Posts Tagged With: pastor

I’ve Got This…or not!

A team of servants from my church recently spent a week serving in Honduras with our sister church in Pena Blanca. In the mornings, we conducted Vacation Bible School for children in the Compassion International ministry. In the evenings, the pastor of my church and I traded off preaching to the congregation and conducting leadership training for the church’s ministry leaders.

I am no novice at international ministry. This trip is my seventh on 4 different continents. Over the years, I have spoken before thousands of people, but there was one element about this trip that set it apart from any other engagement – I was speaking through an interpreter. For some reason, the thought of this was really getting in my head. All day long I found myself obsessing with my delivery, about whether I would be able to relate well in Honduran culture, whether or not I would be able to get into a “flow” through interpreter. By the time the evening arrived, I was pretty nervous about the whole deal. This was out of character for me.

My gift is teaching and I have been told that I am a very good communicator. When I was in seminary, one of my preaching professors made an assessment of my preaching that both challenged and changed me. He said, “Jason I have good news and the bad news for you. The good news is that you are the most naturally gifted preacher I have ever had in class. The bad news is that you are the most naturally gifted preacher I have ever had in class. The danger for you will be to relax and begin to rely on the gift rather than the Giver.” That valuable advice has rung true in my ears and heart ever since. It forever changed the way that I prepared my messages – I write out a complete manuscript to ensure I have thought through the sermon and am not just “winging it.”

But on this night, nothing was reducing my increasing anxiety level. That was until I began to write this journal entry. After only a few sentences, God began to speak to me asking the oh-so-convicting question, “Just on whom are you depending? Have you begun to trust so heavily on your gift to communicate that you have written me out of the script?” This was a wake up call for me! It was as if I had been saying to God, “I’ve got this” to which God was replying, “Really?” He was not finished.

That evening, our team gathered at church along with a few church members. Prior to service, I knelt at the altar in prayer, confessing to God my sinful self-reliance and rededicating myself to dependence on Him. Meanwhile, a fierce tropical storm had picked up and we had become engulfed in a torrential downpour. Then we lost electricity and was plunged into deep darkness. In the midst of my prayer, I began to laugh with God at His sense of humor. It seemed as if God was saying, “If your concern is about who will see you and what you will say, I can take care of that for you.” Because they all walk to church, the storm kept the vast majority of the congregation away from service. The pounding rain on the corrugated steel roof was so loud that no one would have been able to hear a word I said anyway without the sound system which, of course, was dead with no electricity. God fixed it so that the only power in the room was supplied by Him!

We ended up having service by candlelight and experience a powerful, powerful time of praise and worship. I preached with a confidence, born not of my personal ability, but fueled by a renewed dependence upon the One who has both privileged and gifted me to be His herald and communicator of His good news.

But this experience, as freeing as it was, also revealed to me what I suspect to be an unfortunately common dark side of those called to communicate God’s word. At the beginning of our ministries, the awareness that:
… the ink was still wet on our covenant with God,
… like gangly teens we were still trying to grow into our newfound spiritual bodies,
… the fear of looking foolish before an expectant congregation humbled us,
… our license to preach was still only a short distance away from our learner’s permit
drove us to our knees in prayerful dependence on God.

But is that still true of you today?

  • Do you still approach the pulpit with the reverent awe of standing on holy ground?
  • Do you approach your shepherding responsibilities like young Moses who arrogantly thought his position and abilities entitled and empowered him to fulfill his calling?
  • Are you more likely to plan and program than you are to pause and pray?
  • Have you slipped into in a comfortable sense of self-reliance?

I challenge you to examine yourself. I know I’ve had to do so.

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Categories: Preaching | Tags: , , ,

Show me the Money, pt. 2

I ended my previous post with these words:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ignoring the need for money in either the personal life of the pastor or the corporate life of the church. That would be foolish. Nor am I suggesting that the calling to pastoral ministry carries with it an implied vow of poverty. That would be irresponsible. I am simply stating that we have to know that we can trust God to provide for our needs and not make money the dominant, focal and defining point of our life and ministry.

There are a couple of significant benefits I have learned from settling this money business with God up front.

First, you will not be afraid of people. If you think that keeping your ministry’s “paying customers” happy is the requirement for financial stability, you may find yourself being guilty of the sin of partiality. You may begin to look at people financially (What can they give?) rather than spiritually (What do they need?). James warned against this sin: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool” (vv. 1-3). But when you know that regardless of who writes the check, it is the Lord that pays your salary and your bills, it will reduce your reduce your temptation to compromise truth or cater to givers to keep them happy.

