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Three Ways to Prevent Burnout

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


Beautiful explosions filled the sky this past week as people around the United States celebrated Independence Day. One of the evenings when Ava (my almost 8 month old daughter) wasn’t able to sleep, we gazed out the window at these spectacular displays of firepower. The deep canon-like sound filled the room as small canisters burst and illuminated the darkness only to recede into debris.

These fireworks – beautiful displays of power which dissipate in seconds – are sadly a picture of pastoral ministry.

Jared Wilson, in his book The Pastors Justification, says it this way, “Flashy things tend to burn out quickly. And as many have learned, extraordinary gifts can take a man where paltry character cannot keep him.

Flashy ministry begins as a beautiful light that illuminates the darkness but decays into debris that litters the ground.

How can church leaders – pastors especially – prevent themselves from burning out quickly in the pilgrimage of ministry?

1. Meet with God.
This seems to be an obvious starting point but one that ministers neglect far too often. There are a multitude of pastors that only spend time in the Bible when preparing a sermon or Bible Study. This removes the demands of Scripture from the personal life of the pastor and only places them on the congregants.

Pastor – you cannot lead people to where you have not been yourself.

Each message must be immersed in the presence and power of God. We must discipline our schedules to prioritize time with God above every other demand. We are not CEOs leading small companies; we are mystics inviting people to experience the Living God.

2. Love Your Family.
Your identity is not rooted in your ministry activity – it is rooted in Jesus. Your family is the primary ministry God has given you; not your church. If you are sacrificing your family on the altar of ministry it is only a matter of time until you implode from the effects of your idolatry.

Guard your time. Recognize that most demands are not emergencies and do not require you to immediately leave your family. Be present; quit staring at your stupid smart phone each time you hear the ping of a notification.

3. Discover the Sacred in the Ordinary. 
To say the least, ministry is demanding. We rush from one meeting to the next, striving to offer counsel and comfort to those afflicted by deep distress. Margin is stripped away in the face of the urgent.

Friends, we need to slow down.

God is revealing himself through the beauty of nature, the face of a loved one, and the laugh of a child. My daughter Ava has shown me the power of wonder. She is amazed at everything – from the texture of food to petting a cat! If we are going to strive in ministry we need to ask God to restore the wonder we have lost by slowing down and being present in the theater of creation.


What advice would you offer to a church leader to prevent burn out? Let me know by leaving a comment!

You Might be a False Teacher

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


Pastoral ministry is dangerous.

Being in front of a captive audience each week strokes the ego. Knowing that the majority of the people will believe what you say due to your authority as “pastor” can cause you to subtly build your own platform and diffuse your “majestic” ideas.

Combine this potential hazard with the unending pressure to increase attendance and giving numbers and it will create the perfect ministerial storm. Preaching will slowly drift from Gospel-centered proclamation to sharing helpful advice that is grounded in pop-psychology – this is where many churches find themselves today.

Jared Wilson makes this powerful observation about the role of Scripture in our preaching:
“Because the Bible is the only infallible authority over our lives, it is pastoral malpractice to treat it as a supporting document for our own good ideas. Our words ought to stand under Scripture, not vice-versa. When we come to the biblical text, it is meant to shape us; we are not to shape it. We are the ones to be malleable, not the Bible.”

I’m afraid that many pastors no longer tremble at the Word of God. Instead, we use it to proof-text our clever ideas in an attempt to generate an audience. Below is the main indicator that your preaching is driven by your creativity rather than Scripture.

You practice “Eisegesis” and call it relevance.

Now you are wondering how you practice something you have never heard of! When it comes to teaching the Bible, the proper way to preach is through exegesis. Exegesis literally means to “lead out of.” In other words, you allow the passage you are studying to determine the main point of your message. You seek to understand how the Spirit is speaking through His Word (this can be done in both topical preaching and verse-by-verse preaching).

