A Pastor’s Heavy Heart: 7 Things Your Pastor Carries

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I have a unique role.  I get to be a pastor to pastors.  One of the primary responsibilities in ministry is to care about and care for 42 different pastors.  This is a joy – usually.  Like any pastoral call, there are things that weigh on my heart. There are times when I want to step in but I’ve not been invited. There are times when I lay in bed and wonder how a particular pastor and his wife are doing. There are times when I see a wounded pastor and wish I could carry his pain away.   I feel what they feel deeply because I served as a local church pastor for 29 years before I stepped into this role.

During October, when many in the church are expressing appreciation for their pastors, I thought I might share some of the things that weigh heavy on your pastor.  Most of these burdens are unique to the pastoral role.  While you can’t take most of them away, you can understand and pray.  Your pastor will just be happy that you care enough to consider these things that are his to carry and what you might be able to do to lighten the load.

1. A pastor carries the weight of what his family feels about the church. The church isn’t just his job. It is his family’s church. He wants his kids and his wife to love their church. That can be tough during stressful seasons. I know of pastor’s wives who have sat on certain committees in the church and heard people on the team criticize the pastor’s leadership with her in the room.  The same has happened to pastor’s kids in the hallway of the church.  He wants his kids to some day choose to be involved in church and serve faithfully.

What you can do: If you’re frustrated, first think about who’s in the room. Love the pastor’s family whether or not you like the pastor.  Be tender with them.  Include them in your life if you can. Do what you can do to make them fall in love with the church!

2. A pastor carries the weight of his own failures. I don’t know a pastor who can’t quickly list his latest failures.  Unlike many jobs, a pastor’s job is tied to his spiritual life. If you blow it in your ministry, you know you’ve blown it with God.  You know how it feels when you know you’re not praying enough? Or, you’re struggling with giving?  Now make it your job and it adds another layer of responsibility.  Failure adds another layer of guilt.  It’s personal, and it’s professional.

What you can do: Communicate appreciation for what he’s doing well. Give patience and understanding when he doesn’t seem to get it quite right. In subtle ways let him know you understand his human frailty and you’re okay with it.

3. A pastor carries the weight of the church’s apparent success, or failure. Even when a pastor tries to measure ministry by Jesus’ standards of life transformation and discipleship, he knows that many in his church are measuring him by the budget and bottoms in the seats. Most ministries have seasons of ebb and flow.  There are a lot of reasons for these things. Even if the pastor doesn’t own it all, he still knows that many lay it on him.

What you can do: Remind him often that we are all in this together.  Find ways to celebrate the new life that is happening around your pastor and his ministry.

4. A pastor carries the weight of his own responsibility toward Christ. Have you ever walked away from a conversation with a neighbor and thought with regret, “I should have said…”, or “I shouldn’t have said…”  A pastor feels that nearly every day.  I know I have times I’ve thought about standing in front of Jesus while he goes through my sermons and measures what I said against the truth.  It isn’t a comforting thought.

What you can do: Pray for him to honor Christ and let him know when you think he is.

5. A pastor carries the weight of serving in a confusing time. The same way you see the world changing, the pastor sees the world changing.  For most, the ministry we were trained to do isn’t the same ministry which exists today. It is hard enough for all of us to understand the huge shifts.  Your pastor has to try to help you navigate them with hope and joy of Jesus. He wants to lead people to Jesus when fewer and fewer want to be led.

What you can do: Help him by joining in the mission of Christ in your own neighborhood, workplace and family.  Let him see you engaging your world and discover with your pastor, where God is moving and how we should join him.

6. A pastor carries the weight of caring for Jesus’ flock. Jesus has given your pastor a love for God’s people. He may be tired. He may be worn. But he still cares. It isn’t his job, it’s his vocation, his calling. And most do it 24/7 even when people would rather he not care. When one leaves because they are hurt and angry, it hurts. When people won’t make godly decisions, but are being choked by the world, it crushes his spirit. When people drift away, he still watches for their return, hoping it’s today.

What you can do:  Show up.  Ask how you can pray for him.  Commit yourself and encourage others in the church to seek the path of peace before heading out the door.

7. A pastor carries the weight of other pastor’s failures.  In our society, pastoral failure seems to be everywhere.  Your pastor carries that.  25 years ago, I sat in front of a bank manager, applying for a mortgage. I thought being a pastor would be an asset, because the bank would know that I was a person of integrity and a good risk. The bank manager said it was a liability because many pastors walk out on their loans and just leave town.  I was horrified when I realized I was carrying that reputation with me.  Today we know the clergy stories are even worse.

What you can do: Affirm your pastor’s love for Christ which is lived in integrity. Let him know when his lifestyle is a positive influence in your life.  And pray for him that he doesn’t become one of those statistics.

