“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging…the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-2&7
Disaster brings chaos.
It brings a lot of chaos.
The pinnacle of chaos strikes a notable chord in hearts when disaster strikes close to home, namely within our community.
Our streets are filled with chaos. Our neighbors are the ones with more questions than answers. Our families are searching for missing children. Our homes are lost. Our skyline is no longer recognizable.
Our eyes are not focused elsewhere in the world; the eyes of the world are focused squarely upon us.
As a pastor, how do you respond when the chaos hits close to home?
Understand the gravity of your response. Your community has suddenly felt itself brought to its knees. Your leadership is not only appreciated, it is fundamentally essential to moving your community forward through rescue, recovery and reconstruction.
Keep stillness inside of you.
This is what separates good leaders from exceptional leaders. Any leader can lead well when things are calm. Great leaders lead at all times in all circumstances. Take a brief moment to “be still and know that He is God.” Take a deep breath. Collect your thoughts. Refuse to make emotional decisions.
Locate the true need.
While many within your community are scared and dealing with the fallout from the disaster, find the areas where the need exhibited is great. Set your sights there and do something about it.
Set a course of action.
Find the need and fill it. Create order out of the chaos. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Just step up and start working to bringing help to those who need it most. If you don’t know where to start, start somewhere. Don’t be debilitated by inactivity. Here’s a thought to remember: Most everyone else doesn’t know what to do either. You are all in the “make it up as you go” mode. It’s chaos. That’s ok. Just get moving.
Leverage your influence.
Leveraging your network, as you find inroads to meet specific needs through the mobilization of people who are looking to you for marching orders, step up and rally the troops. Connect with other leaders who are still brushing the dust off their pants and call out greatness within them. Call out greatness within your community. In a time when people feel isolated and alone, one of the greatest things you as a leader can do is lean heavily into unifying the community behind a common cause, and that is to rise from the destructive chaos you have collectively found yourselves in.
As usual, I find myself giving advice that I’m not taking. I think the technical term for that is hypocrite.
On Facebook, a friend will say, “I couldn’t sleep last night. Woke up at 2 a.m. and tossed and turned for an hour.”
My usual reply, if I give one, is something like: “Try reciting scripture. The devil doesn’t like it when we do that and will put you right to sleep.”
That’s a tiny bit tongue in cheek - I’m not convinced at all that the devil has much to do with how much God’s children sleep - and a good deal of truth. There’s something about repetition, whether it’s of scripture or lists of anything, that sedates the human mind and lulls us back into the unconscious state.
What scripture, someone asks? Any of it. Clearly, it has to be verses or chapters one knows. In my case, the entire repertoire comes down to Psalms 1, 20, 23, and 103, and Romans 8. In most cases, by the time I get to Romans, I’m out.
It’s always good to have a novel handy by the bedside, but only if turning on the light does not wake up your spouse. Of course, you can get up and go into another room and read. Do that, and pretty soon, you’re remembering the cookies or ice cream and you start to make real trouble for yourself.
Been there, done that.
So, we do what we do, each to his own devices.
The television is no answer. In the wee hours of the morning, there are endless infomercials and mindless reruns of the silliest programs. And lacrosse, they have that on sports channels. That, and soccer. No thanks.
For me, this morning–it’s precisely 3:01 a.m. as I type this–it’s turn on the computer, check my Facebook messages (one was from a pastor friend asking, “So, what is the retiree doing up this time of the morning?”) and my e-mail.
I’m in a hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, and not in my own bed, so that makes the situation more involved. My son and I are picking up his daughters from camp later this morning, and then heading to New Orleans. So, I’m in the hotel lobby using their computer. The place is deserted, the television is blaring (to no one), and every light is burning, which gives this the look of a shopping mall.
What did people do in the old days, before television and computers? And, for that matter, before novels? (There was such a time, you know.)
Here is one person’s answer to our question of what to do when sleeplessness sets in…
“I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night…” (Ps. 119:55)
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee…” (Ps. 119:62)
King David meditated on the Lord and prayed to Him. Good thinking. Nothing settles the mind like prayer. And nothing fuels prayer like reflecting on the goodness of the Lord. While we’re not told in the Bible, I’m willing to bet David’s prayer was not, “Lord, help me go back to sleep” or anything like that.
Tim’s note: Bro. Joe’s thoughts are good advice for pastors. We seem to face a lot of sleepless nights.
This past week Judy and I kept our grandchildren. This has been a delightful responsibility since they live overseas. However, I forgot how much energy is packaged in children ages four and two. My grandchildren are (obviously) little angels, but this task reminded me of an important principle. I was forced to put myself in the shoes of my son and daughter-in-law. For instance, when you have children that age you have very little time for other things.
This principle is vitally important as you pastor a church. I remember when I started pastoring in the mid-70s I had high expectations of people and I was quick to remind them of my expectations. (I know none of you ever do this.) I remember hearing excuses on a regular basis. I will use young parents for illustrative purposes. Young parents, not that they are the only excuse makers, would often say things like:
• I would have a morning quiet time with God, but the children wake up too early.
• I would attend church more often, but the children might catch a bug from other children at church.
• I would teach, but I do not have time to prepare.
• I would attend training, but I have to get the children to bed on time.
You have experienced similar conversations.
Such excuses could be a covering for commitment issues. However, that is not always the case. As pastors we should compassionately "walk in their shoes." The Golden Rule says "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets." (Matt. 7:12) My paraphrase of this verse is "Walk in their Shoes."
