Archives For Pastoral Ministry

In the church, we handle glory on a regular basis. Every time the church gathers, we talk about topics like: the greatness of God, the fact that God became a human being, our longing for redemption and our inability to save ourselves, the fact that Jesus has conquered death, the reality that God himself lives inside of our human bodies through his Spirit, etc. In other words, the church’s conversations are about the most profound, awe-inspiring, life-transforming, tear-inducing, joy-invoking topics imaginable!

And yet we are numb. The fact that I could type the above sentences without falling on my face and/or break dancing means that I’ve grown callous to truths that ought to be overpowering me at every moment. Think especially of what this is like for pastors: They stand in front of the faithful week after week and talk about the greatest mysteries, struggles, and triumphs in the universe. How can we keep these powerful truths fresh? How can we continue to see and value the glory that the Christian life puts us in contact with at every moment?

Makoto Fujimura: Consider the Lilies

Makoto Fujimura: Consider the Lilies

One significant answer is this: we need artists in our churches. We don’t need only artists, but we do need artists. Art is a gift that God has given humanity so that we can explore the significance of life. Textbooks and newspapers present us with the facts of life; art presents us with the meaning and significance of those facts. If art is God’s gift (it is!) and if this is what art does (it does!), then how can we afford to ignore the role of art in our churches? (We can’t!)

Pablo Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

J. R. R. Tolkien: “We need to clean our windows so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity.”

Madeleine L’Engle: “Perhaps art is seeing the obvious in such a new light that the old becomes new.”

As a Bible college professor, I spend a lot of time in classrooms talking about theology and life and ministry. But some of my richest times in those same classrooms come when I teach my class on Christianity and the Arts and my students share the art they’ve created. It takes those same powerful truths we talk about and pushes us to view and handle and (almost) taste them in ways that bring them to life again. The insightful artist can, in a sense, restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, feeling to the numb.

Speaking as a pastor to other pastors, Eugene Peterson says:

“Everyone needs artists. Pastors especially—and especially this pastor—need them, for we spend our lives immersed in forms of glory, in the world of salvation become incarnate in Jesus. If because of overfamiliarity and too much talking about we no longer see the glory contained in the form, no longer touch the salvation in the body and blood of Jesus, we are no longer pastors. I want to tell all my pastor colleagues, ‘Make friends with the artist. Let him rip off the veils of habit that obscure the beauty of Christ in the faces we look at day after day. Let her restore color and texture and smell to the salvation that has become disembodied in a fog of abstraction.’”

I do think that some churches try too hard in incorporating art into their services. I often get the impressions that churches “get artsy” just so that they can appear “relevant” or “with it” to younger generations. I’m not advocating that we drape every inch of our church buildings in art or that pastors don skinny jeans and adopt the persona of a bleeding heart artist (but it’s okay if your pastor does).

Donal J. Forsythe, "The Long Night," 12 box construction. (http://www.donaldforsythe.com/boxes/longnite1.html)

Donal J. Forsythe, “The Long Night,” 12 box construction. (http://www.donaldforsythe.com/boxes/longnite1.html)

I actually don’t think that incorporating art into the life of our churches should be all about what happens on Sunday mornings. Perhaps it should mean hosting artistic events. Certainly it will mean giving artists regular opportunities to share their art with people in the church. It’s really not about a strategy or a model; it’s about valuing and discipling the artists in our midst and imploring them to use their God-given gifts to enrich our lives and our worship. We should also go so far as viewing our artists as missionaries and sending them out into the world with Bibles and paintbrushes for the sake of our common mission.

Becoming a more artsy church is a lame goal. But acknowledging the power of art and the value of artists is essential. And until our churches figure out how to incorporate the gift of art and the gifts of artists into our common life, we will be depriving ourselves of a powerful means of tearing away the veil and bringing ourselves into regular contact with glory.

For more on this, click here.

For an extended list of solid books on the subject, click here.