I am not asking you to shower him with “atta-boys.” But by your presence, prayer and involvement show you understand and appreciate his unique challenges. Most pastors I know gladly carry this weight and wouldn’t trade their calling for anything. But we should remember that the burdens our leaders carry are our burdens to carry together.  That is the nature of community.  And you are your pastor’s community!  You are his church family.

I would love to hear of your pastor who’s doing it well, or any other comments you may  have!

Note: I use the male pronoun because I come from a complementary tradition. If your pastor is female, I am sure she has many of the same struggles.

Good Dads and Great Dads

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My 4 Reasons for Father’s Day Happiness!

Father’s Day can be complicated.  I am grateful to be the Father of 4 sons, who have become men.  I remember times when we were all younger and we loaded the van and went to A&W Rootbeer for Father’s Day.  We sat, windows open, 50’s music blaring and awaiting our bacon cheeseburgers and rootbeer being delivered by roller-skating car hops!  Those were simple and special days.

This Father’s Day, I had the privilege to be with our eldest son, who is now a Dad of 2!  The second arrived just in time to be a great Father’s day present himself.

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A Father’s Day Gift

This day is also filled with thoughts of the Dads in my life. This Father’s Day, I am so grateful for a faithful Dad-in-law (Darrel), who has trusted me with his daughter and always made room for me in his family.  I also am missing my Dad (Marvin).  These are the days I want to pick of the phone and hear his voice again.  I want to hear him ask how life is going? And I want to tell him it is good.  And today, I am missing for the first time, a Stepdad (John), who just entered eternity 8 days ago.

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Stepdad, John; Dad, Marvin; Dad-in-Law, Darrel

I wondered as I drove home today, what makes a good Dad? I can be sure, a good Dad doesn’t have it all together.  If that were the standard, I don’t know a Dad who would meet that criteria.  A good Dad gives the best of all he has for those he’s been given to love.  He serves; he strives; and ultimately he knows it’s not about him, but about those who are coming behind.

Can we, as Dad’s, go one further?  Can we go from being a good Dad, to a great Dad?  What makes a Dad great?  A great Dad points his kids to the only Perfect Dad, who can do all he can’t! We have a perfect Father in heaven.  Jesus said in the Lord’s prayer that our Perfect Dad is the one who makes the Kingdom of God real.  He is the one who gives daily bread.  He forgives our biggest and smallest bad choices. And He also protects us from making more bad choices (Matthew 6:6-9).  He is the Dad who will be there, even when our Dads can’t.

I thank God for great Dads who pointed me, and still do, to my Perfect Dad.  I pray, I can do as well as they have and someday be counted as great.

7 Ways to Step Up My Spiritual Formation

In our Conference of churches, the North American Baptist Conference, we are being challenged and encouraged as leaders, to ask the questions, “How am I being spiritually transformed (changed toward Christ-likeness)?”  And then, “How are our churches spiritually forming people?”  These are two crucial questions, if we are going to develop growing, active and faithful disciples who live with Christ on His mission.

If we are going to have spiritual change, leaders must lead spiritual change.  In a meeting with Kent Carlson, VP of Leader Formation and Dave Johnson, Lead Pastor of Church of The Open Door, a couple of years back.  They shared a list of things we can do to create space for God to bring ongoing, long-lasting spiritual change.  These notes are a summary of their ideas and a few of mine.

  1. Carve out large blocks of unhurried time to spend alone with God.  This is hard work.  Ministry and life is demanding.  But how can we lead spiritually if we’re not taking time to discern the presence and the leading of God?  I am thankful for the times that God broke into my life and made himself known.  But the truth is, it shouldn’t have been necessary.
  2. Find someone who can handle hearing about your sin.  There is something powerful that happens when we are completely honest.  When our sin is brought the light of day, we find freedom.  The connection is highlighted in James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
  3. Make friends with one of the “least of these.”  We need to make friendship with people at the margins of life.  When we see and experience the humanity of those with needs that are different from our own, we have new opportunity to learn how to practice the love of God.  And when we love them, we are loving Jesus.  Remember he said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).”  Something I need to remember is that friendship is an equalizer.  I can’t come as the one who has the answers, or the power to fix.  But I come as a friend who walks with another where they are.
  4. Nurture humility.  Humility is the foundation of spiritual growth.  As I think about this, I wonder how to do that?  Here are some ideas for me.  I can discipline myself to ask questions instead of giving answers.  I can learn to take time to wait for direction, rather than come up with solutions.  In the end, I can develop a trust that God will take care of me which will free me to focus on what he wants me to do for and with others.
  5. Pay attention to inward rightness.  This inward rightness is a peace we can have with God and others.  One danger sign we were told about was “defensiveness.”  We were told that “defensiveness is a hole in inward rightness with God.”  The point is, if we are living life with a pervasive defensiveness, we know we’ve lost the sense of “settled-ness” that comes when all is good with God.  This unsettled-ness drives us to justify, over-explain, and even fight for people to understand us and agree with us.
  6. Live with an expectation that the Kingdom of God is operative.  We should expect that God is up to something.  And our job is to make space for it, rather than create it.  I look at the Lord’s Prayer.  And if Jesus taught us to pray “give us today our daily bread,” he must have expected that prayer would be answered today!  In the same prayer he told us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems to me that he thought this would be answered today, too.  I believe the Kingdom, in its fullness is yet to come, but that doesn’t mean the Kingdom isn’t on the move today.
  7. Embrace not getting what you want.  When we are denied our desires, it opens the door for us to pray, like Jesus did “Not my will, but yours.”  The way we handle this kind of denial in the little and big things of life reveal our real spiritual condition.  It also is the first step to all the other steps above.  We won’t move forward in our spiritual walk, until we subdue our desires, one by one.  If Christ will reign in our lives, he must reign over our  desires.

