It can be so hard
Waiting in my boat
Being tossed by the waves
Barely able to float
The thunder roars
And the winds overwhelm
My fear overrides
With no captain at the helm
Suddenly I remembered
At the apex of my fright
I am supposed to live by truth
And not by sight
As a child of God
I learned to obey
And anticipate miracles
When I fervently pray
So I will bow my head
And do more than survive
With trust in my heart
As long as I am live
I make the choice today
To not worry about my strife
And live every day in faith
Despite what happens in life.
I am a young pastor, and I do not presume to think that I can offer up much worthwhile advice and encouragement to a new generation entering the ministry. I do think, however, that any amount of experience has its own level of anecdotal instruction that can be offered to anyone willing to listen.
This week, I have thought about what I have learned in my decade of formal ministry (volunteer and paid) and I think there are some things that are worth sharing. Some items being shared in this blog are a result of frustration that has helped to grow me as a minister. Other points are simply things I that have come to mind. Just know that none of them are meant to demean, discourage, or demonstrate anger. I just feel these things need to be said.
I love learning. Sometimes the learning involved pain, and other times it was a result of great joy.
Today, I want to share 5 Things I Have Learned As a Pastor.
People prioritize what matters
Sunday after Sunday pastors all over the world work their hardest to preach, teach, and display the Gospel in their lives. Their families often feel the brunt of the time and effort they put into sharing vision, meeting with those in need, and attending business meetings. Sometimes a pastor will give their all for a congregation who seem to look at the idea of worship as “something they will attend if they have nothing else to do”. Don’t get me wrong. Pastors are thankful that anyone shows up for worship, but we now live in a Christian culture that has prioritized other things over meeting together as was commanded of us in scripture.
Discouragement is only temporary
I’m going to let you in, behind the scenes, for a moment on what pastors talk about when they are together. Sometimes we talk about how things are progressing with the church. Other times we talk about how discouraged we are in a particular area of ministry. For some people in ministry, short seasons of discouragment end in resignation. It is easier to quit than to persevere. When discouragement comes, and it certainly will, it is always vital to lean into God and rely on His promises. The seasons of discouragement do not last forever. They can just be painful. When we tap into God’s resolve, then we find times of great spiritual wealth and ministerial progress.
There will be resistance
No matter what God has asked a person in ministry to do, resistance to that call is inevitable. Sometimes there is resistance because the author of lies is creating unnecessary conflict in the church. Other times (I am speaking to myself here) it is because personal pastoral agendas are forced and God’s will is not taken into account. Pastors are not exempt from being stubborn or having human thoughts, emotions, or actions. A consistent prayer life trains the mind and heart to more readily pick up Christ’s signals and gentle nudgings.
Lives matter to God
When looking at scripture, it is apparent that God has spent a lot of time showing humanity His love. Sure, there are times of discipline, but the way He guided the Israelites out of captivity, restored them multiple times after their transgressions. sent Himself to die, and gave us the Holy Spirit, no one can deny the energy that has gone into God’s affection for us. He calls pastors to be distributors of this love and grace. Christians in general have this call on their lives as well, and are compelled to share this message with the world. So, when someone comments that a pastor’s focus is “all about numbers”, they are actually somewhat correct. Every person matters to God, and He came to die for every single one. A pastor’s job is a response to this concept.
Often times, more energy is spent on lemurs than butterflies
Ok, so this one is a difficult topic to talk about. Now, I do not want to sound harsh or condescending, but this idea breaks my heart so I felt as if I needed to share. You may read this heading and be somewhat confused, but allow me to explain. I wrote another blog post a while ago that compared the personalities found in the church to animals that live in a zoo. Lemurs are animals that live in trees and eat berries and bugs. When there are no more berries or bugs in the tree they move on to another one that will suit their needs. Butterflies start as caterpillars, and camp out in trees or bushes. They are sheltered by the tree and allow themselves to be transformed. Often churches respond to God’s call to help those in need (in and out of the church), and sometimes it is the “lemurs” get the most attention. In the church, it is often the case that the ones that are the most helped are the first ones to leave. The church is a great place to seek transformation. No matter the result, though, we are called to serve.
Overall, I can honestly say that God has blessed me more than I deserve. His calling on my life to participate in the transformation of souls is something that invigorates me. Ideas keep me going, and His spirit not only makes up for my inadequacies, but moves me out of the way completely. He has also given me an amazing church family.
If you are a young pastor leading a church today, I implore you to lean on that calling. Don’t quit. It is a very difficult job, and it is not going to get any easier. You are not going to make millions and you may struggle to help grow the congregation you are in. Don’t be a “corporate ladder” type of pastor and just move to the next bigger church for the nice facility and salary package. There is a large family sitting in your pews waiting to see revival, and their souls need it. Be vulnerable, and build deep relationships. What if they leave? Well, then you will be deeply hurt, but don’t run away from being hurt. God’s call means more.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of crossing the stage at Anderson University with my Master’s degree from their amazing seminary. I remember the way I felt as I walked the graduation path with other students. I kept thinking about the logistics of shaking the dean’s hand and taking the diploma along with smiling for the camera. I can barely walk while chewing gum, so I wanted to make sure I retained deep focus.
