Saturday, 30 March 2013 00:00

Quitting the Ministry

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netThe title of this article contains three disturbing words, “Quitting the Ministry.” You might be reading this article to see to whom the words refer. It could be you! It could be me! We do not relish the use of these words regardless of the source. We do not expect God’s men to quit. Secretaries quit, electricians quit, and plant workers quit, surely pastors do not quit.

The truth is, anyone serving in ministry has entertained these three disturbing words from time to time. The causes are many: difficult people, discouragement, burnout, depression, feeling ineffective, the list goes on.

When looking for Biblical inspiration it seems as if we can always look to Peter for an example. Peter experienced the full range of spiritual struggles while following Jesus. In John 21 we find an occasion when Peter seemed to struggle with his calling. Jesus had risen from the dead, but Peter and the other disciples had not discovered the full significance of this good news and its impact on their lives.

During this time, Peter and several of his fellow disciples decided to go fishing. We do not know the reason for the fishing trip. It could have been doubt, a time to relax, a need to raise funds, or a time of wavering in their call. Regardless of the reason we learn several valuable lessons about facing the empty times of ministry.

First, regardless of their reason for fishing, Jesus did not condemn the disciples for going fishing, nor did He condemn the motivation behind it. Were they motivated by doubt, discouragement, guilt, uncertainty, self- condemnation or similar negative emotions? Just because you get down does not mean Jesus is down on you. It is okay to withdraw and look for answers.

Also, there is nothing wrong with empty nets. As Americans we abhor failure. Jesus often uses empty nets to teach us His abundance. When we have tried our way and our methods (remember Peter was a fisherman by trade) and come up empty that leaves plenty of room for Jesus and His fullness.

John’s gospel tells us the purpose behind this fishing experience. “After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself.” (John. 21:1) Did you notice that word, “again?” Jesus wants to show us he can turn empty nets into full nets. Jesus reveals Himself again and again until we get the lesson. John said, “This is now the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after He was raised from the dead.” (John. 21:14)

In the seasons of emptiness Jesus does His greatest work in us. We do not want to hear this truth, but it is truth we need to hear. As Jesus walked Peter and his comrades through this failed fishing trip He prepared them for their next phase of ministry. As we claim the promise of Romans 8:28 we can be assured that empty nets are a prelude to the Lord’s fullness and a bright future.

Saturday, 23 March 2013 05:00

Let’s Consider a Preacher’s Confession

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“Confession is good for the soul,” so said Peter De Vries. I must confess that on one recent winter morning, I awoke inundated physically, emotionally and spiritually in a deeply depressed state. I think Webster would have said, “He’s in a deep funk.” Although I always try to will myself to never be overtaken with those feelings, it would have been easy for me to have justified (rationalized) my feelings. For several nights in succession, arthritis had kept me awake ‘till past four in the morning. I have witnessed the discomfort of friends suffering with Restless Leg Syndrome; but I had battled Entire Body Restless Syndrome, and my sleep was disturbed by horrible recurring nightmares. I know, this is all a part of being blessed with Old Age, and as I often tell others, “More age is not going to help it.” This is topped off by the never fading sense of joy of knowing that my Bobbie is in heaven. I dearly miss her.

Have I dragged you down with me? Well, I hope you will find hope in the rest of my confession! Dressed for the day, I cranked Old Betsy and, wiping back some tears, started for my office and work. My radio was tuned to KJAE, and Mel was presenting his usual morning devotional time, and Guy Penrod’s voice, accompanied by the Gaither gang, interrupted my sadness with his rendition of “Just Knowing that You’ll be There, Makes it Easy to go Home.” I sang along with them. This was followed by another Gospel Artist Joe Pearls singing, “I Knelt and Prayed for You Today,” and I was refreshed by the knowledge that Christian friends from Louisiana to Montana pray for me each day. I was feeling better.

Then Mel, with his inimitable voice and his always pleasant but descriptive use of words, did his brief but powerful message about the Apostle Peter wanting to go on to heaven with the Lord (John 13:37), but he was left on earth. Mel’s explanation of why we are left on earth and God’s purpose for our being here, well, I just asked the Lord’s forgiveness for my backsliding from the sunshine of God’s love into a case of the Blues. Then the late George Younce sang a rendition of “That Says It All,” which is a song of assurance of God’s presence with us when we are in our “valley of the shadows,“ lifted my spirits for the ministry God had already laid out for my day. God used these two radio friends to lift my spirits.

God always has answers and help for us if we will just look and listen for Him to speak! I have found that when I need help, if I call on God and ask, He soon supplies it in the most unusual ways!

Saturday, 16 March 2013 00:00

Have You Grown Complacent?

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corporate-culture-of-complacencyHave you grown complacent in your service to God? This question is both insulting and disturbing. It is insulting to the hard working pastor who is giving his best in service to God. It is disturbing to the person who has slid into a pit of complacency. To the pastor who is doing his best, it is a warning to guard against the drift into complacency. To the pastor who has drifted into a complacent spirit it is a wakeup call.