What do you think about these?  Which ones are you inwardly fighting against and why?  What might happen if you became intentional in just one or two areas?  What would other start to see if you did?

Thanks always for commenting, liking and sharing!

Pray for This Church

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I saw this on Facebook the other day and it disturbed me greatly.

This picture does remind us to pray for our pastors.  And that’s good.  But this picture reminds us why many churches never fulfill what God has called them to do and be.  A church that is being carried by its pastor is not a biblical church.  Let’s look at this from a few angles.

First, the church is designed to be a community of people, led by Jesus Himself and empowered by His Spirit.

Second, the church (the community) has a mission.  This mission is to display and declare the good news of God’s kingdom to a world run amuck.

Third, a pastor’s job, along with other leaders, is to guide and equip the church into stepping into the very thing they were created to be.

With these things in mind, look at this picture again and mourn what the church is missing.

This church is missing a real sense of community.  It is a group of people relying on one person to hold it together and move it forward.  Community is built as each part lives in active, sacrificial love.

This church is missing its mission.  It clearly exists to hang out together, supported by the limited strength and gifts of the leader.  Any hope of mission is dependent on the members carrying the call of Christ in their hearts.

This church is missing Jesus.  It has lost its heart to discern the leadership of Jesus himself.  It has traded in divine power, for measured human results.  There is no sense of Jesus speaking direction, correction, or healing.

This church is missing a joyful pastor.  It has laid on him expectations that even Jesus has not promised to fulfill.  And he will grow more weary, becoming open to all kinds of human maladies and temptations to hide from the pain of never being able to win.

So, if this is the church you go to, for sure, pray for the pastor.  But pray for him to be delivered, not for him to bear up.  More importantly, pray for the church!  Pray for the church to be what was designed to be, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).”  No one person can do this no matter how much we pray for him.

How does the Light spread?

This is post #3 in a series.  If you want to see what came before, LOOK HERE.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:6–9, ESV)

light_dispersion_conceptual_waves350pxLike the Sun bears witness that there is such a thing as light, so God sent a man.  His name was John.  He was Jesus’ first cousin.  We know him from the Gospels as John the Baptist, or more accurately, John the bapitzer.  He did a lot of things and yet only one thing.  He preached.  He ate locusts and honey.  He dressed like a prophet of old.  He confronted people about what God thought about right and wrong.  And he offered the path of repentance as preparation for the coming kingdom of God.  And the kingdom would be in a person.  That person is The Word, we’ve been hearing about in John 1:1-5.

John had a reputation.  He made an enormous impact in this world before his head was place on a silver platter.  Here was the Apostle affirming John’s ministry, but also reminding people that John was only a servant of higher purpose, a higher person.

John’s one job was to bear witness about the light.  The light of God was breaking into the world.  It was going to change everything.  And John was the advance team.  He was prying open eyes, so they might see that glimpse of light and life.  In these short verses, I see a couple of vital things that we must remember if we are going to bear witness to the Light.
  1. A witness has a something to say.  A witness understands the implications of what she/he has experienced.  And a witness tells.  We tell the story of the Light of Life.  We tell the story of the in-breaking of God’s Son and His Kingdom.  We tell the story of His grace and love.  We have a story worth telling.
  2. A witness is not the person, event, or story that is important.  Clearly, it is said of John the bapitzer, “He was not the light…”  No matter how influential he was, he was not HIM.  Witnesses don’t make the story about them.  They tell the story of the Light.  We all know witnesses who would rather witness about themselves than the One who came.  Let’s keep it about Jesus.
  3. A witness is more than a gossip.  We don’t just spread news.  We share so others may believe.  We have a purpose.  It isn’t to entertain, or get attention.  It is to show a way, the way of life in the Kingdom, through the Word.  Let’s tell so others can believe.
  4. A witness is indiscriminate in who he/she tells.  If the Light is life for everyone, then the announcement is for them.  So, whether we find ourselves along the banks of the Jordan River, or the 67th floor of the Willis Tower, or with a group of preschoolers in Sunday School, we say what we can say about the One who came and still comes into the lives of women and men.  Look at all those around you as those who need to know.

