On the Lighter Side

My “Fan Mail” File

My actual “Fan Mail” file

I have a file marked “Fan Mail” in our filing cabinet. Years ago my wife suggested I start the file for the occasional thank you note, pastor’s card, and (in the later years) e-mails with nice things to say about me and my ministry.

I’ll admit my first inclination was to begin this post with the statement, “I confess I have a file marked ‘Fan Mail’,” but quickly realized that this would be completely contrary to the point of the post. There’s no need to confess about having such a file.

A member of a mission team with which I had worked e-mailed me, encouraging me in my writing and speaking. I appreciated it, but didn’t dwell on it, thinking maybe that was egotistical or prideful. My wife suggested that I take a second look at what she had written. “I think the Lord is encouraging you through her,” my wife said. She was right.

I believe there have been many times over the years when I have robbed myself of the gratitude, affirmation, and encouragement God had for me that He was channeling through the people whose lives my ministry had impacted.

The Bible says to encourage one another, but paying a compliment is a two-sided coin. If someone is to be encouraged then that means someone has to allow themselves to be encouraged!

It’s a form of false humility to blow off the praise or affirmation from someone. If we’re honest enough to check our motives at such times we’ll find that we want to come off humble before the other person. We’re proud of the fact that we’re so humble!

Pastoral ministry is a challenging calling. There’s plenty of criticism that comes our way. Complaining parishioners usually greatly outnumber complimenting parishioners. God’s grace toward us is sometimes given in the expressions of praise, gratitude, and affirmation that come our way. Graciously receiving such encouragement is a way to express gratitude to the Lord for how He has chosen to work through our life and ministry. It’s one more way we give praise and glory to Him.

Thankfully, I haven’t had too many occasions when I was in desperate need of reading my “Fan Mail” file. Occasionally just pulling it out of the file drawer to add another expression of affirmation is usually enough to keep me going.

Yes, as pastors we should model being an encourager, but we should also model how to receive encouragement. We don’t have to let it go to our head, but we can let it go to our discouraged heart!

Our Pastor’s Heart and Church Growth

Why I’m Not Pushing for Church Growth Any More is a great blog post by Karl Vaters. It can help treat the AFib of our pastor’s heart, keeping it in a healthy rhythm, in sync with God’s heart for our ministry.

The View from Retirement and the One Thing I Would Do Differently

As of this writing I’m four and half years into retirement from active pastoral ministry. I ponder what I might want to share with pastors from this vantage point of being years and miles away from where I did pastoral ministry. I try not to dwell too much on the regrets, because the past can’t be changed. Still, as I reflect on my nearly 40 years of ministry, is there something I’d do differently that might be helpful to share with others still in the trenches of pastoral ministry? Maybe, so here goes…

One regret comes to mind rather quickly: if I had to do my ministry over again I’d focus more on the present and less on the future! As I think back I was always anxious to get to the next stage in the church’s life: more small groups, greater giving to missions, increased discipleship, growth in attendance, a move to a new and larger facility on 20 acres of land we had purchased up the road (which never happened). I know, these all sound like admirable goals, and they were. In fact, I still believe they were good goals to have at the time. After all, as the old saying goes, “If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it.”

But I recall often lamenting about the lack of growth of one kind or another. It made me close to miserable on more occasions than I care to admit, and in the midst of it all I believe I missed the good in the moment. For instance, very telling was how I would enjoy my Sunday afternoon more when attendance that morning had been good and would easily slip into a dark mood if the attendance had been disappointing.

I know, a measure of divinely inspired dissatisfaction is good. God doesn’t want us to be complacent as pastors. But on the other hand, contentment can also be good. What’s needed is balance, and I believe I overdid the focusing on the what I wanted in the future at the expense of celebrating what I had in the present.

On an imaginary teeter-totter where the present is on the one seat and the future is on the other, I let the future kid grow really big and kept the present kid stunted and small. On this imaginary teeter-totter the future was weighty and well grounded with all kinds of plans and projections, but I was light on the present, leaving it up in the air. There often was little balance on the playground of my ministry.

Much has been written about the sacrament of the moment, that wherever you are, be all there! This, I believe in retrospect now more than ever, should be more of our focus when doing daily ministry. I fear that some of our dreaming about what God might want for our ministry is an escape from our dissatisfaction with what God has given us to do in our present ministry. Gratitude and celebration for what God can do with us and our church TODAY is as important as goal setting and vision for what God can do with us and our church TOMORROW.

