Among the People

pastoralgracesbookHere’s another quote from Lee Eclov’s book Pastoral Graces. Again, a great book, from the heart of a pastor, about the heart of us pastors.

“When I was a young pastor, I was in a service where Dr. Warren Wiersbe was going to preach.  It was a conference and I assume he didn’t know most of the people there.  Yet in the moments before the service started, he worked his way up and down the aisles and into the rows greeting people and shaking hands.  I instinctively knew he was doing more than being friendly.  He was pastoring, and he was doing a kind of sermon preparation for the people and for himself.” (loc 679)

I, like many pastors, will pray with the others involved in leading worship (for some of you it will be with the elders or deacons) just before the service, but I don’t spend much time with them!  I feel inclined to be greeting the people, walking around in the narthex (lobby), up and down the aisle and in between the pews.  Sometimes I find that I’ve personally greeted almost everyone before I stand up front and say “Good morning!” to open the service.  I feel I can better connect with the people in leading worship and in the service if I have literally come from their midst just before the service starts.

Pastoral Qualifications?

pastoralgracesbookI recently concluded the book Pastoral Graces by Lee Eclov.  A great book for pastors to read! Here’s another excerpt…

“So far as I can tell, God did not single any of us [pastors] out for this work because He liked our resumes or found us in a talent search.  I suspect He chose us because, ever since creation, God finds special creative delight in making something from nothing, ex nihilo.” (loc. 207-213)

The Burden and Blessing of Pastoring

sheepbrushOf all the professions, it seems to me that the profession of being a pastor carries with it a unique burden, the burden of a unique love. It’s not that people of other professions don’t love the people they serve, they should. Everyone should love everyone in their sphere of influence. It’s just that we pastors are to love the people we shepherd as the Great Shepherd loves them. This strikes me as a unique and challenging call to love.

Lawyers, doctors, counselors, and other professionals have appointments, usually of an hour or less, with their clients or patients. Not so with pastors. Our parishioners may make an appointment to see us, but they also expect us to be available 24/7, nor do they want to feel they’re limited to an hour of our time. And we don’t bill them!

Most other professions see their clients or patients in rather narrow parameters of the professional setting. The pastoral setting is wide and expansive; we tend our flock without fences, and we find our sleep to be light at the entrance to the sheepfold. Our life with them includes worship, study, fellowship, serving together, working together in leadership, and sharing potlucks.

Most clients and patients of other professions see it as a professional relationship while our parishioners see it more as a friendship. Frequently those in my church will say to me, “You’re not just my pastor, you’re my friend.” I appreciate the intended compliment but I wonder, just how many friends can I have and still be a good friend to each?

Doctors see a patient for a few minutes, trying to stay objective about the patient’s condition. As pastors we’re the physician’s assistant to the Great Physician and ours is a doctoring of the soul. It is no easy task given the fact that we ourselves are sin-sick and also under the care of the Great Physician. Wounded healers we are.

Lawyers sit across the desk, turning papers 180 degrees for the client to sign below paragraphs of unintelligible legalese. We pastors represent the Divine Lawgiver, taking God’s laws and principles and seeking to make them clear to our people while at the same time humbled by our own inability to abide by them ourselves.

Counselors maintain a professional relationship requiring definite relationship boundaries with those who share their deepest, darkest secrets. We who do pastoral counseling on behalf of the Mighty Counselor do so without such boundaries, going with them from the counseling session to a worship service, a board meeting, or a church picnic.

The profession of pastoring calls us to the burden of loving in a unique way, but it also provides unique blessings. We represent Christ. He is the Good Shepherd of the flock and we are His undershepherd. We are a mini-incarnation of the presence of Christ in the midst of His people, laughably inadequate and many times inept but put there by none other than Christ Himself. The task is daunting, but we have the promise of His presence and help. Ours is a yoked ministry; we join Him in the task of caring for His people and He will always make the task doable because of His ever present help. I often cling to His promise: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) I’m still working on the “learn from me” part of that promise! I’m learning that His blessings come from embracing His burdens, that His blessings make the burdens less burdensome, and that there is His joy in it all!

HeartCarvedInSandThere are times when the sheep we’re called to shepherd hurt us.  This statement by Spurgeon spoke to me.

“When others behave badly to us, it should only stir us up the more heartily to give thanks unto the Lord, because He is good; and when we ourselves are conscious that we are far from being good, we should only the more reverently bless Him that He is good.” (quoted from Attributes of God, A. W. Pink, eBook Loc 1116)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1 — and five other times in the Bible)

CEO or Shepherd?

shepherdhorseI recently read that Walt Disney was difficult to work with. Apparently he was very demanding and often assumed people knew what he wanted of them when he had not made it clear. I remember watching Walt Disney introduce his shows on TV. He seemed like a nice, congenial Uncle Walt! Apparently those who knew him knew differently. The late Steve Jobs was the brilliant head of Apple, but, again, he is reported as having been difficult to work for. The same article listed additional CEOs who have pushed their companies to greatness, but at great expense to the relationships with others in the company.