I once was at a meeting of pastors where one of the major topics of discussion was church finances. There was much lamenting about how many people gave far below their capacity to give. In the car on the way home, I asked a pastor why, if giving was such a problem in the church, it was not addressed by means of challenging people to pay tithes and offerings. The pastor told me that, quite frankly, he and most of his colleagues were afraid that if they preached about money they would anger people and thus risk losing what money those people were giving.

When you have come to a place of peace with God about the issue of money (and who controls it), people don’t scare you as much.

Second, you will not be afraid of not providing for your family. The responsibility of providing for a family can add significant stress to a pastor. Adding a wife to my faith journey added a new layer of challenge. In the early years, the challenge was for her. However, the longer we were married and then added children, I found that the challenge became for me. I took very seriously the mandate that I should protect and provide for my family. When I was flying solo, waiting on the Lord to provide, I did not have a hard time making sacrifices, but when those sacrifices were having to be made by my wife and kids, I began to struggle a bit more. I didn’t want them to go without (or with less) because I was in ministry. I wanted to be able to take care of them without the “stress” of earlier years of waiting on the Lord.

When I moved to Denver in 1999 to take a position with a new ministry and a fat new salary, I made the promise to my wife that I would never put her in that financially challenging situation again. I should have whispered, because God heard me and I don’t think He appreciated my misplaced self-confidence. Within months after our relocation, we were in the same position again as the ministry did not have the funds to pay my salary. The combination of the understandable frustration from this situation combined with my ill-advised promise was a toxic cocktail that threatened my ministry, (it made me want to find a regular job that would eliminate these financial swings) and my mind (I was discouraged, angry and despondent).

When we shared this situation with my pastor, he provided a concise evaluation that has forever changed my perspective. He said, “First, that is a promise that you should never have made because it is not one you can keep. You don’t know what God has in store for your life. Second, God is the provider for you and your family, not you.” That was just the reality check I needed to push (more like slap) me back in line. As I reflected over the years of God’s faithfulness, He reminded me that it was always Him and not me that had provided for my family. Nothing had changed.

Make your peace with God right now about the issue of money. Don’t let your concerns about it, your pursuit of it or your fear of the lack of it derail your ministry. Learn to trust God with this area of your life because you will pay a great price if you don’t, but have great peace if you do.

JP

Categories: Money | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Show me the Money, pt. 1

I am going to get myself in trouble with some people with this entry – I’m going to talk about money.

We are living in an age when the “prosperity gospel” has grown in enormous popularity and taken a strong grip, if not a stranglehold, in many Christian pulpits. Simply stated, is a theology that defines spiritual blessings in financial terms. It’s a worldview that pairs a lack of material means with a lack of spiritual muscle. I am willing to go on the record in stating that not only is this an inaccurate interpretation of scripture, it is dangerous and harmful. For the purposes of this blog, I will limit my comments to the impact of this thinking on the pastors and spiritual leaders.

Why do you think there is so much discussion in scripture about money? I think it is because God knows that the almighty dollar is a force that comes about as close as you can get to matching the power of the Almighty God. It should be noted that right at the top of the list of the qualifications for the overseer of the church is being ”free from the love of money” (I Timothy 3:3). God knows that money has a way of stealing our loyalty and diverting our attention – “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).

Because many pastors feel overworked and underpaid, money and issues surrounding it can become a serious distraction, if not downright temptation. Your attitude about money, both on a personal level as well as a corporate level, will be a great determining factor in your satisfaction with ministry. I want to share with you some important lessons (actually, only one) I’ve learned concerning money that have saved both my ministry and my mind.

 

The most important lesson I’ve learned is this: confirm your call, not your salary. If God has called you into His service, will He not be faithful to provide for your needs as well? Isn’t that the promise of Matthew 6:33? “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

In Luke 22:25, not long before His death that would propel the disciples into the scary, lonely world of ministry, Jesus called the disciples together and asked them a crucial question: “And He said to them, ‘When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?’ They said, ‘No, nothing.’ Earlier, Jesus had challenged them to put God’s needs above their own, by focusing on kingdom work and trusting that their own needs would be met. They took the challenge and now it was grading time. God passed with flying colors.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ignoring the need for money in either the personal life of the pastor or the corporate life of the church. That would be foolish. Nor am I suggesting that the calling to pastoral ministry carries with it an implied vow of poverty. That would be irresponsible. I am simply stating that we have to know that we can trust God to provide for our needs and not make money the dominant, focal and defining point of our life and ministry.

