While I’m on vacation over the next week or so, I’m taking a break from preparing Check outs and writing a daily post. Instead, I’ll be posting “The Best of HeadHeartHand,” a series of indexes to past blog posts under a number of headings including Counseling, Leadership, Preaching, etc. This week’s posts included 140 articles on the Christian Life, 100 articles of Cultural Commentary, and 100+ articles on Preaching. Today it’s 250+ posts on Ministry and Leadership. Some of the older posts’ formatting may be a bit off, the result of transferring from blogging at Posterous to using WordPress a couple of years ago.
- Marital Problems
- Sexual Problems (infidelity, porn, etc.)
- Conflict (family or ministry).
The prime causes of these are:
- Unrealistic Expectations
- Poor Boundaries.
Phil wisely calls for deeper layers of these causes to be probed before listing Mark McMinn’s stress-prevention measures:
- Personal devotion to Christ (outside of sermon prep)
- Regular time away
- A good marriage.
And he closes with the $64,000 question. But you’ll have to read his post to find out what that is!
In fact you’d do well to add his blog to your RSS list.
Here are links to the audio for the following lectures in “The Minister & His Ministry” Course.
Links to previous lectures on the Pastors Preparation, Qualifications, and Call can be found here.
Prevention is better than cure, especially in the sphere of church discipline. As discipline cases can very easily consume a pastor’s time and energy, and even consume the pastor and his congregation, the prevention of church discipline should be a high pastoral priority.
And how do we do that?
We do it, first, by preaching, by regularly setting forth clear standards of Christian confession, character, and conduct in our regular preaching ministry. Our flock needs to know where the fences are, where the no-go areas are, and what to expect if they cross them.
Second, we prevent church discipline by pastoral visitation. We need to keep in close and regular contact with the sheep to gauge where they are in their walk with God. In those one-to-one situations we may detect small changes in belief, attitude, spirit or character that can be addressed before they become big and irreversible problems.
However, no matter how well we preach and pastor, no matter how much we try to prevent it, church discipline problems are going to arise. It’s therefore best to prepare the congregation, and especially the officebearers, before it arises.
Early in a a pastor’s ministry (not the first sermon, of course, but certainly within a few months) he should preach a sermon on church discipline, before he has to deal with any cases. That keeps the subject objective and avoids personalizing it. Points to make may include:
The necessity of church discipline
One Church order book puts it like this: “Any institution or society which is to function effectively must be well-ordered: it must have recognised means of correcting aberrations which threaten its integrity. This is true pre-eminently of the Church of Jesus Christ, whose witness in the world depends so intimately on the godly behavior of its members.”
The warrant for church discipline
This is not something thought up by legalistic control-freaks. Rather, it has divine warrant (Matthew 18:15-19). So important did the Reformers see church discipline that they included it as one of the marks of the church along with preaching and the sacraments.
The benefits of good church discipline
Listen to this comprehensive list of benefits from a Scottish book of Church order: “Church discipline and censures are of great use and necessity in the Church, that the name of God, by reason of ungodly and wicked persons living in the Church, be not blasphemed, nor his wrath provoked against his people; that the godly be not leavened with but preserved from the contagion, and stricken with fear; and that sinners who are to be censured may be ashamed, to the destruction of the flesh and saving of the spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
The procedure for church discipline
The roolz! Don’t we just love ‘em!! Well, whether we love them or not we’d better get to know them, and get to know them fast. I know it is far more edifying and enjoyable to read the latest books from Reformation Heritage Books, but knowing the intricacies of the church’s discipline procedures could save a pastor’s ministry, and even save a soul.
As so many of the problems associated with church discipline arise from a lack of procedure, a failure to follow it, or an abuse of it, we must familiarize ourselves with the principles and the practice. If your church does not have any formal procedures, then find one that does, get their protocols, and copy or adapt their methods. Train the elders in this and also communicate to the congregation what they can expect, so that they are not taken by surprise or think that they are being unfairly treated.
Whatever we do, we must not abuse, shortcut or override the stated procedures, however tempted we are to do so. When some people are accused of sins, they train their sights on the procedures rather than their sin, and can easily turn the focus away from themselves, away from what they have done, and to what we have done or not done in the process.
The consequences of failed church discipline
If church discipline is not practiced, or if it is inconsistently or poorly practised, it can destroy a ministry, a congregation, or even a denomination. Paul says that failure to discipline can result in congregational sickness and even death (1 Corinthians 11:29-32). Jesus warns the church in Thyatira that his frown is upon them because of their failure to discipline a false teacher in their midst (Rev. 2:20-23).
The positive aim of church discipline
The ultimate aim of church discipline is not punishment but restoration (Gal. 6:1). Robert Murray McCheyne describes how he came to see the value of church discipline despite his initial reluctance to practice it.
When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline. I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach. I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labor in word and doctrine. When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence. It was a duty I shrank from; and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether. But it pleased God, who teaches His servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God – that two keys are committed to us by Christ: the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible; the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith. Both are Christ’s gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.
Having prepared for Church discipline, we must also practice it, and we’ll look at that tomorrow.
OK, sorry Calum Angus, the sheep got a bit of a hard time yesterday. To make you feel better here’s one on the shepherd, and I’ve modeled it on you!
1. The shepherd is patient with his sheep
The shepherds and crofters in my congregation would sometimes encourage me to get some sheep. Even my wife, who is from the Scottish Highlands, suggested it at times. However, as a city-boy, I knew that I simply did not have the patience required.
I have to be honest, despite years of looking at sheep, they still all look the same to me. Yet, I could walk through a field with a shepherd and he would know the names and even the characters of each one. He would know their ewe, their ram, and their lambs. He knew the scrapes they had been in and the number of times he had to rescue them. While the pastor should study and know the nature of sheep in general, he should study and know his own sheep in particular. The first priority in going to a new congregation should be to get to know everyone’s names – from oldest to youngest – as quickly as possible. Then work at knowing their characters, personalities, gifts, struggles, etc. 3. The shepherd values his sheep
I’ve often been amazed at the misty and dreamy expressions that come across shepherds’ faces as they talk about their sheep or point them out. They seem to say, “They may be only sheep, but they are my sheep.” They care for them and think about them constantly. One shepherd who moved to the city for a while told me that he once woke up in the night with a dream about one of his sheep. He phoned his mother to check up on it, and sure enough, the sheep was in need of medical attention. Explain that! The pastor should value each and every sheep as highly as possible – whatever their physical, spiritual or financial health! Statistics mean little to the pastor. 99 may be doing well, but if one is missing, he will move heaven and earth to find it. When I first moved to the Scottish Highlands, in the course of pastoral visitation, I used to innocently ask, “So how many sheep do you have?” I could never figure out why the answers were so vague until my Scottish Highland wife told me, “David! That’s like asking how much money do you have in the bank!” I stopped asking. So why do we always ask pastors, “How many are in your congregation?” Like the shepherd, the pastor values each sheep as of infinite worth. So whether he has 10 or 1000, the value is the same – infinite! 4. The shepherd loves his sheep
The shepherd does not just value his sheep as if they were units of economic production (in fact most Scottish shepherds I know made a financial loss on most of their sheep). He loves them; and not just as a collective, but as individuals. He does not just have loving feelings but takes loving actions. The pastor will find it easy to love some of his sheep. But there are others… Pray over the particularly unloveable ones. Ask God to help you find something to love in them, or to help you love them even if there is nothing loveable about them – after all that’s what the Great and Good Shepherd does daily for you!
