“Pastor” Part Three: The Ugly

I love my job. Pastoring is such a fascinating vocation and I work with absolutely wonderful people. However, there are moments in ministry life that are very difficult to walk through. These are messy and ugly interpersonal conflicts that are very rare, but also very real. I am sure there are many causes of these problems, but I am going to focus on two: idolatry and pride.

Idolatry – Pastors generally deal with two main expressions of idolatry: people idolizing the pastor and pastors idolizing the church.

Idolizing the Pastor – There is a tendancy in the Church today to place our senior leaders on pedastals and to look to them for everything. While it is good and right to honor our leaders, the American Idol syndrome needs to be addressed quickly. Jesus instructed us to not call one another “teacher,” “father” or “leader” (Matt. 23) because our true Teacher, Father and Leader is in heaven. I think the same holds true for Shepherd.

My goal as a pastor is not to have all the answers or to be a top-down CEO that values people by what they do. My goal as a pastor is to facilitate an environment where the Spirit of God is comfortable and works in a powerful way. My goal as a pastor is to lead from the front and be an example. My goal is to create a culture of honor where everyone is valued for who they are, so that they can be free to share their gifts in a healthy way.

Do I cast vision? Yes, but Jesus is the one that came up with it. The First and Second Commandments and the Great Comission weren’t my ideas. There is only one ministry- Jesus’, I am just trying to partner with him.

Idolizing the church – Pastors love the church, and that is a very good thing. It is not a good thing when pastors love the church more than Jesus. And no, the two are not the same. Pastors frequently lose sight of relationship with God. How easy is it for pastors to not pray and just work? How easy is it to not read the Bible except for when we are preparing messages? The answer is “Too easy!” In our efforts to love and serve the Lord, we start working “for” Him and not “with” Him. Sadly, I don’t think many of us know the difference. But the Lord, in His mercy, won’t let this go on forever. Either we will return to our first love or He will remove our lampstands – it is our choice.

Pride – Pride is a nasty beast, quite possibly the root of all sin. Pride in pastors in deadly because we are so stinking good at covering it up. Pride in pastors usually manifests as a religious spirit or false humility. We try so hard to be good little boys and girls that the work of the Spirit in our lives gets snuffed out.

Therefore, humility and vulnerablility in pastoral leadership is an absolute necessity. We need to constantly go low, not make use of our rights and let Jesus be our Shepherd. We can’t pretend to be overcomers, we actually need to overcome by God’s grace. We must live authentic lives of discipleship if people are going to take us seriously and if we are going to get a crown at the end of this race.

Pastors deal with great amounts of stress and do many wonderful things, but we can’t cut ourselves any slack when it comes to idolatry and pride. We can’t let people set us up as idols, we can’t set up idols ourselves and we certainly cannot let pride go unaddressed in our hearts. These are the ugly realities of pastoring, the serious temptations that plague an otherwise terrific career.

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Sales aren’t Profits…

We are taking a brief departure from your regularly scheduled program because of a terrific conversation I was a part of last night. We had just finished bible study and the group got on to the topic of churches, church plants, etc. and it was very helpful for me. Much of the conversation revolved around preaching and discipleship (two areas of great interest to me).

The general takeaway was that, though hearing and proclaiming the Word is a necessary and helpful thing in growing in one’s relationship with God, the bulk of the responsibility remains on the individual to “walk out” and actualize their faith. Martin Luther said it this way, “A man must do two things alone: he must do his own believing and his own dying.”

Once this point was established, conversation quickly moved to how preaching is or is not helpful in growth and discipleship. Those present last night were firm believers in preaching through the Word in an orderly, straightforward manner, not trying to soften the blows of Scripture. One of my favorite comments from last night was “sometimes you just need a slap in the face.”

You have to understand how taken aback I was by this conversation. The seeker-sensative movement has come to dominate Christianity in the Evangelical sphere, so I naturally assumed that the people in this conversation would reflect that opinion. I was wrong. They voiced a deep craving for Truth that would transform their lives and experiences, making them more like Jesus. They longed to love as Jesus loved and to really be the people the Lord delights in. The “fluff” they encountered in the majority of sermons today was unexciting and unappealing to them. (A note about this bible study group: we have a wide range of experience, some relatively recent believers all the way to “old timers.”)

