The Calling of Being Passive

During my four decades of ministry with our church in Toledo, Ohio, I attended a great many church seminars. Quite a number had an agenda, either spoken or unspoken, that there are principles you can adopt to grow your church. I, and I suspect a great many of the other pastoral attendees, returned home newly enthused to cast a fresh vision, roll up the ecclesiastical sleeves, and get to work implementing the new strategic concepts.

As I look back over my ministry, I’m still glad I attended most of these conferences and sought to implement something of what I learned. On the other hand, as I look back over my ministry, I wish I would have lightened up a bit at times and enjoyed the journey more.

Yes, a step of faith is important, but so sometimes is a stop of faith! Faith not only can call us to be pro-active but also pro-waiting, to stop, to rest, to do nothing for the time being. There’s certainly a Biblical basis for sometimes taking this pro-waiting approach to ministry.

The nation of Israel was at war with the Philistines and were losing. Then they remembered the Ark of the Covenant back at Shiloh. There was an apparent general consensus. “Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” (1 Samuel 4:3) They did, and they lost. Bad idea; the Philistines ended up with the Ark. This undoubtedly surprised the Israelites. After all, the Ark had been carried around the city of Jericho and the city was conquered. They figured it was a transferable principle. Not so. The first time it was God’s idea, this time it was their idea; big difference.

We don’t have the Ark that we’re tempted to position for success. We do have our programs and strategies.

Isaiah the prophet was called upon by God to declare judgment on Israel for depending on an alliance with Egypt to guarantee safety from their enemies. God’s Word through Isaiah? “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Isaiah 30:15) They weren’t to be busy establishing such alliances but to rest quietly with the trust that God would defend them.

We don’t depend on Egypt to build a great church. We may depend on our programs and strategies to build a great church.

The psalmist, addressing the issue of depending on such alliances, declared on behalf of God, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

We can come to believe it all depends on our working. It may depend more than we think on our waiting, on our being still. There may be times to pause rather than to push.

We often use the imagery of sowing and reaping in ministry. I grew up on an Iowa farm and we did a lot of sowing and reaping. Yes, we worked hard, but we didn’t make crops grow and produce a harvest. We tilled the field, planted, cultivated, and then waited, waited for the crop to grow. God did the growing. Shouldn’t this balance between working and waiting be present in the pastoral field which God has called us to tend?

Identifying a Possible Idol of Pastors

I’m reading The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power by R. A. Torrey. He has some words for pastors on an idol in our lives and how it prevents us from being effective in prayer. I thought it worth sharing.

“The temptation to make an idol of our reputation is especially real with ministers of the gospel. Many people today put an extraordinary and absurd value upon what is called advanced thought and original thinking. If a minister of the gospel is true to the old God-given doctrines, no matter how scholarly and how brilliant he may be, he will be rated as not scholarly and not up-to-date by many people.

“On the other hand, no matter how little a scholar or how poor a thinker a man may be, if he promotes views that are a little contrary to biblical teaching, he will at once be rated as a great thinker, fully abreast of the times, and a great scholar. So many ministers who are really perfectly sound at heart in their own views will throw out a little suggestion now and then in order to make people think that they are up-to-date and in tune with the culture, yet those suggestions will undermine the faith of the young men and women in their congregations. They have made idols of their reputations, and they have lost their power in prayer.

“Sometimes we ministers realize that if we use very ornate rhetoric and theatrical modes of address we will not win as many souls to Christ as we will by preaching the simple, straight gospel, but we will have a far greater reputation as pulpit orators. Many men in the pulpit today have sacrificed their real power for God by cultivating elaborate and highly polished rhetoric and oratorical methods of delivery that awaken the admiration and applause of shallow men and women, but has robbed them of real power for God. Such men have made idols of their reputations, and they are not on praying ground.

“Oh, men and women, if you covet power in prayer, get alone with God and let Him search you. Ask Him to show you if there is any idol in your heart, and when He shows it to you, do away with it today.”

Pastors and Their Strangely Attractive Scars

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Here’s a link to a book review by Harold Senkbeil of M.Craig Barnes’ book Diary of a Pastor’s Soul I thought of value to share…..

Pastoring The Wheat and the Tares Church

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is jcrye.jpgI find all four of J. C. Ryle’s expository thoughts on the Gospels to be great devotional reading and good primers for sermon ideas! In the quote below Ryle comments on Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares as recorded in Matthew 13. I find his words to be a realistic appraisal of what pastors face with their churches. I also find that the truth he expresses offers a measure of encouragement!