5. The shepherd observes his sheep
No matter what day I looked out at the sheep they all looked the same and all did the same. However a shepherd can detect the smallest difference. He can sense problems long before they fully develop. He sees a sheep in an unusual spot in the field. He sees a change in its posture or eating habits. And he takes action.
The good pastor will develop these powers of acute and careful observation as well. He will develop an instinct for problems in his sheep’s lives. He senses a different expression on the face, a different posture in worship, a change in vocal tone, and he may not be able to put his finger upon it, but he sense something is wrong. And often a few wise questions reveal well-founded fears. 6. The shepherd feeds his sheep
Hungry sheep are unhappy sheep…and noisy sheep. The shepherd knows the best fields to take his sheep at different times of the year. He knows when they need particular kinds of grass. He knows when water is needed to refresh and reinvigorate his flock. The Apostle Peter had a passion for feeding the flock of God, and we know where he got that from (John 21:15-22; 1 Pet. 5:2). When I started out in the ministry, one senior minister told me, “If you keep their bellies full, you won’t hear any bleating.” It takes a wise Shepherd to know what kind and amounts of food each sheep needs. May God help us to feed the right kinds of food, in the right amounts, at the right times. And may he help us not to starve or over-feed our sheep, nor give them indigestion! 7. The shepherd leads his sheep
In Western cultures, the shepherd follows behind the sheep, and directs the sheep with dogs. But in the East it was the custom for shepherds to go before the sheep, to break up the way, to clear paths of danger, to take the safest path. He leads them beside the still waters, in straight paths, through the darkest valley. Too many Western pastors have embraced the Western model of Shepherding when it comes to leadership. They follow the sheep rather than lead them. The pastor should be out in front of his sheep in his theological knowledge, in his spiritual experience, in his awareness of danger, in his plotting of the course, etc. 8. The shepherd speaks well of his sheep
In Scotland I eventually learned not to criticize or mock sheep in front of their shepherd; it was a rather sensitive topic! And I also learned to listen to wonderful long descriptions about individual sheep, as the shepherd brought out the strengths of each member of his flock. The pastor should make it a policy to speak well of his congregation as a whole and of its individual members. If someone criticizes one of his sheep, he leaps to his/her defense and brings out the good. When he travels to other places and is asked about his sheep, he replies with words of affection and appreciation. And not just because words of criticism will almost always get back to the sheep. 9. The shepherd pursues his sheep
When a sheep is missing or straying, the shepherd does not say, “O well, I’ve got 99 left.” No, he seeks until he finds it (Lk. 15:3ff). No matter how far away, no matter how foolish the sheep has been, no matter how frequent his straying, the shepherd goes after it. When a person is missing from public worship, the pastor inquires after him or her. When a person is missing a few weeks in a row, the pastor is getting ready to leave the 99 and go after the straying soul. When the pastor hears that a member has been involved in a heated public argument, or has started dating a non-Christian, or has been saying inappropriate things on Facebook, etc, his cloak is on, his staff is on his hand, and he’s on his way to recover the stray. My brother-in-law once so spent himself hunting for three lost sheep (the woolly kind) that he just about died with exhaustion! He would not give up, and neither should the pastor. 10. The shepherd rests his sheep
In Scotland, just before the winter started, the shepherds would go out into the moors and mountains to gather their flocks that had been enjoying the summer pastures. Sometimes it would take a few days to drive them to their winter shelter. But he never chased them or pushed them beyond their limits. He knew when they needed a rest and a breather. There are times in congregational life when the pastor must pressure the sheep to move on. Maybe, there is a building program to be undertaken, or an outreach campaign that needs all hands on deck. However, the wise shepherd knows when he has driven the sheep far enough and long enough. He knows there are seasons of rest and refreshment needed as well. 11. The shepherd perseveres with his sheep
There are days when the shepherd feels exhausted, discouraged, frustrated and unappreciated. He is tempted to give up. “Why do I get up every day and give myself to such ungrateful creatures?” However, the good shepherd patiently perseveres. This is not to say that the spiritual shepherd never leaves a flock and moves on to take care of another. It is simply to say that he does not do so when the first problems appear. And when he does sense the Great Shepherd’s call to move on, he may leave the sheep, but the sheep never leave his heart. O that the Lord would make us and give us such shepherds today, according to His promise: “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15).
Throughout Scripture, sinners in general, and God’s people in particular, are described as sheep. And those God sends to lead them are equally frequently called shepherds. Today we will look at the character of the sheep, and tomorrow at the character of the shepherd. We start with the sheep because the key to leading as a shepherd is in understanding the nature of sheep.I pastored for 12 years in the Scottish Highlands. During that time, I was surrounded by sheep: sheep on the roads, sheep on the mountains, sheep on the beeches, sheep in my yard. O, yes, and sometimes sheep in the shepherds’ fields. My study on the Isle of Lewis was 12 inches away from a field full of sheep. Sometimes at night I would look up from my computer and see many pairs of luminous green eyes staring at me through my window! I got to know sheep pretty well. What did I learn?
1. Sheep are foolish
I don’t know what sheep would score in an animal IQ, but I think they would be close to the bottom of the scale. They seem to only know how to do one thing well – eat grass (and produce more grass-eating sheep).