This conversation has led me to think of many things, foremost being how I present the Gospel. Am I spoon-feeding people along because I don’t want to offend them? Am I nervous about dropping the H-bomb because it is unpopular and “archaic?” Am I cheapening the Gospel of Christ so much that Jesus wont know these people as His own when He returns?

While I don’t like the modern model where churches operate like businesses, some business analogies are really helpful, hence the title of this post. Sales don’t equal profits. A business can sell its entire inventory, but if it does it too cheaply, the business wont profit and will have to close. Similarly, selling people a pseudo-Gospel of cheap grace doesn’t profit them, me or Christ. Sales don’t equal profits and Converts don’t equal Christians. Many people choose to dedicate their lives to Jesus, where are they a year later? Ten? Fifty?

Discipleship, following Jesus and becoming more and more like Him, is for the long haul. I like Eugene Peterson’s phrase, “A long obedience in the same direction.” Discipleship is the process of conforming ourselves to Christ, being made and re-made into His image over and over again. We can’t deny Him and who He reveals Himself to be or else we set up an idol in our own image. I don’t understand everything about God and even some of the stuff I do understand makes me uncomfortable, but I trust Him and I know that Christianity is having relationship with God on His terms, not mine.

I appreciate you sticking with me through this rather rambling reflection, now it is your chance to add to the conversation. What do you think about preaching, discipleship and how they work together? What are your opinions on the seeker-sensative movement? I look forward to reading your comments.

“Pastor” Part Two: The Bad

Sometimes I feel like the word “pastor” in our day has the same effect that “christian” did in Paul’s day when he testified “to some we are the aroma of life, to others the stench of death.” Where “pastor” can be a welcoming and inviting word, it can also erect barriers that are almost impossible to overcome.

When people find out that I am a pastor, I can almost see them mentally shift gears. Some topics that were previously appropriate are now taboo and a certain level of distrust enters the conversation that wasn’t there previously. I went from being a friend to an outsider in an instant.

I understand this to some degree. Many men and women have made a mockery of the profession, using it for their own financial gain or abusing the relational power and authority they have in people’s lives. Many now view pastors with the same suspicion that they reserve for used car salesmen… ‘What are you trying to sell me now?’

Finding ways to disarm such people is a fun way to pass the time, but I find that Jesus’ methods of eating and drinking with people seem to do the trick. Conversing with someone over a pint of Woodchuck seems to rattle their assumptions enough to at least get me the benefit of the doubt. If nothing else, it almost always causes them to ask “Now what church are you a part of?”

Usually “the bad” parts of pastoring happen with family, friends and non-believers. But as long as I continue to follow Jesus in a non-hyped, non-legalistic manner, things seems to take care of themselves. It is a trickier business when believers get goofy ideas about pastoring, but we will cover that next time.

“Pastor” Part One: The Good

The title “Pastor” produces in me an almost constant tension. The tension between what the person calling me “pastor” means and what I understand pastoring to be. This mini-series scratches the surface of the good, the bad and the ugly parts of being called “pastor.”

“Pastor” is a beautifully relational word when taken in its own right. Like its near synonym “Shepherd” it indicates comfort, care and protection. It is a title of both authority and endearment, much like “grandfather.” It speaks of respect and love, a tendency to heal and reconcile rather than to drive apart. The title “pastor” indicates that the individual is intimately involved in the lives of their people, frequently walking in and amongst the congregation. “Pastor” frequently creates nostalgic feelings of a world gone by.

At its best, “pastor” expresses a feeling more than a function. The all encompassing word “pastor” seems to mean: someone I will follow because I know that they sincerely care about my well-being and who never uses their authority as a cudgel to berate people into obedience but uses wisdom and the bonds of loving relationship to guide people down the path they should go.

In the best possible way, pastors are those who model what should be, as opposed to what is. People crave an encounter with God and often look to their pastor as the one who can facilitate that event. In fact, this is my favorite part of being a pastor, being one who can lead others into an encounter with God, linger with them for awhile in His Presence and then quietly withdraw, leaving them with the One who loves them most and leads them best.

