Last Sunday I preached in a local church. In my sermon I made the comment that all of Jesus' disciples turned their backs on Him before He went to the cross. After the service an elderly man walked up to me and humbly asked a question. He said, "Preacher, was not John standing at the cross when Jesus was crucified?" I stood corrected. Ever feel as if you did not think through a statement?
As I listened to that man I was reminded of several principles that came out of that encounter.
• It reminded me that no one is above making mistakes or saying things that need to be corrected. As pastors we must be open to correction and awkward questions, such as my friend asked. It is possible for our ego to hinder relationships and close our ears to important feedback. If I responded to this gentleman with arrogance I would have pushed him away.
• All of us need each other. God uses other people to guide, correct and show us alternative views. It may be that God sends people to assist us in seeing a broader view. I know, I know, there are some people (critics) who think it is their God given responsibility to keep the pastor on his toes.
• Most of the time we are a better person - stronger, wiser and humbler because of our friend's feedback. Every pastor needs a few trusted friends who are not afraid to tell him the truth or to ask those pointed questions.
For example, in recent years there has been much debate about deacon ministry. Some churches do not recognize the office of deacon. These churches, in a general way, feel there is more harm than good in deacon ministry. This is true in the case of controlling deacons or deacons who do not live up to the spiritual aspect of their calling. However, deacons can be a valuable sounding board for our ideas. Deacons can be a pastor's best friend when they are discerning listeners and spiritual men of God. Controlling deacons or deacons who are not spiritual leaders are a whole different story.
My general point is that pastors need advisers and must be humble enough to accept their input. The writer of Proverbs said "in the multitude of counselors there is safety." (11:14)
For me, pride was one of my greatest barriers as a leader.
1. Pride kept me from laughing at my foolish blunders. I do not enjoy humble pie.
2. Pride kept me from laughing with others at my foolish blunders. When you laugh at yourself and join with other people in laughing at your blunders it creates a spirit of transparency. We desperately need a happy spirit in our churches.
3. Pride, at times, raised a barrier that hindered me from seeking people's input.
4. Pride hindered communication that prevented me from leading people to the next level in our spiritual journey.
Our success in ministry is dependent on healthy relationships with other people. There is much that goes into this dynamic: transparency, integrity, communication, humility and leadership. If we do not seek to build healthy relationship we could be in for a long future. This requires growth, maturity and a vision for God's better plan. He does not want us to spend a ministry career running away because some elderly man asked us an awkward question!
Today I rode horses with my son and grandchildren. My son rode a twenty-year-old family horse, one that is gentle with children. Another lady led the horse on which my grandson (who is four) rode. I rode the high stepper among the group. This horse was energetic and fast paced. He has been ridden in parades and walks with a prance and head held high. Due to this matchup and the aforementioned conditions I found myself holding back my horse and waiting on the others. Though it was not wise to speed up the pace I found myself wanting to say, “Come on guys.”
The previous paragraph describes a situation none of us appreciate. Most people enjoy progress. Waiting on circumstances, people, or GOD is not fun. However, that is a condition ministers are often forced to endure. I use the word “endure” with understanding. I am speaking to myself.
The Psalmist instructed us to, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10) Any conscientious worker faces a challenge when trying to be still. Action is in the DNA of every working person. Progress and accomplishment fuel a sense of fulfillment. This week I saw this verse in a new light.
To be still is to relax, rest and release. As I look around at ministry friends I see us in a constant state of movement. Preparing to teach, enabling programs, counseling people and visiting the sick drive us every day. These are enjoyable but demanding activities. When God commands us to “be still” He knows we need stillness to refuel and refresh our spiritual energies. God set an example when He rested after creating the world. Do we allow for down time in our lives?
Sometimes I feel as if I am obsessive compulsive. When I sit down to relax and rest I have a hard time fulfilling the task. I find myself thinking of all the things I could be doing. Even when relaxing I often find myself fumbling with my smart phone and all of its gadgets.
The second part of Ps. 46:10 is “know that I am God.” When we are still it allows God to be God. In the Bible when God commands “stillness” it is often so that His children experience His deliverance. I am reminded of the occasion when King Jehoshaphat was surrounded by a group of his enemies (II Chron. 20). The Bible indicates Jehoshaphat was filled with fear and led the people of Judah to fast and pray.
The Lord spoke a word of encouragement to Jahaziel which he shared. He told Jehoshaphat to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (vs. 17). God was waiting on Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah to allow Him to be God.
God desires that we be still and wait on Him. Those of us who have raised children know the joy of a child asking our assistance. There is something about the weakness of a child that makes a father or grandfather have warm feelings. The dependency of the father child relationship is natural.