It’s possible to know little, yet not be foolish; but not if you are a sheep. They are so irrational. You watch them as they pause in front of a stream. They know they can’t jump it or swim it. So what do they do? They jump in anyway!2. Sheep are slow to learn
Every shepherd will tell you countless stories about how sheep can be taught a very painful lesson, and yet fail to learn the painful lesson. A sheep may get caught in barbed wire trying to break through a fence. And the next day it will try it again, and again,… 3. Sheep are unattractive
Some animals may not be very bright, but make up for it with grace and elegance in their movement and actions. But sheep are so awkward, so lacking in agility and dignity. Although some shepherds may tell you differently, to most outside observers sheep are dirty, smelly, and ugly. 4. Sheep are demanding
Ever watch a lamb suckle its mother? Almost as soon as it is born, it is violently sucking its mother’s udders. And that insatiable demand never leaves them. They demand grass, grass, and more grass; day after day, and night after night. (Do they ever sleep?) And when snow is on the ground, they aggressively demand food from the shepherd. Just listen to them bleat if their troughs are empty even for a short time. And watch the life-or-death stampede when the shepherd appears. 5. Sheep are stubborn
Have you ever tried to move a sheep? It’s like trying to move an elephant. Ever watched a shepherd try to manoeuvre a sheep into a fold or a dip-tank. It’s like trying to wrestle with a devil. Half a dozen sheep invaded my garden once. I thought it would be easy to hustle them out the wide gate again. But it was as if an electric shield (visible only to sheep) stretched across the gap. I could get them to go anywhere and everywhere, but through that gate. 6. Sheep are strong
I’ve watched the most macho of men beaten by sheep. You look at their skinny “arms” and “legs” and think “easy.” Next thing you are flat on your back or face down in the dirt. I’ve been flattened by running sheep. It was like getting run over by a tank. 7. Sheep are straying
Perhaps the main reason Scripture chooses sheep to characterize us, more than any other animal, is because of its well-deserved reputation for straying (Isa. 53:6) and getting lost (Lk. 15:3ff). So many times I was out in the middle of nowhere when I would come across a sheep – miles from anyone and anything – and totally unconcerned. I would look up on a cliff and there was a sheep out on a lethal ledge. Other times, when fishing miles from anywhere, I would come across ditches and bogs with the decaying remains of a wandering sheep, and I’d think, “How did that get out here?” 8. Sheep are unpredictable
If you travel along the roads of the Scottish Highlands you will soon learn to expect the unexpected. You look ahead on a quiet piece of long straight road with no cars. You spy sheep in the distance on the side of the road. They watch you driving along towards them. Hundreds of yards pass. You are almost level. Well, they aren’t going to cross the road now, are they? Screeeeeech! Well, what do you know! 9. Sheep are copycats
OK, bit of a mix of metaphors here, but I think you get my point. When one sheep decides to start running, they all decide to start running. If you were able to ask one, “Why did you start running?” it would say, “Well, because he started running.” The next would say the same. And the next one. And when you got to the last sheep he would just say, “I dunno.” 10. Sheep are restless
It always puzzled me how little sheep slept. I would be in my study at midnight, look out, and there they were still eating grass. And no matter what time I arose in the morning – 3am or 5am – they would still be eating grass. Other times, there would be a beautiful summer evening when everything was still and quiet and you would come across a field full of sprinting sheep (usually due to the Scottish midges – look it up on Google). I once heard that for sheep to lie down they need freedom from fear, freedom from friction with others, freedom from hunger, and freedom from pests and parasites. From what I’ve seen, that combination is very rare. 11. Sheep are dependent
Some animals can cope and thrive without any close supervision. Not sheep. They are very dependent on their shepherd. They cannot live without him (or her). 12. Sheep are the same everywhere
I’ve been in a number of different countries in my life and enjoyed the many cultural differences. But sheep are the one constant – in character if not in looks. The American sheep is the same as the African sheep (see 1-11 above), which is the same as the Asian sheep, which is the same as… The shepherd is a sheep
Well, of course, this is not a zoology lecture, nor an agricultural seminar. The sheep metaphor reveals the nature of the sinner, even the saved sinner, and hence the difficulty of the task facing the shepherd. And the greatest difficulty of all stems from the fact that the shepherd is also a sheep! It might be easy for pastors to read this post and say, “Hey that sounds like my congregation!” But it also sounds uncomfortably too much like you (and me) as well doesn’t it! So how does a sheep-like-shepherd shepherd sheep? That’s one for tomorrow.
Some pastors, especially young pastors, can be impatient for larger congregations and more public prominence. Sometimes that can be a holy impatience – a desire for greater usefulness, a passion to serve more needy sinners, a longing to develop gifts, etc. Sometimes it’s just naked vanity. However, whatever the motive, God usually keeps us waiting longer than we think necessary. Why? Perhaps He wants us marinated rather than microwaved.
In Obama, Palin met fame before they could grow, Noemie Emery traces the present frustrations and failures of President Obama and Sarah Palin to their over-rapid rise to public prominence.
Two years ago, two superstars lit up a dazzled political universe — young, stunning, lissome, and bursting with talent — and were propelled ahead of their time into prominence, after a minimal time on the national scene.
Two years later, it seems as if this has done them no favors: President Obama is widely seen as “overwhelmed” by his office, and Sarah Palin is meeting resistance establishing her credentials as a possible candidate against rivals with rather more seasoning.
Noemie argues that both would have been more useful and successful if, like Presidents John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, they had marinated longer in semi-obscurity before being thrust into the spotlight.
No one was scanning their words for inadvertent misstatements, or wholly involved in their glory or failure. Like wine, they matured in the dark, over time. Obama and Palin needed the six years or so of semi-obscurity they were about to embark on before ambition — and John McCain — intervened. Instead, their growth was checked at a critical moment, and, as it seems now, won’t be resumed quickly — not in the presidency as Obama is learning, or in a media frenzy, as Palin has found.
It turns out that eight or so years in this sort of semi-obscurity — working away in the state house or Senate, one of a number of solons and governors, growing into and grounding one’s natural talents — is what a good president needs.
They are famous for life; they will always have money; what they can never have back are the years washed out by destructive celebrity. “She’s been microwaved, she needs now to marinate,” somebody once said of Palin. But the time for slow-cooking is gone.
So, next time you long impatiently for a larger ministry, or look jealously at more prominent preachers, thank God that He’s marinating you in the slow-cooker, rather than letting you be frazzled in the microwave.
If you were watching a 30-second basketball video and a gorilla appeared on screen for nine seconds, you’d see it, right? Especially if it thumped its chest right in front of the camera! You couldn’t miss it, could you?Well, Harvard University researchers conducted this experiment and found that 50% of viewers were so focused on the basketball that they missed the gorilla! (Try the video on a few people). Conclusions: (1) We miss a lot of what goes on around us, and (2) we have no idea that we are missing so much. In pastoral ministry it’s easy to miss the gorilla. We get so focused on our weekly sermons and our weekly pastoral visitation schedule that large chest-thumping gorillas become invisible to us – until they devour us! There have certainly been times in my ministry when I’ve had such tunnel vision that I disregarded clear warning signs about impending problems in people’s relationships and situations. And it’s frighteningly easy to see when I re-run the “video.” So how do we avoid missing the gorillas? 1. However busy and focused on weekly tasks, keep an eye and ear open for anomalies, inconsistencies, and the unusual among your flock. 2. Enlist the help of your elders. If 50% of people miss the gorilla, we greatly enhance our chances of seeing if we double the number of watching eyes. Ask your elders to share their concerns, their instincts, their “feelings” about possible warning signs. 3. Especially trust your wife’s intuition. Research has shown that women were not only more likely to see the unexpected but to investigate it. “Men are much more likely to assume they knew the reason for the unexpected result, and proceed without more analysis.” If your wife has a “hunch” about someone or some relationship it’s worth making some discrete inquiries. 4. Learn from our missed gorillas. Let’s pray that the Lord would open our eyes, make us more sensitive, and increase our pastoral awareness. Let’s not become like some in the experiment who could not be convinced that they were so blind! Even when they were shown the video again, they accused the researchers of switching the tape when they were not looking! There aren’t pastors like that, are there?