In discussing this principle I refer to your committed people. Many uncommitted people will not be moved by a bomb. Church planning should first and foremost take into account your committed people. With this in mind let me share several lessons I have observed in working with church people.
• Take into account their schedules. Many young mothers work full time jobs, take care of children, and keep up a household. This is the group who does most of the childcare and teaching of children at church. Churches often schedule too many activities. We think we have to plan every activity that comes down the information highway.
• Work around holidays. Most people are busy on holidays. Give your people a break on these special days. Remember you plan around the committed, not the uncommitted.
• Listen to your people. Get feedback from your committed people. Let them advise you about scheduling concerns. Be careful about letting older members dictate church schedules. Lead older members to understand the challenges younger adults face. Older adults do not have the time pressure that young families face. Also, do not let Pharisees dictate church schedules. They are legalistic about everything, even when you call off a service on a holiday.
• Be cautious about judging others. The thing you call apathy may, in fact, be impossibility. For instance, the mothers mentioned in bullet point one have very little time or energy left to invest in three or four children's activities at church. We are not living in the 60s any longer. People's schedules are different and times are different. I remember when revivals and VBS were two weeks long. That schedule makes me tired just thinking about it. Failure to acknowledge and adapt to change will leave us and our churches dying in the past.
Do you ever find yourself leading from behind? What a repulsive idea for a leader, leading from behind. When you serve in a church this is often a reality, but also a necessity. We do not live in a perfect world.
So what do we mean, leading from behind? I remember, years ago, hearing John Maxwell speak on the subject of leadership. He defined leadership with one word "influence." Maxwell shared a story from his first pastorate. He said there was a deacon in that church who was the unofficial leader of the church. His name was Claude. Claude was a good man but he carried excessive weight in the church. Whatever Claude said carried the church. Maxwell explained how he led that church by working with Claude. He planted seeds and asked questions to determine Claude's opinions. Maxwell said he adjusted his leadership as he worked with Claude. Maxwell was leading from behind.
You can call this concept compromise, politics, or church tradition. Regardless of how you label it, it is the truth. In churches there are times when we must lead from behind. Consider the following examples:
• When there is a strong individual who carries excessive weight in the church
• When the church is hung up on seeking consensus
• When the church is strongly influenced by tradition
• When the church is led by a strong group such as deacons
• When you must work through engrained church polity
As I wrote this article I racked my brain in seeking Biblical guidance on the subject. I was led to the passage in John 13 when Jesus washed the disciple's feet. Jesus was their leader. Jesus was their Lord. However, he took the form of a servant and washed the disciple's feet. This was not a job for a leader. The very idea of a leader washing feet. Jesus was leading from behind. He realized no one was going to step up and fulfill the task. He was willing to lead from behind.
Leading from behind is a frustrating task. When you go into a church you will face a plethora of leadership issues. Working with a power group is not fun. Working through endless committees is not fun. Working with engrained tradition is not fun.
When forced to lead from behind, what should you do?
1. Pray a lot and ask God to change what needs to be changed.
2. Focus on your spiritual growth.
3. Acknowledge that you did not create the issues. Be gracious with yourself.
4. Serve the people. When Jesus washed feet He was serving and setting an example.
5. Remember, when leading from behind you are still a leader. The wise leader knows to adjust his leadership approach when circumstances are not ideal.
6. Talk to other leaders about influencing from behind.
7. Lead people from where they are instead of where you want them to be.
8. Lead the people and work with them instead of pushing, trying to force them or trying to change them too quickly.
You were called to serve where you serve. The important thing is that you remain faithful. Be a leader, even if it means leading from behind.
Do you ever find yourself zoned out? You know, you are encapsulated in your own little world. The zone could be compared to day dreaming, but it tends to last longer and reflect a more intense mood. We pastors visit there often. It is not like we are doing anything wrong. This is not some dark unethical behavior. However, it may reflect other situations that are happening in our lives.
When I zone out I tend to shut out everything else in my life. My wife may speak to me, but I behave as if she is not there. During these times I am not intentionally ignoring her or anyone else for that matter. The zone tells a story to which I should listen.
A good example of the zoned out pastor is found in Matthew 16:21-23. Jesus was headed to the cross. He had shared many truths and much teaching with His disciples. He emphasized His approaching crucifixion and suffering. For some reason the disciples had trouble comprehending Jesus' words. In fact, Peter goes so far as to rebuke Jesus for such talk. It was as if Peter and the disciples were in their own little world.
Why did the disciples miss the point of Jesus' teaching about His suffering? It could have been any number of reasons.
• They could not comprehend the Messiah dying.
• They had preconceived ideas that were wrong.
• They were caught up in the emotion of the moment.
• They were close minded.
• They were human and were struggling against the flesh.
Regardless of the reason, their comprehension and the resulting behavior were wrong.
What happens when we zone out? We close out other people. This could be our wives, children, friends or fellow ministers. We are not cruel to them, nor do we misbehave toward them. We simply ignore them or treat them as if they are not present.
When we zone out we become preoccupied with our thoughts. Preoccupation with thoughts is a natural, God given act. Some of our greatest ideas and most productive thinking occur in these times of retreat. God gave us a wonderful gift called the subconscious. The subconscious works even when we are not consciously working.
