. They have a ministry, but it is to equip the body to get on with the ministry (and I am not negating that leaders are actually involved in other things as well).

    In general, people probably have more noble hearts than we can give them credit for, but most of the time they spend thinking up things that the leadership is supposed to be doing, rather than getting on with doing those services and ministries themselves. Oh, if we only had a glimpse into that. It would set leaders free and release a move across the western world that would be very refreshing.

    If a church leader does not know they are given to equip the people to get on with the serving (or ministry), then they will likely fall into the trap of trying to fulfill everyone’s expectations. No doubt that will lead to hurt, burnout and disillusionment.

    Oh, that we would understand how to be pastoral, or caring and compassionate, towards our shepherds.

    [As a side note, I hope Kentucky does not take away Calipari from my alma mater.]

  2. I left the church I had attended for years in part over just such a railroading of one of the pastors, and not because I was upset at the man being forced out, but because an organization that claims to offer a life of forgiveness through Christ could not see fit to offer that same forgiveness to one of its own.

    Having said that, Boo hoo to those in the ministry that feel they are being unjustly treated, burdened with too many expectations, or forced out trivial reasons. Walk a few miles in the shoes of us lay folks – people who get replaced by automated assembly equipment, lose their jobs to someone making 1/10th what they do in another country, deal with insidious office politics that rarely have anything to do with the quality of their work (“What do you mean you don’t play golf?”), spend huge amounts of time away from family in order to be a “team” player, etcetera, ad nauseam. In my experience, the pastor’s salary is the last thing cut when the offerings drop.

    American capitalism is a cruel mistress to its cogs. Why should we be surprised that churches mirror that kind of what-have-you-done-for-us-lately mentality?

    Either you chose this career field, in which case you got what you wished for, or God has called you to this field knowing full well what you’d be up against.

    Rant over.

  3. My husband received a complaint when he was working as a youth minister that he was always trying to incorporate something spiritual into youth activities.

  4. @Ed,

    Great points. I totally agree with you. When I talked about business being gentler and kinder, I meant in terms of people to people politics.

    When it comes to dog-eat-dog unrestrained rich-get-richer-and-that’s-the-way-we-like-it capitalism, the workers do suffer greatly.

    It’s the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the rules. The corollary of this rule is that he who contributes sweat and the hours of their life is merely a disposable resource to the person with the gold.

  5. Cliff Preshlee says

    Did you take this list from the Dauphin Way Baptist Church recovery group?

  6. And, I might add, this is the reason I left the business world to go into professional ministry. I am atoning for the things I did in pursuit of a larger bonus or a promotion, namely find ways to get rid of employees to increase corporate earnings. I got richer and provided my family with a good living, but at the expense of hundreds of people with mortgages, children, and community work.

    So, while ministry to me can be very frustrating and unrewarding and stressful, it’s still in the name of God, of goodness, of justice.

    It also helps that I’m not ordained and do not feel as though I’m called to any particular church. I’ve been discerning if I should start the process to become a pastor but have about decided I don’t want to go there — for a lot of the reasons mentioned above — even though my pastor thinks I should.

    I’m a member at one church but work at another, so the two don’t mix, and I wouldn’t have too much hesitation about taking my spiritual gifts somewhere else if I felt it was a healthier environment.

    I love this blog.

  7. How about this part of “the rest of the story”?

    Billy Gillispie was building a real basketball program at Texas A&M after only a couple of years work. (The new, small church in a different state.) For the first time ever, I saw real enthusiasm among the students @ A&M for basketball. Students came back during Christmas break to root for the team. They camped outside the night for tickets. The team was doing well in the NCAA tournament. Everything was going well. And Gillispie got all the credit.

    Then he dumped A&M, unceremoniously, in order to go to Kentucky. There he had all the privileges he lacked at A&M — a tradition, and entire state supporting him, even more money than the gazillions he had at A&M.

    So a pastor spends two years at the small little church down the way, begins to have some success at the church in a short period of time (even if problematically defined), then dumps the little church to go to the megachurch with all the benefits he lacked at the little church. But then in basically the same period of time, he fails at the megachurch just as dramatically as he succeeded at the small church.

    Perhaps it was wrong for the megachurch to dump the pastor so quickly. But it was wrong for the pastor to dump the small church in the first place.

    This year, Texas A&M went to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Kentucky failed even to qualify for the tournament.

    I’m not crying for Gillispie.

  8. Sherman the Tank says

    That list is why I didn’t get ordained.

  9. Michael,

    Would Calipari compare to the guy brought in to lead a church to “greater glory” and bigger numbers?

    And what’s your take on him as the UK coach?

  10. treebeard says

    As someone who has had a taste of this (but as a lay minister, not an official “pastor”), I can sympathize. I wasn’t fired, but I did walk away.

    In retrospect, one verse has helped me. I wish I had heard it and lived by it at the time:

    Gal. 1:10 – “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”

    Laying hold of the truth in that verse can be very liberating.