Your pastor prays for you. His God-given duty, after all, is to “keep watch over your soul” (Heb. 13:17). But unless you’re a rare individual, you don’t pray for your pastor as much as you should. I want to convince you that your pastor desperately needs you to pray for him consistently.

A major factor in your pastor’s need for prayer is the simple reality that he is a human being. He is tempted, as we all are. He sins, as we all do. He is targeted by spiritual warfare. Because he is a human being seeking to live a godly life, he needs prayer and support.

But there are other reasons for his need for prayer related to his unique role as a pastor. I want to explore three of those below:

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SPEAK FOR GOD.

All of us desperately need to know what God thinks about all of the issues we face in life. We need to hear from God—regularly, insightfully, passionately.

So put yourself in your pastor’s shoes here. Week after week, you gather with other believers to hear a word from God. And your pastor is the one who will deliver God’s word to you. His job is to stand before you on a regular basis and declare, “Thus says the Lord.” Much of the Spirit’s conviction in your life will come from words your pastor speaks. Many of your beliefs about the nature of God or how God wants you to behave in a given situation will originate in your pastor’s sermon prep.

Your pastor speaks to you on God’s behalf. He feels the weight of that burden. Make sure you’re praying for him. Pray that God will speak to him. Pray that he will listen. Pray that God will empower him as he takes on the formidable role of a modern day prophet.

Francis Chan Preaching

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS.

Perhaps this sounds overdramatic. But when something goes wrong in your life, who are you turning to for help? When you’re struggling with sin, when you can’t navigate a dysfunctional relationship, when you’ve experienced loss, when you’re depressed, when you need some guidance—who is it that you turn to in these situations? If you’re like most Christians, you’ll turn to your pastor to help you solve your problems.

That’s as it should be, to a certain extent. Your pastor does indeed keep watch over your soul; he is there to help you grow. But once again, consider it from your pastor’s perspective. What if you were the last line of defense (and often also the first) with every major issue anyone in your congregation could possibly encounter? That’s an enormous burden to bear. And an impossible schedule to maintain. (Even if your church has multiple pastors, that means your church has more people to care for.) Be sure to pray for your pastor in this regard. Ask God to give him wisdom, patience, and endurance.

 

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO THINK & ACT LIKE YOU IN EVERYTHING.

You’re not offended by everything your pastor says, but let’s be honest: there are a good handful of topics over which you would be horrified to hear your pastor disagree with you. What if your pastor preached a sermon that gave a differing view on the end times, or on speaking in tongues, or on the proper use of alcohol, or on the way Christians should relate to politics, culture, homeschooling, workplace evangelism, infant or adult baptism, or whatever? The list of issues upon which Christians disagree is almost literally endless.

You might not be upset about every theological point your pastor makes, but someone is likely to be. Consider it from your pastor’s perspective: It’s impossible to preach on the end times, hell, the role of obedience in the life of the Christian, or spiritual gifts without offending someone. You can imagine the weight that this places on his shoulders every week.

Pastors face constant criticism. Their lives are lived in a fishbowl, with everyone analyzing what the pastor and his family do (and don’t do). Not only that, but he also has to present his (well-studied) views on controversial topics to a large roomful of people every week. Can you imagine the pressure? So don’t forget to pray for him. Be gracious to him when he “gets it wrong” theologically, and don’t forget to pray that God would give him grace, patience, and encouragement as he has big and small conversations week after week with people who are angry about something he said.

__________

You may love your pastor deeply. Or you might have a real problem with him (for good or bad reasons). But either way, be sure that you are praying for him. He has devoted his life to speaking for God and ministering to your soul. That’s an impossible job. Keep praying that God will encourage, shape, and empower your pastor. And please heed these words from Hebrews:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (13:17)

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the seriesHomosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

This week’s class was amazing! As I’ve told my students throughout this course, I want us to blend rigorous study with personal stories; the word of God and the flesh of people. Homosexuality is not just an issue to be lonelystudied, but a people to love.