When we zone out we miss out. We miss important truths. My wife often accuses me of not listening. When this happens I prefer to respond that I was caught up in productive thinking. Most of the time that is not the case; I am zoned out!
When a person zones out, there are certain questions that should be asked.
• Am I shutting out someone who is special to me?
• Closely related to the first question, am I allowing my feelings to cause insensitivity with other people?
• Am I not managing myself properly (proper rest, conflict with others, excessive demands)?
• Am I bringing my work home with me?
• Am I overlooking someone I need to be serving (listening, helping, supporting, etc. etc.?)
When highway workers construct a highway they erect signs to indicate a work zone. Those zones protect the workers and warn drivers of potential dangers. A zoned out pastor may be flashing some warning signs. Those signs tell a story. May we heed these God given friends.
The best time to get run over in interstate traffic, I have decided, is the morning rush hour. People are dying to get where they are going. I’ve come to a conclusion as to the root cause. It’s anxiety.
Some drivers are late to work or class, some are afraid of being late, and the others are early and trying to stay that way. So they rush. They tailgate the motorist in front of them, they cut in front of the fellow to one side or the other who dares to leave a gap between him and the next car, and they dart in and out incessantly.
A couple of miles up the road you notice they’re stuck in traffic in the lane to your right or left, all their frantic lane-jumping having done them absolutely no good. The problem is not their car’s motor; it’s their own inner motor. Something inside them is racing, dying to get to their destination, and they do not know how to control it or turn it off or, or they do not know that it’s even there. They rush out of habit.
Yesterday morning the car that was bullying everyone on the freeway pulled onto a side street in the direction I happened to be going, and one block later turned off into a driveway. They were just going home. I felt like stopping and asking, “What was all the rush about?”
I think I know the answer. Their answer to my question would be, “Huh? What rush?” They are not even aware what they’re doing. It’s a pattern, a really bad habit, they’ve fallen into. They get in their car and the anxiety kicks in and they have to beat everyone else on the highway. It’s destructive, self-defeating, harmful to one’s health, even suicidal. It’s murder on their car, terrible on their tires, and a burden on their billfold. It endangers their families and the people in the other cars. Let the city or parish install cameras at intersections to catch red light-runners and they holler to high heaven, as though a sacred right of theirs has been taken away. They foolishly blame the rear end collisions on the officials who installed the cameras. Blame-placing, denial, anger—highway sports in America today.
Anxiety is a problem we all deal with and a killer in a hundred ways. The highway is just one of the locales. Everyone deals with anxiety in its various manifestations. You start a new job and can’t sleep the night before. You have to leave town early tomorrow and afraid of oversleeping, you toss and turn tonight. You have an important painful confrontation tomorrow, so tonight’s rest is a total loss. Some would call it worry. It’s likewise a form of fear. One thing it is not is faith. Anxiety is worry and fear on steroids. And whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)
Meeting with a group of pastors, I threw this out to them: “Give me your best counsel. What do you do to fight anxiety?” Here are some of their answers.
1) Write it down. What is bothering you? What do you anticipate happening? You’ll be amazed at how puny your fears appear on paper.
2) Tell the Lord. Pray to Him. “Be anxious for nothing,” Paul told the Philippians. “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God…shall keep your hearts...” (Phil.4:6)
3) Give yourself a good talking-to.
“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:7) “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” (Psalm 103:1) Sometimes I will simply quote the words to the wonderful hymn, “It is well with my soul.” That could be just the reminder we need at that moment.
4) Laugh at it. “The very idea of me being anxious! Ha! God has everything under control and I’m in His care. This is the enemy’s way of trying to neutralize me, and I’ll not let it happen.” So, laugh. Laugh out loud. You’ll be delighted to find what a tension-reliever laughter is.
5) Focus on the big picture. One of our pastors said, “When I get worried, I think of our Lord on the cross. My hurts and pains are nothing compared to His.” The 53rd chapter of Isaiah was the chapter he frequently focuses on at these times.
The Reader’s Digest told of a 93-year-old widow who was burdening her family with her worries about the future. She especially worried whether she had enough money to live on. Finally, her son pulled together all her financial records, did some calculating, and drove over to her retirement home. “Mom,” he said, “you have enough money to last you for the next 16 years.” The elderly woman did not bat an eye, but said, “Oh my, what will we do then?”
Are you still passionate for ministry and hungry for God? Heaven forbid that any of us should lose passion for serving in ministry and walking with God. However, the loss of passion occurs. In considering this subject there are several questions that should be examined.
First, what does it look like when we lose our passion? Some of the symptoms are:
• We lose our passion for God's word and fellowship with Him. Prayer, praise, and Bible study become chores rather than privileges.
• We become cynical of people and ministry is a job rather than a joy. In this scenario people become a problem rather than the object of joyful ministry.
• We lose enthusiasm for learning, growing and discovery. We stop reading good books and pursuing fresh ideas.
• We procrastinate and drag our feet while fulfilling simple tasks.
• Other activities get more attention than God's activities.
• There is a loss of physical energy.
• We become irritable and driven by negative emotions.
• We yearn for alternatives: another place of service, another job, and new challenges.
• We withdraw from others.
Second, what causes us to lose passion?
• We lose passion when our lives are self- driven rather than God-driven. It is easy to neglect our personal walk with God. When this occurs we are more focused on preparing to teach and preach than on feeding our own souls.