Eisegesis is unbiblical, unhelpful, and ungodly. Eisegesis literally means to “lead into.” We practice eisegesis when we inject the poison of our opinions into the text and force the passage to bend to our meaning and will. We place ourselves in the position of God and twist Scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:14-18).

For example, many pastors utilize Eisegesis when studying the narrative of David and Goliath. Rather than beginning in the text, the pastor will try to think of a giant that faces us as Christians – for example striving to have a good marriage. The pastor will then think of some “advice” on how to have a better marriage and package it as “Five Stones to Defeat Divorce.”

The pastor will then inject his meaning into the narrative by explaining that Goliath stands for the giant of divorce. He will continue to inject his meaning into the stones by labeling them:
1. Have a date night.
2. Express your love to each other.
3. Buy each other gifts.
4. (Helpful advice)
5. (Helpful advice)

The original text has absolutely nothing to do with marriage or defeating the giant of “divorce.” In an effort to generate an audience and appear relevant, the pastor will twist the text to meet his own agenda.

“But Tyler! All those things are good advice that Christians should practice!”

Good advice doesn’t save people, only the Gospel does that. Paul does not tell Timothy to preach good advice… he tells him to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2)! In the last days, people will gather around them false teachers that will share all the “good advice” that their itching hears long to listen to (2 Timothy 4:3). Many pastors have fallen into this category without even realizing it!

It’s time for judgment to begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). It’s time for judgment to begin with the leaders in the church. Those of us that teach are judged with greater strictness and will gave an account for every empty word; especially our words which twist the Scriptures to support our own agenda (James 3:1).

I long for the day that Christians in the Western world exercise the noble character of the Bereans:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)

Don’t take my word for anything I say. Examine the Scriptures to see if it’s true. This goes for every pastor and teacher that shares from the Bible.


Why do you think so many pastors inject their opinions into the Bible when they preach? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know by leaving a comment! 

 

 

 

The #1 Key to Spiritual Growth

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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!

The Idol of “Success.”

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


I had the honor of helping launch the Garretson Campus of The Rescue Church in October of 2014. I immediately had dreams of outgrowing our building in a week and breaking ground on a new facility. I assumed that people would come to our services, give their lives to Jesus, and become powerful missionaries in the community and abroad.

In our opening service we had 75 people join us. This may not seem like a lot depending on your context but we were planting this campus in a town of 1,200 people. On our first Sunday, we ran out of room due to the high attendance! My dream of becoming an influential and successful minister was finally coming to fruition.

A few months later we moved from Sunday night services to Sunday morning services. Our goal is that we would see how many people were going to stay with us as a “real” church and how many others were simply visiting from other churches.

We decreased in attendance to an average of 14 people.

I remember one Sunday morning when the only people that came to the service were those that were scheduled to serve in different areas. I stood outside to greet all the people that were flocking to my “successful” ministry and I welcomed no one.

I was crushed.

Jared Wilson, in his book The Pastor’s Justification has this to say, “Whatever God gives you in your ministry, accept as his wise allotment to you, not as unjust or unbecoming your awesomeness. Will you accept good from God and not trouble?

Without realizing it I had elevated worldly forms of success and tied them to God’s view of my ministry. I forgot that God measured success not through attendance numbers, increased giving, or larger buildings. Rather, He demands faithfulness and obedience; we are called to leave the results in His hands. He is the one who gives the growth!

I’d love to say I no longer struggle with this… the truth is I do. Some days we have 80+ people in our service and I begin to stroke my ego; assuming that people are coming due to my awesomeness. Other Sundays we have 40 people and a horrible offering – it is extremely easy to find my identity in the roller-coaster of attendance numbers!

Friends, I say all of this to encourage you. Our evil nature longs for us to find our identity in something or someone other than Jesus. When our circumstances have the power to crush our joy, we are worshiping a false god.

Allow this passage to encourage you in your day of despair:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:1-3

Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Three Myths about Ministry

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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.

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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…

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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!