In Support of Pastors

In Support of Pastors

pastor support“Hello, Eric? This is Pastor Mike (not his real name). I am calling to let you know that on Sunday, I resigned from being pastor at my church.” I was shocked and saddened as he explained what had happened. In my 27 years of working with pastors, I have heard too many similar stories.

After our conversation, it occurred to me that the average church member is probably unaware of the challenges many pastors face. Satan’s plan to destroy the church is often to attack the shepherds. If he can weaken the shepherds, then the sheep are easy pickins’. In this article, I will shed some light on some of the challenges pastors face so that we can support them better.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them for they keep watch over your souls, as those who have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage for you.”
– Hebrews 13:17

Pastors will have to provide an account to Almighty God for the care they gave the sheep entrusted to their care. This care represents a very significant responsibility the weightiness of which Paul acknowledged in 2 Cor. 11:28.

Pastors know ministry is going to be hard, but many say it is harder than they ever thought it would be. The common refrain is: seminary never prepared me for this! One study found that 90% of pastors felt inadequately trained to meet ministry demands.

Pastors are usually hurt by the people they invest in the most. At issue here is not only discouragement, but the feeling of betrayal that comes when someone you have given so much to either betrays you or walks away for no good reason.

Pastors are often called upon at all hours. A pastor’s job is often 24/7/365. (And they don’t get overtime pay). Imagine what it’d be like to be called in the middle of the night to bring peace between a feuding husband and wife or parent and teen? Or to be left having to figure out who is going to teach the Sunday school class when a teacher decides she’s had enough?

A pastor carries a lot of anxiety and burdens. Pastors love and care for their sheep. Because of this, they carry not only their own personal and family burdens; they also carry the burdens of the people they shepherd. This is one reason why pastors need elders who will stand shoulder to shoulder with them to help them in the difficult but necessary work of ministering personally to the sheep!

Soccer coaches seem to have more authority than pastors. The intentionality of some parents toward their kid’s soccer coach reaches almost religious proportions. The kids will be at soccer practice, prepared and on time (regardless of the speed limit). But when a pastor suggests to a father that he read the Bible to the family or provide some form of general or personal counsel, it’s received  as advice that one can take or leave.

Ephesians 4:15 says to speak the truth in love. A pastor’s right and responsibility to make clearly biblical and therefore reasonable requests should always be seasoned with grace and love. That goes without saying. Even in so-called “grey areas”, his wisdom should be respected. But as one pastor told me, (this is a verbatim quote) “…my people don’t have to listen to me. All I can do is make suggestions.”

Our culture’s worship of autonomous individualism has greatly diminished people’s understanding of biblical authority not just as a force for good but a necessity in our lives. It seems today that any authority is often viewed with suspicion or derision. While I think many in the church know better, I fear that the culture is winning.

As the gap between culture and the church widens, we have to be comfortable with the light of God’s word shining more brightly against the backdrop of hopeless darkness. Culture does not have the authority of the Word of God in our lives. We must resist the prevailing view of authority with the same vigor that the Apostles implored the church to resist the false teachers of their day. Rejection of biblical authority, such as that of a pastor, is ultimately a rejection of God’s authority because pastors are simply under-shepherds of The Shepherd: The Lord Jesus Christ. Their authority is given by God to fulfill His divine purposes in our lives.

If you find yourself in a position where you are/have been at odds with this truth, I appeal to you to stop treating the pastor as if he has no authority to speak into your life and the life of your family. Consider that a pastor’s work is of eternal significance/advantage to you and your family! Who else is making your spiritual health their full-time concern?

Recovering the healthy partnership of the church and home that is so necessary to the daily application of the gospel in our lives requires that we honor God’s authority in our lives.

But who really stands to benefit? Our verse in Hebrews tells us that it is the church that benefits when a church leader’s job is a joy! Next time, I will address how we make a pastor’s job a joy…which will result in our own benefit… Continue reading here.

How to Make Your Pastor’s Job a Joy

How to Make Your Pastor’s Job a Joy

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Hebrews 13:17

Last time, I wrote about how important it is that we support our pastors, read it here. God has placed them in authority to lead, feed, protect and to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Hebrews 13:17 tells us that we should “let them do this with joy”. In this article, I want to share some thoughts on how to do that.

God’s Words: Obey and Submit

Making their job a joy begins with our disposition toward our pastors (and all church leaders, really). Our passage uses specific words, “obey” and “submit” to describe this disposition. These are strong words that our self-seeking culture detests. But God’s word commands us to submit to the civil (Rom. 13:1-7), ecclesiastical (Heb. 13:17), and domestic authorities (Eph. 5:22-23, 6:1).

