Archives For Pastoral Ministry

Change and transitions are always hard. But of course the old cliché is true: if there is one thing that never changes, it is that things are always changing. The school year ends; friends move away; marriage is forever changed with the addition of kids; the kids start going to school; the kids leave home; health deteriorates; and of course the ultimate change I suppose is death—as a believer it is changing from this corruptible body and fallen earth to a glorified body and eternal glory.

Churches change too: a church plant that moves out of a living room into rented space; the changes that come with growth where we no longer feel like an extended family; the addition of staff; the change of a lead pastor. All these changes can be handled poorly and cause great stress and upheaval. Or these changes can be handled well and allow the church to continue growing, moving forward, and advancing the kingdom.

CarpetChanges. Transitions. They must be handled well. Or there can be trouble. I have a construction/remodeling background and one of the most important aspects of a remodel job is handling the flooring transitions well. Carpet to hardwood; tile to carpet; hardwood to tile; and so on. Done poorly and the whole job looks shoddy. Done well, and the job looks clean and professional. I suggest the same is true in life and in the church: we must handle the transitions and changes well.

I was recently privileged to observe a rather significant change in a local church. The senior pastor, who had planted this church several decades earlier, resigned to take on a new assignment. It wasn’t the smoothest process initially, which could have created a rather ugly scenario. But I was blessed to be in the presence of a gracious, humble, final parting, a transition that was handled well.

TileThe Holy Spirit clearly was at work creating a tender atmosphere for this incredible transition. The text for the day was 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20:

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.

This pastor had invested in countless lives over the years. Though there were tears and sadness at his parting, there was great joy in knowing that this man of God had influenced so many lives. Though there had been some difficult days in the process of transition, they were handled in such a gracious way that the final service was delightful, if a bit sad.

Change and transition is often hard. Sometimes we plan for it, and sometimes it rudely intrudes into our lives unexpectedly and uninvited. Regardless, smooth and gracious transitions are part of living a life centered on Jesus Christ. I would imagine that the vast majority of the readers of this blog are in the midst of some life change or transition. Handle it graciously, even if it is a painful, hurtful, and unexpected intrusion. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can make life’s transitions smooth and gracious, just as demonstrated by this local expression of the bride of Christ. What a great example for us to follow! This mysterious thing called “church” once again reflecting the true source of her life and energy!

A post with this title could go in either of two directions. It could be about a female pastor delivering a child (and as I write about this option, I definitely picture labor setting in mid-sermon). Or it could go in the following direction:

 

In Galatians 4:19, Paul uses some startling imagery to talk about his relationship with those to whom he ministers. He refers to them as:

“…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”

What do you make of this? Pretty crazy, right?

We would expect Paul to say that he loves the Galatians. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear him say that he greatly desired that they behave like Christ. But what Paul actually says is way over the top!

Why is Paul so concerned over what the Galatians are believing? Because they are his little children; his offspring. And Paul is their father, right? Well, not exactly. Paul is the mother. And according to this analogy, the Galatians haven’t been born yet. Paul is a laboring mother to these Christians, his contractions are extremely painful (“the anguish of childbirth”), and his intense pushing is meant to result in a Christ-formed version of their current selves.

My wife holding our then-newborn second daughter.

My wife holding our then-newborn second daughter.

You can’t say Paul didn’t have an imagination. Nor can you say that he didn’t love those he ministered to. I have witnessed two birthings, and I can attest to their intensity (my wife understands Paul’s phrase “the anguish of childbirth” on a much deeper level than I ever will).

If there are any pastors out there who are in it for their own benefit, who don’t particularly care for their flock, who can’t remember the last time they felt the burden of caring for someone’s soul—these are not Paul’s kind of pastors.

Paul’s kind of pastor sees Christlikeness as the goal for every person he interacts with. He wants to look at the people God has placed in his care and see Christ. Paul’s kind of pastor prays that this will happen. But he doesn’t stop there. He preaches in order to focus their minds on the truth. But he doesn’t stop there. He admonishes and encourages them toward the goal. But that’s still not all of it. He sees them as his own children and believes himself to be divinely tasked with laboring (in the maternal sense) until the image of Christ shines brightly in each soul under his care.

To the “ordinary Christians” out there: how badly do you want to be like Christ? If Paul was willing to go through spiritual labor for his spiritual children, should we not value the goal of Christ being formed in us? Paul spoke these words to the Galatians in order to show them his concern on their behalf so that they would take his warnings and teaching seriously. Let’s work with our pastors to this end (Hebrews 13:17 points us in this direction).

To all of our pastors: you have babies to birth. Paul wouldn’t have you believe that your task is easy. Push and strain with all you have—the end result is worth it. Never lose your motherly heart for us, your children in the faith. God has made you our mother, please don’t let your anguish become anything less.

Francis Chan 1Because I work with Bible College students, I interact with a lot of people who feel called into ministry. Many have been inspired by the ministry—and particularly the powerful preaching—of Francis Chan and similar Christian leaders.

