A Pastor’s Heart: Comforting or Challenging?

StGregoryIt goes without saying that the pastor’s heart touches the hearts of the parishioners. What kind of a heart for the people should we have? How should our heart impact their hearts? Should the pastor’s heart be a comforting heart or a challenging heart? The following link addresses the issue in a short article by Daniel McLain Hixon. He shares some insights from The Book of Pastoral Rule by St. Gregory the Great.

I found the article by following a link from The Galli Report, a weekly newsletter from Mark Galli, editor at Christianity Today. He, in turn, provides the link from the weekly newsletter Ministry Matters which reprinted the article from Daniel McLain Hixon’s blog, Gloria Deo . Whew! I wanted to give credit to everyone involved.

This link is from the Ministry Matters web site. “Being ‘Pastoral’” is the title of the article.

The Power of Encouragement

EncouragementBrightSmall“I could use a little more encouragement around here” is something we often mumble to ourselves as pastors. Criticism seems so easy for parishioners to express; encouragement, not so much. Encouragement seems to be important, probably because it’s in short supply! I still have a file that has virtually every kind, thankful, or encouraging note I received during my years of pastoring. I’ve thrown away every critical note! In all fairness to the congregation I served for nearly forty years, I think I received a lot of encouragement. Still, it was easy to get discouraged, a common complaint of most pastors, from what I hear.

Yes, we pastors need encouraging, but that’s not where this post is going! Let me be blunt; it’s not all about us! Our parishioners are in desperate need of encouragement too! It seems to me that what we need to do is to forget for a moment our own need for encouragement and take the initiative to encourage those in our congregation. What’s amazing, and we know this, for we have probably preached it a dozen times, is that when we push ourselves to encourage someone else we’re encouraged ourselves! We’re encouraged because we know we’re doing something good and worthwhile for another person, and often (not always) we see how it impacts that person in a positive way.

One of the best ways we can pastor the people is to encourage them! So, let me encourage you by the reminder that you have tremendous influence as a pastor, and one of the greatest ways to influence those under your care is to encourage them!

Today, make that phone call, send that e-mail, message that person on facebook, send a note through the mail, start a conversation with that person who’s within earshot.

Today, praise the person for a quality or characteristic you admire in them. Say, “Thanks!” for something they’ve said or done. Listen, just listen, without giving advice or telling a story to top theirs. Do that sacrificial, often seemingly small, good deed. Give a hug, a thumbs up, or a pat on the back. Just BE THERE with the person. Pray for the person and tell them you did.

Be a real pastor to your people! Be an encourager today!

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing… encourage the fainthearted.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11,14)

The Demolition of Self-Confidence

Humble“How to Build Self-Confidence” is a good title for a self-help book, article, or talk. Think about it, who would buy a book, read an article, or pay to attend a talk titled, “How to Demolish Self-Confidence?”

I like feeling self-confident. Through my years in pastoral ministry it felt good to step to the center of the platform to begin my sermon with the feeling I was going to knock their socks off and leave them standing barefoot on holy ground during the singing of the closing song. I liked going into a congregational meeting with the self-confidence that I was going to boldly lead the congregation where they had never gone before (for the record, this rarely, if ever happened).

There are plenty of times I’ve lacked self-confidence. Preaching in general is a daunting task, but Christmas and Easter seemed to be especially so for me. How can you encapsulate in the length of a message the incomprehensible action of God’s incarnation in the Christmas story or the resurrection of God from the dead in the Easter story? Then there were the calls that someone had suddenly and tragically lost a loved one, and I wondered how I could possibly bring something from God into the situation as I drove to their house or the hospital. Why did I always feel like an amateur pastor as I approached such situations?

Yes, having self-confidence seems like a good place to be. I have come to discover, however, that God doesn’t want me to be self-confident. You’re probably way ahead of me here, saying to yourself, “We’re not to be self-confident but God-confident!” As pastors our Biblically centered and theologically focused brains know this truth, but to get that truth to the heart, well, it’s a long journey from head to heart!

It’s not easy feeling inadequate and feeling good about that, but I’m thinking this is the place where God is leading me to meet Him. In my more sane and more spiritual moments I have to admit that I can’t really experience God’s adequacy unless I experience inadequacy in myself. This means I must go against the hype of the self-help movement and go with the hope of finding my adequacy in God.

I know this stuff, I’ve preached it for years. However, I’m still working on the personal application part, you too? Take a deep breath with me, now exhale slowly, and whisper with me, “It’s OK to feel inadequate.”

