Tag Archives: Pastor

An Open Letter to an Average Disgruntled Church Member

Dear Disgruntled:

I noticed that coming to church has become something of a dying habit for you (well, to call it a habit might be stretching it a bit; habits do require some sort of consistency). From what I’ve heard, you’ve become disheartened and disillusioned with the whole church “thing.”

Is that true? If it is, my heart breaks for you. Believe me, there’s not a single church-related heartbreak or disappointment I haven’t already endured. However, there is something simple you can do to turn things around.

What you need to do is develop a Christ-like love for your brothers and sisters, then even the worst of disappointments will have a hard time turning your heart cold.

You could start by repeating the following statement over and over: “Because He first loved me… Because He first loved me…” Why? Because He first loved you (1 John 4:19)! Believe it or not, Jesus loved you long before you were loveable…long before you stopped breaking His heart on a daily basis…long before you became perfect and quit messing up.

Wait, you are perfect, aren’t you? No? Wow! And He loves you anyway?

Amazing, isn’t it?

So, if you would just try to love others the way Jesus loves you – faults and all – His Spirit would turn those tears of disappointment into healing streams of grace.

Then, if you’d keep your worship more vertically oriented and less horizontally irritated, there’d be a lot fewer things to complain about.

Loving and missing you,

An Average Pastor (without a jet) 

 

P.S. Service times haven’t changed, and no one has claimed your seat.

 

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Filed under Christian Unity, Church, grace, Struggles and Trials, worship, writing

A Pastor’s Worst Day

Every once in a while I try to share some down-to-earth insight into the pastorate, or ministry in general. Granted, my perspective is limited, being I have only pastored smaller, bi-vocational churches; therefore, I can’t speak for all my brothers who lead larger congregations (200+).

However, some things are pretty consistent with those who regularly stand behind the pulpit (or beside a table, if that’s your thing). Many of the stresses are similar, as well as the spiritual battles we must fight. Whether the battlefield be small or large, our weaponry and armor are the same (Ephesians 6:10-18), and so is our adversary (1 Peter 5:8).

Therefore, all things being equal as possible, I believe Sunday nights – not Saturday nights or Mondays – are the worst times of the week for a pastor. The following are two excellent reasons why I feel this way.

First, the pastor is his own worst critic, especially right after the sermon. After a long Sunday, he may find himself looking back and wondering things like… “Did I give it my best?” “Was I used by God?” “Did I preach in my own strength?” “Did I pray enough?” “Why did God call me?” or, “How much does a truck driver make?” 

Any pastor who cares about his preaching ministry will concern himself, to one degree or another, with the proper exposition and delivery of his sermon. But if he gets no “amen’s,” sees no conversions, rededications, or even a few approving nods, it’s not going to be long before the poor man will question his abilities, maybe even his calling. A lack of visible response can take the wind right out of a preacher’s sails.

Seriously, stop and think about it. If you were to build a small, wooden toy, you could hold it in your hands when finished, admire it, nod with approval, and say to yourself, “Good job! Well done!” Clean a dirty kitchen and how do you feel? A sense of satisfaction, correct? But when a pastor is done preaching, more often than not there is nothing tangible to show for it, especially if there is little feedback; the “well done” will have to wait till later.

So, since the “job” is never done, and much of the fruit of a man’s labor won’t be recognized until eternity, it’s easy to be critical of one’s self. Sunday nights are when we can be the most critical.

Secondly, a pastor expends a lot of mental and spiritual energy over the weekend, especially if he works another job during the week and preaches more than one sermon on Sunday. Believe it or not, some pastors (especially bi-vocational ones like myself) never – yes, I said “never” – get a day off. By the time Sunday night rolls around, you’re looking at a physically and spiritually drained individual, and Satan knows it.

Therefore, because our enemy is not stupid, he knows the best time to attack us, and that’s when we are tired and vulnerable. He is far less likely to defeat a man of God while he’s charging into battle or waging a righteous war against the forces of darkness; it’s when he’s coming down from a spiritual high, or when he’s depressed and down over a perceived failure behind the pulpit, that the preacher’s at risk. No, our Enemy is sneaky and stealthy; he lurks in the shadows, waiting for just the right moment when our guard is down and our frailties are exposed.

So why do I share this? Not for your sympathy or pity, that’s for sure. As the lyrics of a song go, “It’s a battlefield, brother, not a recreation room…It’s a fight and not a game,” so I am well aware of what I’ve gotten myself into (or, rather, what I’ve been called to do). The reason I share this is to encourage you to pray for your pastor…especially when the church services are over…when he’s tired…when the Enemy is most lethal.