It is impossible to live a God-glorifying, joyful life in God’s world without a healthy respect for and submission to these levels of God-ordained authority. Yet, it would be easy to adopt the world’s jaded attitude toward authority, including the authority of our church leaders. Biblically functioning elders are not authoritarian, but humble and gentle. And just to be clear, the command that we submit to the elders does not apply if asked to do something contrary to the clear teachings of scripture.

We Benefit When we Submit

We benefit when we submit to authority. Personally, I benefit each day that I don’t smash the accelerator as I approach a red light. I avoid all sorts of personal, legal, and moral problems when I stop and wait for the light to turn green. When I lived at home, I grew to appreciate my parents’ counsel about various life issues. Usually, things worked out well for me when I submitted to their counsel. Indeed, this is the promise to children in Ephesians 6:2-3: “Honor your father and your mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you…”

Similarly, a submissive disposition toward our church leaders makes their job a joy and ultimately benefits us. The benefit is not the main reason for submission. Love is. Indeed, Jesus taught that if we love him, we will obey his commands (John 14:15), including the command to submit to our church leaders. God’s love toward us, undeserving sinners, properly understood, should create in us a love toward God and our fellow man. But God is so good! In his plan, the effect of our submission which makes their job a joy is that we benefit.

What Submission Looks Like

What does an attitude of submission look like? Following are some super-simple things we can do that demonstrate love and personal concern that form a foundation from which submission can be demonstrated.

• When we seek to be faithful in the disciplines of reading our Bibles and prayer, both privately and corporately as a family that brings a pastor great joy.

• When we are intentional about seeking counsel and then intentional about following through on that counsel, that brings a pastor joy.

• Handwriting a personal note expressing your gratitude for their service and how you have grown in Christ as a result of their ministry is something that happens very, very rarely but means a tremendous amount.

• Take them out to lunch

• Give your pastor a gift card to take his wife out for dinner. If he has children, include child care.

• Offer to help out with administrative responsibilities

• Offer to use your home for ministry like small group or simply inviting non-believing neighbors over.

• Offer to teach a class

• Probably the biggest single thing you can do is pray for your church leaders.

– Pray for their personal needs (strong marriage, believing family, adequate finances),
– Pray for them as Paul requested: that he’d be bold in preaching the gospel (Eph. 6:19-20),
– Pray that he’d be delivered from hardships (2 Cor. 1:11),
– Pray that he’d be able to help people grow in their faith (1 Thess. 3:10).
– Pray for unity among the leaders (John 17:20-21).

These are just a few specific ways to pray for your church leaders. Be sure to tell them you are praying for them and seek an update about how things are going in the areas you’re praying about.

Our church leaders, most especially our pastors, serve unique and precious purpose in our lives. Their work is of eternal worth to us. Let us seek to guard ourselves against a disposition that would discourage them.  Let us seek to make their job a joy!

Called to Someone… Everyday

Funny businesswoman with stress isolated. High angle view fish eye like image of stressed young woman in suit, Isolated on white background.

“The Primary purpose of the church, before mission, before healing, before transforming the culture; the first purpose of the church is to give a ravishing vision of who Jesus Christ is and let him draw people to himself. But we are not presenting Jesus Christ, we are presenting mission, or we are presenting transformation, we’re presenting healthy marriage or healthy family. And so, people come for reasons other than Jesus himself…Until we get the Gospel right, we shouldn’t be surprised that young people are walking away…Before we are called to something, before we are called to somewhere, we are called to someone.”

-Skye Jethani, Senior Editor, Leadership Journal

Yes, we need to be called to Jesus; not once, but every day! Whether or not Jethani meant that exactly, I don’t know.  But what does it really mean? let me offer an example.

I had a conversation with one of my children the other day. This child was dealing with an idol of control which evidenced itself in angry, frustrated, fearful behavior. It took 45 minutes of relationship-required conversation to get to the nub of the issue: she needed to see that her happiness in life was not tied to her ability to control a certain situation she was facing. She did not need therapy. She did not need to be at the church building on Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm.

She needed the person of Jesus.

She needed to see that her happiness in life was not tied to her ability to manipulate events to the end of her own liking. She needed to discard the wrong, idolatrous belief that she could achieve happiness by controlling the situation. Rather, she needed to see that even if the situation did not go the way she wanted it to, she could still be happy (i.e. satisfied)–and obey the Lord– simply because Jesus is.

Because she is “in Him” (Col. 3:13); because he himself is her life (John 14:6), because in his presence she can experience pleasures forever (Ps. 16:11) she could in fact be happy and did not need to control the situation. This was my message to her…and she took it to heart.