“For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.” (Psalm 149:4)

No Longer a Moping Ministry

mopingsmallDo we ever go moping about in our ministry? If you’re like me you might find it easy to confuse moping with mopping, there’s only a letter “p” that distinguishes the two words. Mopping is what you do when you use a mop to clean up. Moping means being dejected, listless, apathetic, sulking, brooding, or downcast.

It might be good to make a list of these defining words for moping and see how many we have to check off as having been part of our mindset in the last week or two:

dejected

listless

apathetic

sulking

brooding

downcast

Ouch! I feel your pain, because it’s my pain too!

Moping isn’t frequently listed as a sin, but I’m thinking it should be. I can’t imagine Jesus ever moping, and He’s the defining standard for us. Moping about could be called grumbling without using words, and you don’t have to look long to find Biblical references as to how God doesn’t think much of grumbling!

If you’re moping through your day or your week you probably are thinking that the last thing you need is to be reprimanded for moping! Now you have another reason to mope, right? Sorry, I really didn’t intend to make matters worse. It’s just that sometimes the best way for us to get beyond a moping attitude is to be reminded that we’re moping!

I don’t have any magic fix for moping, just the sober reminder that we shouldn’t let ourselves get away with it and that a minister who mopes isn’t much good to anyone. I also want to remind us of the combination self-talk/prayer of the psalmist. Modeling his words sounds like a good way to keep from moping about!

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5,11, 43:5)

With Me, Through Me

DaveWalkingI try to keep my prayers from “vain repetitions,” but I still find myself using certain phrases in my conversations with the Lord over and over again. One such phrase, “Lord, work with me and through me.” After having prayed this again just yesterday, I paused to reflect on what my words meant (I suppose trying to backpedal from it being a vain repetition).

I came to the conclusion that it’s a good phrase for me to pray, as long as I mean it when I pray it. Yes, I need to let God work with me before I can hope He will work through me in the lives of others. Sure, I’ve known this all along, but I also know I need to be reminded of this truth time and time again.

I can only share how God can be real and work in the life of someone else if I have experienced that in some measure in my own life first. I can’t give what I don’t have. What this means, then, is that if I have the goal of providing spiritual food for the souls of others I must first feed and nurture my own soul. Over my years of pastoral ministry I’ve had to resist the temptation to go off running in all directions to minister to people and rather move in His direction, allowing Him to minister to me first and to first transform me. Rushing off to others had to take second place to first resting in the Lord. My quiet times with the Lord helped me with the busy times of being with His people. “Yes, Lord, first work with me and then work through me. Amen.”

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31)

Keep Going with the Calling!

piperHaving recently retired, I found this article by a favorite author of mine, John Piper, to be exhilarating and inspiring. Most of you are still in the trenches of pastoral ministry but I believe could still find encouragement in what he writes. It also provides good fodder for the sermon delivered to the older members of the congregation. Enjoy!

Sanctified Stubbornness

turtleshowsmallBeing stubborn is often seen as a negative attribute, but I’m thinking it can be sanctified for good use! I’m further thinking that sanctified stubbornness is good for a pastor’s heart. Words like determination and perseverance are synonyms, but there’s something “edgy” about stubbornness so I’m sticking with it. Even the word itself, with its three sets of double letters (bb,nn,ss), exemplifies and emphasizes its definition!

Pastoral ministry is, to coin a phrase from Eugene Peterson, “a long obedience in the same direction.” I’m thinking of a pastor who served a small rural church part-time several years ago. He had major struggles with a key, longtime leader in the church. From my conversations with my pastor friend I gathered that the troublemaker was getting close to leaving the church, but before that happened my friend resigned. I realize I may not have been aware of all the dynamics playing out in the situation, but it might well have been a situation where the pastor quit too soon.

We’re in a race, as the apostle Paul put it. I’d like to take Paul’s analogy and give it a bit of a different slant. This race, for the pastor, is often a case where the race is between the tortoise and the hare, and we’re the tortoise. A heart committed to the slow and steady running of the race will likely win in the end.

What helps us exhibit this sanctified stubbornness is a profound sense of call from the Lord. We need to determine that until we’re “uncalled” we will continue to carry out our call!

Often, these unholy hassles come from one or two, or no more than a small contingent of people. Why would we allow a small minority of our parishioners to cast the vote for us to stop doing what we believe God has called us to do?

Yes, I believe there’s a place in the pastor’s heart for some sanctified stubbornness! You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)