leadership

The Terrible Weight of Pastoral Ministry

PastoralMinistry

This is the ninth post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


P.S. – This will be a longer blog post. One of the best ways that I process concepts is through writing. Truthfully, this post is probably more for me than anyone else!

We are a few short months from completely transitioning the Garretson Campus into an autonomous church plant. In the past few weeks, I have been spending hours researching church leadership – all while fueled by copious amounts of caffeine! It seems to me that the healthiest form of church government is to have a church led by a team of Elders who are committed to making disciples who make disciples.

The office of Elder is interchangeable with the office of pastor. In other words you can correctly call a pastor either an “elder” or a “pastor.” This means that those who function in the role of Elder should be functioning as pastors – not just business leaders who vote on the church budget!

Jared Wilson explains the terrible weight of this ministry in this way:
With the double honor of 1 Timothy 5:17 is the double responsibility of James 3:1.

As I wrestle with the development of elders/pastors in our church, I want to meditate on these two texts and see what we can learn from them.


1 Timothy 5:17
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

1. It is the elders – not the congregation – who direct the affairs of the church. There are numerous forms of church government and the majority of rural churches practice a congregational form of leadership. In other words, the church holds business meetings and all the members vote on major decisions (hiring/firing staff, nomination of new elders, expansion of a building, etc). Contrary to this, it seems that the Scriptures teach that the healthiest form of church government is for each congregation to have a plurality of elders/pastors who lead the church & shepherd the people.

2. These elders are worthy of double honor. Literally, they are worthy of a double “honorarium.” Paul is speaking about honoring them by holding them in high regard and also honoring them by providing a healthy salary. Unfortunately, we will not be able to pay salaries for our elders since we are a small church but that is the goal we will work towards.

3. Some elders are focused on preaching & teaching. All the Elders in a church have to be able to teach the Bible (2 Timothy 2:24). Nevertheless, there is usually a “Teaching Elder” or “Teaching Pastor” who preaches the majority of the messages and leads from the pulpit. In our new church, I will be the one filling this role.


James 3:1
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

1. The majority of people should not teach the Bible on Sunday mornings. All Christians have a responsibility to instruct one another with the Scriptures but very few should stand before a congregation and proclaim the Word of God. Only those that hold to and are able to defend sound doctrine & sound living should teach the people of God corporately. This means that those who are not able to lead their household as their first ministry by shepherding their spouse and kids should never attempt to lead God’s church (1 Timothy 3:5).

2. Everyone who teaches the Bible should be extremely fearful. The Elders/Pastors who regularly teach the Scriptures must consider the terrible burden of representing the limitless God through human speech. We are prone to pride and fits of anger – even in the pulpit. We must plead with God to crush our pride and bring supernatural humility each time we open the Scriptures. Practically, I pray each morning (out loud for the congregation to hear) that if I say anything contrary to the Scriptures I pray my words fall on deaf ears.

3. Elders/Pastors who teach the Bible will be judged with greater strictness than those who do not. Practically, we are judged by those that listen to our messages. Often the first person to be attacked in a church is the pastor because he is the person who represents the congregation. Even more terrifying than being judged by people, we will give an account to God for how we exercised leadership in His church. We will be held accountable for every careless word that we speak.


Do you have other Scriptures in mind that help clarify the role of an elder/pastor? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment!

The #1 Key to Spiritual Growth

concert

This is the fourth post in a series of reflections based on Jared Wilson’s book “The Pastor’s Justification.”


I remember the first megachurch I ever experienced. I was at a church conference in Texas and was speechless at the size of the church building as we approached it. It seemed as if multiple shopping malls joined together and somebody added “Christian” to the name!

Each night of the conference we had a church service that was open to the public. Thousands upon thousands of people flooded into this facility to sing songs and listen to people preach. At times it felt like I was in the midst of a rock concert with bright lights, smoke on the stage, and an incredible sound system.

Many people would write this church off as “worldly” due to its methodology. Truthfully, this is the same temptation that I fall into. I enjoy knowing the names, stories, and families of those around me in worship which is nearly impossible at a megachurch.

Does that mean they are wrong?

No.

Churches should strive for health, not size. There ARE unhealthy megachurches… but there’s also unhealthy small churches!

There is a movement within the church that began in the 1980s called the “Church Growth Movement.” This movement (usually) encourages churches to study their communities in order to ascertain who the “customers” are. Then each church should formulate non-threatening programs that meet a felt-need. The assumption behind this approach is the more programs & classes that a seeker is involved in, the more that person will grow spiritually.