Our need every day is to see Jesus in all of his glory. We need to become intimately familiar with who we already are in him; and we need to intentionally dwell (2 Cor. 3:18) on Him. By dwelling on Him, we are better-equipped to expose and defeat the idolatrous lies of the Devil. We are also motivated to greater obedience; obedience which glorifies God because it is obedience that is done out of joy in God first and foremost, not duty, or an attempt to gain brownie points with God.

I suggest that this is how we must understand being called to “Someone”. It is a calling that we are to intentionally remind ourselves of every day, and not just once.

Four Small Changes to Men’s Ministry, Part 2

casualmanLast time, I mentioned the first two (of four) changes that if made to Men’s Ministry can make a huge difference. You can read the full article here.  As a review, they are:

First, change the name of the Men’s Ministry to Head of Household ministry.
“Men’s Ministry” connotes male issues, individuality and segregation, along with isolation. “Head of Household Ministry” keeps the focus on relationships and the head of household’s role in ministering through his relationships at home.

Second, teach heads of household (and then remind them over and over and over and over again) that the gospel makes them adequate to fulfill their role.
The gospel by virtue of what it is: the divinely powerful message of salvation (i.e. justification, sanctification, glorification), is alone sufficient in the hands o

f all men, including ordinary men, and made effectual by the Holy Spirit to do the work of transformation in the lives of people.

Third, stay focused on equipping men to apply the gospel in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Relationships that move wives and children toward Christ are an overflow of the transformation that God is accomplishing in the heart of the head of household (HOH). Paul says that the love of Christ compelled him (2 Cor. 5:14). In other words, his ministry was an overflow of Christ’s love working in him rather than his mustering up the will-power to do it himself.

Are HOHs experiencing transformation that overflows into service? Tragically, men can know their Bible, and even lead their households using biblical principles but still not know Jesus , love Jesus, or know the fundamentals of how to “put on Christ” everyday. Consider that many hearts are lost while the HOH is busy growing in greater knowledge of the Bible but failing in his relationships.

Equipping HOHs to apply the gospel involves teaching them skills such as how to discern the heart (i.e. motives, desires) behind their actions, how to identify and put off idolatrous desires that rule the heart, how to put on Christ, and how to repent of sin on a daily basis. Becoming more proficient in doing these things is maturity.

For example, at my church’s monthly Head of Household Meetings, we do not teach on other subjects such as finances, sex, work, eschatology, etc., etc. (That is not to say that those subjects are unimportant. However, they are usually abstracted from the gospel and easily become the sole focus overshadowing the more important, ongoing, daily heart work which requires constant attention. The secondary issues can be addressed more individually as need arises.) We have one topic: the gospel and it applied to heart and life to the glory of God. Sometimes this comes in the form of our pastor teaching. In other cases, it comes through testimony and mutual building up of brothers.

This ardent focus provides absolute clarity in the minds of us as elders and the HOHs about the nature and priority of our work.

Forth, the leaders of the church need to provide accountability.
The covenantal leaders of the local church (Elders) need to lovingly, graciously, and patiently hold the covenantal leaders of the home (HOHs) accountable to fulfill their calling of applying the gospel in their home. This involves much more than group meetings. It involves relationships between the elders and the HOHs where trust is built and intimate knowledge can be shared.

I am reminded of 1 Peter 5:5 where Peter, after talking about the shepherd role of elders adds, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders…” (NASB) Who were these “younger men”? Given the historical context it would be a stretch not to believe that they were predominately HOHs.

It is easier to teach a class than it is to have a deeper conversation.

Some might conclude that this is just too hard to do, or that it’ll never work for them. Perhaps there is a better, i.e. easier, more efficient way? (There isn’t).

This is a challenge. How do we meet it?

There are a number of practical ideas that I could offer here. However, I don’t think the problem really is knowing what to do. The following question cuts to the heart of the issue. Think of the costs of not doing this. For some, we will not have to think beyond people we know who are in trouble that could have perhaps been avoided if they were in accountability relationships.

This requires personal evaluation. What do our daily choices reveal about what (or who) is most important to us? Are we willing to meet the challenge and trust that God’s Holy Spirit is going to work through us—weak and feeble though our efforts be? We ourselves need the reminder of where the power is (point #2)! We also need the overflow (#3 above) that enables us to make the necessary sacrifices.

Church leaders who pay the price of equipping heads of household enjoy a tremendous return on investment in a healthy crop of men (1 Tim. 3:1-7) who rise to leadership in the church and who are able to help younger heads of household faithfully live their covenantal role in the home. Further, heads of household who rise to the level of maturity in this role are qualified for eldership.