This is why I invited Matt Jones to come speak to our class last Tuesday night. Matt is a graduate of Wheaton College and a student at Fuller Seminary. He worships Jesus. He loves people. He has a huge heart for the poor and marginalized. And Matt is a Side B gay Christian committed to a life of celibacy. “Side B” simply means that he doesn’t believe it’s within God’s will to act upon his same sex attraction (if he was “Side A,” he would).

So I invited Matt to come tell us his story. What was it like to experience same sex attraction at age 11? How did your parents respond when you came out? How did you feel growing up in a conservative Christian environment where gay jokes were as frequent as Bible drills, and anti-Homosexual sermons dehumanize “them” even though “you” are sitting right there in the third pew from the front?

As you can imagine, Matt’s life had its struggles. But it was in college when everything came crashing down. He finally came to grips with his sexuality and publicly admitted that he was exclusively attracted to guys. That’s when the depression hit the hardest. Trying to figure out life, school, and your place in the church as a gay man is a lot for a 19 year old to bear. Matt’s theological convictions remained conservative and he wasn’t convinced that it would be within God’s will to pursue a homosexual relationship. So when Matt thought about the future, he imagined sitting all alone in a cold, dark, lonely apartment building. “Is this what you created me for, Jesus?”

When Matt graduated, he landed an internship position at his church back home. However, he felt that it was only right to tell his pastor that he was only attracted to guys and that he would probably never marry a woman. His pastor was surprisingly gracious and understanding, even though he hadn’t encountered anyone in his church with this “issue” in more than 20 years. (Which makes me wonder: who was ministering to the same-sex attracted people in the church all these years? If not their pastor, was it Oprah? Ellen? Pastors: we’ve got to create safe space to walk with those who experience same sex attraction in our churches; “they” are “us” whether you know it or not.) His pastor said he had to tell the rest of their staff about Matt’s sexuality, “but don’t worry, they’ll be totally cool.”

But the meeting was less than cool.

“But what about the kids! We can’t let you around our kids”
(Matt: “I’m not a pedophile, and just because I’m attracted to men doesn’t make me incapable of ministering to youth.”)

“We can’t approve of someone with your…lifestyle.”
(Matt: lifestyle? I’m celibate. I’ve never had the faintest sexual encounter. I’ve never even been to first base.)

Matt left that meeting feeling dehumanized. As he sat in his car he wanted to scream. But it was at that moment that he decided to love. “I will not let the pain people cause me to determine my unconditional love for them.” Matt decided to engage in a lifestyle—a lifestyle of cruciform love. cropped-sfbanner-bluelewisAnd Matt also stayed at the church. He knew that the pastors were godly men. Perhaps they could learn more about homosexuality, but they love Jesus and His word. Matt believed and still believes that he can learn from them.

Grace. Humility. Unconditional forgiveness. There’s more of Jesus in Matt than most Christians I’ve met. He’s traveled around the globe to serve the poor. He’s played with orphans in Guatemala and talked to former drug addicts in South Africa about Jesus. Matt has given himself to a life of love and service, to manifest Jesus to other beautiful people made in God’s image. And no longer does Matt view his future through the dim mist of loneliness; he now considers his celibacy as an opportunity to spread the fragrance of Christ in a dark and broken world.

“Most single people are told that their singleness is a giant ‘no.’ No sex. No marriage. No relationship. Only loneliness. But my celibacy—as much as it’s a daily struggle—is not just a ‘no’ but filled with many ‘yeses’.” Yes to people, love, and community.

Community. That’s a crucial ingredient in Matt’s recipe for joy. Matt’s lifelong celibacy would be unbearable if the church doesn’t reciprocate Matt’s undying love. It’s not up to Matt (and other singles) to muscle up and create joy in a room by himself, or to fill all his free time with service to others. It’s up to us, the church, to make sure we don’t treat singles as second-class citizens in the kingdom, or as incomplete until they find their mate. Singleness is not a stage to get through, but a gift to be stewarded—even if for a time. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure we’re not sending the message that it’s a stage to get through. We need to drown the Matts among us in affection, value, and love.