Willow Creek Community Church, led by a pastor I highly admire (Bill Hybels), realized this assumption was deeply flawed. They decided to test the results of their programs through the REVEAL study.

With deep integrity, Willow Creek released the results of this study with an introduction by Bill Hybels honestly wrestling with the results:
You can imagine my reaction when three people whose counsel I value told me that the local church I’ve been the pastor of for more than three decades was not doing as well as we thought when it came to spiritual growth. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they said this wasn’t just their opinion. It was based on scientific research. Ouch.

Jarred Wilson, another pastor who was deeply influenced by the church growth movement, explains the results of the study, “Willow revealed what they discovered to be the number one catalyst for spiritual growth – Bible study.

Sometimes simple conclusions are the most challenging. Studying the Bible has taken secondary importance while brand management, building campaigns, and creative programs demand the attention of church leaders (in small and big churches!)

We can no longer neglect the Scriptures. One of the greatest ways we neglect the Bible is through the methods we use to preach. In my next post, I will share specifically what this looks like.


What are some ways our churches can prioritize the Bible over other demands? I’d love to hear from you – let me know by leaving a comment!

Three Myths about Ministry

SONY DSC

I have just finished a tremendous book on pastoral ministry called “The Pastor’s Justification” by Jared Wilson. Over the next few weeks I will reflect on the ways this book has challenged my view of ministry and leadership.

Wilson has put into words ideas which have burned strongly in my mind for the past few years.

“Books and podcasts and conferences from the leadership cult bid us to believe that pastoral ministry is a technology, that our churches are businesses, and that our flocks are customers.” – Jared Wilson

Let’s break down the three failures of the “leadership cult” mentioned by Wilson in the quote above.

1. Pastoral ministry is NOT a technology!
Granted, many of the “creative” leaders who emphasize secrets to growth would not claim ministry is a technology. Nevertheless, their practical theology is evident in their strategies for success. These leaders boldly proclaim that God wants all churches to grow… the problem (they claim) is we have not discovered the secret to breaking through the next “growth barrier.”

There is not a magic formula that can cause churches to grow. Sure healthy things DO grow… but so does cancer!

Pastors – labor faithfully, pray fervently, minister lovingly – but trust the growth of your church (numerical & spiritual) into the hands of God. He alone gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:7).

2. The Church is NOT a business!
Is there a business aspect to a church? Definitely. My undergraduate degree is business administration. I believe pastors would be greatly helped through a better understanding of the business side of the church. That being said, the church is NOT a business!

Successful business are led by CEOs that often domineer over those in their charge. The Church should be led by self-denying and sacrificial leaders modeling their leadership on the Great Shepherd – Jesus himself. The Kingdom of God does not emphasize CEO-style leadership… rather it is a call to die daily for the good of others. It is the responsibility of every pastor to become the servant of those under his care.

3. The flock are NOT customers!
Many church growth gurus emphasize studying our communities and then offering a product that meets a felt-need. Here’s the problem – the Scriptures teach that all outside of Christ are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1).

Let’s be real – it would be a little insane to go to a cemetery and take a poll to determine what the rotting corpses would enjoy for entertainment!

If we seek to serve felt-needs we will subvert the Gospel by elevating attractional models of ministry over the blood-splattered Messiah. The Gospel itself is INCREDIBLY offensive. The cross of Jesus implies the following about everyone on earth:
— We are wicked beyond imagination.
— We are unable to respond to God in our own power.
— We are not special; matter of fact, we are objects of God’s wrath.
— The Son of God was brutally murdered because of us.


Even if you are not in formal leadership in a church, I highly encourage you to spend some time praying through 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Pay attention to the paradoxical nature of the cross. 

What are some other “ministry myths” you would add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Sue Jensen had this to share in the comments and it was TOO good for me not place on the main post!
“I know we call a lot of people volunteers at our church but I think the belief that the church is a volunteer organization is a myth. As volunteers, people believe they can do as little as possible and say they are part of the church. However, the attitude in scripture calls us to be soldiers and servants and we should take our roles in ministry seriously.”

I Meet With a Therapist.

bible

I am utterly weak and unqualified to be a pastor.

My leadership is ruled more by timidity than boldness. My actions often derive from a desire to please people rather than God. The motivation behind my preaching springs from a desire for the praise of man rather than the affirmations of the Father… far more than I’d like to admit.