My years at this school were so helpful for me and my ministry. I have had many friends attend seminary in different places. Some schools were much smaller, and some were much larger. In all of these cases, the general experiences we all had were pretty universal. I would not take back my time at that school for any reason. With this being said, it is impossible for a school of theology and ministry of any type to fully prepare a pastor for everything they are going to encounter. I wish I would have known more going into ministry, but I honestly think God wants all ministers to learn through experience in many cases.
When a pastor leaves seminary, they are so full of life, energy, and hope. They want to enter their first ministerial assignment and change the world, grow the church, and be viewed as the resident scholar of their flock. They often forget that each church is significantly different, and has their own unique culture. Sometimes, changes that are made are needed greatly and other times the pastor simply has an exciting new idea that they have always wanted to implement.
So, here are 4 Things I Didn’t Learn in Seminary.
- Music does NOT equal relevance – As a pastor, I always assumed that if we had great upbeat music and manufactured an exciting Sunday morning service, then this would be the catalyst for people being converted by the hundreds. I fully understand that music is a great medium for conveying a powerful message or setting a certain tone, but people do not come to Jesus because of how up-to-date we are with the music selection. I have had in-depth conversations with younger pastors who would not dare select certain songs to sing at church because they were “no longer on the radio”. In my experience, people can talk about music all day, but true maturity comes from living life with people, visiting them in the hospital, and rejoicing with my congregation when someone has a baby. Relevance comes with relationship and truth.
- The valleys are vital parts of the church’s ministry – If you don’t read or retain anything else from this blog today, please make sure you retain this. In every ministry, pastors experience highs and lows, and discouragement is simply part of the job description. Many, when hit with a devastating blow, will question their pastoral call and they will pray to God to move them elsewhere. Granted, I want to acknowledge that sometimes there are very evident times for a pastor to move on in their ministry, but I really feel like far too many give up far too early. A young pastor is given the impression that God’s call can only be affirmed if amazing numerical growth is taking place and finances are not an issue. The truth is, people in our congregations need to see how we respond to valleys, because that helps us gain credibility and it shows humanness.
- It is okay to truly love your congregation – In the realm of pastoral leadership, there is an unwritten rule about friendships. You can’t have them. Many pastors are looked at as a remote leadership figure who should not have deep loving relationships with their flock, because there is an implication (elephant in the room) that they will eventually leave to move on to another church. In my context, I am learning more and more that this mentality is not only false but could be damaging to the minister’s family and vocation. People need to know they are loved by their shepherd, and that can’t be conveyed unless time is spent with the people that are being led. I know what you are thinking. “What if that pastor leaves? Won’t there be disappointment?” Yes. Of course, but if we never cultivated deep relationships because of the possibility of pain, then we would be empty human beings.
- Your deepest impact won’t come from new and exciting ideas – It is inevitable. If a pastor gives their life to the call God has placed on them, and preaches the good news of Jesus, then there is going to be a time in the future where someone is going to thank them for it. This is not why we do what we do, but it just makes sense that if a family will be transformed by the gospel and will want to shake the leader’s hand who introduced them to the truth. If you’re a minister on the receiving end of this, you will notice something very interesting. The person expressing their gratitude will not cite a cool new program you thought of, or the knowledge you gained from a trendy growth conference. They will tell you that they are thankful that you cared about them enough to be at their surgery or pray for their wife who had a miscarriage. Exciting ideas about new ministries are excellent tools to facilitate learning and outreach, but they do not replace walking alongside families or individuals in their time of need.
There are obviously many other things that are better learned with life experience than “book learnin’ ” but these are simply a few that have recently come to mind.
My prayer is that pastors keep their mind and heart open to what God wants to teach them.
Love you all.
My son’s demanding shout came from the back seat…”TELL ME WHERE WE ARE GOING!!!” In my house, if we are doing something fun for the whole family, we keep it a secret from the children. This is not necessarily so we can have a giant reveal and see the look on their faces, but because of the incessant questions and whining that will inevitably occur from the time they are told our fun location to the time we arrive. My kids, when they know something fun is going to happen, tend to get really impatient.
Often we will tell them when we are in the car on our way to the exciting destination. This particular trip was not really that different. In this particular instance, we decided not to tell them until we were about 30 minutes away, due to the fact that it was going to be a two-hour excursion; which was equivalent to some CIA level torture in the minds of my offspring. As implied above, the little man who thinks he runs my house became irate with the fact that we did not let him in on the secret. So, like any good parent, we yelled back disciplinary threats in hopes the screaming would stop. It didn’t. In fact, he became so upset that he threw out a bluff. He said that he didn’t want to go anymore (with arms folded of course) and wanted to go back home. Of course we rolled our eyes and ignored it. We knew he would be elated when we arrived.
