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!

God’s Discipleship Pattern in Scripture

God’s Discipleship Pattern in Scripture

discipleshipThe latest research reveals that 75% of the children raised in evangelical churches are leaving the faith. It appears that the church is hemorrhaging its children out into the culture. Did Peter know something that we don’t when he preached, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off…”(Acts 2:39)?

Having been a children’s ministry leader, and having met many children’s and youth ministry leaders over my 21 years of ministry, I can say that the efforts of the men and women who faithfully and lovingly serve on staff are not in question. In fact, the problems we see cannot be laid at the feet of these programs.

I submit that perhaps there are biblical principles that we’ve lost sight of. A renewed focus on these principles could make the difference in seeing Peter’s promise move from elusive dream to reality.

On one hand, Children’s and Youth ministry leaders increasingly are saying, “We’re doing all we can, but we can’t disciple children in one hour per week. We need parents to step up to the plate.” On the other hand, parents are maxed out, stressed out, and sometimes checked out of the daily process of making kingdom disciples of their covenant children.

The Word of God Provides The Solution In a Simple Pattern

What does God’s word tell us about how He expects us, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to establish covenant faithfulness in the home? I begin with a short story.

I remember one Christmas Eve getting quite frustrated with putting together a toy for my son. I finally, humiliatingly, after two hours of exasperation, found the directions and actually read them to learn that I had missed an important step. I imagine anyone reading this has had the same experience at some time or another. In some cases, the pieces are all there, but they aren’t put together in proper order. Either way, successful completion of the project remains elusive, until we read (or re-read) the directions.

What we need to do is “re-read” the directions for making disciples.
Very simply, it looks like this:

The Simple Pattern for Covenant Faithfulness in the Church and in the Home

1. There is a presupposed pattern in scripture, submitted to, pursued, and applied for God’s glory and our good, which rightly applied is not two but one central motive.

2. The aim of this pattern is heart-level obedience. (True godly desires verses bare-legalistic duty-oriented behavior).

3. Heart-level obedience is lived out through heart-level relationships with God and one another (“You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor”) which are the ultimate end to which we are all accountable.

4. This heart-level obedience and these relationships are not indiscriminate but maintained along covenantal lines (e.g. marriage and family).

5. The primary methodology of growth in regards to heart-level obedience and heart-level relationships is speaking the truth (the gospel) in love within these relationships, for which we are all accountable to know others and to be known by them.

6. This growth, otherwise referred to as sanctification or renewal in the likeness of Christ, involves putting off the old man with its lusts and putting on the new man (Christ in you). The love that comes from Christ to God and others, being rooted in the accomplishment of Christ and applied by faith, makes covenant faithfulness not only possible but expected, and not a burden but a joy.

7. God’s design is for each household to have a spiritual leader or ‘head of household’ (husband, father, single mother, or woman unequally yoked to a non-believer) who is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing this heart-level transformation for their households.

8. Overseers (elders) are men assigned to see to it that this transformation is being faithfully maintained in the broader Household of God (the Church). Practically speaking, overseers accomplish their jobs primarily by equipping and graciously holding responsible those (heads of households) whom God holds accountable.

How to Re-emphasize This Pattern

I will begin by stating what this pattern does not require. It does not require a jihad against church programs. Truth is, these programs can actually help facilitate the re-establishment of this pattern. But let’s be clear, absent this simple pattern being vigorously, intentionally, and faithfully maintained, these programs carry a load they were never intended to carry and as we have seen cannot fabricate covenant faithfulness.

What this pattern does require. Required is the vigorous, intentional, and faithful maintenance of this pattern because it represents what God has already clearly revealed in His word to guide us.

The place to start is with the establishment of this basic pattern of covenant faithfulness in the entire body of Christ. The big picture is beautifying the Church: the Bride of Christ. Do we really believe Ephesians 4:15-16? Are we building each other up by speaking the truth to one another in love? Faithful shepherding—and accountability—by the elders of the heads of households to fulfill their role is a clear biblical element that must be re-established if we are to accomplish covenant faithfulness and produce kingdom disciples.