Jason P.

Categories: Money, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

How’s Your Fire?

Once the initial excitement of ministry wears off, and the routineness of daily service sets in, what keeps you motivated for service? When the bruises from sheep bites start to mount and the pressures of other people’s problem’s begin to weigh heavy upon your heart, what gets you out of the bed in the morning? During these challenging times of the ministry, if we are not fueled by a passion for God, we will not survive; we will burn brightly at the start only to flame out at the end.

Several years ago, when I worked for Youth For Christ, I would often spend time mentoring new hires. I would always tell them that the most important thing they brought to the ministry was not their ability to get along with kids or their teaching skills, but their personal relationship with Christ. When you read about Jesus’ reinstatement interview of Peter in John 21, you see that there was only one question asked of him: “Do you love me?” Jesus said, if you love me, then feed my sheep. What qualified Peter for service to God was not his skills, education or resume, but his love for Christ.

I think we can learn something from Peter’s life.

Peter had a great and promising start!

  • He left his day job to pursue the call of the Lord (Matt. 4:19).
  • He was selected to be a part of Jesus’ initial ministry team (Matt. 10:2).
  • He displayed great spiritual insight (Matt. 16:13-20).
  • He demonstrated a willingness to step out on faith and trust God for great things (Matt. 14:22-34).
  • He vowed on his life that he would never turn away from Jesus (Matt. 26:31-35).

But Peter flamed out.

  • He denied knowing Jesus.
  • He experienced an emotional breakdown.
  • He returned to doing that which Jesus had called him from and influenced others to do the same.

How do we maintain long-term passion for the Lord?

  • Follow God, not the ministry (John 21:19). We can’t find our identity and purpose in what we do or where we do it, but only in who we do it for. If we focus too much on people or ministry, they will fail and disappoint us; bore and burn us; distract and disillusion us. God, however, never will because He stays the same yesterday, today and forever.
  • Follow closely, not from a distance (Matt. 26:58). In the whirlwind of preparing to feed others, we can’t forget to feed ourselves. We must nurture our personal (and not just our professional) relationship with Jesus through attendance His word and prayer.
  • Focus on your calling, not someone else’s (John 21:20-23). Our passion for God can grow cold when we begin to measure the “success” of our ministry by seeing how it stacks up against another’s. Comparative shopping is a sure way to douse our fire.
  • Focus on grace, not gifts (Luke 6:36-50). God does not call us because we are gifted; He gifts us because we are called. Our passion for God is fueled by our knowledge of how much grace God has to employ to use us as His instruments.

What douses your passion for the Lord and ministry?
How do you maintain your enthusiasm for the Lord?
Do you still approach God with a sense of expectancy or has it become routine for you?

Add your voice to the conversation. Someone may need to hear it.

Categories: Passion for God | Tags: , , , , , ,

Calling: Deconstruction for Reconstruction

I was having a conversation with a pastor who was also writing about this issue of the “divine call”. He said “I tell people that they don’t want to go anywhere near ordained/licensed ministry unless they are clear God is calling them.  That warm, exuberant, passionate emotion for christian ministry may or may not be God calling.“ Another young minister said to me that he didn’t realize how much of a challenge the ministry would be and how much of a cost it would exact from he and his family. A childhood friend of mine was just ordained to the office of pastor. On her Facebook page I offered this scripture (Hebrews 5:1-4) as a word of encouragement and challenge:
“Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.”

Answering the call of God is no small matter – it costs you your life. As I continue to think on God’s call of Moses, I see a pattern of deconstruction for reconstruction that is necessary for anyone who will be effectively used of God.

Here I am (Ex. 3:4)- God may call, but that doesn’t mean that we have to answer the phone (or in Moses’ case, the bush). Answering the call begins with the simple, but frightening step of making yourself available to God. Most of us sense God’s gentle nudges towards our purpose, but sometimes we think that if we ignore Him long enough, He’ll get tired and leave us alone. It’s not until we yield our will (”Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening“) that God can begin to use us. But this yielding sets in motion a grinding, humbling, uncomfortable process of deconstruction.

