Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably read articles, or have seen news segments about recent allegations surrounding pastors who have morally fallen. Some of these stories involve sexual misconduct, and others imply that the leaders have mismanaged funds belonging to the church or organization they lead. The fallout of these allegations can be devastating. They can give their families a deep wound and tear apart the church they were once pastoring. Some ministers have been arrested, or publicly shamed for their actions and when this happens, we all know social media goes wild with comments. Certainly, if these allegations are true, we should hold the leaders accountable and they should repent of their actions. These actions come from a prideful heart and sometimes the money and influence become intoxicating.
The circumstances alluded to above can cause energetic conversation at the dinner table. These scandals are not just confined to those serving in a pulpit, though. We can all tell stories of people who we once trusted yet let us down in a catastrophic way. Odds are, if they have developed trust with us, they are probably considered a “good person” by the world’s standards. They have given to charity, encouraged their neighbor, and they even were once considered a model citizen. Then, something goes wrong, and their affair is exposed, or their unflattering mugshot is displayed on the evening news.
When these things happen, what is our response? Well, if you are the average human being with a social media account, you have 1 of 2 reactions. Either you are shocked and thrown off balance, or you proclaim with arrogance that you “knew” they were not as “squeaky clean” as everyone thought. The sad part of all of this is…far too many people have the second reaction. It is one that is very common in our culture. When we experience a person who seemingly has it together, and is living a “great” life, it is tempting to always retain a level of suspicion about them. That way, when someone messes up, we can immediately jump on the “I told you so” wagon. The reflex of distrust in these situations only takes a microsecond to develop. As a culture…distrust comes quickly.
What about the inverse, though? Why does it not work the other way around? Let’s say a person who has lived an unscrupulous life experiences a complete transformation. Perhaps this individual has hurt us many times in the past without repentance. In cases like this, our minds have been conditioned to distribute grace slowly. Why is this? Can’t forgiveness come as quickly with a person who hurt us as distrust comes after an infraction?
The reality is we live in a fallen world that is very bad at reconciliation. When someone is restored to a new life, it is tempting to not believe them until we personally see some benefit from their life. This makes us just as selfish as the transgressor. Grace is a rare commodity, and I understand that healing takes longer than being wounded, but we must get to a point in our maturity when we develop a quick forgiveness reflex. Does this mean we could be hurt? Yes…yes it does. I won’t sugarcoat it. The purpose, though, is not for us to live in euphoria…it is to share in the redemption of others. Let go of fear, and embrace forgiveness.
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.
There is a story that’s more than lore
About believers who have come before
Those who sought Jesus over earthly more
And earnestly asked him to save
These folks acknowledged the pain he bore
And answered when He knocked on the door
They found meaning they always longed for
And loved the grace He gave
To them, serving was not a chore
When they prayed, they felt their hearts soar
Scripture changed their very core
Their eternal future was gilded and paved
Then one day our precious Lord
Ferried them to the beautiful shore
Asking them to trust Him just once more
And ride the uncertain wave
When they did, they found what they were created for
Streets of gold and everyone they adore
Waiting at the golden door
And the joy that God naturally gave
So what can we learn from this report?
Well, whether long or even short
Our earthly time is not for sport
And eternal life starts before the grave.
Ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to the main event
A fight of the century
The bout worth every cent
In this corner, Daddy
Big, strong and wise
In the opposite; daughter
With the biggest blue eyes
This fight will put chills down your spine
It’s bound to be a thrill
Let’s listen to this verbal match
Lean in quietly and be still
The smallest one starts it off
Let’s hear her first swing
With a phrase she starts the brawl
Then Daddy steps into the ring
“I love you so much” she begins
We can almost hear the crowd roar
Their eyes stare each other down
She gets the very first score
“I love you more than you will ever know”
Daddy says with a smug grin
Then little lady fires back
The intense struggle is about to begin
“No, I love you times a million”
She says thinking she was going to win
But Daddy was ready for her joust
He cracks his knuckles, takes a breath, and leans in
“You are out matched little one
You don’t have a prayer
Mom and I asked God for you
We loved you before you even breathed air”
Daughter tried to fire back
But Daddy didn’t let her go
There was more that needed to be said
He was not nearly out of ammo
“I love you more than wide is wide
I love you farther than the planet Mars
I love you all the way to God and back
Way past the twinkling stars
Don’t try to defeat me in this
Because you have already lost
I would do anything for you
No matter what the cost
Sometimes mom and I can get mad
And raise our voices to correct
But never forget how much we love you
You are mine, despite whether or not you object
And with that final blow
The little girl accepted defeat
Not a thing could be said
As she stared at her little feet
Then, suddenly she looked up
with joyful tears in her eyes
She kissed Daddy on the cheek
And he realized this was all a guise
All she really wanted
Was to hear her Daddy say
That He loved her without conditions
And then she ran off to play.