Don’t wait until Sunday morning to pray for your pastor and his family.

Don’t wait until Saturday night to say a quick prayer that he’ll do “a good job” the next morning.

Start right now! Pray! Interceed for your spiritual leaders, for they watch for your souls and must give an account (Hebrews 13:17). Their challenges are unique, and the consequences of failure can be far-reaching and eternally catastrophic.

Brethren, pray for us. – 1 Thessalonians 5:25 

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Filed under Church, Depression, General Observations, ministry, Preaching

No Home Down Here

It is just after midnight on Monday morning. I’m in bed, ready to go to sleep, but something is keeping me awake a little longer, and it’s the sting of something my youngest daughter said.

Haley said, “I don’t want to live in another house…I want a home.”

You see, she had come home from an over-nighter with some friends, and it was their house that got her attention. She noted the artistic way the place was decorated; the years of family photos that graced the walls; even a special area where one daughter’s paintings hung for all to see.

We live in a parsonage, the second one in ten years. The last place we lived was only a temporary stop until this parsonage was livable. All other places we’ve lived during her first 7 years of life were rentals.

The fact is, sadly, we live in a house, but we don’t have a home. My 17 year-old daughter has never lived in a place where family would always be, put down roots, and call it our own. We are nothing more than transients.

That’s the life of a bi-vocational pastor and his family, just trusting the Lord to keep a roof over our heads till we are asked to leave or God opens a door. Not very glamorous, for sure.

But, to be honest, there’s a lesson that’s not been lost on me during all this. Simply put, nothing on this earth will last forever, not even the deed to a home. No matter who we are, we’re all pilgrims in this world. As a matter of fact, living in a borrowed place down here just reminds me of how this world is not my home, I’m only passing through.

No, I don’t own a home down here, but at least I know where my real home is. One day I’ll go there, and you’re all invited. I bet my daughter will even be impressed with the way the Builder decorated it.

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Filed under Life Lessons, ministry, Relationships and Family, Struggles and Trials

Thinking Out of the Box? Or Out of My Mind?

The Facts

It should be common knowledge for most of you, at least those of you who regularly read my blog – because you are the more intelligent of all readers – that not all pastors are “fully funded.” In other words, over half of church pastors are what we call bi-vocational (i.e., they work at least a second job).

Well, it might come as a surprise to learn that many pastors, such as myself, receive no compensation from a denomination, either. At best, most bi-vocational pastors receive a small or modest salary and possibly an expense account, even more rare a parsonage (house). In other words, we are not getting wealthy from what we are called to do.

You see, the fact is that mega-churches make up only a small percentage of all churches. The vast majority of congregations in America have regular attendances of less than 400, and a good 30+% have less than 100 regular members. Why, then, would one choose to enter the ministry (accept the call), spend tens of thousands of dollars on years of education (4-10), only to expect a career that pays, on average, less than a 1st-year school teacher? Believe me, it’s not about the money.

We do it because we are called. We go because we are sent. And, in whatever way we can, if we have to, we will make tents (Acts 18:3). That’s why we work more than one job, if we have to, so that we can do what pastors do – shepherd the flock of God.

The Thought

But here is where I feel I was thinking out of the box yesterday afternoon: What if bi-vocational pastors could be supported like missionaries?

Stop and think about it. There are some areas where churches are few, and the ones that are there cannot afford to pay a pastor any kind of living wage (and, by the way, it’s biblical to pay a pastor). These little churches would love to have a seminary-educated minister teach and preach the Word of God, but most of the time end up searching for years until they wind up accepting whomever they can get. Not a good situation.

What if pastors of smaller congregations could raise support, much like what many missionaries do before going into the field? You do realize that the small, bible-teaching church down the road – the one which still serves a purpose and meets a specific demographic need – is still as important to the Body as the large church on the hill, don’t you? Whenever a small church closes its doors because of a lack of available leadership, the whole Kingdom suffers. Would it not be reasonable, therefore, to suggest supporting at least in some small ways, the pastors of these churches? Granted, there must be some considerations, but is it not a reasonable thought?

Pastoring a church takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day. When one has a family (if only a wife), puts 20-30 hours a week into church-related work and activity, and then has to maintain a “secular” career on top of that, something will suffer. When you add to the mix a pastor who is primarily trained and educated in ministry, not a technical skill-related field, the types of employment available – including the hours and days one must work – become more and more limited.

Am I thinking out of the box, or am I out of my mind? Are there ways this could be developed? Would it be something you would consider? Are there other options worth exploring?