I stress the need for community while drowning in isolation. I proclaim the importance of confession while remaining silent about my own sin. Each Sunday, I exhort people with the message that God loves broken people… while practically denying the same message for my own life.

In short, I am broken.

In my own mind, sin is often a greater delicacy than the glory of God. I sink my teeth into this disgusting, mold-covered appetizer while believing the lie that it offers a greater freedom than obedience to Jesus.

I shared some of these realities with my church recently. I’ve always thought only weak, needy, and emotionally sick people need to see a professional counselor on a regular basis.

I still believe this.

I just realized that I also fall into this category.

I have started meeting with a professional Christian therapist at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in order to pursue Christ-centered wholeness. I debated whether or not to share this with people because it would reveal the illusion of my perfection. It was into this internal argument that the Holy Spirit resounded the paradoxical words of the Apostle Paul:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

I don’t have all the answers. People come to me on a regular basis expecting counseling… not realizing that I am utterly aware of how inadequate I am to provide it for them.

Pastor – the Gospel you proclaim is for you.

Our identity isn’t found in the mask of perfection we wear on Sundays. Our righteousness doesn’t flow from the weekly attendance or yearly budget at our churches. Jesus – the only Perfect One to ever live – willingly subjected Himself to brutal torture and crucifixion for the wrath that we justly deserve. This same Jesus resurrected from the grave – offering eternal life, forgiveness, and a foreign righteousness to all who come to Him by faith.

Jesus lived the perfect life we could not live… died the death we deserve to die… and rose from the dead for our justification.

There is a Great Physician that skillfully applies healing salve to the wounds of his people – even pastors. It’s okay to not be okay. 

We have authority issues…

wolf

I LOVE history.

One of the things I find incredible about studying history is the direct relevance it has on our lives today. I’m currently reading a book called The Democratization of American Christianity. The book explores 19th century Christianity in the early United States. It has given me amazing insight into why we act the way we do!

One of the issues we have as Christians in the west is a problem with authority. This is what gave rise to 100,000+ denominations in a short amount of time. This is what helped propel democracy into a time-tested institution.

When it comes to the church, our authority issues are toxic.

Hebrews 13:17 
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.”

Let’s look at this verse together. I want to make three observations to explain why our rejection of authority is to our own detriment and sorrow:

1. God has placed leaders in the church.
Many Christians have a romantic but unrealistic view of church authority. Church members often believe they should have a vote in EVERY decision made at a church. From the color of the carpet to the tone of the preacher; this is unrealistic! If a church votes on every decision and overrides the pastor repeatedly, the church has effectively stripped the pastor of any sort of fruitful leadership.

Many churches don’t want a pastor, they want a chaplain.

They want someone who will bow down to the felt needs of the congregation rather than boldly proclaim the Gospel. God has placed qualified and faithful leaders in the church to actually LEAD!

2. These leaders should be deeply concerned about your soul.
Pastors have many things to do. It is easy for them to become distracted by issues which are of no significance in the grand scheme of things if there is not a team of people around them.

The pastors in a church should not exercise domineering, CEO-like leadership. Instead the leadership should come from a place of deep humility, supernatural gentleness, and grave concern for the salvation of the church. Your pastor (probably) spends hours each week laboring on your behalf at the throne of grace. He is continually on his knees pleading with God for the salvation of his hearers.

3. These leaders will give an account to God of how they lead you. 
Pastoral leadership carries a terrifying weight. God has entrusted His people to the leadership of a church to shepherd and proclaim the Gospel. On top of this, pastors face intense spiritual warfare as they advance into the ruin and wickedness of this world.

Rather than trying to buck the authority of your leaders, pray for them. Rather than being easily offended and sending a nasty e-mail, allow your love to cover a multitude of sins.

Pastors are broken people trying (and often failing) to imitate the Good Shepherd. They are in desperate need of the grace and mercy which comes from the Gospel… just like YOU!

Instead of being the person with deep authority issues that the pastor has to shield himself from, make the ministry a joy. Allow your pastor to shepherd, lead, and boldly proclaim the Gospel… this is for YOUR good!

Hiring Church Staff with No Money

staffnomoney

This post is the third of a series posts of my reflections on the Small Town, Big Church Roundtable event I attended at The Rescue Church. I encourage you to read the first two:
It Takes ALL Kinds of Churches…
Three Reasons Your Church is Struggling Financially


The pastorate can be incredibly lonely. This feeling is multiplied by the pastor having no team around him to help lead the church. Many pastors are the “savior” of their congregation. The pastor is required to be at every hospital bed, preach every sermon, and fix every technology issue.