• We lose passion when we do not allow time for recovery. The daily rigors of ministry and the weekly demands of shepherding lower our physical/spiritual reserves. It would be nice if we could pull up to a pump and refill those reserves instantly. However, God's replenishment is similar to that which occurs when a cell phone recharges. It takes time and down time. Things such as vacations, a weekly Sabbath, taking time to laugh with others, and taking time to attend a conference or read a good book.
• We lose passion when the demands of ministry overwhelm us. If you visit the beach there are times when officials will raise warning flags due to dangerous waves and undertow. When this occurs, the relentless waves or undertow will defeat you. You might survive for a few minutes but, without assistance, the vicious attack of those enemies will pull you under. In ministry there are enemies of the soul: difficult people, traditions, time pressures, disillusionment, and physical demands.
In II Timothy 4 Paul discusses his approaching death and the trials he has endured (loneliness- 10-12, 14, 16; persecution- 6; desertion- 10, 14-16; lions-17). In the midst of the trials Paul rejoices that he has been able to finish well (7). He hungers for the sweet fellowship of fellow ministers and the truth of God's word. In short, Paul remains passionate about ministry and the things of God.
My prayer is that each of us would finish well. In addition, I pray that we would be filled with passion until the very end. Some people die when the heart stops beating while others die a slow death when passion ebbs from the spirit.
My wife Judy wrote an excellent two-part article for pastors. This article was posted the past two weeks in The Shepherds Connection. I would encourage you and your wife to go back and review that article. The article covered a subject men struggle to grasp, feelings.
Husbands/pastors have one of several options when it comes to our wives feelings:
I must admit, I have struggled with each of these responses.
As I examine this subject I am reminded of a conversation Judy and I had years ago. We were discussing female submission. Paul teaches mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), but we seem to enjoy talking about female submission. Judy said “Tim, when a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church it is not hard for a wife to submit.” I have never forgotten that sentence.
In reading Judy’s article I chose two areas to discuss. First, I have been guilty of using her as an illustration on many occasions. Most of the illustrations were harmless acts of fun or real life stories that happened to our family. If such stories cause my wife to feel showcased then I should avoid using them. If I feel that I must use a given story then I should at least ask her permission before I use a given story. I have tended to ask her permission more as I grow older.
The second area of guilt involves expectations. Over the years, especially in our younger years, I tended to stereotype Judy and expected certain behavior from her that placed extra pressure on her. I did not believe those stereotypes, but was pushed into acting upon them because of tradition.
In considering this male/female tension what should we do?
This marriage discussion brings up a point of irony. We who speak for Christ can be guilty of neglecting His words.
Pastors, as leaders, can be a bundle of pride. As such we struggle to release our hidden failures.
The disturbing part is that divorce is a common occurrence in the lives of those who serve in ministry. The pressure to build a church often drives pastors to neglect their marriages and families.
This sobering truth should drive us to our knees. My prayer is that all of us would raise the standard of marriage. I pray that we would be an example in both word and deed.
The feelings expressed in this two part series may not reside in every pastor’s wife. However, they are real feelings expressed by pastor’s wives. Pastors, please listen to your wives. They need you!
Thoughts from a Minister’s Wife:
I feel a sense of belonging when you include me as your ministry partner. I’m talking about a relationship not a possession that belongs to the church. However, I also feel a sense of belonging when church members include me in their activities in and outside the church (BBQ’s, fish fries, holidays, etc.).
I feel lonely when night after night I sit at home all alone watching TV, reading, sewing, playing computer games, or anything to keep my mind occupied while you are away. Where are you? I also feel lonely sitting by myself in church. Why won’t someone invite me to sit with them?
I feel respected when you and the church seek my counsel. I also feel respected when you and the church give me freedom to “just be me.”
I feel imprisoned and trapped when I’m confined to a stereotype. Yes, your comments such as, “no one else will take this job in the church, please, will you. . . “, or “You need to. . . “, (and I could mention other remarks) make me feel trapped. Church members also use similar tactics to lure me into their prison of expectations.
I feel a sense of worth as a minister’s wife. It’s nice to know that I’m part of the bigger picture in God’s Kingdom. My sense of worth comes from my relationship with Jesus Christ. What an honor to know that, “. . . our God would count [me] worthy of this calling . . .” (2 Thess. 1:11 NIV)
I feel a loss of Identity when you and the church fail to recognize my giftedness. Please allow me to do things in the church that enhance my Spiritual Gifts. Do not expect me to do things in the church that do not align with the Spiritual Gifts that God has given me.
I feel a sense of pride when you stand before God’s people and proclaim His Word. I feel a sense of pride when church members say kind words to me about you. This blesses my life!
I feel helpless when you are going through endless struggles in the church. When this happens you repeatedly talk about issues until I come to my rope’s end. Yes, it’s true, I feel respected when you seek my counsel; but when my counsel doesn’t seem to help then I feel helpless. Maybe an accountability partner, like a fellow minister, would be a better choice for venting. This would also relieve undo stress upon me. Weighting me down with negative issues regarding the church causes me to build resentment over being a minister’s wife. I also feel helpless when church members make unfair comments about you or the children. I want to lash out at them; but I dare not!
I feel special when you listen to me. I like it when you make me feel special. Thanks! I feel special when church members say kind words to me. It’s so nice to feel appreciated!