Few admit it, but I have known a few students who want to be the next Francis Chan. They see what God is doing through this man, they have been personally moved by his preaching, and they want God to use them in the same way. So they set out to become preachers.

For these would-be Chans, preaching is equated with what they saw Francis Chan do. So when they feel God calling them to preach, they understand this to mean that they are going to be preaching to many thousands of enthusiastic and responsive people. When they are inspired by Paul’s command to Timothy to preach the word, they picture themselves in front of a sold out conference crowd. When they learn about pastoral ministry in school, they think about praying with convicted listeners after a rousing sermon.

Thank God for Francis Chan. I stand with millions of Christians in that I am a more godly person because of his ministry. But God only made one Francis Chan. He may well be calling you to be a preacher, but he is not calling you to be a Francis Chan.

I think we have imbibed an unbiblical standard for what success in ministry looks like. Our responsibility is to use the gifts that God has given us to represent him in any and every opportunity he places before us. But the results are up to him. Numbers are not a fool-proof indication of a godly ministry.

Did you know that Jeremiah faithfully fulfilled the ministry that God set before him, yet he didn’t see a single convert? Does this make him a bad minister? By God’s standards, no, but he probably wouldn’t last long as the senior pastor in any of our churches.

Or consider Jonah. He ran away from God, then preached a single sermon (the Bible records this as an eight word sermon) and saw an entire pagan city dramatically convert on the spot. Does that make him a good minister? By God’s standards, no, but he would probably launch a popular model for church growth in the U.S.

Faithfulness has always been our responsibility. Results have always been God’s.

Francis Chan 2When I run into students that hint at wanting to preach like Francis Chan, I remind them that they if God is calling them to preach, then they need to preach as faithfully and powerfully as they can, but they need to be okay with God setting the size of the congregation.

And this leads to a great question for each of us to ask ourselves on a regular basis. If it so happens to be the will of God, would you be satisfied with faithfully serving God and impacting only a few individuals? If not, you should examine your motives for serving the Lord. If so, you may well find that God brings more people into your sphere of influence.

 

This is a weird post for me to write. I don’t presume to know anything about pastors’ wives. Or about women, for that matter. I am not a pastor, so there are many things I’ll never know about a pastor’s wife. But on the other hand, my detachment from the situation gives me an advantage. On a regular basis, every pastor has to make a choice between standing up for his wife or biting his tongue. So let me, as an outsider, share some of the concerns that many of my pastor friends have with regard to the way their wives are viewed.

Churches aren’t fair to the wives of their pastors. For one thing, the pastor, his wife, and their children live in a fishbowl. Everyone looks in and watches everything they do. There is a healthy side to this. We should consider the way our leaders conduct themselves (Heb. 13:7). But more often than not, we do this critically and with a spirit of judgment. I have heard of pastors’ wives being criticized for their hair being too shiny, their hair not being shiny enough, and for sitting down while ironing. And I’m not joking or exaggerating any of those.

When people are in sin, we have a biblical responsibility to confront them (see Matt. 18). But when it comes to preference issues (i.e., issues not clearly defined in the Bible), then our judgmental spirit means that we are in sin. So if you don’t like the type of nail polish your pastor’s wife wears, then feel free to choose a different color for yourself. But don’t flaunt your pride by gossiping about hers.

The other major concern I have about the way we view pastors’ wives is the assumption that she has to be the women’s ministry director. Or the children’s ministry director. Or at least be a major player in the ministries of your church. When a new pastor is hired, many churches see it as a two-for-the-price-of-one kind of a thing. We’re getting two pastors here, but we only have to pay the salary of one, and we have every right to complain if the pastor’s wife isn’t spearheading at least a couple of major programs in our church.

Many pastors’ wives are gifted, willing, and effective in leading all sorts of ministries in the church. But to simply assume that the pastor’s wife is gifted to lead a ministry because she married a pastor is extremely wrongheaded. It ignores Paul’s description of spiritual gifting in 1 Corinthians 12. The fact of the matter is that every member of the body has been given gifts by God. And each person’s gifts differ from those of others. The Spirit distributes these according to His will (1 Cor. 12:11), not according to our desires or expectations.

Believe it or not, God sometimes allows people with pastoral gifts to marry people who have other gifts. This means that demanding your pastor’s wife to lead a specific ministry is presumptive at best, and at worst it is dangerous to her and to the life of your church.

I’m not saying that we need to treat pastors’ wives as angels or let them run around with a sense of entitlement and never confront them. I’m sure that your pastor’s wife is weird in at least 100 ways. I’m sure that she does things differently than you expect her to and differently than you would do them yourself. But that’s okay. She is who God made her to be. She has struggles and blindspots just like you do. So let’s give her grace. Let’s expect her to be an essential member of your church body, but let’s not expect her to have the same gifts as her husband or as the previous pastor’s wife. Let’s love her and encourage her rather than suspecting her and slandering her.