Our present ecclesiastical circumstances may be far from perfect, and we do have a call from our Great Shepherd to move His flock on to better things. Still, there’s also the call to enjoy the scenery in the current meadow where our flock is now grazing, among the familiar hills, trees, and winding stream, walking slowly among them, shepherding them, and delighting in them. As we shepherd the flock one day to the next we may yearn for greener pastures, but as long as the Lord is our Shepherd we shall not want right where we are!

Obscure Pastoring

Just read an article from Christianity Today by Matt Erickson, The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity. He writes, “Leaving the limelight of high-profile ministry was supposed to remove the pride from my heart, or so I thought. But my heart didn’t feel dramatically different in this new setting.”

Many of us feel we’re not pastoring in the limelight but in the shadows. Who would guess temptation to pride could lurk in such shadows? Matt’s article addresses this issue in an effective way. Here’s the link.

Wise Words to the 72 and To Us Too!

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

Senior demon: “How do you think we can best destroy this minister we’re gazing upon?”

Junior demon: “Make his ministry very difficult?”

Senior demon: “No, I think not. Perhaps we would defeat him by discouragement, but there is also the risk the minister might be humbled and in his new level of humility pose an even greater threat to the Dark Kingdom.”

Junior demon: “I give up. Please tell me a better way to destroy the pastor’s ministry.”

Senior demon: “Let the minister have great success, and pride will greatly increase and humility greatly decrease. In this way the Dark Kingdom will win over the Kingdom of God in the minister’s life.”

This imaginary demonic dialogue illustrates a spiritual principle of which most of us are familiar but undoubtedly could use a reminder. Success in ministry is wonderful, who doesn’t want it? Success, however, does pose a threat to us being the humble servant of God we’re called to be in our church.

Tullian Tchividjian, well known pastor, writer, and grandson of Billy Graham, experienced a moral failure that had a profoundly negative and painful effect on his life and ministry. With something like 20/20 hindsight he reflected on what led to his downfall in his blog at https://www.tullian.net/articles/being-kicked-into-freedom .

“There was a slow and subtle shift that came on like the slow creep of the tide rather than a sudden tidal wave. It was a shift from locating my identity in what God had done (the message of the Gospel) to locating my identity in what I had done (my success as a messenger of the Gospel). In other words, my worth, my value, my deepest sense of who I was and what made me matter – my identity – was anchored in things like my status, my reputation, my position, who my friends were, my skill with words, my ability to lead, the praise I received, the opportunities I had, always being in demand and the center of attention, financial security, and so on.”

Tchividjian’s comments make a good transition to reflecting on the time Jesus had sent out 72 of His followers to minister in His name. They returned very excited and exclaimed, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17) At least they were giving credit to Jesus, that the great results were accomplished in Jesus’ name. Still, Jesus was concerned about what was most exciting to them – the success of their efforts. He too was pleased with what had been accomplished, but told them, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (v. 20) Their names being on Heaven’s Roster was by the grace and mercy of God and not the result of any effort of their own (the Gospel Message, right?). This, Jesus reminded them, was what should most excite them.

Ministry is tough, so when we see some success it’s really easy to fixate on it, bask in it, revel in it. Yes, there’s a place for celebration and grateful thanksgiving to God for achievements we experience. Sooner than later, however, it’s good to remember Jesus’ sobering words, that what should really excite us as the pastor of His flock is that we, like everyone else, are in good standing with Him, having our names on Heaven’s Roster. And this all because of His astonishing grace and mercy toward us! It’s being humbly aware of this great truth, even in the midst of some measure of success, that makes us a great threat to the Dark Kingdom and a great asset to the Kingdom of God!

Let’s Have Some Caption Fun with This Photo!

In the past I referred to myself and other pastors as Under Shepherds to the Good Shepherd Jesus. Since living in Mexico I’ve watched sheep dogs work with flocks of sheep in such masterful ways, responding obediently to the commands of their master, the shepherd of the flock, as to where to drive the flock. This has prompted me to believe a better description of our role as pastors is sheep dog to the Good Shepherd!

I came across this photo and thought it might, given our role as sheep dog to the Good Shepherd, be fun to come up with captions. So, what’s your caption for this photo?

Mirror First, Window Second

My experience with preparing and delivering sermons led me to the deep conviction that my sermons had to preach to me before they would preach well to the people I served as pastor. I was off to a bad start if I thought the message I was prepping was going to correct my wayward parishioners from the error of their ways. Even worse was when I’d catch myself thinking of a certain person who needed to hear the message. Invariably that person was missing from the congregation when the message was delivered; God had His ways of keeping me in line! I had to let God speak to me through the message before I could hope the message would speak to the people.