People can live without sex, but we can’t live without love and relationship, and Matt’s life is filled with both. He no longer imagines that cold, dark, lonely apartment as his lot in life; he imagines, rather, being tackled and tickled by a pile of orphans who have been given life through the love and laughter of man in love with Jesus.

On behalf of our class, thank you Matt for sharing your heart with us!

Matt is a contributor to the Spiritual Friendship blog, which is an excellent resource. Check it out!

http://spiritualfriendship.org/

 

Death by Ministry

Preston Sprinkle —  May 17, 2013 — 1 Comment

The other day, I had lunch with an old college buddy, who was one of the most influential people in my life. This was a highlight of my year, because I haven’t seen my good friend

Bert and I after lunch at the "Bear Pit" (Not Cocos)

Bert and I after lunch at the “Bear Pit” (Not Cocos)

and mentor in nearly 12 years. His name is Bert Suluvale and I wanted to share his story.

Bert was born in Samoa but grew up in Carson, CA (south of Los Angeles). He got involved in some pretty rough gangs as an early teen, but God rescued him dramatically around the age of 20. Shortly after getting saved, Bert attended The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA, and this is where I met him. Bert and I were roommates and quickly became close friends. However, being 6 years older than me, I always saw Bert as more of a mentor than a peer, though the line was often blurred by much laughter and mutual edification.

Bert was one of the most gifted Christians I have ever known. A dynamic leader, a powerful preacher, and a talented musician with a voice that rattles the walls with praise. Bert has sung on stage at Grace Community Church (aka “John MacArthur’s church”) and has worked in the music industry off and on for several years. Bert was my mentor, my teacher, my discipler and friend. He taught me how to lead and he trained me how to preach. And Bert taught me how to love Jesus.

This is why I was crushed when I heard that Bert fell out of fellowship with my church. Back in 2001, Bert began to break off contact with all of his close friends and our church, and he ended up moving back home to Carson. I was living in Scotland at the time, so I only heard the details through second and third hand sources, but they were all saying the same thing. “The Bert you once knew is gone.”

Come to find out, Bert returned to his own ways. Sin, sin, and more sin, though he never denied the truth about Jesus (he only denied it with his life). For nine years, Bert spiraled down a dangerous path, which ended up landing him in prison, where he served for one year (2010). “This is what God needed to do to break me,” Bert told me over lunch last Wednesday. “I bowed my knees at the foot of the cross; this was my only remedy.” In prison, God rescued Bert (again) from his sin and returned him to the faith. For the last two years, Bert has been walking with the Lord in repentance and passion. The Bert I once knew is back!

I asked Bert what was the original cause of his downward spiral, and I wanted to share his answer with you all because it’s a trap we all fall into.

“What happened?” I asked. “What triggered your plunge into sin that led you away from the church?”

“Busyness,” Bert said. “I was so busy for Jesus that I forgot to love Jesus. I was doing so much ministry that I left my first love.”

Bert was leading worship, singing at churches, preaching, discipling, serving, leading evangelistic concerts, studying, teaching, training, and walking with people through the Scriptures. He was serving Jesus’ bride but he forgot to love Jesus. And nine years later, Bert was in prison.

Christians today are busy. Christians in Southern California are freakishly busy, and Christian leaders are often the most. The problem with “Christian” busyness—and the reason why church graveyardSatan wields it as a weapon against the church—is that it seduces Christians into thinking that they are serving Jesus by doing, doing, doing, doing. But if your love for ministry has taken over your love for Jesus, you may have taken that first step Bert took as he began his journey to prison.

“Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint,” says veteran pastor Rick Warren. “You have to pace yourself, otherwise you’ll kill your marriage, your relationships, your church—and yourself.” Rick speaks from experience. After two years of ministry, he burnt out and fell into depression. After recovering, he learned to pace himself. He got back on his feet and now he’s been serving Jesus and His bride in a healthy way for more than 35 years. Rick’s main observation about young pastors these days is that they are overly busy. They are sprinting, not jogging, and they’re going to hit the wall.