At ease with the work of pastoring

Every once in a while I will have an interaction with someone that reminds me that I have a different definition of happiness than other people. Our cultural definition of happiness leads one to think that only overly energetic and/or sickeningly positive people are truly happy. I suppose that the Bible would use the term “joy” to describe my understanding of happy, but no one really understands what that word means nowadays.

The best way to describe my understanding of happiness is found in the title, at ease with the work of pastoring. This is a nod to one of my role models, Gene Logsdon, who wrote “The Contrary Farmer” and whose insights into life and culture continue to give me hope for the future.

Pastoring is inconvenient work. Life happens wether or not it fits my schedule and it is my joy and privilege to care for God’s people in those moments when life doesn’t seem to make sense. Being at ease with the work of pastoring, happiness as I understand it, is not grumbling or complaining when people come to call on me, but being flexible enough to meet their needs without sacrificing my own health, the health of my family or my relationships.

I am so militant about schedules because having a rigid schedule makes it possible to be more flexible, if that makes any kind of sense. Perhaps an example would be more helpful. If my wife knows that every Tuesday is “her” day and I diligently guard that time from any distraction, she is more likely to be favorably inclined whenever a crisis situation comes up and I need to leave to minister to someone. She knows that I have set aside time in the past to be with her and that I will continue to do so in the future, this is a “one time” situation.

Contrast this with a theoretical example where I never scheduled time with her and we only had date night sporadically every couple of months. Our schedules never meshed and the only time she could count on with any regularity was the 10 minutes before bed when I am weary and only half paying attention. Now lets say it is a Tuesday and we are planning on being together that day, but something comes up and I get a call. Can you see where bitterness might set in? How many ministry families have suffered this fate?

I advocate schedules because they allow me to regularly invest in my most prized relationships. But the truth of my profession is that people may need me at inopportune times. Having relational capital built up allows me to make a “withdrawal” without seriously endangering my relationship with that person.

I love my job. I love “my” people. Being able to minister to them and be fully present, knowing that I am not jeopardizing my health, family or relationships, is, to me, what being a happy pastor is all about.

A Tale of Two Doctors

I would like to end this week of talking about time with a modern day parable, adapted from a story I heard years ago.

Once there were two doctors, Dr. A and Dr. B. Both were highly intelligent and skilled and each cared deeply for the wellbeing of their patients.

Dr. A absolutely loved his job. He would come in early and leave late and all the while would be at his patient’s beck and call. His bedside manner was impeccable and he was dearly loved by all of his patients. When Dr. A had to go home, he would often leave his cell phone number with his patients in case they needed anything.

Dr. A was so devoted to his work that he rarely had time for anything else. He would eat food on the go or not eat at all. He was so fully devoted to his patients that he even came in on his “off” days, just to make sure everything was O.K. Every once in a great while, Dr. A would run into his long-time school mate Dr. B.

Dr. A harbored a certain level of distain for Dr. B that is hard to explain. Dr. B appeared so lazy and disconnected from his patients. While Dr. A was scarfing down his cafe food in 10 minutes, Dr. B took an entire hour to eat food that he had prepared at home. When Dr. A was in the midst of hurrying from one patient to another, Dr. B was taking a forty-five minute break to go exercise. Dr. B never came in on his off days and only rarely gave out his cell phone or house number. Whenever there was a family emergency, Dr. B would rearrange his schedule. Whenever it was date night with his wife, Dr. B wouldn’t make appointments and would decline to see anyone else. Dr. A saw this as totally unprofessional and frequently reminded his wife and children of how important his job was and how these people needed his help. Whenever someone needed to be seen, Dr. A would clear his schedule of any and all previous appointments so that he could meet with the person. Dr. A felt superior to Dr. B in almost every way.

There was just one problem, Dr. B seemed to be just as good of a doctor looking at the patient’s recovery. Even though Dr. B was there for fewer hours, he was fully present. He wasn’t distracted by the previous patient or the one coming up. He cared deeply for his patients and gave them his full attention.

This carried on for several years, each doctor doing their own thing until something dreadful happened – they each lost a patient. Dr. B took it very hard, he hated losing patients, even though he realized that some people were simply beyond his help. He grieved for several days, but with the help and support of his family and friends he soon recovered. Dr. A, however, was devastated. He constantly bemoaned this loss and saw it as a personal failure. Not wanting to wrestle with his inner turmoil, Dr. A through himself into his work with even more vigor. He worked longer and harder hours, trying to prove to himself as much as others that he was still a good doctor.