What are your thoughts? 

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Filed under Christian Unity, Church, Preaching

I’m Not a Superhero

Email Ads

I don’t know how it happens, but somehow my email gets flooded with “half-off” offers and all such craziness. Even though I delete cookies, unsubscribe to stuff, and threaten friends, people still send me links to things I can’t afford.

Now, honestly, not all of the ads are worthless. As a matter of fact, if I had the money, I’d take advantage of some of the Groupon offers. Come to think of it, I should have taken advantage of some of those coupons before my last anniversary! Dang it! Why didn’t I think of that?

Once, on Facebook, someone sent me a link to a company selling t-shirts. The one that caught their attention was one that read, “I’m a School Bus Driver. What’s your superpower?” I thought that was cool! Alas, I didn’t have $20 to spend on a t-shirt, even though I wanted it.

However, it was not long after the offer for the first t-shirt that I got another offer. This time I wasn’t so happy.

Super Pastor

Dear reader, dear friend, dear occasional stalker, etc., I am not a superhero!

photoFor those of you who may be having this read to you, to the right is a picture of the advertisement as it appeared on my cell phone. It shows a black t-shirt that has printed on the front: “I’m a PASTOR, what’s your SUPERPOWER?”

Unlike when I saw the one about being school bus driver, when I saw this t-shirt design, I didn’t laugh, smile, or even grin; it ticked me off.

Folks, I don’t even joke about this. Pastors are already placed on unwanted pedestals, live in glass houses, and are thought of as superhuman. We, along with our families, are expected to have special powers of some kind, almost like Baptist wizards, impervious to the spells of the dark lord.

But, we are not special, only our calling is. Pastors are not gifted with superpowers, and to suggest that only adds to the expectation that we can do everything perfectly, never getting tired, never mouthing off to our kids, and always having the right answer for everything.

Super Savior

The only thing I can say is that God called me to a humbling “profession.” I did not choose to do what I do; He put the desire in my heart. And unlike other careers, like bus driver, fire fighter, school teacher, etc., no amount of education, training, or experience can make us successful at what we pastors do; only the living presence of Jesus can do that.

I have no super power other than the power of Christ within me. As a matter of fact, the weaker I am – the more the “kryptonite” affects me – the more He is able to work through me (Phil. 4:13).

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 KJV

I am only human. I have no superpower. All I have is a Super Savior.

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Filed under ministry, Preaching

10 Words of Wisdom for Those Entering the Pastorate

With so much being posted on social media these days, even those in ministry have available to them a plethora of helps, lists, and general advice from experienced clergy folk.

Just this morning I saw a post forwarded on Facebook by a pastor friend, one that gave “10 Reasons Ministry Isn’t for Wimps.” On other occasions this same friend, Alan Rogers, has shared articles dealing with everything from sermon tips to how to destroy one’s ministry.

Much of what is shared on Facebook and Twitter are written by the “pro’s” in ministry research like Thom S. Rainer, or long-time veterans of ministry like Joe McKeever. What rarely gets shared are articles and posts written by ordinary guys like me – probably because we don’t publish that many, for one thing.

But I think it is about time we start seeing some helpful hints from old-school, bi-vocational, small-church, in-the-trenches pastors with no access to research teams, only personal experience and some common sense.