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One of the most fundamental flaws in Western thought is one that is endlessly propagated through movies, TV, and Fiction novels. It is the idea that love is an impulsive feeling and not a long term conscious commitment despite outward circumstances.
I’m some cases, this idea can be pretty harmless…but think about how it can leak into every square inch of life. If it leaks into Christian practice, then it is absolutely valid to look at a believer with this mentality as a hypocrite. That’s because they will always express love based on what serves them. When this unhealthy definition of love is embraced, then we see infatuation treated as “true love”.
In the realm of church, we see a lack of commitment because the person is relying on “synthetic enthusiasm” psychologically created by music, laser lights, or creative presentations and this is what they rely on to move forward.
In marriages, if this definition of love is attested to, we see relationships dissolving seeking the “next best thing” and lacking the resolve to show love through a lifelong study of the other person and daily compromise.
Finally, if this thought process leaks into our personal thought life, we can develop bitterness or constant discouragement because we never “measure up”. We will assume that the world around us is always taking notes and measuring our actions to then distribute their “love” to us and they feel.
Do you see how toxic a bad understanding of love can be?
In 2019, seek to understand this concept better. It will do more good than resolutions.
I wanted to encourage you to listen to the most recent podcast. In this recording, I wanted to briefly reflect on implications from Biblical Exile…in comparison to the division we see today in our political system. The voting booth should not be our sacrificial altar. Click on the player below. You can also subscribe to my podcast through iTunes!
Also, check out a post I made a couple years ago pertaining to voting. Perhaps this will shed some light on where our minds and hearts should be. Click here!
The High Priest opened the curtain and slowly walked into the Holy Place. His hands were still damp from the recent experience in the water basin. He took a deep breath as he walked through the threshold and whispered a quick prayer during the initial steps.
He looked to the left and made note of the candelabra. This priceless piece was hammered out of one piece of pure gold. Until this point, this lampstand has been used for several generations, but one would have poor observation skills not to notice that the stand still looked brand new. He knew that there was deep meaning in all the pieces that were placed in the Temple, but there was something in him that understood that there was a far deeper meaning to this lamp than what he could currently comprehend. Perhaps the full meaning would be revealed in time…
As he shuffled forward, his robe nearly dragged on the ground. He, once again, became aware of the weight of his breastplate. When he looked to his right side, he remembered the 12 tribes of Israel. This was symbolized by the loaves of bread on the table. The High Priest closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose. The smell of freshly baked wheat filled his nostrils, and for some reason, as if it was forcibly planted in his mind, stories of the times that God was faithful to His people were recalled.
The path became shorter, and the priest saw the last stand that he had to navigate around. The closer he got, the more the scent of incense gripped him. This small table had great significance, and the placement made it so it was almost an obstruction to the final goal. As the smoke filled the air, he was made acutely aware of his mission and purpose. The incense symbolized the prayers of the people that he was there to represent. One concept that struck him, that he had never thought of before, concerned the placement of this table. It was strategic. When God gave the instructions through Moses to build the original Tabernacle, it seems as if He wanted to make sure that prayer was the closest thing to Him. Perhaps there is more power in this action that we often think.
With a bowl full of blood in his hand, the High Priest approached the final curtain. He opened it to see the Arc of the Covenant. His heart pounded harder and harder. He felt slightly dizzy and had to compose himself. The makeshift room seemed to be illuminated and he felt as if it was significantly hotter. Then, he gave thanks to Yahweh, and began sprinkling the blood on the artifact. The experience seemed short lived as he concentrated on the ritual. He exited.
Weeks later, the High Priest heard rumors of a baby that was born not too far away. This child was born during the empire-wide census in a stable among animals. People spoke of a scandalized mother, who was pregnant before she was married to her husband. After a while, word about this little boy seemed to fade away. Perhaps we may hear more about this story later.