Colin Hansen recommends very conscious and deliberate steps to ensure successful transition from one pastor to another. I know where Colin is coming from and sympathize with the motives and aims, of course…but I’m not convinced.
Tim Challies on how to (and how not to) use Facebook for ministry.
Timing Pastoral Visits
Brian Croft on when to vist and how long to stay.
Here’s another great post by Brian Croft on how to time pastoral visits.The only thing I would emphasize is that although most illnesses are not as life-threatening today as they once were, I recommend that you always speak to a member of the family directly to find out how sick someone is. If you just rely on an elder’s or deacon’s report, the urgency of the situation may not be communicated, and then you get a call a day or two later telling you that the person has died. Not a happy phone call to take. And not a happy visit to make next. As Croft sums it up: ” In summary, always error on the shorter time…both in how long you stay and how long you wait to go.”
A few weeks ago, in response to a question, I posted a rough outline of a “normal” week of pastoral ministry. Since then I’ve been asked a few times to describe a “normal” pastoral visit. So, with apologies for the delay, and with the usual caveat that what’s “normal” for me may not be “normal” for you, here’s my answer.First, I prepare for visitation with prayer. I take a few minutes or so to pray for the family I am about to visit. During that time I make sure I know the names of both the adults and the children, I remind myself of what each is doing in their lives, and I make a mental note of any special needs or concerns that we had previously talked about. Second, for the first 15 minutes or so of the visit, I try to chat to the family about what’s going on in their lives: how’s the job, the kids, school, etc. If there was some important local or national issue we might talk about that as well. Obviously, this sometimes stretches quite a bit beyond 15 minutes. And sometimes it is difficult to change the topic to something more “spiritual.” However, I like to “break the ice” in this way. I know some pastors disagree with this kind of approach, preferring to get straight to the “spiritual” by starting with Bible reading and prayer. In some of the Dutch Reformed churches, the people have been trained to expect that from their pastors, and that’s great. However, probably for most of us, getting people to talk about their souls is not an easy matter, and it is best to “warm” the conversation up a bit first. I don’t think this is pragmatic or manipulative. As a pastor, I am interested in the spiritual welfare of my flock above everything else; but I am also interested in every area of their lives. I enjoy hearing about their vacations, their jobs, their schools, their friends, etc. I enjoy seeing and savoring the different personalities and characters. Often, issues arise in these conversations which we could never have predicted, taking us into the Scriptures in a very natural way (I’m always looking for opportunities to relate God’s Word to the person’s world). Usually it just helps everyone to relax a bit and makes it easier to move into more directly “spiritual” issues. I agree with the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Sometimes I find it helpful to share a bit from my own life and family. I try to show that I have a normal family life with all its joys, worries, and sorrows. Obviously you have to be careful here. You don’t want to “let it all hang out,” and you don’t want to spend too much time talking about yourself. However, some people find it easier to open up if the pastor himself is prepared to do so. Third, the main aim of a pastoral visit is to have a conversation about spiritual matters. Sometimes that’s very easy, as mature Christians especially will be used to pastoral visits and will probably have some spiritual questions to ask, or some spiritual topics they want to talk about. But, for the sake of this post, let’s assume that you are visiting people who are not used to spiritual conversation. How do you guide the conversation to produce a profitable discussion? Until now, I’ve never sat down and thought about what questions I ask people. But I’ve tried below to list some questions that have been helpful. It’s important to ask these questions in a friendly and natural way, rather than in an accusatory or “clipboard” way. Sometimes I find it easier to direct some of these questions to the children initially, as they often talk much more freely about spiritual matters.
- Is there anything you would like me to pray for?
- What have you been reading in your Bible? Anything that’s helped you or puzzled you?
- What do you find difficult about reading the Bible?
- What do you feel burdened about in prayer?
- Is there anything you would like to hear a sermon on? Any verses you would like explained?
- Are there any sermons that you’ve found helpful… confusing… challenging?
- What did you think about the sermon on…?
- Would you say you are going forward spiritually, or backwards?
- Are you reading any good Christian books? Is there anything you want to share from it?
- Have you found any verses that are helping you to live life and prepare for eternity?
- What gifts do you think the Lord has given you? Do you feel the church is making most use of your gifts?
- How would you describe yourself: Unsaved, saved and sure of it, or not sure?
- Do you think much about death and life after death? Do you feel prepared for that? How are you preparing?
- What is your hope of heaven? What reason will you give for being admitted there?
- What do you think of Jesus Christ?
- What would you most like to change in your life?
- What is your greatest fear?
- Are you facing any difficult challenges?
- Is there any one thing that stops you from following Christ?
- Children, what have you been learning in Sunday School?
- Do you have any questions for me?
Maybe only one question will be required to start a profitable conversation. The ultimate aim is to find out where people are spiritually, and how you can help them either to be saved, to be sanctified, or to be of more service to the church.Fourth, finishing the visit can sometimes be difficult, especially with older and lonely people who have lots of time on their hands. You need to keep good track of the time (with unnoticed glances at a watch or clock), especially if you have another visit arranged. I usually let people know when I arrive that I have to be somewhere else at a certain time. That helps to focus the visit a bit, and also avoids people thinking you are bored with them, when you eventually have to draw the visit to a close. You can always arrange to return, if necessary. And even if you don’t have anywhere else to go, don’t overstay your welcome. If you start to detect cues that it’s time for you to go (people obviously looking at watches, some members of the family disappearing, longer silences, etc), then go! But not without prayer and reading of the Bible. During the course of the conversation you should be making mental notes of matters for prayer. And in the concluding prayer, try to gather up these various pieces of information and pray about each of them – even trivial matters raised by young children. Also, try to pick a relevant chapter of Scripture to read, a chapter that speaks to their needs. Try to show how prayer and Bible reading should impact ordinary life. Maybe ask the children questions about the passage? Fifth, pray about the visit in the car on the way home or when you get home. Maybe take notes about anything you should follow up on with a note in your diary to phone again in a few weeks. Also, maybe think about how a sermon might be able to help that family. Finally, I don’t know any pastor who thinks he’s a great pastor. Most of us are very well aware of our shortcomings, our failings, and especially our fear of man which shuts our mouths. So, end every pastoral visit by returning to the Great Shepherd of the sheep to seek His free and full forgiveness.
“Where are his feelings?” is the present media echo.First there was President Reagan’s former speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, previously sympathetic to President Obama:
The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen.