Ryle writes that “this parable teaches us that good and evil will always be found together in the professing church until the end of the world. The visible church is set before us as a mixed body. It is a vast field in which wheat and weeds grow side by side. We must expect to find believers and unbelievers, converted and unconverted, the sons of the kingdom, and the sons of the evil one, all mingled together in every congregation of baptized people.

“The purest preaching of the gospel will not prevent this. In every age of the church, the same state of things has existed. It was the experience of the early church Fathers. It was the experience of the Reformers. It is the experience of the best ministers at the present hour. There has never been a visible church or a religious assembly of which the members have been all wheat. The devil, that great enemy of souls, has always taken care to sow tares. The most strict and prudent discipline will not prevent this.

“Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Independents all alike find it to be so. Do what we will to purify a church, we shall never succeed in obtaining a perfectly pure communion. Tares will be found among the wheat. Hypocrites and deceivers will creep in. And, worst of all, if we are extreme in our efforts to obtain purity, we do more harm than good. We run the risk of encouraging many a Judas Iscariot, and breaking many a bruised reed. In our zeal to gather up the tares, we are in danger of uprooting the wheat with them. Such zeal is not according to knowledge and has often done much harm. Those who care not what happens to the wheat, provided they can root up the tares, show little of the mind of Christ. And after all, there is deep truth in the charitable saying of Augustine, ‘Those who are weeds today, may be wheat tomorrow.’” Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew [Updated Edition]: A Commentary” by J. C. Ryle


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is spheresinfluencesmall.jpgI’m continuing my reading of The Letters of John Newton. What a prolific letter writer! It’s taking me a long time to read through this thick book of his letters. That’s why you’re seeing frequent posts referencing John Newton’s thoughts.

The famous hymn writer, pastor, and author wrote a letter to an unidentified pastor who had greatly influenced his life. In part he writes, “It was, under God, that your favor and influence brought me into the ministry. And though I be nothing—yet he who put it into your heart to patronize me, has been pleased not to allow what you then did for his sake to be wholly in vain. He has been pleased, in a course of years, by so unworthy an instrument as I am, to awaken a number of people, who were at that time dead in trespasses and sins. And now some of them are pressing on to the prize of their high calling in Christ Jesus; and some of them are already before the throne!” (from The Letters of John Newton)

John Newton is famous, but we know nothing of the pastor whom Newton credits for guiding him into the ministry. Newton writes his mentor, sharing how his influence on Newton is spreading among those who Newton is influencing, some of whom are now in heaven.

I wonder if this pastor ever felt he wasn’t having much of an impact for the Lord. Very likely his ministry was obscure by human standards. He may not have had a large sphere of influence, but one of the men he influenced, John Newton, did, and still does have a large sphere of influence. Would we know of John Newton if it hadn’t been for this unknown pastor God used in his life?

The application for our own ministry is obvious. We may never know how far reaching our own ministry is or will be. That’s in God’s hands. We just need to be faithful and minister to those, be they many or few, the Lord puts within our sphere of influence. John Newton’s mentor was faithful with this task, and aren’t we glad he was!

Another John Newton Quote

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is john_newtonjpg.jpg“For every new service, I stand in need of a new supply, and can bring forth nothing of my supposed store into actual exercise–but by his immediate assistance. His gracious influence is that, to those who are best furnished with gifts, which the water is to the mill, or the wind to the ship, without which the whole apparatus is motionless and useless.” John Newton

“Live by Faith on Your Face”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is stanleycharles.jpgCharles Stanley, the well-known pastor and writer is now 88 years old. In my opinion he oozes godliness, and when you add that to the wisdom that can come from many years of living, well, I’m ready to listen to anything Dr. Stanley has to say. Here’s a thought of his on prayer.

“I start the day on my knees with the Lord. I end it that way. And oftentimes I’ll be studying and think, ‘It’s time for me to ask the Lord about something here.’ And so for me, that’s the key. It’s the key to everything. Because what you are doing, you’re acknowledging God at the moment—you need his help, his insight, his understanding, or his courage, or his faith, whatever it might be.

