Tag Archives: Pastor

Rebuke, Exhort! Don’t minimize and “tolerate”

St Paul wrote the largest amount of the content of the New Testament. Certainly the Gospels are specifically about the life and teachings of Jesus. But on the road to Damascus Jesus personally knocked Paul off his donkey and made Paul focus on who Jesus is and what being a Christian is all about. From there the Holy Spirit took Paul in hand and led Paul to be one of the greatest missionaries of Christianity and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Christian teacher. Many people like to minimize doctrine, but without Paul’s writings on doctrine we would have very little understanding of our Christian faith, a lot of what we accept as normal Christian practice, we would have to guess about, without Paul.

Paul founded a number of churches during his mission trips and he spent a lot of time and ink teaching people the important aspects of being a Christian. His “epistles”, letters, were written to people in Corinth, Thessalonica, Rome, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Colassae, and undoubtedly other groups in the Roman Empire. These were to address issues the churches were dealing with, or to pass on to them important aspects of being a Christian. In addition to Paul’s epistles to the churches, he also mentored, at least two pastors, Timothy and Titus. His letters to them were how to be pastors and how to lead congregations in the difficult times that these churches, all Christians, were going through at the time of Paul’s letters. Much of what Paul writes about is directly applicable to the Christian church and Christian pastors today.

Paul was not a shrinking violet, he had to contend with an immense amount of adversity during his ministry which culminated in being beheaded. As I said, Paul was probably the greatest missionary and pastor in Christian history. But if you really read Paul’s writings most Christians today, would be taken aback by Paul’s straightforward, even abrupt pastoral style. He wasn’t playing around, things had to be done in the church and in confronting a pagan and hostile society. Again so much of what Paul had to deal with we see today. While I’m not telling people to go out and be contentious, look for fights, or not try to be winsome and inviting, I am saying that there will be many times where you have to be straightforward in proclaiming the Gospel and not worry about who will be “offended”, or upset. As Christians and certainly not pastors we are not here to patronize people, or play to the crowd. As a pastor I took vows, to my death, promising to proclaim the Gospel. Many will be offended as Jesus tells us in KJV Matthew 24:10 And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” The adolescent whining you will often hear while proclaiming the Gospel is just a convenient way for people to not deal with the truth. They will be held accountable for their silly little posturing, but we can’t let them intimidate us into shutting up about Jesus and that’s what they’re shooting for.

Believe me if they had interacted with Paul, they would think that someone like me is a little candy cane. Paul wanted to make it clear to churches, like Corinth and Thessalonica, that the Gospel is not about kid gloves. It’s about people’s eternal life, that is the ultimate issue, even if people don’t recognize it. It’s not up to us to candy-coat it or treat it like entertainment. It’s up to us to proclaim it with great knowledge, great compassion, integrity and urgency. Treat the Gospel in a way that is with utter respect as to its importance, not the way most people treat it which is a secondary issue and why worry about it, God will work everything out. I get that attitude all the time and it is just not true.

 

Paul writes to Timothy, one of his disciples who he is mentoring as a pastor. Timothy is in Ephesus, he is a young preacher and it would seem that he was contending with a lot of different people who were teaching false doctrine. Paul tells Timothy: “ESV 2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Paul is telling Timothy you know what is important, you know what you need to do, don’t stop doing it just because there are some people who are opposing you and trying to shut you up. We see that in too many young pastors today, “I don’t want anyone to get mad, I don’t want to offend anyone”. I look at it in terms of; “am I worried about upsetting this guy here, or God”? If it’s a choice, I’m sure not going to upset God. Paul makes it clear that it’s about what is in Scripture.

To underline that he goes on to write in the strongest terms: “ESV 2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Paul is serious and he’s telling Timothy; by all that we hold as holy, you need to go out and teach that. Don’t pull punches, don’t tell people what they want to hear. That’s not your call, your call is to tell people what God has given us in Scripture. Anything else would be to “suit their own passions”, which isn’t God’s intention, is it? Reprove, Rebuke, Exhort. These are not make nice words. Paul’s words are telling Timothy to make sure people understand these words are serious. Don’t let people get away with it if they’re trying to sell nonsense. We see that today with so many false teachers, it’s no less today than it was 2,000 years ago. Today when you’re faithful to Paul’s teaching you’re going to catch all kinds of flak as to how mean, judgmental, unloving, whatever phobic and whatever other adolescent prattle you hear from people who don’t want to hear God’s word and want to wallow in their nasty little sin. But they still expect God to come through for them and save them, do things their way. Bizarre, but people today truly expect everything their way and that includes God. After all, to quote the prattle from false teachers, God just wants us to be happy! Huh!? God wants us to become mature Christian disciples. That’s much more than “happy”.