Let’s learn from Bert. Let’s learn from Rick. Let’s slow down, pace ourselves, so that we finish the race without having knocked over all the hurdles.

From the PulpitI sat in my pastor’s office sharing my feelings of being pretty worthless, of feeling abandoned by my peers. I felt like I had sold my soul to the devil, or something worse. After 18 years of steady ministry as solo pastor, senior pastor, or associate pastor, I had reached the point where I just couldn’t keep doing it, and resigned. I was now working in the construction industry as a project manager—running a budget and schedule for major commercial remodeling projects—a long ways from preparing sermons, doing hospital visitation, and discipling men.

My pastor shared a piece of wisdom with me that I will never forget: ‘Chris, there are only two honorable ways to leave the pastorate: retire or die.’ He meant that the vast majority of the ministry world views it that way. Well, I had done neither. I was way too young to retire, and I was pretty sure I was still alive (although on bad days I wondered….). So that meant that I had left the pastorate in a dishonorable way. Or so it seemed.

In the days and weeks that followed, I wrestled with many questions, not the least of which was ‘Can I still pray?’ I wondered if God answered prayer about things that were not ministry related. Was it spiritual to ask God to intervene in a remodeling job I had going? Did God care that I couldn’t find a subcontractor to do the tile work? For nearly 20 years my prayer life had been built around being a pastor and spiritual leader; so now what?

I also wondered what the purpose of Bible reading was now. Of course I had wrestled with the tension of not just reading my Bible for sermon prep, and thought I had struck a pretty good balance. Apparently not.

And then there was the question of calling. God had called me to be a pastor. So now what? Was that call invalidated? Had He never really called me? Is a call revocable?

Probably my biggest question, which took a long time to fully surface, was this: Who am I? I finally realized that my identity had been ‘pastor’ and that was wrong. Completely wrong. And since I was no longer a ‘pastor,’ I had no identity.

Over the next five years I wrestled with each of these questions, and God graciously gave me answers. The answers came slowly in some cases. In fact, over seven years later I am still trying to assess the reasons, the causes, the issues, where I failed and sinned, and where life simply happened. I expect I won’t get the full story till I can sit down with Jesus someday, and ask Him all about it. Maybe then it won’t matter, or I won’t care. But in the meantime, I process. Let me share a few of my ongoing thoughts.

I pretty quickly realized that of course I can pray and read my Bible. And I do those things to maintain a relationship with Jesus, not to achieve a ministry goal, but to get to know the one, true God in a more personal way.

I also determined that yes, I was indeed called to the pastorate. And that I was called out of the pastorate. God’s ultimate call is to salvation and Christlikeness, and I was still on that path. Can’t God call us to different things at different times in our lives? He called Luke to be a physician, then called him to travel with Paul. He called Amos to tend figs, then called him to preach to Israel. He called me to be a pastor, then out of that into construction, then out of that to serve at a Bible college. He could call me to something else someday. What does not change is the call to pursue a passionate, sold out relationship with Christ alone.

And I have slowly learned that my identity is not ‘pastor’ or ‘contractor’ or ‘college professor,’ it is ‘Child of the King.’ I had believed a lie that the pastorate was the ‘highest calling’ and so I placed a very sinful, and fleshly emphasis on my identity as being of the highest calling. O the pride wrapped up in that!

I finally came to grips with the fact that whatever God has called me to—that was the highest calling. When I was a contractor, that was God’s highest calling for me, and not my identity. As Director of Church Relations—that is God’s highest calling for me, and not my identity. My ‘calling’ may change many more times before I die, but my identity never will. I am a Child of the King. Period.

These have not been easy years. This process has been painful, and I have lost friends and colleagues along the way. Probably lost some respect and reputation, too. Right after I resigned, one pastor friend emailed me and told me there obviously was some crisis in my life, or some major problem in the church.

But that is not my concern. I answer to One Person, and only One. I know that I have not always heard His voice clearly. I know that I have not always followed Him perfectly. I know I have had missteps along the way. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

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