Archives For Pastoral Ministry

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.

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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)

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.

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the seriesLessons from Elijah

I recently posted a blog on Elijah, burnout, and how important it is for us to spend extended time alone with God. If he needed to slow down and spend some long, extended time in the desert alone with God, how much more do we need to do the same in the 21st century!

But as I meditate on the story of Elijah, I see there is more to this ubiquitous issue of burnout than just spending time alone with God. Believe me, I have spent many hours and now many years searching my own heart and evaluating what went wrong in my life that caused me to hit the wall like I did. I am often asked questions like ‘what caused you to burnout?’ and ‘ what can we do to prevent burnout?’

Dangerous CallingI had a breakthrough insight recently. It has to do with ‘identity.’ I see it in Elijah, but my eyes were really opened to this idea through Paul David Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. This recent book is an important and essential read for all pastors, people in ministry, and followers of Christ. I was convicted page after page, and had so many ‘aha’ moments I lost count.

Tripp is talking about the numerous and often burdensome responsibilities of the pastor when he makes this statement:

All of these concerns can become seductive pastoral idolatries, and when they do, you may think that you are serving God, but your heart is ruled by something to which you have attached your pastoral identity and inner sense of well-being….you do ministry in the hopes of getting horizontally what you have already been given vertically. In ways in which you are unaware, you are asking ministry acclaim, success, reputation, etc., to be your own personal messiah. (p202)

Ouch. Nailed. Yep, that’s me. My identity and significance in life was completely wrapped up in the concept of ‘pastor’ but I didn’t realize it until I finally resigned the pastorate, and lost my identity. I honestly (although I did know better theologically) wondered what in the world I would pray about now. Can I even pray as a non-pastor? Why would I read my Bible now? As these questions coursed through my soul, I was brought painfully face-to-face with the reality that I was guilty of ministry idolatry.

Tripp goes on:

So you will never find in your ministry the rest of heart that every human being seeks. And when you look there, it only ends in anxiety, frustration, hurt, disappointment, anger, and bitterness and may ultimately lead you to question the goodness of God. I am convinced that what we often call “ministry burnout” (a term I don’t think is particularly helpful) is often the result of pastors’ seeking in their ministry what cannot be found there, and because it can’t be found there they end up weary and discouraged. (p203)

Wow. Guilty. There it is. Perhaps not the final answer to my quest of why I burned out, but a huge step closer. He nails it here: I was seeking for identity, reputation, significance, etc. in the pastorate. But that was idolatry, and it could never truly give me rest. So after 18 years of trying, and not succeeding, the weariness and discouragement got the best of me, and I had to regroup. Of course I know that my identity is found in Christ alone, as a child of His, and not in any role or task or ministry that I do. But it is still a struggle to assimilate that truth deeply into my soul and make it part of my daily sense of identity.

Back to Elijah. In 1 Kings 19, God questions Elijah. Part of Elijah’s answer is in verse 10:

“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left…”

In other words, nobody has it together in ministry quite like I do. I am the prophet to end all prophets. I am the only one left who loves you and serves you. My identity is wrapped up in being a prophet. A few verses earlier, Elijah was basically suicidal over this state of affairs. Classic ministry burnout based on the faulty notion that his identity was in ministry, not in Christ alone.

We must get our eyes back on Jesus. We will never find rest and identity and satisfaction in anything but Him. Not in ministry, not in the pastorate, not in our jobs, not in our family, not in our success…nothing but Christ alone. To do so is to invite weariness, discouragement, burnout. Search your heart to see if the seeds of this error are planted and starting to sprout. Study Elijah. Read the book Dangerous Calling. Save yourself from ministry burnout.

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the seriesLessons from Elijah

I am a recovering burned out pastor. Doing fine, thank you. But I hit the wall several years back and had to resign a great ministry. The church I was pastoring was excited about the future and eager to reach out. We did some good things, and the future was bright. But I was done. I would wake up on Sunday mornings with this dark heaviness that consumed me. It was oppressive and exhausting. I would pray through it, seek God’s intervention, and make it through Sunday morning. But then I was utterly exhausted the rest of the day. Every pastor is tired on Sunday afternoon, but I was beyond tired.

During this time I found great encouragement in reading the story of Elijah. He was a great friend and mentor. 1 Kings 17-19 contain some really great truths that helped me back then, still help me, and are food for anyone feeling a bit of burnout.

