I have been revisiting some of my journal scribblings from the last four years or so and have found a variety of thoughts I had written down. Some of those scribblings had to do with little mental or spiritual stimulations that I thought I would put on this blog. This post comes about from three different entries that I have merged together. The first one was from Eugene Peterson’s very fine memoir, The Pastor and the other two were blog entries that Thom Rainer had written which dealt with pastoral ministry. Peterson’s angle was that pastors have fallen into the trap of being turned into church growth gurus and it has cost them the priority of their own spiritual life of prayer, personal Bible reading/study (you would be shocked how many pastors don’t read the Bible on a regular basis), and the practice of spiritual disciplines which include the previous two and a host of others. His fear was that pastors are being turned into executive automatons who can drive cattle about on a range but have lost the art of leading sheep through still pastures. Rainer wrote about the dilemmas pastors face in the church which contribute to great dilemmas in the soul of the pastor. The best way to describe it would be to say that the little foxes have gained an entrance and they are spoiling a harvest.
One of the most discouraging things in the world is to realize that you have a big job and very limited resources to take care of that job. That kind of mountain climbing experience can pull inspiration out of your soul very rapidly. Instead of it dribbling out of your soul like a leaking faucet it is more like someone has taken a spiritual shop-vac to every bit of the spiritual fuel that pushes you. It can be particularly escalated when you are in the effort of building a church and even more so if you are in the position of being a spiritual leader. The “building a church” has nothing to do with a physical structure but rather with the very spiritual building blocks of the people who come and go from that church. When you consider the escalating population of our nation, the wide variety of cultures that are now living in our cities, the vast moral decline, and outright spiritual ignorance of our land, you can find yourself in a place where you are totally overwhelmed. This does not even began to take into consideration the issues of attempting the task of global missions which has its own set of unique circumstances.
Thom Rainer noted that there are several challenges that pastors find themselves having to contend with in the local church setting:
Apathy and internal focus. “I have been in ministry for over twenty years, and I’ve never seen church members more apathetic and internally focused.”
Staff issues. “I inherited staff from the previous pastor. It’s not a good match, but I don’t have the credibility to do anything about it.”
Leading and keeping volunteers. “It’s a fulltime job itself.”
General time constraints. “I end every week wondering why I got so little done.”
Getting buy-in from members. “I spend half my time developing a consensus from members about decisions from the mundane to the critical.”
Generational challenges. “It seems like the older generation is determined to nix any new ideas or excitement from the younger generation.”
Finances. “You can sum up our challenge in four simple words: We need more money.”
Holding on to traditions. “I wish our members would put as much effort into reaching people for Christ as they do holding on to their traditions.”
Criticism. “Some leaders in the church have appointed themselves to be my weekly critics.”
Leadership development. “We miss too many opportunities in ministry because we don’t have enough leaders ready.”
Majoring on minors. “We spent an hour in our last business conference discussing the fonts in our bulletins.”
Lack of true friends. “One of the toughest realities for me as pastor was the awareness that I have no true friends in the church.”
All of these matters added up and soon the camel was struggling with the small straws that were being added to his load. Thom Rainer identified another list that came from personal conversations and emails from pastors and church staff and he identified some problems that came to those pastors as a result of the challenges these men had to contend with:
Criticism and conflict. I do have a few observations about this number one issue. First, it seems to be growing, and pastors seem to be experiencing greater challenges. Second, most of the issues of conflict are not doctrinal issues. Indeed, most are trivial issues. Finally, very few pastors are equipped and trained to deal with the steady stream of critics and crises.
Family problems. Many pastors struggle with expectations by church members of their spouses or children. Others struggle with finding time for their families. Many pastors’ families struggle with the “glass house” syndrome.
Stress. The pastor’s life is one of emotional highs and lows. It includes critics and adoring fans. Expectations from church members can be unreasonable. The very nature of a pastor’s call into ministry can lend itself to seemingly unending stress.
Depression. Every time I write about this topic, I hear from countless pastors and staff. Depression is pervasive in pastoral ministry. And it is often the “secret” problem.
Burnout. Local church ministry can attract two broad types of persons: the lazy and the workaholic. Accountability is often low, and it can be easy to get away with little work, or to work 70 plus hours a week. I see more of the latter than the former.
Sexual problems. These problems are most often in one of two categories: pornography or marital unfaithfulness.
Financial problems. Most of the world hears about the few pastors who make huge salaries. The reality is that the majority of pastors struggle financially.
Time management. Expectations of pastors can be unrealistic. Pastors are often expected to attend multiple meetings, to visit countless congregants, to prepare sermons with excellence, to provide ongoing strategic leadership, to conduct weddings and funerals, and to be involved in the community. Many pastors don’t know how or when to say “no.” And many are not good at delegating, or they really don’t have anyone who can handle some of their responsibilities.