I’ve also come to the conviction that the same principle applies to pastoral ministry far beyond the parameters of preaching. While pastoring I wanted God to use me to change the lives of those whom He entrusted to my pastoral care. What God wanted to do first was to have me change! I was not perfect in any given area of the Christian life (as I still am not), so in every area there was ample room for Him to work the change in me first, if I was open to it.

I would be frustrated that a board member seemed deaf to my argument for a certain course of action. It was easy to pass judgment on him or her, but was I willing to take an honest look at myself and be willing to see the same resistance in myself to an idea presented by a board member, maybe even that same member? I need to apply Jesus’ admonition that I’ve preached on countless times, and let it preach to me: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3

Upon rising from our beds most of us spend more time gazing into the glass of a mirror rather than through the glass of a window. Oh, we may peek outside a window to see what the weather’s like, but we’re likely to spend far more time peering into the mirror and fixing what we see so that we’re presentable to the public. So it should be with pastoral ministry. More time should be spent reflecting on how we need to make the same changes that we see need to be made in the lives of our parishioners. Mirror first, window second!

The Attentive Pastor’s Heart

The late Dallas Willard impacted the lives of thousands of people, including many pastors of whom I am one. I never had the pleasure of meeting Dallas Willard, but John Ortberg did. Ortberg has been greatly influenced by Dallas Willard and considers his own writings to be “Dallas for Dummies.” John Ortberg writes that whenever he was in conversation with Dallas he had the man’s full attention. Even in a room full of people, John observed, if Dallas was in conversation with you that it seemed you were the only one in the room with him.

Another one of my favorite authors is the late Eugene Peterson. After his recent passing someone who knew him personally eulogized that when you were in Peterson’s presence you knew he was fully attentive to you.

There have been times when I have gotten up the nerve to go up to a famous speaker after they’ve spoken in order to ask a question or to enter into what I knew could only be a brief conversation. There have been times when the speaker, who was warm and engaging before the crowd, seemed distracted and anxious to move on to someone else or to catch a plane to the next big event. There have been other times, fortunately, when I have found the famous scholar, preacher, or writer whom I’ve gotten up the nerve to approach to be fully attentive to me.

I want to be like Dallas, Eugene, and those who have given me their undivided attention! With some embarrassment I must admit there have been times that when in conversation with someone I’ve communicated through body language and darting eyes that I had other places to go and people to see, likely only feet away in the same room.

I know that this blog, A PASTOR’S HEART, focuses on the heart of the pastor and not so much on the mechanics and principles of pastoring. However, it seems to me that the reason Dallas Willard, Eugene Peterson, and some I’ve known personally are fully attentive and present in a conversation is because they have a settled, focused, and Christ-centered heart.

Brother Lawrence famously promoted the idea of “practicing the presence” of the Lord. It occurred to me that when we seek to be fully in the presence of the Lord in the moment we will more likely be fully present with others when we are with them. When our own heart is far from being settled and focused we’ll find it difficult to be settled and focused around others. We may be standing before a person in conversation, but it may seem to that person that we are running in place, running away from them!

Our work to become a more fully focused person in a conversation with someone begins, then, as a work on our own heart as pastors. It’s the work of seeking to have a heart that’s at peace, settled, and focused on the Lord. It’s an inward to outward process.

But it’s also an outward to inward process! We can determine in our next conversation with someone, and the next conversation after that, and the one following that, to be intentional about giving the person our undivided attention even though we don’t come by it naturally. It may not be a behavior we default to, but it is a behavior we can determine to put into practice, and over time find it happens more naturally and is coming more and more from the heart, a new habit of the heart.

Having a pastor’s heart has many facets to it. Certainly one of those facets that reflects the light of Christ brightly into the hearts of those we pastor is to have an attentive heart!

Lessons from Eugene Peterson


Eugene Peterson recently journeyed to his permanent sabbatical to Heaven.  He was the author of the Bible paraphrase THE MESSAGE, pastor of a church for many years, professor, poet, author of a host of books for pastors, mentor to pastors and much more.  Eugene Peterson helped me and countless other pastors understand what pastoring is meant to be.  He truly had a pastor’s heart.  In the following link CT PASTORS asked 8 church leaders to share how Eugene Peterson impacted their lives and ministries.  Click HERE to read.