I feel hurt when you say ugly things to me. Sometimes, you let out on me your frustrations toward the church. I feel like a target on a target range where you go to vent—bull’s eye, you got me! Church members also hurt with their cunning remarks. Don’t they know I have feelings too?!
Honey, I love you and want you in my life. I am trying to balance my feelings. Please understand I just want you to know how I feel.
Editor’s Note: If you are a pastor’s wife and would like to connect with Judy or another member of The Shepherd’s Connection ministry, please visit our Contact Page http://theshepherdsconnection.org/prayer-requests
Honey, I know you’re busy—preparing multiple sermons for Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday prayer meeting; getting ready for the deacons’ meeting—nervous about their reaction to your suggestion that the Lord’s Supper be served before the sermon instead of after the sermon as they’ve always done; a wedding to administer this weekend; hospital visitation; new visitor visitation; the Johnsons need marital counseling this week; and this is just the beginning of your long “to do” list for the week.
I understand why your mind is in another world most of the time. But, I want you to know how I feel about being a minister’s wife. My feelings are evoked by my relationships with you and with the church. After all, how can a person have feelings without relationships? Relationships are the foundation in which feelings are formed.
As I express my feelings, they may seem inconsistent. My feelings fluctuate because our circumstances fluctuate. Just when we think things are going well in the church, something comes up to mar the sweetness of our fellowship with fellow church members. (Satan is always out to destroy!)
I think it’s important that you know how I feel because I love you. David once said, “My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue. “ (Ps. 39:3 NIV) David understood that suppressed feelings do not solve problems. Suppressing feelings only ignite a fire of bitterness. I love you and never want a fire of bitterness to flame up and destroy our marriage, our lives, our children’s lives, or the lives of church members who hold you in highest regard. So, here’s how I feel.
I feel joy in being your wife. God has ordained our marriage and consecrated the two of us for His service. It is a blessing to know that I am “called out” to partner with my husband for ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. I feel joy in being the pastor’s wife to the church we serve. When I consider my position in the church, my heart radiates with joy and contentment over the sense of fulfillment I feel as a minister’s wife.
I feel depressed because I am overwhelmed by the expectations you and the church place upon me. The feelings of “I have to. . .”, “I should. . . “, or “I can’t. . . because I’m the minister’s wife” drag me down to a dark pit. Sometimes, I think I can’t climb out—will you help me?
I feel loved when you praise and show appreciation for me in private and in public. I also feel loved when you spend time with me. The church makes me feel loved when the members welcome me into their fellowship rather than treating me as an outsider.
I feel “showcased” when you use me as an illustration in your sermons. When you use my name in your sermons all eyes turn toward me and away from the pulpit. I feel showcased by the church every time I step into the church building. Just once, I wish I could go to church and be just a “regular” person going to church!
Honey, I love you and want you in my life. I am trying to balance my feelings. Please understand, I just want you to know how I feel.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check back next week for Part 2 of Judy’s article. If you are a pastor’s wife and would like to connect with Judy or another member of The Shepherd’s Connection ministry, please visit our Contact Page http://theshepherdsconnection.org/prayer-requests
The command to “wait” is one of the most difficult words in the English language. I think this word is especially difficult for those who serve in ministry. Why? It is difficult because ministers are leaders. We are action oriented. We want to see results. However, one of our greatest trials occurs when we have to wait. Are you waiting on a particular result to find its fulfillment? Are you waiting on God to place you in a more desirable place of service? Are you waiting on your church to start growing? Are you waiting on a specific prayer to be answered?
One of the last things Jesus instructed His apostles was “to wait for the Promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4) You would think that simple command would be easy to follow. After all, those guys had been through a number of trials in the previous days. They had been through the loyalty test and received an “F.” They had seen their friend and Savior die a cruel death on a cross. I could go on and on.
Jesus knew His disciples, like us, needed a little fine tuning when He issued the command to wait. My question: What did they need that we also need? What did He want to teach them? First, Jesus wants us to trust God’s timing. God’s timing was not right for the gift of the Holy Spirit. God chose the time when Jesus would ascend to Heaven. Many times God has a plan, just around the corner, when we are ready to give up. It is not easy to trust God’s timing. God’s timing is always superior to our own. It may be that His providence has not finished the lesson He wants us to learn.
Today, I attended a church building dedication that took eighteen years to find its fulfillment. They had to wait. When Abraham and Sarah received the heir of God’s promise, Isaac, there was a timing issue. The fulfillment of that promise was a long time coming. Noah’s construction of the ark and the fulfillment of God’s prophecy was a long time coming. Noah had a long wait. Timing is everything!
After timing, God might be teaching us to “abide” in Him. The word “abide” refers to trust, dependency and reliance. In John 15:5 Jesus instructed us that the secret to bearing fruit is abiding in Him. It takes patience to wait for the ripening of fruit. We are painfully reminded of this truth if we have eaten a piece of green fruit. Green fruit will sour your stomach and draw your mouth.
For me personally, the most important aspect of waiting is to avoid impulsive behavior and decisions. If we get impatient we may run ahead of God and do things that are poorly timed and outside of His favor.
The result of waiting is success. Isaiah advised the Israelite people to wait on God. “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31) The Israelites had endured years of failure, if judged by man’s standards. They had lived as slaves in captivity. Yet Isaiah encouraged them to remain to wait on God (timing) and to remain faithful (abiding).