A Cure for Pastor Burnout Part 2 of 3

manhandchin-150x150My last column ended with the question, “What does equipping look like?” In a word, it looks like, relationship.

I wrote that a cure for pastor burnout was to equip more “ministers” to do the main work. What I’m talking about here are church members who are fully capable of helping each other with the deep work of transformation. Transformation is greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ which enables one to live more and more to the glory of God (Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 3:18). While it is the Holy Spirit Who does the actual transformation, God’s plan is to use us in each other’s lives as a vital part of the process. We are all to speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15), we are all to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), we are all to restore brothers and sisters who are out of fellowship with God (Gal. 6:1-2). All of this simply is another way of saying, “discipleship”!

Discipleship of this nature necessitates relationship because the truth that we speak to one another is to be integrated into life so that we are transformed and God is glorified (Eph. 4:1, 16-17; Col. 2:6-7). Classroom training can help, but it is limited and too often stands alone without any designed connection to relationship. People rarely learn how to apply truth to life by sitting in a classroom. Information (while important) is, by itself, not transformation. And Jesus was after transformation. Are we reminding our congregants of this?

Jesus’ model for equipping the disciples was relationship. His disciples learned by watching him minister to others. (In similar fashion, Paul exhorts us to imitate him and to follow his example in Phil 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:7,9; 1 Tim. 4:16, 1:12; and 2 Tim. 2:2). It’s like the Law of Biogenesis at work spiritually.

A few weeks ago, my son Jared changed the oil in one of my vans for the first time (see picture). It was a proud moment for him and for me. He had learned a lot about how to change the oil just by watching me do it over the years and I was impressed with the skill and care he demonstrated. When I began to give instruction he said, “Dad, I know how to do this, I’ve seen you do it a thousand times.” Are our relationships with one another strong enough to command that kind of response?

Imagine a church where the following (or something similar) is normally heard: “Fred, my wife and I are struggling but I’ve observed how you relate to your wife. I’ve seen how you work through conflict and I know what I need to do.”  

People need to be able to see what you are equipping them to do, especially when it comes to heart transformation. 

The main work is the soul work and the soul work is not “turn-key”. It is not simply a matter of telling people what is true and expecting that they will be able to translate that into life. Soul work: discipleship, focuses on the heart where deceitful desires are at war within us (Eph. 4:22; James 4:1-2). So, watching someone have a discussion with another person (or them telling you about it) that plumbs the depths of the heart is very helpful to learning how to do the work yourself.

I’ll never forget learning how to share my faith. My friend, Eric, taught me how to share my faith through a combination of classroom teaching and weekly meetings where we would pray, talk about life, and then go out and actually witness together. Normally, we would go to George Mason University to engage students in spiritual discussions. Eric modeled how to share his faith even with the many antagonists that we providentially encountered. There have been a number of times that I have consciously thought back to those experiences and drawn from what I learned by watching Eric.

So how do we get equipping like this going? Here are several meaty ideas.

First, this will take time. So, it begins with a commitment. Church leaders must see this as mission-critical and not allow tyranny of the urgent, or various fears, to consume it.

Second, it involves the leadership of the church rolling up their sleeves and doing it themselves. Church leaders can begin to regularly meet with people one-on-one. This may require some level of freeing them up to have the time to do this. When small groups are led by elders it provides a natural way for elders to know who they are responsible to equip which also ensures that everyone in the church is actually equipped. This simple connection also helps to establish relationships in a much more natural way.

Third, consider the strategic importance of church leaders developing a primary, not exclusive, but primary focus on discipling the heads of household. I believe this honors the biblical role and responsibility of the head of household and leverages the time and effort of the church leader by focusing on one person who already has the express responsibility of equipping other people, namely and primarily those in their homes, including wives and children.

Fourth, consider giving the Sunday and Wednesday night youth and adult activities a rest for 12 weeks. Gather everyone to go through Paul Tripp and David Powlison’s Changing Hearts, Changing Lives curriculum available from CCEF.org. This curriculum features twelve videos and individual workbooks. This would be a great way to emphasize the necessity of everyone seeing and learning how to be a minister.

Fifth, consider having the Institute come and present a weekend, church-wide seminar! Building Church Communities of Gospel Transformation is for everyone: youth, singles, couples, and families in the church. When trying to emphasize/re-emphasize something important, it sometimes helps as part of the effort for people to hear it from a different person. We also have a simple and fun 12-week curriculum for families to use in the home after the seminar.

Now, perhaps all of this still sounds impractical? You might object, “This will never work at my church!” Or you may question, “Who has time to equip someone this way?” I will answer these and other objections next.

Continue on to part 3 here.