So, in order to kick things off, here are…

10 Words of Wisdom for Those Entering the Pastorate

  1. Get a biblical education. Seriously, it doesn’t matter if the school is only a rag-tag, non-accredited hole in the ground, get an education from some place that will teach you how to study the Bible by making you study the Bible. Those who call a seminary a “cemetery” are nothing more than illiterate bigots who should be avoided – unless you want to show them how to get saved.
  2. Listen to your wife. I know, sometimes wives have actually been the reason men have left the ministry. However, a good, godly wife will offer you insight that no one else can. She really does have an intuition that sees what our eyes can’t. She is also going to be the only one in the church you can trust 100%
  3. Don’t think every sermon needs to be alliterated. Guys, not every sermon is best delivered with four points, all alliterated with a certain letter or phonetic sound. Sometimes the best way to outline your sermon is just go with the way the Scripture leads.
  4. Be a sheepdog. Do whatever it takes to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to protect not only those in your church, but your own family. Be prepared to fight – literally – for those you love. Always be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing, especially sexual predators. Believe me, I wish I’d prepared better.
  5. Draw your lines in the sand early on – the earlier the better. Don’t wait for church trouble to draw your lines in the sand. Don’t wait until you are in a struggle with disagreeing leadership before you say, “This is the way it’s going to be.” Start early by saying that…be the thermostat, not the thermometer.
  6. Learn to preach without notes. There’s going to come a time when you need to preach and you won’t have time to prepare an outline. There is going to come a time when you are asked to preach a funeral, or a revival service, and all you will have is your Bible. Read it…learn it…know it…and be able to preach from it without a man-made crutch.
  7. Check your pride. The day you go up to the pulpit all cocky, that’s the day you will be an utter failure. Ascend to the “sacred desk” with your knees shaking under the weight of the seriousness of what you’re doing and you will come down humble, but confident God’s Word will not return void. As long as you are humble and dependent on God, that’s when even the most basic of sermons can shake the foundations of hell itself.
  8. Don’t grow too dependent on technology. Men, there may come a day when we don’t have the internet, iPads, microphones, and projection screens. At any moment you could lose one or all of those things, so learn to prepare and to preach like the great warriors of the past – because history has a tendency to repeat itself.
  9. Love your family more than your ministry. You’ve probably heard it said before, but it’s true; your family is your first and most important ministry, not the congregation you serve. Don’t lose your wife or kids for the sake of any church.
  10. Never stop studying and learning. Even if you go to Bible school and seminary, never think you’ve learned enough. Always be learning, reading, researching, and studying. If George Washington Carver could squeeze all he did out of the lowly peanut (to the glory of God), imagine how much you will be able to find if you keep digging deeper into the Holy Writ!

I could share some more words of wisdom with you all, but this is all my wife will allow for this evening – I’m listening to her, and she said I need to go to bed.

So, there you have it. Do you have some words of wisdom you’d like to share? Why not write them in the comment section below? I’m sure we all could benefit from our collective experiences.

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Filed under ministry, Preaching

A Question of Dignity

Much is said about how people should dress, like “dressing down” and dressing for success.” But how should a minister, a pastor, a “reverend” dress? For that matter, how should a pastor behave in public? How should his position affect his demeanor? Ever thought about that?

It’s a question regarding the appropriate level of dignity exhibited by those in ministry.

Differences

Some of you may disagree with me on this, but I do believe that there is something to be said about the differences between pastors and the congregation. If you are Catholic or main-line Protestant this is probably a non-issue, but it is an issue in other circles, specifically in evangelical churches.

Many of us are well aware that Scripture teaches that there is no essential difference between one believer and another: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Furthermore, many of us treasure the biblical doctrine of the “priesthood of the believer” that confirms all Christians have equal access to God, not needing the intercession or mediation of an earthly priest (Ephesians 2:18, 3:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19; and 1 Peter 2:5). Some folk, especially many of my Baptist brethren, even refrain from using terms such as “clergy” and “laity” because, in essence, we are all the same.

anthony political

The “official” me.

However, if we are all the same, if there is no difference at all, no difference in expectation or qualification, why then do we have such passages as 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9? Why would Paul have instructed Timothy and Titus to ordain godly men to the work of “bishop” in the first place if there were no need for men of distinction?

The truth is that there is a biblical mandate of conduct for the role and specific offices of pastor, bishop, elder, teacher, and deacon. Those persons should be known as set apart, qualified, mature, devoted, and serious about the work (Titus 2:7).

I Struggle

I will admit, I struggle with this issue from time to time. You may not think it’s a big deal, but I think it is. The thing I don’t want is to be legalistic, prideful, arrogant, or aloof and never fun, accessible, down-to-earth, and humble.

But where does one draw the line? At what point can one say, “That [activity] is not appropriate for a person in that position” without coming across as elitist?

vbs ice cream head

The “ice cream” me.

Let’s face it, when it’s time for a fall festival or children’s activity, every one wants a pastor who is not afraid or too proud to look like a fool for the sake of a smile. It was Jesus who had little children running up to him, sitting on his knee, and enjoying being in his presence. The pastor who never laughs, never takes a shaving cream-pie in the face, or dresses up like a farmer for Vacation Bible School will never win the heart of a child.

On the other hand, the one dying in a hospital (or on the side of the road) wants more than a clown or a hip public speaker to kneel by his side or take her hand.

I struggle with where to draw the line, where being like everybody else must give way to the demeanor of one elected to lead. Sure, context is always going to make a difference, but is there no place for  gravitas in the modern church?

Grace and context. …Grace and context. That’s the only way I know to approach this.

I’d love to read what you think! Where do you see the line between dignity and doofus? 

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Filed under Christian Maturity, clothing, General Observations, legalism, ministry