Success is not measured by man’s standards. Success is determined by trust, dependence and reliance on God. Some of you, who are reading this piece, feel as if your life is a failure. However, you have been faithful. You have turned to the Lord and sought His face. By God’s standard, that makes you a huge success. Please, do not get discouraged and give up. Wait on the Lord!
Are you a part of the technologically challenged? We generally use this term in reference to the older generations. However, there may be some younger adults who struggle with this issue as well. Regardless of your age, keeping up with technology is a challenge. In fact, I saw in the news that former President Bill Clinton had been reluctant to get involved in Twitter.
I am concerned with two areas when this subject involves ministers. The first area has to do with courtesy and respect. We are living in a world of information overload. We are bombarded with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like. In addition we face information overload in receiving text messages, media messages, telemarketers, mass mailings and the like. This information overload can cause us to become desensitized to the important messages, along with the junk messages. So, what does this have to do with us?
The Bible has much to say about common courtesies such as kindness, goodness, love and encouragement. If we become desensitized to messages we may very well overlook a common courtesy or act of goodness that we either need to give or that we need to receive. I am not referring to the frustrating messages. I am referring to the common everyday phone calls, text messages and emails that people send our way.
People become desensitized to voice stimuli. We should remember the Golden Rule. “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” (Matt. 7:12) People can become desensitized to our voice as they hear us teach and preach. They must approach the teaching/preaching event with an open heart. Even so, we should be careful to keep an open heart to listen when people communicate with us.
The second area that concerns me is the closed mind. It is a fact; we will never be able to keep up with changes in technology. There is a difference between being an expert and being familiar. Studies show that an overwhelming percentage of Americans use Facebook, email, text messages and the like. This is where people live each day. Paul spoke about being all things to all people. He tried to connect with people. When we familiarize ourselves with technology we give ourselves a tool for connecting with all ages in our congregation. And if we occasionally mention a text message, email or internet search we attract people’s attention, both young and old.
It must have been a challenge for Paul to adapt his ways to meet those he sought to reach. He said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.” (I Cor. 9:19) Translation, Paul was willing to adapt in order to reach his constituency.
I sometimes say, or hear other ministers say, “I will not do that.” In essence, what we are saying is, “I have stopped growing.” If we familiarize ourselves with modern technology we slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s (Ha! Ha!), plus, we give ourselves a whole new medium for ministry. All of us want to be faithful in using every medium at our disposal. God can use everything we offer Him!
Editor’s note: June is the start of Hurricane Season, but as we have recently seen churches need to be prepared to respond to disasters at any time. Caleb Magnino is the International Missions Pastor at The Woodlands Church in The Woodlands, TX. He has recently responded to numerous disasters, including Haiti, Hurricane Sandy, the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, TX, and most recently to tornado-ravaged areas in Oklahoma.
They are experiences that I will never forget.
Walking among the rubble, the destruction, hearing the stories of those who had now unexpectedly found their lives turned upside down with the onset of a disaster; shouldering the weight of the shock and seeking to bring hope in the midst of the storm…that was the task set before us.
In those moments when life is uprooted, when chaos ensues and questions abound, the church has an unprecedented opportunity to be a beacon of hope to communities of people who are in dark hours.
I’ve seen it firsthand.
Often the church is one of the first forces on the ground in a disaster zone assessing the damage, listening to the needs of the community affected, and organizing relief efforts. The church can be a powerful unified force in the wake of a disaster. Before FEMA or other government agencies respond, the church is on the move.
The key lies in strategic decisions made by individual leaders in the early hours and days following a disaster.
Disaster strikes. Now how do you respond?
First of all, be ok with the thought, “I don’t know…but I’m going to figure it out.”
Welcome to disaster relief.
Be proactive in your communication efforts with your church members…as in within a few hours of the disaster. Don’t wait until you have everything nailed down and all the questions answered. Initial conversation can be as simple as letting your people know that your team is starting to assess how your church can help those stricken by disaster. Give your people immediate action steps, including “Pray” and the option to “Give” financially to support relief efforts via your team, partner churches in the affected area, or other Christian relief organizations who will mobilize into the area. Feel free to also challenge your people to consider the “Go” option to volunteer to be part of relief teams that might be mobilized in the days to come. You may not have “the exacts,” but you can still start to cultivate interest and compile an email list.
Now let me be blatantly honest. Resist the urge to immediately start collecting canned goods, bottled water and especially clothing. While the hearts of those who give mean well, those items can often pose a logistical problem during a time of disaster response either due to transportation, storage or the relevance of donated items to actual needs of residents. Every disaster is different. Listen to the true needs of the locals and then make the call for donated items if need be.
How do you respond to unreasonable people? It might help if I describe unreasonable. Unreasonable people have an evil spirit, cannot be reasoned with, are impulsive and do things to hurt others. Every church has some of those people. A good example of an unreasonable person was Saul. Saul displayed all four of the aforementioned characteristics (see I Sam. 19:9-10). After God anointed David, to be King of Israel and before he took the throne, David had to deal with an unreasonable person, Saul. As you watch this story unfold it drags on over a period of time. This is much like the story we often see unfolding in our churches.
In I Sam. 23-24 you see how a man of God responded to an unreasonable person. I will list these responses in outline (sermonic) fashion. Who knows, you might want to use these at some point.