Who am I (Ex. 3:11) – A new friend, Mo, is participating in a leadership development/spiritual formation program in our church. In response to my inquiry as to how it was going, she said, ”I am lost. I don’t know I am anymore.“ She went on to explain how God was challenging everything she thought she knew about herself. Becoming business partners with God can be dangerous to your self esteem. His greatness and perfection make us painfully aware of our own impotence and lack of qualifications. (”Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.“ Isaiah 6:5). When you yield to God and begin to experience His unfolding plan for your life, it can be overwhelming. But this is a necessary and unavoidable step. In the absence of this self-emptying, we will become self-important. We will rely on our own intelligence, talents and plans rather than wholly leaning on God.

Someone has said that because God creates ex nihilo, out of nothing, He must first reduce His servants to nothing before He rebuilds and uses them for His glory.
God spent four decades humbling and preparing Moses for his destiny. What a contrast between 40 year old self-sufficient leader and the 80 reluctant servant!

We are not ready to be used by God until we are convinced that he have nothing to give Him. Our call continues with a reconstructing of a worldview on the foundation of a self-existent God.

I AM (Ex. 3:14) – God has not called me because I have so much to offer Him, but because He has so much to offer me. I must reorient my sense of self and purpose around who He is and what He wants to do (”He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.“ (John 3:30 NLT). My purpose is to serve Him and bring Him glory, not the other way around. When we looked at and lived life from our own vantage point, knowledge began with our own personal ideas and efforts. But Proverbs 1:7 tells us that ”the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge… .“ We live for years being indoctrinated with a worldview that tells us that we are the center of the universe and that we are the captains of our own destinies. Being a servant of God requires a deconstruction of that flawed philosophy and a reconstruction of a life built on the foundation of the great ”I AM.“ Anything less is bound to fail.

Do you agree or disagree that this is a process that every person called into ministry must engage?
What did or does this process look like for you?
Is it a one time deal?

Please add your voice to the conversation.

Categories: Calling | Tags: , , , , ,

Calling: Vocational Choice or Divine Call?

Has the “call” been taken from the ministry lexicon? It’s not something I hear many talk about too often anymore as the driving force behind entering or staying in ministry. Can this de-emphasis on the ascertaining of God’s calling perhaps be part of the explanation for the high attrition rate? I think this is an important question and issue to address if we want to do something about what I consider to be a crisis in pastoral leadership.

In a previous post, I referred to a blog post that shared some “sobering” statistics about pastors and ministry.

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

As I sought to process these sad numbers, I thought back on my time in seminary when I met so many students who were in school to enhance their employability or to meet denominational education requirements, but talked little about being “called” by God to ministry. Is ministry a vocational choice vs. divine calling? What is the difference? I believe Moses’ story provides some great insight in to answering this question.

At age 40 Moses made a vocational choice in deciding that he would lead his people out of Egypt. I think there are several possible motivations feeding his thought process.

  • A love and sense of responsibility for his people. Moses considered the Hebrew slaves as his “brethren” (Ex. 2:1; Acts 7:25).
  • Conversely, perhaps guilt over the disparity between the privilege he experienced and the poverty his people endured (Ex. 2:10; Acts 7:22).
  • An anger over oppression and a passion to right injustice (Ex. 2:11; Acts 7:24).
  • A self confidence in his ability (Ex. 2:12,13).
  • Words from his mother (Ex. 2:9).

When I think back on my own entrance into full-time ministry, I can see elements of each of these motivations in my own experience. These are not bad motivations, but alone, are they enough to justify entering ministry? When you look at the outcome for Moses, apparently, they were not. He failed miserably and left Egypt.

Flash forward 40 years and Moses receives a divine call from God to lead his people out of Egypt. Look at the elements of that call.

  • God breaks into Moses’ life when he is minding his own business, faithfully doing his shepherding job and in no way considering ministry as a vocational option (Ex. 3:1).
  • Events in his life conspire together to sensitize him to the moving of God (3:2).
  • He makes the decision to take some time to explore this stirring (3:3,4).
  • There is an encounter with a Holy God (3:5).
  • God gives Moses a clear call and a God-sized mission (3:7-10).
  • Avoidance, reluctance and rationalization (3:12-4:13). Moses pulled out all the stops in seeking to be released from God’s call on his life. The self-centered, self promoting, self-confident motivations that characterized his initial foray into ministry were conspicuously absent.
  • The evidence from God is so overwhelmingly compelling that it is irresistible (3:18-20).