Equipping spiritual heads of households to pursue covenant faithfulness in the home is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but a primary, foundational and absolutely mission- critical element in the church’s ministry.

This represents an exciting opportunity for elders, ministry leaders, head of households.
Scripture has given us a simple pattern that we must live in order to see Peter’s promise realized in our time…and beyond.

A Cure for Pastor Burnout Part 3 of 3

elderreading-150x150Review
So far in our mini-series we have seen that the cure for pastor burnout is to equip others in the church to do what God says they are already called to do: minister to one another (Eph. 4:15-16; Col 3:16-17). Everyone, not just the pastor, is a minister who is responsible for doing the work of applying the gospel to people’s hearts. We also saw that relationships are a vital context for people to minister this way. 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).

As equippers, an elder’s commitment to relationships for his own equipping work is essential. I add that a focus of the elder on the head of household (who will take what he learns and apply it in his home) best leverages precious time spent.

Other elders committing to shepherding work is a HUGE cure for pastor burnout.

Today in the third and final installment, I want to address two challenges felt by some elders who seek to follow this shepherd-like approach to equipping. Note that while I am addressing elders, the issues really do apply to all of us in the church!

The first challenge is: “I don’t know how to do it!”
There are two aspects to this that are very closely linked. The first has to do with a feeling of inadequacy in relationships. Deep relationships are not usually high on a man’s priority list! Let’s face it, it’s easier to talk about the NFL than our heart struggles. The second aspect is a lack of confidence in helping people examine their hearts and how to apply the gospel where correction and growth are needed. Consider that this aspect of the challenge is more a reflection of the professional, academic model that prizes forensic skill than it is a reflection of an elder’s ability (1 Tim. 3:2, 5) to apply the precious gospel truths in relationships.

As Collin Marshall reminds us in his book, The Trellis and The Vine“…the effect of tradition and long practice is not always that some terrible error becomes entrenched; more often it is that our focus shifts away from our main task and agenda which is disciple-making.

The elder’s work is hard, but not rocket science. It involves knowing the gospel and being able to apply it to the heart by faith. But it is very difficult to do this at least to any meaningful degree outside the context of relationships.

Jesus’ model as a shepherd helps us understand how elders can do this relational work.
For instance, in John 13 Jesus said that he knew his sheep. So, how hard is it to get to know someone? Isn’t it a matter of simply spending time with them? Isn’t it a matter of taking an interest in them and getting to know who they are? What they like or dislike? What troubles them and what gives them joy? These interests and many others are not too difficult to figure out in a relationship.

This personal knowledge is important because it reflects the heart of the person. To understand the heart is to know the reasons why they do what they do. It’s about helping them discern whether their actions flow from a desire to glorify God through obedience or to glorify self through the worship of an idol. If the motivation is idolatrous, then we need to be able to show how the gospel defeats the idol and re-directs the person back to God’s glory. Helping people become skilled at going through this cycle is the daily, ongoing work of sanctification.

A good place to start doing relationships is by simply selecting four men and committing to have coffee, breakfast or lunch with one person, one day per week for the purpose of getting to know them so as to bless them with the gospel. It may be challenging at first but it works if one chooses to make it work. This leads to the second challenge that I want to address.

A second challenge is: “I don’t have time to do it.”
Time is a real issue especially for those who have unusual job demands. But time duly taken into consideration, this is still an issue of priorities. Is there no time anywhere in the week to reach out to someone in a way like I’ve described? Practical issues aside, this is where our own hearts as elders need to be overcome with the gospel!

The gospel working in us will create a desire to serve others. We serve best not out of duty, but out of an overflow of the love that we have received from Christ. If it’s a priority that God wants, and we ask him to show us how to make it happen, it’s amazing what He can do. Even if an elder is only able to make one or two connections per month, that’s one or two more connections than would have been made otherwise!

It is worth the effort to work at making practical, relational eldership work. Through it people’s lives do change. It allows us elders to give a good answer when God asks us to give an account for the sheep under our care (Heb. 13:17). And it provides a cure for pastor burnout because more people are involved in doing the main work which is the heart work in their relationships.

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.