1. When dealing with unreasonable people seek God before acting. David did this on more than one occasion (I Sam. 23:1-2, 4, 10-12). David prayed much and waited on God. At one point he takes up the “Ephod.” The “Ephod” was a garment worn when a person was seriously seeking God. It seemed to represent the presence of God.
2. When dealing with unreasonable people set a good example for other people (I Sam. 23:3; 24:6). In verse 3 David’s men admit to being afraid. In 24:6 David’s men want David to take vengeance on Saul. In both instances David displayed a Godly example in his behavior. When I feel the impulse to be vindictive or to use my tongue to rip another person I am reminded of the suffering servant passage in Is. 53. In verse 7 of that chapter it said, “He did not open his mouth.” What an example!
3. When dealing with unreasonable people do not respond in kind (I Sam. 23:15; 25:1-6). Saul acted in an ungodly manner but David did not return the favor. If people act one way it does not necessitate that we follow suit. If we display a Godly example, other people will eventually show their colors.
4. When dealing with unreasonable people let God decide who is right (I Sam. 23:7-9, 26; 24:12, 21). It is amazing, when Christian people disagree everybody thinks God is on their side.
Not long ago I read an account of the Civil War. This particular writer pointed out that everyone claimed God was on their side. Only God has the right to decide who is right and who is wrong. When everybody claims to be right everybody proves to be wrong. President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address said, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other... The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "
5. When dealing with unreasonable people do not become bitter or cynical (I Sam. 24:5-7). David did not allow Saul’s irrational behavior to force him to be bitter, angry or cynical.
The preceding qualities are hard to emulate. They are Christ like qualities. I have come to believe, if I cannot display Christ like character in the midst of a trial that may be why I am going through the trial. Ouch! Ouch! Yes, I said it twice. Our world and our churches need to see Christ like men standing in the pulpit. I pray that God would help me to be one of those men.
Has God ever vetoed one of your ideas? He has vetoed more of my ideas than I care to admit. I wish my walk with Christ was such that I always have his stamp of approval before moving forward. That is not always the case for me. I have a hunch that you readers can identify with my failure.
A veto, from God, could have several meanings. It could mean He caused something to fail. It could mean the timing was not right. It could mean He has something better in mind. What kind of ideas does God veto?
These are just the tip of the iceberg.
I once resigned from one church, in order to accept a call from another, and realized I had made the wrong decision. Sometimes God speaks through a still small voice. On that occasion I felt like I had been hit with a baseball bat. Thank goodness God and His people are gracious in such humiliating times.
God showed me an encouraging word on this subject. When Jesus led Peter, James and John up the mountain for the transfiguration, Peter had what he probably considered, a brilliant idea. Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Matt 17:4) God vetoed that idea! WOW! Consider these truths.
I am so grateful that God is gracious. He coaches us through bad ideas. He grows us from our failures. He raises us from our low points to greater service. The world penalizes failure. God uses it to prepare us!
I believe that the primary failure of 9 out of 10 pastors is the “Lone Ranger” syndrome. Pastors are trying to do the work of the Lord alone.
Most pastors lack a few good friends in the ministry with whom they meet with regularly for fellowship, prayer, study, confidential talk, accountability, a round of golf, a good meal and rest. A preacher needs a friend with whom he can hang out. This omission has seriously limited the ministry of many ministers I know. It surely weakened my service for the Lord.
I think of two critical times when I needed a few good buddies in the worst way.
When I first started pastoring I had a history degree, zero experience and no training in church leadership. Each week, as I worked on sermons, I reinvented the wheel. I started from scratch. II searched the Bible for something I could turn into a sermon. In the Birmingham suburb where we lived, there were plenty of pastors who would welcome a call from a 22-year-old preacher asking for advice. But, I struggled alone.
Another critical time occurred when the chairmen of deacons and the personnel committee stopped by my office to announce that either I relocate or that a move would be made to get me out of that church. I was stunned! I needed support when that little delegation delivered their ultimatum. However, I needed counsel when I was beginning to learn the nature of my tasks and the size of the obstacles I faced.
I regret not calling a half-dozen friends to drop what they were doing and come visit me. I should have said, “I’m in a crisis situation and need you.”
They say a true friend is one you can call in the middle of the night to come help bury the body and he does and never asks for an explanation. Now, my friends would have exercised a little more discernment than that, but they would have been there; I’m completely convinced of that. But I did not make that call and went on alone.
“The Lord was there,” you say. He sure was. And so was Margaret, my wife. We had a back-porch custom in those days where we sat and unloaded. (The agreement she and I had was that we could say anything on the porch, but could not bring it inside the house. It was a good system, one we have recommended to others in the years since.)
But I needed one thing more: I needed a few buddies.
These days, I frequently have the opportunity to address young ministers about the work to which the Lord has called them. One point I drive home is that among the things they’re going to need, “a couple of buddies” ranks toward the top of the list.
Too many pastors today are like Elijah, a loner in every sense of the word. The problem is, as any professional counselor can tell you, solitude makes the person vulnerable to loneliness, depression, even anger, sometimes thoughts of suicide, and then, oddly, pride.
We see every one of those traits in Elijah.
“Lord, I’m the last one you have left.” (I Kings 19:10, 14 He said it twice!)
Woe is me. Everyone else has given in to the enemy. I’m the Lord’s last hope.
Not so, said the Lord. In fact, He answered the prophet, “I have 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” (19:18)
Elijah was too smart to argue with God, but we can imagine him protesting that the others were holed up in caves somewhere, while he himself was on the front lines, risking everything for the Lord.