Titus was probably an older man, another of Paul’s disciples and he was the pastor of the church on the island of Crete. Ever hear the expression “Cretans”? Not a flattering expression. Titus apparently had to deal with some pretty crude actors.

Paul gave Titus the same direction. Don’t be bashful, preach the truth of the Gospel: “ESV Titus 2:15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” The last part “Let no one disregard you.” Don’t be brushed off or ignored, don’t let people patronize you, and wow you see a lot of that in the world today dealing with Christians. No! This is the truth, you may not like it but don’t be cavalier about it either, this is serious, treat it as such.

Paul goes on to write: “ESV Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Yes doctrine does matter, don’t play around or minimize it, preach it. “7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” Have Christian integrity, stick to what you know is the truth, be faithful and strong. But do it with dignity too. Don’t look silly and get all emotional and flakey. Assert the truth and move on. People too often don’t treat Christians seriously, make them take you seriously know what you’re talking about. Now more than ever we need to take those words seriously and stop putting on shows of “tolerance” or accommodation. “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) There is no other truth! You may disagree with me, but you have to take Jesus’ words seriously.

As Christians we get a lot of just straight out stupid messages from the world. Too often we make the mistake of trying to dignify them, of being too gracious. Paul, Timothy, Titus and us, we don’t have that luxury. We need to be serious strong disciples and evangelists and witness in a way that we will be taken seriously. It’s not always going to result in conversion, but, Paul told both his disciples, don’t be bashful, rebuke wrongful teaching. Don’t get defensive about someone telling you you’re being judgmental. Say what you want and try to use weenie words to avoid the truth, I’m telling you the truth, and it is judgmental. If you disregard the truth of Jesus Christ : “ESV John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” I’m telling you the truth, if you chose to ignore it or minimize it you’ve “judged”, “condemned” yourself, not me.

Sin is sin, trust in your pastor and quit thinking you know it all

I am still pretty much of a rookie pastor. I try to listen more than yap when others who have more experience, more education than I do, so that I will be a better pastor. Can’t say that everything I hear or am told is correct, that I should follow it. I do have a lot of life experience, so there are times when someone is telling me something that is just wrong. Just because someone else has been making mistakes for years, doesn’t mean that I should make the same mistakes.

Dr J Vernon McGee was the pastor of one of the largest churches in California. He also had a world-wide radio ministry, wrote a bunch of books, etc. He went to be with the Lord in 1988, but his radio ministry is still alive and well.

One of the observations I’ve made as a pastor is that people continue to try and impose their sin on me, as a pastor, or they expect me to endorse their sin, often due to their tortuous reasoning. I’m sure we all know which types of sins that people are finding all kinds of justification for. My overall favorite is “the church is full of hypocrites so who is a pastor to tell me I’m sinning, and so therefore I can continue to pursue my personal sin.” Yeah, like I said, those in the world live a very delusional life.

Let me make one aside, for those who recognize their sin, struggle with it, lift it up to the Lord for forgiveness, continue to ask God to deal with their sin and overcome it, “…If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins…” (1 Corinthians 11:31) God does forgive, will help us and is not there to beat us down on something that we are genuinely trying to deal with and conform to His will. Christians do not live deluded lives, our sin is sin. We’re not kidding ourselves that our particular sin and circumstances are justified, that, for those simple minds in the world, is what hypocrisy is. Maybe you ought to look into your own heart and be a little genuine. For those in the world, get over all your petty little justifications, get real and deal with your sin issues and be a part of a genuine Christian church that will help you in this area.

As a rookie pastor, I have had the experience where people pretty much confront me and demand that I justify their particular sin. Really! Yea the world really does bully and thinks that most pastors are entirely lacking in integrity and genuine biblical faithfulness, that you (me the pastor hears) just don’t know what you’re talking about at all and those in the world will be happy to set me straight. The hypocrisy, naivete, bullying, and straight out ignorance is just breathtaking.

Dr McGee had a wide breadth of experience and accomplishment for the Kingdom, a very accomplished pastor and these are his words: ” “What if there’s a sin in the Christians’ life that he/she won’t deal with, reveal it, confess it? … it’s amazing the number of people who are in sin, who come to a pastor and what they really want, is for the pastor to approve of their conduct and they become very much incensed if he does not agree with what they are doing or with their solution to the problem. When he attempts to put the Scripture down on their lives, why they wince under it and they get angry with the pastor and they say ”my he’s cruel, very unkind, he’s not the kind of pastor he should be, he’s not as sympathetic as he should be.” A lot of pastors know what this is because so many people will not deal with their sins. Now when they won’t, God will deal with them at the judgment seat of Christ and a great many people are going to find out, though they were busy down here teaching Sunday school classes, being the president of the missionary society, singing in the choir, leading different groups… yet they were disobedient and they would not deal with the sin in their lives, they won’t receive reward, they refused to deal with sin in their lives.” (Dr J Vernon McGee “Thru the Bible” Broadcast Dec 26, 2015)

I’ve had this experience. The person doesn’t want to discuss, they are going to tell and if you don’t listen and get it, then you  have a problem you’re wrong and I’ve had people tell me how lacking I am in what they consider to be the proper pastoral characteristics. No, I don’t get too spun up over it. I’ve had a lot of life experience (usually more than the person who’s telling my how it really is) and I get it, people are often not going to really think it out. They’re sure they know what it’s all about and they’re going to make sure that they give you the benefit of their “knowledge”.