As I pondered this subject I remembered a text I studied years ago. “Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity: therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed.” (Jer. 48:11) Moab had become stagnant. Jeremiah described a people who had become complacent, arrogant and satisfied. This verse describes a people who developed a complacent attitude toward God. There was more of a rebellious arrogance and complacency, as we know it. However, the complacent attitude is an affront to God, regardless of your heritage.

What causes pastors to become complacent in their place of service? Consider the following reasons: .

  • A feeling of hopelessness in the place where you serve and the people with whom you serve
  • Discouragement because of personal issues such as health and family issues
  • Weariness at fighting battles that contribute nothing to the kingdom
  • The process of aging
  • A lack of vision from God
  • Viewing ministry through man’s eyes rather than God’s eyes
  • A burned out, depressed individual
Saturday, 09 March 2013 06:00

The Pastorate: No Place for Crybabies (Part 2)

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membershipThe most surprising thing for many pastors is learning their greatest opposition, their biggest problems, their major obstacles to doing the work the Lord sent them to accomplish is coming from within the membership.

Pastors must learn to expect problems and to "play through" them.

Play through the pain. Go on doing the work the Lord called you to do even though some in the congregation hate your guts and resent your presence.

I did not say all these who oppose you are sweet godly saints who mean well. Some are.

Some are tyrants out of hell intent on wreaking havoc in the congregation.

And - don't miss this - some are a mixture of the two.

For reasons that baffle me, even the smallest of congregations will frequently have a few people with a thirst for power. They want to control decisions. Why in the world anyone would want to be a big frog in a small pond escapes me. But they do.

It brings to mind an old song about a fellow named Charlie Brown, who kept asking, "Why is everybody always picking on me?"

Pastors can be crybabies and wimps. "Oh no. My congregation is having problems. Where is God when it hurts?"

Saturday, 02 March 2013 00:00

The Pastorate: No Place for Crybabies (Part 1)

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It comes as a surprise only to a very few that pastoring a church can be extremely hard work. Rewarding, fulfilling, challenging, and blessed. But there are times when it taxes the child of God to the core of his being, when it tests his sanity, and drives him to question everything he ever believed about the faith he is proclaiming and the people he is serving.

Only the strong need apply.

They used to say that only the hardiest of stock settled the early American west. "The cowards never started and the weak died along the way."

There's something about that which fits the ministry.

What triggered all this for me were the sports announcers on ESPN the other day. They were talking about Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback. He had an ankle injury this year, and made every effort to play on in spite of it. Whether this is smart or foolhardy, we'll leave to other people. The commentators were of one mind on it, however: Isn't Big Ben great! He doesn't give in to a little injury. He knows how to play hurt!

I've played hurt. You too, pastor? I will go so far as to say that every pastor who stays in the Lord's work for any period of time will sooner or later "play hurt." He will have a serious burden or strong opposition or major trial or some kind of massive handicap which would destroy a lesser individual ("a career-ending injury" it's called in sports), but he still stands in the pulpit preaching, still goes to the office, still leads his church.

Every week I hear from pastors and/or their wives with similar stories of great upheavals in their ministries. The one this week said, "I perceive that you too have had troubles and trials in your life. That's why I decided to write you."

Saturday, 23 February 2013 00:00

Your View Of The Pew

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congregationWhat is your view of the people in the pew?  These are the people we lead and serve.  These are our co-workers.  Our view of these special people will determine our leadership style and, to a great extent, our success in ministry.

I have observed many diverse attitudes  harbored by pastors and staff, toward the people we lead.

  • There is the condescending attitude.  When we harbor this attitude we tend to look down our noses as if lay people are a step below us.
  • There is the suspicious attitude.  We are suspicious of what lay people think of us and the intent of their motives.
  • There is the autocratic attitude.  We tend to exert authority over lay people and are reluctant to work with them.
  • There is the “I am the expert” attitude.  We tend to show little respect and appreciation for the opinions and feed-back of lay people.
  • There is the “I am in control” attitude.  We tend to feel we must have our hands in everything that happens in our congregation.
  • There is the “I have to do this” attitude.  We feel we must preach every sermon, make every hospital visit, do all the counseling, authorize every decision, and the like.
  • There is the “laissez- fare” attitude.  We yield our leadership to the “democratic process” and go along for the ride.  When this happens we give up or minimize our leadership to the congregation.

DepressionDepression is one of the most debilitating maladies afflicting mankind; and even among Christians, it is rampant. Depression has been around for a long, long time, and many prominent persons have experienced its sufferings. David, a man after God’s own heart, described his despondency with these words, “I sink in deep mire where there is no place to stand. I am weary of my crying; my throat is dried.” (Psalm 69:2-3) And he also cried, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me?” (Psalm 42:5.)

How can one overcome depression? Doctors do not have ready, sure answers, but there are some steps one can take. One, you can copy David and admit, “O my God, my soul is cast down.” (Psalm 42:6) You can tell God about your problem and ask for His help.