As a pastor I’ve often tried to glean insights on being a great leader from secular examples. I still believe there’s validity to this, but I am no longer as enthusiastic about such an approach. The Biblical model for a pastor of a church is not a king or a wealthy and powerful businessman. The model for the pastor is the shepherd. Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd. He calls upon us to take care of His sheep. Aiming for success, casting vision, establishing measurable goals, and other methods used by secular leaders and managers are characteristics that are scarce in any Biblical references to leading the church.

Yes, I think there’s a place for such things in the pastor’s toolbox, but they don’t seem as though they should be the favorite tools of the pastor. There’s nine tools listed by the great church leader Paul in Galatians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

We pastors are in a strange situation in that the people we are called to lead are the same people we are called to nurture in their walk with Christ. I’m coming to a greater peace about the fact that firm and stubbornly forward thinking leadership needs to take a back seat to nurturing the people I lead. I find the image of the shepherd to be a good balance. Yes, the shepherd leads the flock, but the shepherd also feeds, leads to calm waters, dresses wounds, and in all kinds of ways looks out for the best interest of the sheep. The Lord from whom we receive our call is the Good Shepherd. My goal is to be a “pretty good” shepherd for Him!

(The shepherd in the picture is a neighbor of our daughter and her family, where they live on a mountainside in Mexico.)

My “Spinning Wheels”

Mahatma Gandhi, a religious as well as political leader in India, was not a Christian, but there are lessons his life can teach those of us who are Christian leaders, those of us who are pastors. One such lesson is from Gandhi’s use of the spinning wheel.

Gandhi’s spinning wheel was a tangible way for him to communicate to the people of India the importance of freeing themselves from economic dependence on the British. If they would spin their own cotton they could make their own clothes and not depend on purchasing clothing from Britain.

But apparently Gandhi also came to see the emotional and spiritual benefits of his use of the spinning wheel.  He said that it helped with “the education of becoming and being.”

Eliza Drummond wrote in Spinners Quarterly, July 2004, of the value of using the spinning wheel in prayer and meditation. “In order to find out more about why we spin, I sent out 400 questionnaires to 80 spinning guilds across the United States and Canada. In these questionnaires I asked introductory questions such as ‘how long have you been spinning?’ and ‘how often do you spin?’ I also posed questions such as ‘have you ever thought that spinning is meditative?’ and ‘do you ever spin for the purpose of praying or meditating?’ Seventy-five percent of respondents answered that they consider spinning to be meditative, and 40% answered that they actively spin to meditate or pray. Of the latter group, all of them find it effective as a form of meditation and prayer.”

I don’t have a spinning wheel, but I do have other ways of spending my time that replenish my soul. Yes, of course, there’s the time I spend in my daily devotions of Bible reading, other spiritual reading, and prayer. This is top on my list. But I have other less “spiritual” activities and hobbies that help me keep my balance as I face the rigors of ministry.

Photography is a serious hobby for me. When I am about the business of lining up a good photograph the time seems to either stand still or fly by, I’m not sure which.  Writing is a big part of my time away from pastoral ministry.  I’ve written both non-fiction and fiction, including a couple of novels.  I also raise a small flock of chickens as a hobby, and have done so for over a quarter of a century. Then too I have a decorative pond with waterfall, fish, and floating pond plants that I maintain.

These are my “spinning wheels” that help keep me sane in ministry. Such interests keep me from putting all my emotional eggs in the basket of pastoral ministry (sorry, after all these years of raising chickens I can’t resist a poultry analogy).

The apostle Paul was a tent maker. This was probably out of economic necessity more than anything else, but I can’t help but wonder if he didn’t also appreciate the break from his usual apostolic duties. I’m sure Paul did a lot of talking, listening, praying, and even mentoring while working on tents, but there must still have been something therapeutic about using his hands.

If I could give some advice to those going into ministry I would strongly suggest that they hold on to or adopt some other interest or outlet other than pastoral ministry to which they could give their time and attention on a regular basis, a “spinning wheel” to which they could go regularly for a change of pace. My “spinning wheels” have be instrumental in my longevity as a pastor and as a pastor in one place. They have been used of the Lord in my life to keep me at the task of serving His people as their pastor.

How about you? What are the “spinning wheels” in your life? Please, share with the rest of us.

My Feet, His Arms

I’m reading a new book on my Kindle. Found this quote helpful to my soul.

“Come then…let us be resigned to our frailty and dependence on God, who would never reduce us to being unable to walk on our own feet if he had not the mercy to carry us in his arms.”

The Contented Soul by Lisa Graham McMinn

The Danger of Being in the Middle of Ministry

Beginning and ending are the easy parts. It’s slogging through the middle that gets us every time.