Then prominent Obama supporter Maureen Dowd turned up the volume with Once more, with feeling:
President Spock’s behavior is illogical. Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it…
Instead of getting Bill Clinton to offer Joe Sestak a job, Obama should be offering Clinton one. Bill would certainly know how to gush at a gusher gone haywire. Let him resume a cameo role as Feeler in Chief. The post is open.
James Carville’s rage about the President’s lack of response to the oil spill provoked this analysis from Ruben Navarette:
Americans don’t want a president with ice water in his veins. Whenever there is a disaster, whether natural or man-made, they want a leader who takes decisive action and speeds up the recovery. But they also want someone with passion who sees an injustice and the suffering it caused and reacts with a range of emotions — including, when appropriate, rage.
In some ways you cannot but feel sorry for President Obama. Being President can be a thankless task. Journalists previously criticized both President Clinton and President Bush for lacking control of their feelings (though in different ways!). President Obama was going to be different, they told us. He was going to be calm, rational, thoughtful, and reasonable. And now when he is calm, rational, thoughtful, and reasonable…we want more FEELING! Public opinion can be so fickle, as Jesus Himself noted when comparing the people’s critical response to both “detached” John the Baptist and His own “over-involvement” with sinners (Matt. 11:16-19).However, the current criticism of President Obama does remind pastors of the huge importance of of empathy in human relationships. The most “successful” pastors I’ve come across have been those who were able to weep with those who weep (and rejoice with those who rejoice). In times of crisis and catastrophe, often the best thing we can do is let a (real) tear roll down our cheeks. That micro-ounce of salty water can comfort people in a way that no amount of words can. And, of course, that tear, that empathy, also creates a context in which our words (God’s Word) will be heard better. One of the reasons why we listen so carefully to Jesus’ words is because He is “acquainted with our grief” and “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” He truly is “Feeler in Chief.” And His under-shepherds should reflect this as they help His suffering sheep. Instead of “having ice water in our veins” we have Christ’s Spirit in our hearts. That, surely, must produce passionate, involved, emotional, and sympathetic pastors.
How can “ordinary” pastors compete with the vast range of well-known and greatly gifted preachers who are just one mouse-click away from everyone in their congregation? I know this is a sore point for many discouraged pastors. They visit their flock and all they hear are comments about the latest Internet sermon by Pastor Faimus and Dr Bigname. The only sermons that people seem to get excited about are ones preached hundreds of miles away!However, I want to remind pastors of a huge advantage they have over the “popular” preachers of our own day. That advantage is, simply, personal relationship. I was reminded of this recently when I was asked which preachers I would choose to sit under for a year of teaching. As I reflected on this question, I realized that the men I would chose are the men I know best, both in Scotland and in Grand Rapids. They include Angus Smith, Allan Murray, Foppe VanderZwaag, Joel Beeke, Maarten Kuivenhoven, William Macleod, and Kenny Macdonald. Apart from one of them, you’ve probably never heard their names, have you? Of course, I deeply appreciate and frequently benefit from the sermons of the well-known preachers of our day. But I don’t know them and they don’t know me. I don’t know their lives and characters, and they have no involvement in my life. We have no relationship. That significantly limits the long-term spiritual impact of their sermons. But when I have a relationship with a preacher; when I know him and he knows me; when we have wept together and rejoiced together; when I know he loves me and prays for me, then there is an added dimension to his words. They may not be as impressive words, or as well-organized words, or as well-said words. But they are empathetic words, and so they are powerful words. A recent study of the “placebo effect” by Harvard Medical School’s Ted Kaptchuk has demonstrated the power of empathetic doctor-patient relationships in medicine. 62% of patients receiving an intentionally fake treatment from friendly, empathetic doctors reported relief from their irritable bowel syndrome, compared with 44% of a group that got the same fake treatment from impersonal, businesslike doctors. “It’s amazing,” said Kaptchuk, “Connecting with the patient, rapport, empathy . . . that few extra minutes is not just icing on the cake. It has biology.” Researchers say it’s unclear whether the health care system can harness the biological power of physician empathy. But preachers can harness the spiritual power of pastoral empathy. Maybe, instead of spending a further ten hours on perfecting your blockbuster sermon, you should spend ten hours visiting your flock. That could give your sermons new power in your hearer’s lives. And remember, though we are blessed to live in a time with wonderful conferences and 24/7 Internet sermons, God primarily saves and sanctifies sinners through long-term pastoral relationships in the local church. And let’s encourage our pastors. Let’s tell them that we deeply appreciate their transparent integrity, their sincere empathy, and their sacrificial investment in our lives. Let’s value and cultivate our relationships with them. And let’s tell them how much we’ve enjoyed their sermons rather than everyone else’s!
What would you say to a church where two of its most promising young “Christians” had not only left the faith but had turned against it with mockery and hostility? That’s the very real scenario I was asked to address recently at a small gathering of pastors and elders. It is undoubtedly one of the most agonizing and disturbing experiences in the Christian life when a dear friend or family member, abandons his/her profession of faith. I’ve known this very personally and painfully, both among my relations and in my pastoral ministry.I was asked to give some guidance to these pastors and elders on how to deal with such situations in their own congregations. I assumed that every attempt had been made to recover the lost “sheep,” and that the members had been excommunicated. So my advice was really limited to how to minister to the hurting and puzzled sheep who remain. Leaning heavily on John Owen’s epic work on apostasy, I suggested a series of sermons on the following themes (the same subjects should also be emphasized in pastoral visitation). 1. The perseverance of the saints
Some Christians will be shaken by the apostasy of another professing Christian. “If he can fall then what hope is there for me?” So, preach God’s great promises of eternal security to His true people (John 6:39, 40; 10:28, 29). 2. Apostasy is to be expected
This should really be preached before apostasy occurs, to prevent people being taken by surprise when it does happen. The whole Old Testament is a story of Israel’s apostasy. In the New Testament, we have individual apostates such as Judas and Demas. Some in Corinth denied the resurrection, and some in Galatia went back to the law as a way of salvation. No wonder the Apostles urged the churches to expect apostasy (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Cor. 11:19; 1 Tim. 4:1; 5:8; Jude; 1 John 2:19). 3. The danger areas of apostasy
John Owen highlighted three areas in which apostasy usually begins: doctrine, lifestyle, and worship. Owen traced doctrinal apostasy to a lack of Christian experience. He said that when someone has no experience of personal need, no sense of God’s righteousness, no spiritual sight of Christ’s glory, no submission to the sovereignty of God, and no trembling at God’s Word, then doctrinal apostasy is just around the corner. Owen actually regarded an unholy lifestyle as more likely to produce apostasy than abandoning some Christian doctrines. He saw both legalism and lawlessness as leading eventually to apostasy. Owen also argued that if we neglect, refuse to observe, or add to God’s instructions for worship, apostasy will not be far behind. Pastors should highlight these three danger areas of doctrine, lifestyle, and worship, and urge watchfulness upon the flock. 4. The causes of apostasy
Owen went on to list particular causes of apostasy, so that pastors and their congregations will “watch and pray.”