The lone ranger syndrome can produce depression and thoughts of suicide and at other times, pride and egotism.
The Apostle Paul is a better role model for today’s pastor. We get the impression from Acts 9 that he began his ministry as a loner. Soon, he made the discovery that this was a dead-end route, that he would need friends. “Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 9:27)
Later, when Paul barely escaped from Jerusalem with his life, he returned home to Tarsus for an indefinite period. We wonder what was going on in his mind at that time. Was he making tents and studying the Word? Was he feeling like a failure? Was God letting him marinate a bit before returning him to a far greater ministry?
When revival broke out in Antioch of Syria, Barnabas happily discovered that Gentiles were coming to Christ in vast numbers. He remembered that God had called Paul as a missionary to that very group. Acts 11:25 may be one of the most important sentences in history: “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul (Paul).”
When Paul became a missionary, he went with Barnabas. Later, he took Silas and then Timothy, while John Mark accompanied Barnabas. No one went alone.
Are you struggling with questions about success? Come on don’t be so pious! All ministers struggle with this question from time to time. The classic example is Joshua. After Moses died God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel. Talk about big shoes to fill. Talk about an inferiority complex. Joshua struggled with this task. He needed words of encouragement from the Lord.
The struggle with success plays itself out in many ways. Sometimes we struggle with the “poor little old me syndrome.” We compare ourselves to the superstar preachers and that makes us feel small; or we struggle with the church-down-the- street syndrome (“The church down the street has welcomed more new members than our church”); or it may be a struggle with “location syndrome” (“why did God place me in this location?”); or we struggle with the last pastor syndrome. (“I am not as popular as the last pastor.”)
I had an interesting experience in my first church out of seminary. I served in a small rural church in Mississippi. The church I served was located about ten miles from town in a rural area. We defined the phrase “rural church.” There was a church in town that was “blowing and going” as we say. They had a nice building and were gaining many new members on a regular basis. I remember feeling somewhat envious of that church’s pastor. I thought to myself, “I will be happy when I don’t have to live under his shadow.” Guess what happened? Sometime later, I moved to another church about two hours away. The pastor from the previous town moved down the street from my new place of service. The same scenario repeated itself. His church appeared to do better than mine. In each of those situations the church I served prospered; however, the prosperity was not equal to the church down the street. I struggled with questions of success.
In studying Joshua’s experience, several lessons come to mind. First, take time to listen to the Lord. The Lord always has a word for our situation. Sometimes we are so busy that we miss a relevant word from the Lord. We need to spend time praying, meditating and bringing our struggles before the Lord.
Secondly, as God spoke to Joshua, He reminded him of his calling. God chose Joshua to be Moses’ successor. God’s call gives value and purpose. God’s call, in and of itself, is reason to celebrate. We tend to rate success on man’s standards and on man’s opinions. If we are following God’s call, that call, in and of itself, makes us successful. We are doing what God called us to do.
Closely related to the previous thought is that of faithfulness. God reminded Joshua to be himself. Every pastor cannot pastor a mega-church. Every pastor cannot write a bestselling book. Every pastor cannot speak on the seminar/conference circuit. The pastor who is faithful in the small rural church is successful. The pastor who is faithful in the traditional rural church is successful. The pastor who is faithfully working with difficult people is successful.
God told Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:9)
We will face many trials as we serve in ministry. Trials such as sickness and death of friends, divorce of fellow believers, personal sickness, family issues, and people issues, just to name a few. It is hard to say which trials will affect us the most. There is one trial that may very well be the most debilitating and most difficult to overcome. What is it? The trials created by our own personality quirks.
Let’s look at the topic. All of us have personality quirks. I love watching the detective show “Monk.” Monk reminds me of us. He is his own worst enemy. I know! Monk has deep seated personality issues that require professional help. I have always told congregations I served, “we are all one step away from insanity.” We may not be as quirky as Monk, but all of us have them. Consider these examples: OCD, the tendency to be a control freak, obsessed with work; paranoia, by insecurity and anxiety; and chronic worriers.
In the Bible the classic example of a man with a personality quirk was Jacob. Jacob had to be in control. He always manipulated circumstances so that he would come out on top. Have we not seen that in ministry? This is seen most clearly in Genesis 30-32 as Jacob played a game of situational chess with Laban.
The beautiful thing about God’s sovereign work in our lives is that he changes our spiritual dimension but also our personal/emotional lives. Over time God changed Jacob from being a control freak to being a man of faith. That required time and surrender. In Jacob’s life the masterpiece of God’s work occurred at Bethel (Genesis 35:16-26) when Jacob wrestled with an angel. This encounter moved Jacob to a new dimension in his service to God.
The tricky part is that we do not shoot ourselves in the foot while God fulfills His work in us. So what can we do to confront our quirky nature?
It is inevitable that we will face trials as we serve in ministry. My prayer is that my personality quirks not contribute to my trials. Occasionally pastors walk into my office and begin talking about church issues they are facing. The sad part is that sometimes the man is as much, if not more, a part of the problem. Even sadder is the pastor who cannot see his weaknesses. His pride blinds him.
Only by the grace of God do any of us contribute to God’s sovereign work in our world. Our sin, our sinful world and our personality quirks are formidable foes. My prayer is that God sovereignly change us, as He did Jacob. He wants to change our world through His imperfect servants.
The 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.