In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he says, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” First, Paul tells Timothy to watch his life closely. Why? Because a pastor cannot quench the thirst of others with an empty cup.
Sometimes you hear the question: What will they say about you at your funeral?
But I’m not sure how many people care what’s said at their funeral. After all, at your funeral, you’re dead. A far more intimidating question is: What will they say about you at your retirement party? You’ll have to listen (or pretend to listen) to every word of those speeches.
Ministry is difficult. Those of us who are pastors understand this. We have the responsibility of shepherding God’s people and live with the burden that one day we will stand before God and give an account of how we have stewarded this blessing (Heb. 13:17).
Consider this statistic provided by Pastoral Care, Inc. They reported that only one out of ten pastors will actually retire as a pastor. Now, this may not describe you, your network of friends or your context, but one thing is true: pastoral ministry is difficult and, if we’re not careful, we can burn out.
The king groaned and closed his window to shut out the jubilant roars. Responsibility weighed heavy on his shoulders, and now heaps of ingratitude from those people – God's people! – nearly drove him to his knees. Nearly. Here he had been faithfully serving (for the most part) a nation of unruly souls with no one to lean on but the God who seemed bent on taking away his crown.
Last December, while away on a marriage retreat with twelve or so other couples from church we discovered that a new family in our congregation had to call an ambulance to take their three-year-old to the hospital due to breathing difficulty. We knew they had no friends or family in the area, since they had recently moved from another state. It was late, the evening session was about to start, and the hospital was an hour and a half away.
Just a few hours ago, I found myself lying on my back in the wet dirt. I had a leg up in the air, holding up a two-by-four with my foot. My left hand held a screw in place. My right hand operated the electric drill, driving the screw through the two-by-four and into the bottom of the frame of my half-made chicken coop. I could feel the dirt working its way into my hair and clothes. My arms and face were already covered in a layer of grime.
Church leaders often find themselves in a bitter and lonely place. When I stepped into ministry leadership, I feared the high and even unrealistic expectations people would place on both me and my family. I had been through an intense personal struggle to understand and finally accept God’s call upon my life. As a pastor’s kid, I had in-house experience of how people can be so insensitive to the love and care of the shepherd who God has placed in their lives.
Several years ago, as a missionary in Eastern Europe, I led a Bible study for Iranians in our apartment. Although they were Muslims, these men wanted to learn about Jesus. Once a week, we enjoyed refreshments and conversation before sitting down to study the Gospels. Gradually, our friendships deepened and their understanding about Jesus increased.
When I was active-duty military, we would receive emails entitled “Lesson Learned.” They would tell stories of how people did their jobs poorly, often with catastrophic results. Every time part of the problem was a failure in leadership oversight. I wonder how often that is the issue in the church as well.
I am still unsure of how I got the invitation, but I did. It was a small gathering of local Boston pastors and seminary professors – and me.
We were all together to share a breakfast and hear Dr. John M. Perkins share an exhortation. (For those unfamiliar with Dr. Perkins, he is a long-time pastor, a writer, an evangelical leader for racial reconciliation and the co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association.) Despite the fact that he was in his early 80s at the time, he encouraged all of us in the room with passion and zeal for the mission of God.
Recently I wrote about the need to eliminate unnecessary structure so churches and ministry organizations can focus on accomplishing their mission more effectively. This requires a lot of prayer and discernment to know what to eliminate and what to keep. Tightening up the mission is critical to a ministry’s success. But is it possible to over-tighten one’s ministry focus so that it becomes too narrow? I believe it is.
“Everyone has to have a job,” a church growth guru told our group. Throughout the three-hour seminar, he repeated these instructions in many different ways: everyone in the church should have a position of some sort, even if it is only serving on a committee. In his opinion, would make everyone feel valued and help them take ownership in the church. It sounded like a great idea. It wasn’t.
The early years of ministry are difficult for everyone. Oftentimes during those first days, a lack of experience coupled with a youthful zeal leads to a myriad of mistakes. However innocent blunders are not the only faulty moves that young leaders make. Too often, young men and women fail due to character struggles with pride. Consequently, the pains of formation and the uncertainty of what is new causes many young leaders to quit.
Pastors and wives, don't forget that there is one time the Bible commands you to get drunk: "...Be intoxicated always in her love." (Proverbs 5:19) God wants you to be drunk with love for your spouse. This is best for you, best for your spouse, best for your kids, best for your church, and it glorifies God. Pastors and wives face unique pressures and challenges due to our roles in the body of Christ. Here are three ways a pastor and wife can stay madly in love through all of the ups and downs of pastoral ministry.
It is that time of year again here in New England – time to celebrate another winning Patriots season. But it’s not only their athletic skills that I admire.
A few years ago, they made the phrase “Do Your Job” popular, and my wife bought a Patriots beanie with that slogan. When they won Super Bowl 49 (I’m not so good at Roman numerals), there was a documentary called “Do Your Job” that followed the Patriots season. The filmmakers showed the interior of the Patriots offices, and etched on a glass door were the staff rules —
The middle-aged minister expressed deep frustration as he poured out his heart to me. He had started his ministry full of energy and excitement. Though the numbers were small when he started, he was sure that his faithful preaching of the Word and his clear strategic plan would turn the situation around. That was a decade ago. Now the numbers were even smaller, his excitement was long gone and the financial situation, which had never been good, was now perilous. He was not sure how long he could continue in his present ministry, but he was not a quitter, so he didn’t want to leave. He was in a quandary.