Apostolic Pastors: Part One

As I have been meditating on what God has been speaking to me concerning my pastoral vocation, He has reminded me of two passages that form the foundation of my ministry. When I agreed to come on as the Senior Pastor of Vineyard Community Church back in January I held up these two passages as my job description.

Mark 3:13-15 ” Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve, designating them apostles, that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.”

Acts 6:4 “And we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

As I see it, the foundation of apostolic ministry is intimacy with Jesus – being with Him. The gift of apostleship then isn’t so much a type-A, workaholic, CEO/rancher mentality, but humility and a sincere love for God. Apostles aren’t go-it-alone, do-or-die types, they are men and women constantly seeking the face of God, asking questions of the Father, interceding for the people in their care and boldly proclaiming the message of salvation found in Jesus alone. There are certainly more facets of what it means to be apostolic, but the bread and butter of apostleship is intimacy, prayer and ministry of the word.

I wonder if this reformation within the pastoral vocation isn’t a form of Holy Spirit restoring apostolic leadership to the church. If we are truly going to thrive in the times that are coming we need leaders who are followers of God and not their own church-growth model, we need leaders who give more than a cursory glance at prayer and leaders who realize their highest goal is to sit at the feet of Jesus. I am struck by the realization that the Elders around the Throne in Revelation 4 spend more time on their faces in worship than they do sitting and enjoying their position. It certainly makes one wonder…

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Faithfully Insignificant

One phrase that God has been using with me lately is the phrase “faithfully insignificant.” He uses this phrase to talk about my ministry and the posture of my heart. He uses it to describe my relationship with Him.

This all came about as I was examining what it means to be a pastor. What do pastors do? Don’t they build the church they are a part of? Don’t they convict people of sin? Don’t they sow the seeds of the Kingdom and reap a harvest for God?

The answer, I found, to all of these questions is the same – “kind of.”

As I was ruminating on these questions, the Lord began speaking to me all of the promises He has made to His people and His leaders:

“I will build MY church,” Jesus says in Matthew 16:18.
“When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict many in regards to sin,” John 16:8.
“Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water through the word, and to present her to Himself and a radiant church, without any stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless,” Ephesians 5:25-27.
“So neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow,” 1 Corinthians 3:7.

What I’ve found is that so much of what I think is my job as pastor is actually Jesus’ job as Savior/Bridegroom/King/Judge. I can’t produce the fruit God desires in my own strength. But what I can do is be faithful to do what He tells me.

I can be faithful to love Him first and foremost.
I can be faithful to love whoever He brings into my life.
I can be faithful to plant the seeds of grace, even though He is the One who makes it grow.
I can be faithful to speak in public what I hear in the secret place.
I can be faithful to worship and teach others how to do the same.
I can be faithful to pray and minister the word.

I can be faithful in many things, small and insignificant they may be in the world’s eyes, but esteemed in the eyes of God.

I fall into trouble, however, if I try to flex my spiritual muscles and show how important I think I am because I can gather a crowd or say inspirational things. That is where pride comes in. That is where burnout is inevitable. That is where my heart withers and the Spirit is quenched.

Much better to remain in the place of humility, to let God be my God – the One who vindicates me in the end. To be faithfully insignificant is not to devalue who I am, it is to value Him higher. “The bride belongs to the Bridegroom. The friend [that is me] who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for Him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine… He must become greater; I must become less,” John 3:29-30.

My greatest joy as a pastor is hearing the Bridegroom’s voice – seeing Him wreck His people with words of love, woo them into the place of intimacy and heal their hurts with words spoken tenderly. Bigger buildings don’t accomplish that, nor do larger salaries or service sizes. Only time spent in the secret place allows me to facilitate an intimate encounter between God and His people. And that is only because that secret time of prayer allows my self to diminish and His Spirit to be greater.

A revolution is the making in pastoral ministry. We are once again coming to intimacy and personal devotion as the foundation of effective pastoral care and spiritual direction. I’m excited to see how this develops in the hearts of the pastors in my area. Come Lord Jesus.

Contemplative Pastor’s Conference

I had the pleasure of attending a Contemplative Pastor’s Conference in Cedar Rapids this past weekend. Our goal was two-fold: to be with God and to explore what it means to redefine the way we view pastoral ministry. Eugene Peterson’s book “The Contemplative Pastor” provided many conversation points for our time together.

My main takeaway from the conference was the absolute necessity of spending time alone with God (solitude), especially as a minister. There simply is no substitute or shortcut to effective ministry – there is only baring our souls to our Loving Father and letting the All Consuming Fire do His work in our hearts. Prayer and intimacy with God are two main ingredients to seeing our minds renewed and our characters conformed to the image of Christ Jesus. It is only from the place of Spirit inspired transformation that true ministry takes place – ministry that will set captives free, see people healed and the lost come to salvation in Jesus.

I’m reminded of the Desert Fathers, some of whom spent 20 or 30 years in the desert, seeking communion with God. The crucible of solitude and silence, prayer and petition, love and devotion radically reformed these men and women’s hearts and minds so that when they reentered the world they ministered from a place of wholeness and Christlikeness. Their impact in history cannot be denied – we are still talking about them and receiving from them a thousand or more years later, even though they “wasted” half of their lives in the secret place with God.

One of my primary concerns now is finding the desert, the secret place, in the midst of my ministerial life. Simply having 20 hours blocked out for prayer and study doesn’t mean I am effective or fully participating in that time. Lord, would you give me greater zeal and love and devotion for You. Amen.

Two Questions

I have recently been reflecting on two questions and have asked many people in my life (including my church family) to do the same. I think prayerful reflection on these questions will provide unique clarity to our gifts and callings. While they may initially seem difficult to answer, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to us generally removes any road blocks. So, what are these questions?

1) What energizes you?
2) What breaks your heart?

If you have not yet taken time to ask the Holy Spirit to help you answer these questions, please do so now. Journal your answers.

I first heard these questions from my wife, Dani, who, in turn had gotten them from a book “Help for the Fractured Soul.” The author gave the following reasoning for these questions. ‘I have found that what energizes people is directly related to their gifts and what breaks people’s hearts is directly related to their destiny’ (paraphrased).

In my own experience with answering these questions, I found those reasons to be accurate. I’m energized and enlivened by bible study, prayer and teaching small group bible studies. I also love being outside and talking with close friends about life around a campfire or over hard cider. Obviously, teaching and pastoring are two of my gifts. But I also like cooking and buying people presents. They may not be “official” gifts, but they give life to me and others, so I will keep on doing them.

The second question is much more difficult to answer. The answers, therefore, are much more personal and much more powerful. The answers to this question touch the core of who God made us to be. Make every effort you can, given your season of life, to line up with the answer to this question. Being who God made you to be, boldly displaying His image within you – that is powerful stuff and a key, I think, to living with no regrets. Spend yourself in a worthy cause, the cause God made you for.

I hope you benefit from this exercise as much as I did. The clarity these questions bring to life is unique and make a way to live with full potency and vigor under the leadership of the Spirit. If you are willing, I would love for you to leave your answers to these questions in a comment below. I will be praying for you in your quest to line up with God’s vision for your life. Amen.