When I start a project, whether an up-and-coming event at the church, a writing project, or a home improvement project, it’s usually exciting. When you start something you have high hopes and big dreams.

The ending can be fairly easy as well. After all, you’re near the end! Like a person or a horse running the race you can pour it on. You’re just about done, what you’ve been planning for and working for is just about here. There’s the energy that comes from being almost done.

It’s that middle that gets us most of the time. We’ve lost the excitement of starting and we’re not close enough to the end to feed off the excitement of having it conclude. We’re in the no man’s land of the middle. The ancients called it the “noonday demon.” One of the seven deadly sins, sloth, often comes to visit us when we’re in the middle of things. We’re at dead center and we feel dead!

Those of us who are pastors find ourselves in the middle of ministry for a long time, for the middle is much bigger than either the beginning or ending. The middle of ministry is extra challenging when results aren’t forthcoming as we had expected in the beginning when optimism fueled our efforts. The hope to hear the Lord’s “well done” seems a long way off.

have been pastoring the same church for nearly 37 years and have said on several occasions that I pastor one of the slowest growing churches in the country!  I’ve often struggled with my feelings and attitude as I’ve experienced what I think are less than stellar results for my efforts.  “When are things going to really start happening?” I wonder.

Over the years I’ve not identified any quick fix for ministering well in the middle, just the faithful affirmation and application of some key principles I preach on regularly for the Lord’s people that I need to take seriously myself! First, I’m called to be faithful, not “successful” as the world defines success, or how even I or my peers are often tempted to define success. Second, I need to focus on that which I love about ministry and not fixate on that which isn’t the way I’d like it to be in ministry. Third, my identity is not in what I do but in who I am, who I am in Christ. Fourth, embrace the day by giving thanks for today’s manna of sustenance from the Lord and the other blessings I can identify while doing the tasks He’s assigned for me, just for today.

The Stewardship of Grace

Ever notice how you can be reading along in the Bible and come across a statement in a part of the Bible familiar to you but find it to be completely unfamiliar and new? Such an experience happened this morning in my devotional reading. The line is in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, the end of verse 2 in chapter 3. Paul writes of “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…”

I read it again… “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…” I realized that part of my stewardship as a pastor is the stewardship of God’s grace given to me which is to be spent on the people I serve. This giving of the grace given to me has as much to do with stewardship as does the three “t”s of time, talent, and treasure upon which I so often preach!

I rehearse how I don’t deserve God’s help in being a pastor because I’m so far from who I should be in Christ, but, by His grace, He uses this imperfect vessel called Dave Claassen anyway. I’ve been freshly reminded that part of my ministry is to pass on this grace I’ve received to those I serve. Because I’m being gifted every day with undeserved favor from God, I’m to be re-gifting this toward my people in thinking, feeling, and acting favorably toward them even when I think they don’t deserve it. Grace to me – grace to them!

I want to be able to picture my congregation, the people I’ve been called to serve, and pen these words in my heart to them that Paul penned to the Ephesian church. In my heart and mind I want to affirm “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…”

Let’s Talk!

I read a promotion for an author’s material in which he said, “After 25 years in ministry, traveling to 32 countries, and preaching to folks in every conceivable setting and denomination…” He then proceeded to give some advice to preachers and a way to get some materials of his, some of which, to his credit, were free.

More book jacket info about the author than I can count touts how he/she has sold so many thousands of books. Other book jackets tell of how large a weekend attendance at worship the author has as a pastor.

I’m wondering what any of this has to do with giving credibility to what the author has to say. Do the number of miles traveled, the volume of books sold, or the size of an audience expand our understanding or deepen our faith? It’s possible, but it’s also possible that staying in one place, writing to one person at a time in an e-mail or letter, and sharing in a small group could expand our understanding and deepen our faith.

So what about the author of this blog, A Pastor’s Heart? You’re probably asking yourself, Who is this guy, Dave Claassen? I suspect you’ll Google my name. I’ll save you some time and tell you that I don’t get invited to travel great distances to speak. I’ve done some writing but I don’t have a best-selling book. I speak every weekend in my church but it’s not to thousands of people.

What credentials do I have for writing a blog called A Pastor’s Heart? My credentials are my calling to be a pastor and for having been given a heart for pastoring a flock of his people. My goal in this blog is not to impart some great wisdom and insight but to share the journey I’ve been on as a pastor in the one church I’ve served for 36 years. In other words, I’ll be sharing something of my spiritual pilgrimage.

If you’re a pastor then you have been given a heart for pastoring and you have the credentials to contribute to the dialogue in this gathering place I’ve named A Pastor’s Heart. I hope we hear from Rev. I. M. Average who’s serving The Third Church of Ordinary located in Timbuktu. I hope we hear from you too!

What’s on your heart and mind? Join the conversation!

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