This dependency speaks to our relationship with God. He knows about the difficulties we face. He knows that people can be stubborn. He knows that strained relationships can cause sleepless nights. Ps. 46:10 begins with two conditions “be still and know.” It closes with an affirmation, “I will be exalted among the nations.” As we urge God to “come on” maybe He is urging us to “wait on HIM.”
Have you seen the lists of biggest and fastest growing churches? How do those lists affect you? They affect me in several contradictory ways. On the one hand I am captivated and inspired by the accomplishments of those churches. I thank God for them. On the other hand I feel intimidated by their accomplishments and feel unworthy because my accomplishments dwarf in comparison. There is a sense in which I feel like a second class minister. Those large ministries are not to blame. It is not their fault that I struggle with such improper feelings. I am caught in the size trap. It is up to me to confront such feelings.
I am not alone! There was an occasion when Andrew was caught in a size trap. He was deceived by size comparisons. On the day Jesus fed the multitude Andrew struggled with this issue. As Jesus questioned His disciples about resources (for feeding the hungry crowd), Andrew said “"Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" (John 6:9, NIV) The size factor became a trap for Andrew. Jesus was not concerned with size. He was far more concerned with meeting needs and bringing glory to His Father.
You may be struggling in a place of insignificance. The small church you serve seems so little in the great scheme of God’s work. The ministry you perform seems so insignificant. You may be struggling because you do not see the results you thought you would see. The numbers are not what you imagined. More of us fall into this category than those listed among the largest and fastest growing. That leaves us struggling for affirmation. That leaves us questioning our value. Does God notice our accomplishments? Am I on any list?
Several significant truths are found in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. First, we should share our talents, gifts, possessions, and abilities with Jesus. He is the one who determines success. A pastor who is faithfully serving a church of twenty-five is as successful as the pastor of a church running twenty-five thousand. The worship leader in a church of one hundred is as successful as the worship leader of a church running ten thousand. If this is true, then the real measure of success is faithfulness and not numbers. The lad who shared his lunch was to be commended because he was faithful. The lad was to be applauded because he shared what he had with Jesus.
Another closely related truth is that we should leave the outcome to Jesus. The lad shared his meal and left the results to Jesus. It is not our job to determine the outcome. That is Jesus’ task. It may be that we sometimes manipulate results in order to get the numbers we desire. I pray that we would follow the lad’s example and let Jesus determine the outcome.
Are you struggling today? Are you feeling as if your life does not count? Are you caught in the size trap? Give yourself a break! You deserve more credit and more affirmation than you are giving yourself.
It is amazing the number of diseases for which there is early intervention. Medical science is discovering secrets of the human body that aid this process. Early intervention in such things as heart disease and cancer offer needed support to prevent a premature death. The only early intervention that does not work is that which is not sought. Effort must be made to receive this life saving help.
This is also true for those who serve the Lord. There are heart issues that will lead to an early exit from ministry. I have seen several surveys that indicate approximately 1500 ministers leave the ministry each month in America. That is disturbing. This article is not intended to throw stones at those who have left the ministry, for whatever cause. It is a wakeup call to those who serve in ministry.
Pastors/ministers can be a headstrong and arrogant group. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18 NASV) Even God’s leaders are not immortal or infallible.
God’s leaders are mortal just like everyone else. My mind quickly remembers the names of W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers and Jerry Falwell who passed into glory in recent years. These were great men. However, they were not immortal, except in Christ.
Even so, as ministers we should study our hearts, personal lives, marriages, health and spiritual lives for signs of an early exit. This comes from one who has suffered burnout, depression, severe discouragement, anger, rejection and other killers. These killers will damage your physical, emotional, marital, and (last but certainly not least) spiritual life.
Before you get the impression that I am some washed out ministry has-been, let me share the rest of the story. In 2010, the church I was serving was foreclosed. From that experience I spent almost a year unemployed. During that period I started The Shepherd’s Connection. I also came to be Director of Associational Missions for Beauregard Baptist Association. I am more passionate about ministry and enjoy my work more than any time in 36 years of ministry.
Date & Time: Thursday & Friday October 24-25; 1:30 P.M. Thursday--12:00 P.M.
will be in session if you desire to attend on Friday afternoon.
Location: Hilton Gardens Inn Shreveport, Louisiana
Cost: The Shepherds Connection will cover up to $75 of the $150 cost for first 20 registrations.
Purpose: Encourage pastors and wives who are struggling in ministry, connect pastors and wives with other ministry couples who face similar challenges, connect pastors and wives with ministry reinforcement resources, strengthen marital ties
Leaders: The primary leaders are Drs. Tim & Judy Patrick. Tim is the Director of Missions for the Beauregard Baptist Association in Deridder, LA. There will be break out groups, videos, and share time. The mission of the Shepherds Connection is to encourage, connect pastors and their wives with others serving in ministry and with ministry resources.
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.
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 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!