Again, when I think back on my own entering into full-time ministry, I can clearly see these elements of this process in my own experience as well. It is what has kept me going in prosperity and poverty and, in the words of A. Tate, the “joys and jeers” of ministry.

A few questions come to mind:

  • Do you see elements of Moses’ call in your own?
  • How does your calling impact your ministry?
  • Can you leave or ignore your calling? At what costs?
  • For those of you who have left the ministry, how did you reconcile this choice with your earlier sense of being called?

I ask these questions not in an accusatory or condemnatory spirit, but in a desire to 1) understand the decision-making process and 2) provide instruction for those who are in the process of questioning their own calling.

Scripture to ponder… Hebrews 5:1-4

Categories: Calling | Tags: , , , ,

Welcome to Musings!

Why Musings?
A few years ago I was struggling in my leadership role as the founding pastor of Living Oaks Fellowship (Aurora, CO). As I prayed, the Lord told me to go back to my journal and look at the lessons He had taught me over the past few years. I identified 17 lessons on a variety of topics, but that was not the most significant discovery.  What I found most significant is that only one of these lessons had been mentioned during my 3 and 1/2 years of seminary education. About this same time, I heard a couple of statistics about pastors that I found disturbing. The first one was that 50% of pastors leave the ministry in their first 5 years. The second one was that 85% of seminary graduates are out ministry in 10 years or less. (Note: As I was writing this I came across this blog with more such statistics  – http://preachersandteachers.wordpress.com/2008/03/26/71/ ).

Why is this important and what is the connection between the statistics and my experience?

I believe that the reason so many pastors are leaving the ministry is what I call the negative variance between what they expect and what they experience once they enter ministry. The reality of ministry is far different (and more difficult) than what people either see from the outside looking in or are prepared for in seminary education. The stark contrast is, for some, too much to handle and they quit. Our role as pastors is to lead people from Egypt to Canaan; from spiritual slavery to spiritual freedom. The dirty little secret that we are rarely told is that we never make it to Canaan in this life. There is no place of ministry where the elders don’t fight and the sheep don’t bite. We will never “arrive” in ministry, coming to a place where we can relax with no issues. However, if we are on this journey with a constant refrain of “are we there yet?”, we will be in for a rude awakening.  Entering into ministry without a realistic understanding of what you will face can set you up for disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment.

Adding to this dissonance is the truth that many pastors have no one with whom they can honestly talk and share their hearts:

  • Boards are looking to protect the church. A pastor who regularly admits weakness or shares struggles may lose his/her job.
  • Congregations are looking for a hero.  Parishioners often have unrealistic expectations for their spiritual leaders and don’t want to face the truth that their pastor is as human as they are.
  • Other pastors are often viewed as competitors. As unhealthy as this may seem and as unpopular as it may be to admit or share, many pastors often do not feel the freedom to confide in their counterparts their struggles and concerns. Our self worth is often tied to tangible measures of growth – bodies, budgets and buildings.
  • People outside of the church don’t understand the challenges of pastoral leadership. It is very difficult for someone outside of the church to relate to the spiritual, emotional, financial and relational battles inherent in this position.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not writing this from a position of bitterness or disillusionment. I love the Lord, His work and His people. I am still actively engaged in the life of the church in pastoral ministry. Have I been hurt by the ministry and the people whom I’ve ministered? Of course!  But that goes with the territory. I am not seeking to dissuade anyone from going into ministry by painting some horrid picture of pain and suffering. In fact, I want to do just the opposite. I want to assist in properly preparing people to go into ministry so they can be more effective in their service.

My hope for this blog…
It is my desire for this blog to become more than a platform for me to share my opinions, knowledge or expressions. My hope and prayer for it is to:
… Give pastors and ministry leaders a safe place to connect, discuss issues and to be “real”.
… Create a learning environment where those who are young in the ministry can learn from those with more experience.
… Connect pastors and ministry leaders with others who are like-hearted and to encourage them to create their own small groups.

Many of the thoughts in Musings will come from what I learned during my own journey towards leadership and personal healthiness that are being shared about in an upcoming book: Living the Journey – Lessons from the Front Lines that Might Save your Ministry, your Mind and maybe even your Marriage.

Who is invited to share these conversations? Anyone who is engaged in the anointed and challenging task of serving God’s people. Regardless of your age or tenure, you are welcome and we want to hear from you. I look forward to sharing conversations with you about the Journey.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

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