But the pace was unsustainable and shortly thereafter, Dr. A burned out. He left the medical profession condemning it as too taxing, consuming and invasive. He switched careers but frequently battled frustration and un-fulfillment.

Dr. B continued his work as a doctor, retiring only after giving 50 years of his life in service to others. Over the course of his career, Dr. B saved hundreds of thousands of patients and was instrumental in the training and education of a new generation of doctors. His legacy survives him in his students and patients… and he never did miss a dinner date with his wife.

Busy-ness

So much of healthy pastoring is learning how to be “unbusy” as Eugene Peterson calls it. It is the ability to minister from a place of sureness, identity and peace. Richard Foster would call it otium sanctum or “holy leisure” – the ability to slow down and be fully present in everyday life. This slowness, this timelessness, is the distinguishing feature of a saint who has lingered in the presence of the Loving Father. There is no need to rush, no compelling need to prove oneself to others when you are grounded in Reality.

So why are we (pastors included) so busy? I like what Eugene Peterson has to say in “The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.” On pages 18 and 19 he says:

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself and to all who will notice — that I am important… I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.

I would add to Peterson’s insights, I am busy because I am afraid. So often busyness becomes an anesthetic. When I am busy I don’t have the time for self-awareness and evaluation. When I am busy I don’t have to think about or deal with my past hurts and brokenness.

Silence is the bane of our age it seems, for in silence, in unbusyness, the Holy Spirit begins to speak, gently bringing to mind all of the things He would like us to turn over to Jesus. But we are uncomfortable with such an intimate and invasive God who earnestly desires every aspect of our hearts – so we drown Him out with iTunes or find something more “productive” to do. But we stunt our spiritual growth, and greatly jeopardize those under our care, when we refuse to slow down and surrender our schedules to God.

Have you ever met someone who embodied holy leisure? What impact did that have on you? Can you imagine what life would be like if you let God rearrange your scheduled priorities?

Yearly Schedule

Continuing with the idea of Sabbath, we need yearly breaks as well as weekly ones. In the Old Testament we find the notion that every seventh year was supposed to be a year of rest for the land, the animals and all of the people. God promised to sustain the nation during this time if they would be faithful not to work. We don’t have any biblical record that this actually happened, but we know that God thinks it is a good idea.

My current schedule has me taking a one week vacation in the spring followed by a two week vacation right before the school and church year pick up in the fall. I haven’t been in ministry long enough to have my seventh year completely off, but I think scheduling sabbaticals is a brilliant idea. I would think that after 6 years of ministry a three to six month sabbatical would be a wonderful thing for the church as well as the pastor. The church would find that it can maintain and even grow in the pastor’s absence and the pastor gets a chance to seek the Lord in an intense and rejuvenating way.

What do you say? Have you ever taken a sabbatical? How was it and will you do it again?

Weekly Schedule

Yesterday we talked a bit about breaking up the day into thirds – 1/3 sleep, 1/3 work, 1/3 re-creation. This has always been a helpful mental model for me, but it doesn’t account for the realities of life. Thus, we will examine some critical components for a balanced and healthy schedule.

I was always taught to schedule the most important activities first, because if I don’t make specific time for them, they never get done. So the first thing I schedule in my week is rest. Yes rest. I schedule time where I don’t do anything work or church related. This is my sabbath, a time to be with my family and “recharge” my emotional batteries. You must guard this time as your top priority. No one else is going to guard your time for you, so make it a point to not schedule anything during this time. It sounds crazy, but it is so valuable once you get into the rhythm of it.

My next important piece is solitude (can you tell I am an introvert!?). I schedule a whole day to just be alone with God. Whereas my sabbath is family oriented, by solitude is God oriented. I read the bible and pray a lot. I sit and think. I don’t listen to music or the radio, I simply “be”. In the words of Blaise Pascal, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Cultivating silence and solitude is essential to effective and healthy ministry. As pastors, we must be ground in the Reality of who we are before God, we must be “unbusy” as Eugene Peterson calls it. Pastors must minister from a deep well of identity and peace or else we are liable to be swept away by the emotional currents of our congregants. Solitude and silence are where we hear the “still small voice” of God.