This is a toxic system of ministry which will bring death into your church.

Pastors in small churches tend to envy pastors who have multiple staff members. Many small church pastors dream of having a team of people around them helping propel the ministry forward. This is why many pastors see small, rural churches as a stepping stone to a larger ministry.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Everything you need in order to take your church to the next level is already in your church!

One of the concepts that has revolutionized The Rescue Church is volunteer staff. Volunteer staff are church members empowered to help lead the mission of the church. There are many people in your church who would be honored to put their hands to the plow (for free!) but you need to call it out of them!

So how can you do this? I’m glad you asked!

1. Have a clear vision!
Everybody wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Unfortunately, many churches are content with preserving the 1950s to the best of their ability. No one is going to want to serve for free under an organization that has no vision for the future and is stagnant in its growth.

If you want men and women to step into leadership at your church, you need to have a vision that is clear, compelling, and simple!

2. Call people to HIGH commitment!
Often we try to fill volunteer roles by convincing people of how easy it will be. This is bad leadership! If you do not hold a high standard for the people you place in leadership, they will only do enough to get by.

You need to find dynamic leaders who are willing to pry open doors and wrestle with the impossible.

At The Rescue Church, we call all of our volunteer staff leaders to commit to 5 hours a week outside of their weekend duties. This is a BIG commitment for people! If you recognize leadership in people, call them to a HIGH commitment so that they can grow in their faith and impact the community!

3. Show them the exit ramp!
No one wants to get signed on to a volunteer position which requires them to give up every Tuesday night until Jesus comes back. You need to understand that the people who are going to be leading in your church are probably leading outside of the church as well. They are BUSY people and you do not want to risk burning them out.

We require our volunteer staff members to sign a commitment which says they will serve for one year. At the end of the year, we always give our staff members the option of stepping down. We value our volunteer staff members greatly and want to be sure they are spiritually, emotionally, and physical healthy; this means rest is vital!


Have you ever hired volunteer staff members? What are some things you would add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment!

 

The Art of Conversation… for Introverts!

crowd

I’m an introvert.

I’m also a pastor.

In my role as a pastor, I am forced out of my comfortable and solitary box to form genuine connections with people on a regular basis. Those of you that are introverts understand how seemingly impossible this is for us!

Being an introvert does NOT mean I’m shy.

Shyness is one of the characteristics introverts are given because we prefer to not be around a lot of people. Introverts are drained by people while extroverts get a boost of energy after having small talk with the 50th person in the room (that would be a nightmare for us!). On the other hand, introverts gain energy by being alone or with a very small group of trusted friends.

Most of the people who meet me automatically assume I’m an extrovert. Contrary to this belief, I am much more comfortable reading books written by dead guys about subjects most people aren’t interested in. I have been working on a paper all morning and feel incredibly energized and refreshed! On the other hand, every Sunday after church I am physically and mentally exhausted.

If you’re an introvert, I want to help you. Here are three things that will enable you to thrive in the midst of an extroverted world!

1. Play to your Strengths.
I can spend hours reading, writing, and doing research. Many introverts are known as “bookworms”. This is a GOOD thing! When it comes to thriving in conversation, use your research skills! I have spent hours reading about the art of conversation. Although it may not be natural to you, I would challenge you to attack it with the same tenacity as you would a research or writing project.

2. Write-Down Questions.
This may sound cheesy but I literally write down questions when I’m going out to eat with someone. I don’t bring my questions with and interview them (usually) but it enables me to lead the conversation and express a genuine interest in the other person. If you prepare before a planned conversation (which most introverts dread), you will earn the other person’s favor and they will think you are one of the most engaging people they have met!

This leads me to my third point…

3. Be Curious about People.
I’m a closet psychologist. I love to observe how people react in social situations, especially in large groups. I am also fascinated by the lives of people in general. I love to hear stories about what shaped each person to become who they are. In order to master the art of conversation, you need to have genuine interest in other people. This helps spark questions and earn favor from the people you speak with.

Excellent conversation skills boil down to one thing: asking questions.

As long as you can keep the person talking and express real interest in what they are saying, people will think you are incredibly outgoing. Just remember to read a book and sleep for a long time when you’re done so you don’t burn yourself out!


What are some things you would add to this list? Let me know by leaving a comment!