Two, you can seek the help of a competent physician. Often, depression is caused by some physical disorder or malfunction which proper treatment can correct. That ruled out, competent counseling is in order. (I highly recommend that you find a Christian counselor.)

Three, you can turn to God in prayer and trust. “I will say unto God my rock, why have you forgotten me? Why go I mourning? And in the darkest hour, you can know that the Lord will command His loving kindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with you. Your prayer unto the God of your life will be heard.” (Psalm 42:7-9) You can ask that “his light and truth lead you.” (Psalm 43:3) You can “go unto the altar of God--you can praise God and claim His joy”. (Psalm 43:4)

            Four, there are some disciplines that you can employ. You can determine that you will “rejoice in the Lord.” You can count your blessings and thank God for each one. You can practice praying about everything. You can refuse to worry - you can think about good and beautiful things and refuse to let your mind dwell upon sad, disturbing things. You can find things needed and useful to do. Keep busy doing them! (Philippians 4:4-8) You can and must do physical exercise - walk, swim, jog, keep physically fit. Look for and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation; and keep on hoping and looking for that better day. Read your Bible - especially the Psalms - and keep company with good, happy Christian people, keep smiling, and it helps to occasionally laugh at yourself.

Saturday, 09 February 2013 06:00

Monday Blues

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monday bluesDo you experience Monday Blues? Today I was visiting with some fellow pastors when the subject of Monday Blues came up. Lay people might not understand the pastor’s perspective on this subject, even though Monday Blues is a universal language. For lay people the Monday blues are the result of a busy weekend and passive rebellion about returning to work on Monday. For pastors the Monday Blues are the result of an exhausted spirit. 

As I reflected on this concept several thoughts come to mind. Is there spiritual truth to address the Monday Blues discussion?  I am reminded of two passages that reflect on the issue. There is the passage in I Kings 19 when Elijah had a meltdown. Elijah had been wide open in ministry mode. Some of his greatest ministry deeds occurred prior to this meltdown.

The other incident affected Jesus. (Mk. 5:25-35) Jesus was walking through a crowd when a lady with a blood infirmity reached out and touched the hem of His garment. Jesus said He felt “power” go from Him. Jesus disciples did not understand this incident. They saw the crowds pressing around Jesus. They thought someone from the crowd had touched Jesus. Jesus knew otherwise. He knew that ministry drains power from the minister.

Both of these incidents illustrate a universal principle. Ministry drains energy from you. This is why Jesus often went aside to pray and replenish His spiritual energy. Jesus managed his depletion by going aside to meet God.

Elijah did not do so well. He crashed after his intense period of ministry. He was depressed, discouraged and defeated.

These stories remind me of an important principle regarding the pastor’s Monday Blues. We can be cynical of these blue feelings or we can embrace them as a fact of life. Ministry depletes your resources. When we embrace this truth we will act proactively toward the negative emotions.

Saturday, 02 February 2013 00:00

Your Own Worst Enemy

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angerHave you ever been guilty of being your own worst enemy? This is a hard truth to discuss and it’s even harder to admit guilt. This being the case I will begin with transparency. Hopefully you will see me as a fellow struggler and not a stone thrower.

I once found myself to be my own worst enemy with a group of deacons. This group of deacons fulfilled an administrative role instead of a ministry role. This is fairly typical in older traditional churches. Pastors struggle to cope with this type of deacon ministry. Our success or failure in coping with this situation is not altogether dependent on the deacons. Our success or failure requires that we manage our hearts properly. In my situation I failed because I stopped communicating with these deacons and emotionally avoided them. There were several times when I became frustrated with this group of men and failed to manage my frustration. My frustration caused me to turn inward (causing depression) and at other times to lash out in anger. This caused some of the deacons to become frustrated with me. I was my own worst enemy.

Consider this verse from Proverbs. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1) Another person responding in an inappropriate manner does not justify my responding in an inappropriate manner. If I respond in an inappropriate manner, I become my own worst enemy. Ultimately, I am not responsible for the other person; I am responsible for myself.

Over the years I have seen a number of situations where individuals become their own worst enemy.

Consider these examples.

  • Anger- Sometimes we react to people with anger and frustration. Jesus was severely abused yet He never became angry in His response to His tormentors.
  • Immaturity- Ministers can be guilty of mishandling anger, conflict, and personality issues as much as other people.
  • Superiority- Ministers sometimes develop a superiority mind-set whereby we conclude our vision, decisions, and opinions are superior to lay people.
  • Poor people skills- If we do not treat people with dignity, respect, and integrity they will return the favor.
  • Poor communication skills- Words are tricky creatures. They often do not communicate what we intend. Over the years I have inadvertently run off a number of people from churches I served because they did not hear what I was trying to communicate. I realize those people are responsible for handling their issues. However, I recognize words to be a problem from time to time. Misunderstandings and poor communication are behind most broken relationships.
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