Our week is quickly diminishing and we still haven’t “done” anything yet! You see, when we orient our lives around the values of the Kingdom of God, the lions, tigers and bears of our culture come out. American culture values people by what they produce. Kingdom culture values people because of who they are. To quote the old cliche, “We are human beings, not human doings.” Therefore, our next order of business is prayer.

‘Prayer? I am too busy to pray! After all, I just spent two whole days being with God – I am ready to go!’ Oh foolish pride. Perhaps it is because of my youth and inexperience, but I am keenly aware of the fact that I have nothing to offer people on my own. I am not wise enough to counsel all circumstances and I am not strong enough to carry all burdens. This makes a vibrant connection to God the lifeblood of my ministry.

God has set a standard for me of 20 hours a week in prayer. I am not saying you need to do the same, but I am saying that you need to ask God how often you should be in your prayer closet. As for the busy-ness component… “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer,”  Martin Luther. Prayer is unique in the way it energizes the minister. I accomplish more on the days I pray than on the days I don’t, even though I should have more time.

Next comes exercise. I can’t explain it fully here, but I minister better when I work out regularly. I have more energy and am more at peace. This isn’t a huge time commitment, maybe 30 minutes 3 times per week. I guarantee that those 30 minutes of exercise will give you several more hours of productive time each day and week.

If you have scheduled the above and are committed to sleeping 8-10 hours a night, I now release you to work and play. You should have approximately 60 hours left in your week to split between work and re-creation however you choose. Remember that prayer is part of your “work” so you already have a good chunk of work time accounted for. My experience is that you don’t need much more than 25-30 hours a week in the office to keep things running smoothly if you are diligent about raising up lay leaders and delegating. This gives you plenty of time for relational ministry, home visits and pick up games of ultimate frizbee.

Try this out for a month and let me know what you think. Best of luck to you!

 

Time

This week’s blog focus will be on time. Time is the great equalizer – rich or poor, strong or weak, we all have only 24 hours in a day. My purpose isn’t how to maximize your efficiency or effectiveness, though they are lovely by-products. My purpose, rather, is to explore and examine how we can best steward our time resources to best promote health and longevity in ministry. Remember our idiom, Healthy = Happy.

I like to break up my day (mentally) into thirds – 1/3 sleep, 1/3 work, 1/3 re-creation. I will briefly summarize below.

Sleep – I think all American’s, but especially pastors, are notoriously lacking in sleep. Below is a summarized list from webmd about loss of sleep: it causes accidents (who has ever regretted that late night email?), it inhibits thinking and learning (not good for teachers), it leads to serious health problems (heart disease, diabetes, stroke), it kills sex drive (bad news for married ministers), it can cause depression (which many of us already have) and weight gain. Eight hours a night is minimum in my opinion – I have found I am better rested, healthier and happier with 9 to 10.

Work – Yes, “work” should only take up a third of your day. Work is in quotes because most ministers don’t consider what they do “work”. An email or phone call here or there adds up and needs to be seen as what it is – caring for your people. I’m not saying you need regular business hours, but you do need to establish set times for work. When those hours are over, I recommend “unplugging” – no phones, smart phones, ipads or laptops. It you need the time, buy a watch. If you need to write a message, use a journal. Email is a life-sucking abyss and nothing that goes on at your church is really that important – it can wait. Remember that time when you forgot your phone or your laptop died and you didn’t have a charger? The church kept trucking along just fine – your people know you are busy, they will cut you some slack.

Re-Creation – What do you need to literally re-create yourself? I include meals, exercise, family and fun in this category. It also includes personal time such as getting ready, reading books or just sitting and being quiet. I don’t personally watch television, but if you do, this would be the place to fit it in. I consider two things to be absolutely vital to health, happiness and longevity in ministry – prayer and recreation and pastors rarely do either! A recent study I saw indicated that pastors only pray about 5 minutes a day – no wonder we are so burnt out! How can we have anything of value to offer our people if we aren’t connected in a vital way to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Teacher and Guide? I include prayer as part of my work hours (see the apostles’ job description in Acts 6:4).

Obviously, each day has its own flow and some days are more work or recreation heavy than others. We will cover a weekly approach to looking at time in our next entry. Until then, how do you use your time? Do you have a similar model or something different altogether?