- Deeply-rooted and unremoved enmity in the minds of many against spiritual things
- Pride and vanity of the mind which refuses to bow before the authority of Scripture
- Sloth and negligence
- False assurance and groundless self-confidence
- False sense of security due to neglect of the Spirit’s warnings about apostasy
- Love of the world and its passing pleasures (Demas in 2 Tim. 4:10)
- As the first “apostate” Satan draws many into apostasy and forces others to apostatize through persecution
- Persons in high positions in the church leading evil lives (Jer. 23:15; 1 Sam. 2:12-17)
- Unrepented national sins that influence the people
- Divisions in the church
- The uselessness of many Christians
5. The distinction between a stumble (Peter) and a fall (Judas)
Pastors need to skillfully distinguish between a Christian’s stumble and an apostate’s fall. Every Christian errs in doctrine, falls into sin, and offers faulty worship from time to time. That does not make them an apostate. Owen defined apostasy as “continued persistent rebellion and disobedience to God and his word,” or “total and final and public renunciation of all the chief principles and doctrines of Christianity.”
Hebrews 6 describes apostasy as “crucifying again the Son of God and putting him to an open shame.” By declaring they have tried Christ and His Gospel and found no truth or goodness in them, apostates do exactly what the Jews did. In fact, Owen says Christian apostasy is worse because the Jews did it in “ignorance.” 7. God’s judgment on apostasy
In addition to reminding the professing Christians in the congregation of how abominable apostasy is in God’s sight, they also need to be shown from Scripture the temporal, spiritual, and eternal judgments that fall on apostates. God uses His descriptions of how he abominates and judges apostasy as a means of grace to keep people from apostasy. 8. The need for perseverance
God’s great promises of the perseverance of the saints are given to those who persevere in the means of preservation that God has provided. Christians need to be reminded of the incalculable need and value of the Church, the Word, the sacraments, and fellowship. 9. How to avoid apostasy
John Owen wanted Christians to know that apostasy could be avoided by heart-cure and heart-care (Prov. 4:23). Keep the Gospel at the very center of our hearts; love its truth and experience its power there. Keep sin out of our hearts, especially the highly-dangerous sins of spiritual pride and a censorious, judgmental spirit. Conclusion
When apostasy occurs in a congregation, it is often tempting to ignore it and put up the “business as usual” sign. However, this does not address the deep needs of Christians and non-Christians who are hurt and perplexed by such events. It also misses the opportunity to prepare the church for future disappointments. So, I would encourage pastors and elders to focus on these nine themes, both in public and in private. PS. Thanks to Michael DeWalt for his ongoing work in this unpopular and much-neglected area of biblical teaching. I hope it eventually sees the light of day!
Thanks to Chris Roberts for his follow-up questions to my post on getting the right balance between preparing sermons and pastoral visitation.I think the best way I can answer is to describe a “normal” pastoral week for me. Obviously “normal” can quickly become abnormal if you have a death in your congregation. And what was “normal” for me in my situation may not suit you in your situation. In my last congregation I had about 130 homes (some families, some couples, some individuals) to visit. About 75% of them were located in the small town of Stornoway, where I also lived, with the rest scattered in very rural communities north, south, east and west of the town. The furthest home was about an hour away. While the congregation had a good mix of ages, there were probably more elderly people than a “normal” city congregation due to many island folks being drawn back there for retirement, and many students having to leave to study on the mainland. 1. My target was to visit every home in the congregation at least once a year. Allowing for vacations, special church meetings, funerals, etc, I reckoned I would have about 40 “normal” weeks in the year, which meant at least three pastoral visits a week. 2. In addition to annual pastoral visits to every home in the congregation, there were five other types of visit. a. The sick in hospital. I tried to visit both before and after operations, as well as a visit when the person returned home. I usually spent no more than 20 minutes with a sick person. b. The elderly in their own homes. I had a number of seniors who were not well enough to come out to church, but were still living in their own homes. I would try to visit them once a quarter (which was never enough!). Visiting time between 30-60 minutes. c. The elderly in nursing homes. I would also try to visit them every quarter. However, as they were surrounded by other people and tended to see more visitors, I would tend to visit the elderly in their own homes more than this group. Visiting time 30-45 minutes. d. The emergencies. “Stuff happens,” and so maybe once or twice a month I would have to make unplanned visits to homes with problems or special needs. Visiting time up to 2 hours. e. Non-church-goers. In the course of living in a small town and visiting other homes, I would often come across people who were not going to church anywhere, and so I would ask them if they wanted a pastoral visit. Maybe 25-40% said yes. Sometimes that resulted in people coming to church. Usually not. Visiting time about 1 hour. So, adding it all up, I probably did about 10-12 visits a week. 3. Every Saturday I would decide which homes to visit the following week, based on need and geographical proximity. I tried to visit homes that were close together to minimize driving time between visits. I usually arranged the day and time of the visit at church on the Sunday. 4. If a person or couple could be visited in the afternoon, that’s when I would visit. That left my evening visiting times for those who were working through the day. 5. I usually set apart Wednesday to do most of my visits. Why Wednesday? Let me set out my week to explain Monday. On Monday, after Sunday’s exertions, I was good for nothing. From the beginning of my ministry my wife “forced” me to take Mondays off with her and our family (who are home-schooled). I’m glad she did, because the Pastor needs a “sabbath” too. I think there were only two times in my ministry when I decided to work on Mondays, and by the end of the week I regretted it, as I ground to an inefficient halt (but that’s another blog post). Tuesday. Fully rested, on Tuesday I was raring to go again. However, as visiting exhausts me, and I did not want to run down my gas before the week even started, I usually did not visit on a Tuesday. Instead I worked on reading, writing, and lecture projects on Tuesday morning, catching up on administration and phone calls in the afternoon. Evening spent with my wife and family. Wednesday. After a few hours in the study, I would usually leave the house about 11am to begin my visiting. I would begin with visits to the elderly at home and in nursing homes. After lunch on the go, I would then do some hospital visits (not in the morning because nurses and doctors are usually busy with patients then). By mid-afternoon I was on to my annual pastoral visits of those who were at home in the afternoon. After returning home for a quick evening meal, I would then be out again for the first of two evening visits (usually two of the annual pastoral visits). I would schedule these for 7 pm and 8.30 pm. Initially I tried to squeeze three in, but with traveling time between visits, that meant I was sometimes in a home for less than an hour. I found 90 minute visits to be the best length of time. Any longer and conversation would become more social than pastoral. Obviously if any major issue came up, then I would promise to return. Most of my congregation knew that I was on a tight visiting schedule and so they did not really