As always, thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing as you see fit!  But most of all, thank you for sharing the Light we all need.

You can see the next post here!

What Should Donald, Hillary, or I Be Afraid of?

160302005451-trump-and-hillary-exlarge-169Hopeful ramblings…

I fear, it’s time we had a little less confidence and a little more fear.

Psalm 47:2 “For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,  a great king over all the earth.”

This fear is rooted in the reality that God reigns supreme.  This world is His.  And all who have power are accountable to Him.

Psalm 47:7-8 “For God is the king of all the earth… God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.”

None of us are open to the wisdom of God for his world, without the fear of God.  Without fear, we determine our own values, we define our own problems and we devise our own solutions!

Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

In the book of Proverbs, 14 times the fear of the Lord is tied to some aspect of living in wisdom and understanding.

When God’s character and sovereignty are ultimately revealed, it will evoke the response of fear and worship from all.

Revelation 15:3,4 “…Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God Almighty!     Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!  Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship you,  For your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Life will be better for all, if we would open our hearts and minds to this reality now.  My fear is that whomever we elect, God will need to teach him/her or them the lesson of Nebuchadnezzar.  Reading Daniel 4, God loved King Nebby and his world enough to force him to realize his pride and God’s right to rule and reign.  It took a humbling downfall to get him there.  But he got there.

Daniel 4:37 “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Now, just in case we Christians are tempted to say, “Yeah, that’s right Donald!  That’s right Hillary!”  That same fear must reside deep in our hearts.  It is not fear of the world.  It is not fear of a ruthless, vindictive God.  It is fear of the God who rules and reigns over His creation.  Let’s call it supreme respect and awe.  It compels us to long for his salvation and live under his rule, leadership and authority.

It has been a mark of God’s people. And it should be again. It empowers our witness and enhances our effectiveness.

Acts 9:31 “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

2 Corinthians 5:11 “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

I don’t really know how I’ll vote.  But what I hope to see before election day is a crack in the facade of self-confidence and a glimpse of humility, however small it may be.  I pray that this fear would also reside in me.

It is only in humble fear that any of us will be ready to receive the wisdom of God.

7 Indicators We May Be Losing Our Missional Edge

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We face an ongoing challenge in planting, or leading churches today.  It’s tough to stay committed to God’s mission of reaching the lost.  It’s easy to fall into the pattern of doing church without really impacting lives with the transforming work of the gospel.  It’s easy to lose the mission, while doing church!  As I’ve listened, watched and experienced in various ministry settings, there are indicators that we have lost, or maybe haven’t had a missional edge.

 

#1 Lack of personal transformation of the leader(s).  When we stop being shaped by God’s heart, in the deepest recesses of our soul, we lose God’s heart.  And God’s heart is for the lost.  Personal transformation keeps the leaders close to God’s heart for mission.

 

#2 Lack of personal outreach of the leader(s).  Recently, I’ve been reminded again and again, leaders who don’t live outreach can’t lead outreach.  Personal outreach constantly tenderizes the leadership heart for the broken around them.

 

#3 Sunday has become the mission.  When ministry’s effectiveness is measured by weekend attendance, the mission has been lost.  In missional churches, Sunday is the launching pad for a week of God’s people doing mission in their world.

 

#4 Transfer growth is the primary growth of the church and the church is okay with that.  When this happens mission has slipped.  We’re just shuffling sheep.  And if that’s enough, see #3.  Conversion growth is God’s desire and design for healthy church ministry.

 

#5 Paid professionals do the ministry because we want things done professionally.  Our ministry values make it nearly impossible for lay people to be involved, except to serve the desires of staff.  The mission requires that each believer be ready to use his/her gifts to bring the gospel to their world.

 

#6 We value image over substance.  We want to look good.  We want to feel successful.  We want church to work like a well-oiled machine.  We stop looking for deep, transformational, prayerful and messy change.  It’s only when we are being shaped by the presence of Christ, that we can show people the Kingdom of God.

 

#7 We want immediate ministry success (usually defined as numbers), over ministry resilience.  Ministry resilience (the ability to adapt, stay faithful and move forward in our world), requires enduring through trials over time while experiencing the faithfulness of God.  Ministry resilience is what keeps a ministry on mission for the long haul.

 

My prayer is that the body of Christ will be led by pastors and churches who are committed to staying on God’s mission for the long haul. If we’ve lost the edge, I think regaining the edge must begin with #1 and #2.  From there God can reshape his mission in us.

 

How have you seen these at work?  Are there other indicators that you’ve seen or experienced?

Please share if you think this would be of encouragement to any others!  Thank you.