When faced by these matters, far too often instead of seeking out spiritual solutions, the advice given for these men appears to be incredibly carnal. You need more education they say. You should get involved in some kind of business leadership programs. You need to get control of your schedule and you can do this by learning time management. Be an executive. . . Be an administrator. . . Be a planner. . . Be proactive. . . Read the biography of Steve Jobs. . . As I have mulled over all of the wisdom of these counselors, I wondered what might happen if we did what Daniel did. He approached Melzar and asked for the simplicity of pulse and water instead of the impressive buffet of the Babylonians. I wondered what Jesus did when it came to training the twelve. Don’t forget that even Jesus was not so “successful” because Judas would horribly betray him and when his greatest hour of need came even his inner circle weren’t there to support him.
Isn’t It Something?
That the Lord picked ordinary men to change the world.
That the Lord trained them over a period of less than thirty-six months
That the Lord spoke to them about the Scriptures.
That the Lord instructed them how to pray.
That the Lord encouraged them to forgive.
That the Lord made holiness a big deal in their personal lives.
Isn’t It Something?
That the Lord made sure they saw Him praying in places of private prayer.
That the Lord made sure they heard Him praying in public places.
That the Lord emphasized knowing His ways over the ways of the religious schools.
That the Lord called these men to conversion before involving them in ministry.
That the Lord knew the importance of personal conversion being the foundation of all spiritual ministry.
That the Lord emphasized that they would be rejected by the majority.
Isn’t It Something?
That the Lord let preached clearly the necessity of a clean inner man and not a well-dressed outer man.
That the Lord made personal holiness such a big deal.
That the Lord called common, ordinary men who had no personal talents and would have to depend on the power of the Spirit to move them forward.
That the Lord made sure they knew the importance of showing His glory instead of their fleshly accomplishments.
That the Lord taught against their self-absorption, self-centered, self-promoting pride because it would ruin them.
That the Lord nixed their out of control ambitions with a call to servanthood.
Isn’t It Something?
That the Lord demonstrated the way to handle conflict is through humility instead of force.
That the Lord let them realize that just because God was in their corner did not remove suffering and pain.
That the Lord allowed them to see that just because you may have power to destroy that you don’t always do so.
That the Lord never attempted to incite a revolt against the crooked government of the Romans.
That the Lord was motivated by compassion for the lost but not always by their material or physical needs.
That the Lord made a big deal about prayer.
Isn’t It Something?
That the Lord wanted them to love the truth.
That the Lord wanted them clothed in humility.
That the Lord enforced the connection between earthly suffering and heavenly glory.
That the Lord called them to self-denial instead of self-aggrandizement.
That the Lord wanted them to understand that an imbalance in their character would push them to religious extremes.
That the Lord demonstrated the ability to skillfully use the Scriptures to instruct and inform.
Isn’t It Something?
That the Lord was not concerned with slick marketing as much as steady commitment in the mundane.
That the Lord was not interested in professional entrepreneurs but praying preachers.
That the Lord did not fight against the outward cultural pollutants as much as he cautioned about inward spiritual poisons that would defile the soul.
That the Lord did not say that square footage, budgets, and prime real estate were the marks of success but whether or not the soul was shaped by God, Scripture, and prayer.
That the Lord did not let the spiritual defection of the masses so discourage him that he was ready to throw in the towel.
That the Lord noted they had a spiritual calling to impact souls not a religious job to track stats of success.
Isn’t It Something?
That the Lord needed deeply spiritual men not professional managers whose job it is to “run a church.”
That the Lord needed his men to be humble servants not religious rock stars.
That the Lord needed men who fled from the idea of being a celebrity.
That the Lord did not say ‘work harder and do better’ but ‘come and learn of me and take this yoke.’
That the Lord did not make worship entertainment but meant it for deep communion with the Creator.
That the Lord was repulsed with the religious manipulation of his opponents but was blessed by the simplicity of worship when a woman broke the alabaster box.
The question obviously arises now, “how do I become a real man of God?” Dear reader, the longer I serve in ministry and the more wisdom I gain from my sometimes wearying miles, I have come to understand that this calling is so simple. However in my almost fifty years of life, I have discovered that there are very, very few who have come to really rest in the simplicity of their calling. You are called to be devoted to God in prayer, in His Word, and in a deep holiness that is devoid of moralism but instead embraces the majesty of God. It is only then that you will really become truly fit for the ministry. Quit believing that ministry is shaped by American consumerism and ideals and find a place to pray, to read the Scriptures, and to serve the church you have been called to serve.