expect visits to last the whole evening. I also found that if people knew you had another visit planned, it was easier to end the visit on time. I usually returned home before 10.30pm. Thursday. I’ve worked on building sites in Eastern Europe in sub-zero temperatures, and yet I found pastoral visitation far more draining! So on Thursday I would usually take an extra hour or so in bed, before getting into the study to prepare my message for the midweek prayer meeting and Bible Study. That would take me 4-5 hours. Late afternoon I would catch up on administration, and maybe begin “looking for a text” for my two Sunday sermons. Evening at the midweek meeting, often followed by a deacons or elders meeting, or maybe a counseling visit. Friday. Day in the study preparing for Sunday sermons. Often I would have to go out late Friday afternoon to visit someone who had taken ill since Wednesday. As I had not spent an evening with my wife since Tuesday, and as Saturday and Sunday evenings were taken up with preparation and preaching, I would usually reserve Friday evening for her and my family. Saturday. Preparing for Sunday sermons. I usually tried to be finished sermon prep by late Saturday afternoon so that I could go for a long walk on the beach to loosen up study-tightened body, listen to some sermons from Sermon Audio on the texts I was going to preach on, read a bit, go over my sermon, etc. I would never visit on a Saturday unless it was a real emergency. Sunday. VERY BUSY. No visits unless ultra-emergency. All energies devoted to preaching the Word. Concluding thoughts 1. Again, please do not take me as a norm. As I look back, I think I should have visited more. On the other hand, I do feel my preaching and family life would have suffered if I had. You need to find the right balance for you and your situation. 2. I had a great team of 10 elders and 12 deacons who also visited their designated areas regularly. That took a lot of pressure off me. 3. Start as you wish to continue. Don’t start with three hour visits or people will be disappointed if you only visit for two hours the next time. Let your congregation know that they can expect at least one visit a year. My first congregation was much smaller (about 30 homes) and I tried to visit them twice a year. 4. Pray before you go, as you go, and after you go. Pray especially that the Lord would give you His loving shepherd’s heart. We do not want to be doing pastoral visits in a legalistic, Mormon-like spirit. 5. Get organized. Make sure that you keep a record of your visits so that you don’t miss anyone, and so that you can defend yourself if a forgetful elderly person says to the elders “He never visits me!” (it will happen). Also, although I started each year with the mountain of 130 homes to visit, if I was “ticking off” 3+ homes a week, I could relax knowing that I would get to the top of the hill eventually. 6. Ask parents to make sure that their children will be present for the visit. 7. A death in the congregation will throw your schedule out for week or more (I’ll return to that another time). 8. Remember your wife and family. The ministry can devour all your time…and your family. If you let it.
Picture: 2007 © Dianne Marie. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
Preaching or pastoring? That’s the choice that many pastors make at the beginning of their ministries, and also each day of their ministries. Will my life-focus, or daily-focus, be on preaching or on visiting the flock? Will I concentrate on preaching better sermons, or getting to know my sheep better?
Of course, it’s a bit of a false choice, as we pastor the flock by preaching, and our preaching is (should be) heavily influenced by our pastoral visitation. Nevertheless, I have noticed that most pastors, often sub-consciously, have answered that question one way or another. And most congregations will be able to tell you which way their pastor has answered that question: “He’s a great preacher, but we never see him,” or, “He can’t preach, but he’s a wonderful pastor.” And sometimes, especially here in the USA, the congregation will make that choice for a minister, employing him as a “Teaching Pastor,” with little or no expectation of any pastoral visitation.I realized early in my ministry that my inclination, my default, was to focus on preaching. Sometimes, in the early days, I did neglect visitation. And if I did, it always, eventually, had a negative impact on my preaching. I was greatly helped by my wife who had been raised in the home of a faithful Pastor. She knew what a Pastor’s weekly schedule should look like, with a wise balance between visiting the sheep and preparing their food. If she felt I was becoming imbalanced, she would (gently, usually) tell me. The need to find this balance has also been brought home to me in my Seminary work. With so many new courses to write, the temptation is to shut myself away every hour of the day and week to concentrate on preparing “perfect” lectures. However, does that produce well-taught students? Probably not. As this article on MIT’s Tomorrow’s Professor Blog demonstrates, “displaying a personal interest in students is not only effective as a way to encourage participation and engagement, but is necessary for real learning.” Substituting sheep for students, pastors for instructors, and church for college, note some of the other findings:
- Research in neuroscience and the physiology of learning demonstrates the strong link between emotion and cognition.
- In the absence of the strong, positive emotions engendered by caring, deep engagement, motivation, and interest, little real learning occurs.
- Research on large classes demonstrates the positive effects of personalizing the large class with respect to enhancing student attendance and motivation to learn.
- Undergraduate students repeatedly mention the importance of one-to-one interaction with instructors in supervised projects and the closer interactions with other students and instructors in small classes as important factors in their learning.
- These threads point to the importance of engagement and a sense of community as critical to college success.
Does that help you re-answer the “Preach or Pastor?” question.
The pastor’s worst enemy is pride, and it is a special danger for young pastors (1 Tim. 3:6).The Particular Causes of Pride
- Public gifts. As your gifts are exercised in public (unlike those with more private and unseen gifts and ministries), they are more likely to be recognized, admired, and praised.
- Official status. As many of God’s people respect and honor the “office” of pastor (sometimes regardless of who fills it), you may be inclined to think it is you they respect and honor.
- Man-centeredness. When people are blessed under your ministry, they will often attribute it to you rather than to God.
- Worldly ideas of leadership. You see yourself as “in charge of all these people,” rather than their servant.
- Inexperience. The Church is quite unique in how it places untested and inexperienced young men into positions of the highest responsibility without going through the “humbling school of hard knocks.” Having never been led, they sometimes do not know how to lead.
- Misunderstanding of call to the ministry. Paul did not see the pastoral ministry as a prize he had earned. For Paul, it was as much a grace, an unearned gift, as salvation (Eph. 3:8).
The Pastoral Consequences of PrideIf you fall into pride there will be serious consequences in your ministry.
- You will start depending on your gifts rather than on God.
- You will become impatient with your less gifted brethren in the ministry or eldership.
- You will become thoughtlessly insensitive to the traditions and customs of the past.
- You will resist personal criticism and mature counsel.
- You will become discouraged and discontented because “I deserve better than this crowd!”
- You will regard yourself as above the small/dirty jobs in the congregation.
- You will stop learning because you know more than everyone else anyway.
- You may fall into the “condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim.3:6).