I can’t help but think of the Israelites in the book of Exodus. Over and over again, God had shown his power, faithfulness, and eagerness to accomplish His will through His people, but every time, His people slipped back into their own comfortable habits. In the journey that took place during this time, God gave them specific instructions regarding behavior and when to move after the Tabernacle was built. God would show up regularly in the form of a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, and these forms would fill the holiest place of the Tabernacle. Israel saw the result of His glory. God then instructed the people to get up and move their camp, only when God’s presence left. They were instructed to follow cloud and fire. They never knew when they were leaving, and they never knew where they were going. They just followed.
Despite the miracles and consistent provision God gave His people, they still felt the need to complain regularly. Whether it was food, water, sickness, worship, or legal disputes…they made a full time job out of whining about their circumstances. On more than one occasion, many even threatened to find their way back to Egypt. The only reason cited was the fact that Egypt made a mean cheeseburger (paraphrase) and they missed it. In many other cases, people even fell back into idolatry as if they were chomping at the bit to get back into these old habits.
I can accuse Israel of being selfish, impatient, and ignorant all day, but I have to look into the mirror. We tend to be like 4 year olds who do not know where they are going, when God calls us to follow. That is the temptation, at least. We want to know NOW, and if we are not informed then we begin to look back at our past as a comfortable and controllable existence. Faith is the concept of believing in that which we cannot see. We can accept that cognitively, but it is so hard to act as if it were true.
If we ask God, in honest times of prayer, to guide us we must be ready for uncertainty and discomfort. Also, we must be ready to move when He does instead of complain about our lack of knowledge, resources, abilities, and influence. Just follow.
The world is a dark place. It needs us to follow. It needs us to be uncertain but resolute. It needs us to be all in for Christ. What is stopping us?
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” -Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life
My fingers tap to the beat of a popular pop melody being played on the radio. The soft, rhythmic finger drumming is a socially exceptable form of what I wish to do, and that is stand up and shout the words at the top of my lungs. This is not because I want everyone to hear my beautiful singing voice, but so I can finally vanquish this parasitic tune from my brain. Tapping will have to do, and I notice that the chair I am sitting at in the doctor’s waiting room has distinct pitches and allow the full band in my mind to play on until the end. I hate waiting. I think that this feeling is universal.
Waiting is something that is fairly easy at first. In the depths of each of our own souls, each one of us has set a certain limit to how much waiting is acceptable depending on the circumstance. We wouldn’t expect the closing of a newly bought home to take only 5 minutes after the offer is placed, but if we are 7 minutes delayed in the expected enjoyment of a fast food cheeseburger then we must notify management of our dreadful plight.
Let’s look at the first disciples. It would have seemed as if they invented the idea of waiting. First, Jesus died. Then, they had to wait 3 days to see Him again in full glory. What happens next is both amazing and oddly frustrating. Christ spends time with His followers; then leaves again! Before He leaves, He tells the disciples and a smattering of other believers to sit, wait, and pray until He sends “round 2” of His wonderful work. These faithful few were instructed to pray. No short hail Marys or a wimpy “bless this food” type of prayer…but a converstation with God born out of desperation and spiritual hunger, with, by the way, no answer coming any time soon. So, they waited.
In the midst of the long wait, the Holy Spirit came and made all the waiting worth while. Victory was theirs, and they saw amazing fruit from their faithfulness. Then, the honeymoon phase was over. The Holy Spirit still gave the followers amazing testimonies and abilities, but Jesus also indicated that the best was even YET to come. He was talking about the end of days. The BIG finale. The final end to all of this…junk.
Well folks…we are it. Fast forward. We are the disciples that are now called to wait. He has not given us a time, day, or even specific decade, but Jesus has given us His spirit. That’s great, and I am happy but…why, then, do I feel so guilty about being impatient about this? Or, why do I sometimes secretly hope it doesn’t happen soon? I may be anxious or I may have more sinning to do.
The problem with waiting is it causes us to feel the need to keep ourselves busy. Also, the times in which we are tapping our toe force us into times of introspection and honesty. We want to fix everything ourselves and earn our Heavenly reward by our own merit, but Jesus has called us to something a little more uncomfortable…waiting…and deeper so…staying faithful.
Jesus is coming back. We must embrace the idea that this time of waiting could be an excellent time for us to make the world around us a better place. On top of that, there are people we could impact for His kingdom. Don’t give up just because impatience is a reality.
Stop tapping your toe. Get up and go! Be the hands and feet of Jesus before it is too late.