Elijah was God’s mouthpiece to tell King Ahab that there was about to be a 3-year drought, which pretty much meant a serious economic downturn. I imagine Ahab could see the approval ratings of his kingship dropping like the proverbial rock. And he took it out on Elijah. Ahhh, ministry. We proclaim God’s Word, and people blame us!!

But note that God orchestrated this drought. He designed it, He ordained it, He sent it. Then he tells Elijah to get out of town and head for the wilderness. Elijah would suffer in this drought as every other Israelite would. It was hard times, through and through. I can’t help thinking about the various ‘droughts’ in my life, times when I felt empty or thirsty. And nothing seemed to help. We all have these times, and the great prophet Elijah was no exception.

brookGod’s plan was to send Elijah to a distant brook called Cherith to hide out. As far as we know, the Brook Cherith was in a pretty remote area east of the Jordan River. It has been described as a wild ravine and a good place for various outcasts to hide out. The brook would provide water, and God would command ravens to bring food for Elijah each day. So God orchestrated the drought in Elijah’s life, but then he designed the solution. Granted, it was a strange solution. Ravens are scavengers so I can only imagine the kind of food they brought to Elijah! It would appear he was eating road kill for a few years!

But the point is this: God took care of Elijah. It was hard times, for sure. But God sent Elijah off to a remote quiet place, and He personally directed his care and feeding. How long was he there? Hard to say. The drought lasted some 3 years, and Elijah lived in only 2 places during that time: Brook Cherith and Zarephath. So, many months at least. Maybe a year or more. What did he do while sitting out in the wilderness? Again, we aren’t told, but I would assume he rested, prayed, and studied the Torah (assuming he took his copy along). Basically, he spent extended time alone with God.

And I would suggest to you that this is the point: the solution to burnout or drought or emptiness is extended time alone with God. Our lives are crazy busy. There aren’t near enough hours in the day, or days in the week, or weeks in the month, to get everything done that we think we need to get done. And so we run out of fuel. Our tanks are empty. We burn out. The drought has begun. If you are there, then let me encourage you that God has a remote brook for you, full of refreshing water. He has some ravens all ready to bring you some nourishing food. But you have to slow down long enough to eat and drink from His never-ending supply. Like Elijah did.
Oh and it gets better. Elijah hasn’t even hit the serious burnout wall yet. He is so much like us. I am so thankful that God chose to reveal some of this great prophet’s secrets. I’ll explore this more in a future blog post. In the meantime, slow down. Take a breath. Spend some time with God. Some serious, extended time, alone in the presence of Almighty God. Just you and Jesus.

Coram Deo!

I have recently been struck by a very simple verse in the first chapter of Romans:

“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” (vv. 11–12)

The first part of that statement makes perfect sense to me. Paul was obviously a spiritual giant, so it’s only right that he would want to visit the church in Rome and strengthen them through his spiritual gifts.

David PlattWe’re used to this in the church. We go to conferences to hear powerful speakers and talented musicians. God has given them gifts, and we want these giants to use their God-given gifts to bless us. The same thing is true within our churches. We sit through services on Sunday mornings so that we can be strengthened by our pastor’s spiritual gifts. Why shouldn’t Paul want to use his God-given gifts to strengthen the church in Rome?

But it’s the second half of the passage that strikes me. Paul clarifies by saying that what he really wants is to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. Paul is longing to visit this church so that he could be encouraged by their faith. Paul. This is the guy who was encouraging others to share the joy he felt while in a prison cell. The guy who got stoned and left for dead because he preached the gospel, then got up and walked to another town to preach the gospel some more. This Paul wanted to interact with “little” Christians he had never met so that he could be encouraged by their gifts.

Can you imagine going to a conference where you strengthen John Piper or David Platt with your gifts? Or a church service where the pastor is being encouraged by your faith?

Paul’s statement shouldn’t be as shocking as it seems. The church has always been about mutual encouragement. The church was never designed to have super Christians who are always giving and little Christians who are always receiving. Yet that has become our default in many cases.

So if you’re a spiritual leader, used to challenging other with your gifts, learn to be strengthened and encouraged by the Christians around you. Learn to need the people who need you. Paul longed for this; so should you. You’ll never outgrow the church, no matter how powerful you think you’ve become.

And if you’re a “normal” Christian, look for ways to strengthen the church through your gifts. The church is tragically weakened when it misses out on your strengths. God placed the Spirit inside you in a unique way so that you could make the church stronger (see 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4). Take that seriously.

 

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