Living with Disappointment

failChristianity Today magazine recently featured an interview with J. R. Briggs, author of FAIL, a book about failure and struggles in the ministry.  Here’s the interview.  So much press is about the superstar pastor, the celebrity clergy, that the work of 99% of pastors never gets much press.  I’m sure this is OK, undoubtedly God’s plan and purpose, but we need an occasional reminder that this is the way God intends for His kingdom work to get done.  Briggs is giving voice to what many of us need to hear.

Pseudo Pastor?

 

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“In our culture, even if a pastor doesn’t actually love people, he can still be considered successful as long as he is a gifted speaker, makes his congregation laugh, or prays for ‘all those poor, suffering people in the world’ every Sunday.” Francis Chan in Crazy Love, p. 93.

Francis Chan’s observation is a sobering reminder that a pastor must have a pastor’s heart, not just a pastor-like game plan. Lord, give me a heart for your people. Help me do more than go through the motions or put on a good act. I want to offer more than pseudo pastoral care. Give me Your heart for Your people whom You’ve called me to serve on Your behalf. Amen.

 

 

 

Soul Care

 

soulkeepingI just finished reading Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. In it he frequently quotes Dallas Willard. I’m doing a two-part sermon series on the soul, inspired by John’s book. I’ll be preaching the insights I’ve gleaned from my own recent spiritual journey. Soul care is so important for all Christians, but it’s key, in a special way, for those of us who pastor and preach. How can we tend to the souls of others unless we tend first to our own soul?

“In one of his books, Dallas has further explained, What is running your life at any given moment is your soul. Not external circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings, but your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. The soul is the life center of human beings.” (Soul Keeping, e-book loc 493)

 

New Input for Smaller Churches

A recent issue of OUTREACH Magazine states that in the US 90% of churches have less than 350 attending. The average church attracts less than 90 adults in their weekend services. Churches with attendance of 100 or less make up 60% of the churches.

This blog focuses on the heart of pastors, specifically the heart of the pastor who leads a small to medium flock of Christ’s followers. The same issue of the magazine listed several helpful links for the small church pastor. A link I’m finding very helpful is by a Northwest Iowa pastor of a small rural church, Jim Thomas. His blog, http://smallchurch.com/ , offers helpful reflections and insights that make it worth checking out.

Calling Trumps Opinion

penguinsRecently we had a special congregational meeting to affirm the call for Joe French to be the senior pastor of Mayfair-Plymouth upon my retirement in early October. It was a great time together as a people of God.

We took a private vote of affirmation on slips of paper. The call for Joe to be the new senior pastor passed 81 for and 1 against. When I was called to be the senior pastor 39 years ago I also had one vote against me. I told Joe, “I thought I had performed the funeral for that person by now.” More likely the legacy of being against everything had been passed on from one member to another!

You aren’t in pastoral ministry very long (or any kind of position of leadership or responsibility) before you realize you can’t please all the people all the time. Then why do we continually find ourselves frustrated when we hear of some grumbling in the ranks?

The ideal is to have consensus, but we live in a fallen world and serve a congregation of fallen people (who have a pastor with a fallen nature). It should come as no surprise, then, when we don’t see things the same way.

I heard of a leader who said, “Behold! There go the people. I must hasten after them, for I am their leader.” True leadership often means leading people who don’t know (at least not yet) where they should go. As leaders we don’t get it right all the time either, but that doesn’t get us off the hook of carrying out our call to lead. I’ve found I can’t lead without sticking my neck out, sort of like a turtle who can’t move forward until he pokes his head out of his shell.

It’s a fine line to walk, wanting to be sensitive to the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of our parishioners while on the other hand keeping a grip on the bigger picture of what we believe God is calling us to be and do as His people. The challenge for those of us who pastor is even greater because we’re wired to have a pastoral heart for the people, so we can’t be a tough CEO type of leader. Then, too, we’re called to minister to the needs of the very people who voted against something (or we think they did) that’s dear to our heart and, we believe, dear to the heart of God.

The key for me is to keep the focus on God’s call upon me and not my desire to be liked by all the people. Calling has to trump opinion every time and all the time.

Looking Back on What Mattered Most

ministrypeopleNearing the end of my pastoral ministry of 39 years at Mayfair-Plymouth, I find the people of my church reflecting very little on any achievements I’ve accomplished among them. Mostly, they reminisce about the relationship I’ve had with them.

I don’t hear them saying, “I remember that amazing program you launched and how…” Instead, I hear them saying, “I remember the time you said to me…” Or, “Remember the time we were on that camping trip and you…”

Tim Keller, in his book Center Church, writes that in the large church the skill of preaching is very important, but that in the smaller church it’s the one-on-one relationship which gains the preacher the respect to be heard.

In An Unhurried Life Alan Fadling asks concerning the standards by which we measure success in ministry, “Do our conversations about ministry revolve around growing numbers of participants, successful programs or other easily measured outcomes? Or do we tell stories about particular people who are responding to Jesus, stories of seeds of gospel truth sown in people’s hearts that will grow into fruit of Christlikeness?” (An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling, 2013, IVP, loc 360)

I know, we need programs and projects. These are the tangibles of ministry. Yet, these are but the vessels, the plate and the chalice, that hold the body and blood of Christ we share through relationships with His people.

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Robert Capon

A quote from Robert Capon, as I found it in the blog of Tullian Tchividjian here.  A much needed reminder!

“I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross–and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.

“But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they won’t be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone-and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness — they will be of very little use in the pulpit.”

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