“I would say to anybody: the greatest lesson you can learn is to learn to live by faith on your face before God. You can face anything, no matter what it is. He said, ‘I’ll never leave you or forsake you,’ but if I’m so busy I’m not listening to him, I’m not waiting for him, I’m not expecting him to do something—I think people face a lot of circumstances and go through a lot of heartache and trouble that would be unnecessary if they would just stop and listen.”

Taken from at

Both Joy & Shame

John Newton

I’m still reading Letters from John Newton, a wonderful compilation of many, many letters the famous hymn writer penned over the years. What wonderful wisdom flowed from his pen to paper in his letters! Here’s yet another example, a quote that should go straight to the pastor’s heart.

“When I look at some of my people, I am filled both with joy and shame; joy to see that the Lord has not allowed my labor among them to be in vain; shame to think that I have preached so much more effectually to them—than to my own heart.” John Newton

Resisting the Celebrity Pastor Temptation


We pastors like to be respected, even admired.  This can be good, we aren’t going to positively influence our parishoners if they don’t have a loving and positive view of us.  However, the danger is to want our parishonerss to take us too seriously. I’ll admit I sometimes bristled at how a church board resisted my ideas and sometimes seemed to treat me as an employee. I dreamed of being highly esteemed like some mega church pastors.

“The Celebrity Pastor Problem Is Every Church’s Struggle” is an article by RICH VILLODAS, a pastor that’s worth reading on the Christianity Today website.


The Last Idol

John Newton

Cotton Mather

I’m no longer in the “thick of it” as a pastor, having been retired as of this writing for over six years. The following quote from a letter of John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” articulates a truth that’s become more clear to me since my retirement from pastoral ministry.

John Newton writes concerning God and his own pastoral ministry, May he make me willing to resign it at a moment’s warning; and to sit quiet in my chair or my bed, and rejoice that his work is prospering without me, and that others are serving him better when I can serve him no longer! A sentence in Dr. Cotton Mather’s life struck me more than fifty years ago, and has been often upon my mind from that time — ‘My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with — but now I can part with that, and am content to be laid aside and forgotten, so that he may be glorified.’”

The fact that I gain great value from the writings of John Newton from centuries ago is good enough in and of itself, but then he gives a quote from Cotton Mather that meant much to him for more than fifty years! It’s a keepsake quote handed down from Mather to Newton, from Newton to Claassen, and now from Claassen to you! In this quote from Mather, John Newton reminds us that one of the idols we may worship is the idol of usefulness!

Now retired, I sometimes don’t feel as useful as I did when I was in the mad rush of ministry. In my occasional lamenting concerning this perceived diminished usefulness I’m learning that the Lord Himself is to be my all in all. While doing ministry it was always tempting to make the Lord’s work my all in all. Making work, even the Lord’s work, our all in all, turns it into an idol. I see this with greater clarity now that I’m retired.

It’s easy to see how the business person, the athlete, or the entertainer makes their work their idol. Not so easy is seeing how we as pastors can make our calling our idol.

Here’s a short checklist I’ve come up with to determine if ministry might be an idol (you probably can add to the list): Do I find it difficult to relax and feel like a whole person when I take a day off or take some vacation time? Am I jealous of other pastors who seem to be succeeding more than I am? Am I disappointed when I don’t get the affirmation I expected? Am I debilitated by criticism? Is all of my study and spiritual reflection geared to putting it into a future sermon or teaching?

Productivity and usefulness are highly regarded in our culture. There’s no doubt that they have their place; we certainly should attempt to be productive and useful, especially for the Lord. But they can be overrated! Undoubtedly the Lord having given us one day in seven to rest from work should help us grasp this truth and live it out. Unfortunately for us pastors the designated day of rest, Sunday, is one of our busiest days. Yes, we can find another day of the week for our Sabbath, and that’s good. But keeping productivity and usefulness from becoming idols will require a change of heart and attitude.

I’ve always been amazed that Jesus, the Son of God, God incarnate, waited until about the age of 30 to begin His active, public ministry. Here He was, God come to earth, and He was comfortable working in his stepfather’s carpenter shop from around age 15 to 30. If anyone could have been a child prodigy preacher it would have been Jesus. He was not; He was a carpenter. He obviously didn’t look at productivity and usefulness in the same way as we often do.

“My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with,”  Cotton Mather observed of himself.  If we’re honest with ourselves it’s probably a stubborn idol in our lives too.  I suspect, however, that once we stop making our productivity and usefulness an idol, we’ll be more productive and useful to the Lord!