The Personal Cure of PrideLet these two phrases be the double heartbeat of our ministries. 1. I am a sinner
- Remember what I was (think on the sins you’ve been delivered from)
- Remember what I could be now (if God had not stopped you)
- Remember what I still am (research your own heart )
- Remember what I could yet be (if God removed His restraining grace)
2. I am a servant
- A servant of God (not independent but dependent on God for commission, authority, blessing)
- A servant of God’s people (not their lord or sovereign)
- A servant of sinners (do not look down on the unsaved but get down on your knees for them)
- A servant of servants (don’t compete with other pastors but serve them)
- A servant of the Servant (who said, “I am among you as one who serves,” and, “the servant is not greater than his Master.”)
Picture: 2005 © James Hearn. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
What’s the worst day of the week for pastors? Probably Monday. For the previous seven days we’ve poured ourselves into sermon preparation, pastoral visitation, counseling, evangelism, problem solving, prayer, etc. The Sunday climax (anti-climax?) has come and gone. We may have been discouraged by low attendances, limited or negative feedback, etc. Our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual reserves are in the red. Yet we have to climb the mountain all over again. Monday “blues” can very quickly become Monday “blacks.”
However, without ignoring the real difficulties, let us also remember the joys of pastoral ministry. Here are seven I try to keep before me, especially on Monday mornings.
1. Preparing Joys
Every time I enter my study I think, “What a privilege!” Many are stuck on frustrating freeways or down dangerous mines; others are at monotonous conveyor belts or life-threatening fires; still others work in the midst of cursing and swearing. Yet, here am I looking forward to my Bible, good books, and quiet hours spent in the study of God and His grace. I never enter my study without turning to God and saying, “Thank you. I do not deserve this.”
2. Preaching Joys
Preaching can be frustrating and even frightening. But it can also be so enjoyable and even exciting. How many times we see God work as we speak His Word. We see souls being sobered, saints being encouraged, the sad being uplifted, seekers becoming finders, and sinners becoming servants. Sometimes we sense unique and (humanly) inexplicable help when expounding a difficult passage, or making a pointed application. “Where did that come from?” we sometimes wonder. It is the Lord.
3. Pastoring Joys
I love my study. Sometimes, I love it too much. Books are far less complicated than people. In my last congregation, I tried to visit every home or family once a year. That worked out about 3-4 visits a week. The sick, the elderly, and the bereaved added another 3-4 a week. Problems and counseling added maybe another 1-2 a week. So probably ten visits a week on average. That meant two afternoons and two evenings a week. If it was Florida, that would be easy. However, it was the Outer Hebrides: often raining, cold, wet and windy (and that was the summer). I have to admit, it sometimes took my wife to say, “Come on David, get out of the study and get visiting!” And though I sometimes went reluctantly, I almost always returned home encouraged and uplifted by the fellowship with God’s people, and from hearing what God was doing in their lives with His Word.
4. Provision Joys
No one enters pastoral ministry for money. In fact, there will be times when you are really tight financially, and you will wonder how you can get by. However, God will always supply your needs. He moves His people in remarkable ways to give exactly what you need. And even when you don’t “need” it, God’s people will often express their gratitude by loving gifts. How many times I came home from visiting in rural areas with fresh eggs, joints of lamb, wild salmon, etc. You can taste the love of God’s people in a special way in these special meals.
5. “Professional” Joys
No, “we are not professionals,” but we are in a profession, “a vocation based upon specialized education.” And what great colleagues we have in this vocation! Twenty years ago, I worked in the financial services industry. It was cut-throat competitive. Now it’s my joy to have godly pastors and missionaries as my colleagues and co-laborers. Since coming to the USA I’ve been privileged to attend The Gospel Coalition Conference and the Desiring God Conference for Pastors. What a contrast to the financial conferences I used to attend! Of course, there are differences and disagreements between us, but our shared love of Christ and His grace is more powerful than what divides us.
6. Personal Joys
One of the greatest joys I had as a Pastor was to hear my wife and children being prayed for at every weekly prayer meeting. And I believe that was a reflection of the private prayers of my congregation. Yes, pastors and their families are special targets for Satan, but they are also given a special place in the Church’s prayers.
Pastors have to work long hours. However, it is often forgotten how much time they have with their wives and children. To have coffee-breaks with your wife, and often three mealtimes a day with your small children, what other calling will allow you to enjoy that!
7. Perpetual Joys
Pastoral joys will last forever. Christ’s good and faithful servants will enter into the joy of their Lord (Matt. 25:21). “They that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).
Although I now teach in a Seminary, I’m thankful for the many pastoral opportunities I still have, both in the Seminary and in the congregations I serve. So, though I still have Monday morning blues, I am still privileged with pastoral joys to strengthen me. Let’s remember the joys, focus on the joys, and value the joys.
Pastoral ministry is not the only vocation which tends to be idealized by young men. In a recent post, Seth Kravitz (CEO of Insuranceagents.com) took business bloggers to task for over-romanticizing entrepreneurship. “Yes,” he says, “starting a company can be a wonderful experience. It can be empowering, life altering, etc….But what so many business bloggers forget to mention is everything else: stress, anxiety, doubt, heartbreak, sleepless nights, emotional roller coasters, destruction to relationships, lost friends, embarrassment, etc…”Kravitz lists 20 statements, and challenges would-be entrepreneurs, “How many can you answer ‘Yes’ to?” As I read them, I couldn’t help wondering what a similar list for would-be pastors would look like. Here are Kravitz’s reality-checking statements. How many of them are transferable to pastoral ministry? What would you add or take away? Which would you qualify or amend?
- I am willing to lose everything.
- I embrace failure.
- I am always willing to do tedious work.
- I can handle watching my dreams fall apart.
- Even if I am puking my guts out with the flu and my mother passed away last week, there is nothing that will keep me from being ready to work.
- My relationship/marriage is so strong, nothing work-related could ever damage it.
- My family doesn’t need an income.
- This is a connected world and I don’t need alone time. I want to be reachable 24/7 by my employees, customers, and business partners.
- I like instability and I live for uncertainty.
- I don’t need a vacation for years at a time.
- I accept that not everyone likes my ideas and that it’s quite likely that many of my ideas are garbage.
- If I go into business with friends or family, I am okay with losing that relationship forever if things end badly.
- I don’t have existing anxiety issues and I handle stress with ease.
- I am willing to fire or lay off anyone no matter what.
- I am okay with being socially cut–off and walking away from my friends when work beckons.
- I love naysayers and I won’t explode or give up when a family member, friend, customer, business associate, partner, or anyone for that matter tells me my idea, product, or service is a terrible idea, a waste of time, will never work, or that I must be a moron.
- I accept the fact that I can do everything right, can work 70 hours a week for years, can hire all the right people, can arrange amazing business deals, and still lose everything in a flash because of something out of my control.
- I accept that I may hire people that are much better at my job than I am and I will get out of their way.
- I realize and accept that I am wrong ten times more than I am right.
- I am willing to walk away if it doesn’t work out.
Picture: 2008 © Andy Dean. Image from BigStockPhoto.com