Which leads me into another observation, Mr or Ms “I’ve been successful” in my world. They’re going to tell you how you should successfully run this church. I have news for you Mr Successful, God bless you that you’ve achieved some success in an area, I wish you the best. What a lot of these people don’t seem to understand, despite their obvious smartness in their success, is that success in one thing doesn’t necessarily translate into success in another thing. Not that I’ve achieved any level of success, but we certainly see that in so many individuals who have presumed that their success in one thing should ipso facto, translate to success in another.

Sorry Mr Success “so you should listen to me”, if you were as smart as you think you are you would know that. I have no problem whatsoever listening to others suggestions, direction and assistance. Frankly I find myself kind of begging for that. Having said that, it does not mean that I can always use and apply the input. Often times part of the problem is that the input just does not conform to the proper functioning of a Christian church. I think the church has done itself a great deal of damage in the last maybe 100 years, because it has allowed the world to dictate to it, instead of doing ministry in accordance with Scriptural direction. When pastors fold up and function according to the world, the world and the church realizes he as a pastor, or a Christian, that is not to be taken seriously.

It is amazing how much hypocrisy there is in the world and the world is the first to wag it’s finger at the church to criticize it for hypocrisy. The world’s hypocrisy really does border on the delusional and is absolutely breathtaking to see in action.

I hope that 1) people start to deal with their sin honestly. I’m not saying that because I’m perfect because, I’m not. On the other hand, I don’t try to delude myself into thinking that I’m above all that, if it’s my sin then it’s really not sin, it’s just A Skippy OK.

2) To Mr/Ms I know it all. I know that you don’t know it all, I can tell. You’ve been in church for decades, but I know that you don’t have even the most basic Christian/Scriptural understanding. You’ve been sitting in church because you think you should, just waiting to tell everyone how it should be.

The truly smart people who I know, recognize when others know more than they do about a particular subject. I really try to make sure, that when I can tell someone obviously has a grasp of something that I should shut-up and let them talk. I inevitably learn something and am thankful that they shared with me. Mr and Ms I Know It all, you might actually get smart and rely and trust those who actually know more about something. That doesn’t mean blind submission, that does mean realizing your limitations, recognizing someone else’s expertise and listening. That’s the smart thing to do and if you were really that smart you’d understand that.

Dignity and respect, let’s try to live that at the appropriate times in our relationship with Jesus.

I’ve been meaning to write this for awhile, it’s been over a year since the events I will describe happened, so ya, it’s been bugging me for awhile.

I went to the bedside of a man who was dying. He was a member of my congregation, but not really. Ya kinda one of these deals. He had pretty much just walked away a few years before I got there, and while I had visited him at home, he frankly kind of abused that too and I called a stop to the home visits. But now he was dying and didn’t have another pastor and I couldn’t turn my back, regardless of his questionable decisions.

I am  doing my best to get this man focused on Christ as my parishioner goes through his last moments on earth. While I am with him, the man in the next bed is also in his last few hours. In romps his 20-something pastor, suitably attired in shorts, baseball shirt and wearing his baseball hat, backwards. It used to be customary for a man to at least remove his hat in a  hospital, certainly in the presence of a dying parishioner. It was pretty obvious that this guy wasn’t really concerned, didn’t want to be there, didn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. He certainly wasn’t the least bit concerned with the dignity of the pastoral office, or the dignity of the dying. He was doing what he had to do and then to get on to what was really important, the softball game he was on his way to.

Oh yea, I can hear those oh so open minded souls out there clucking their tongue at me: “It doesn’t matter what he’s wearing, it doesn’t matter what his attitude is, you’re just an old fuddy-duddy”, although I’m sure they would probably call me something much more colorful. Nevertheless Ms Free Spirit, how would your attitude change if it was your faithful, much loved grandmother/father, on that bed, expecting to be faithfully served by their pastor? Oh yeah, your tune would change in a trice. Just a truly classless, move on the pastor’s part, but frankly that’s where our culture is well on its way to. We’re really not concerned with the dying, they’re just kind of a nuisance, a chore to handle, not a person in pain and fear. I often do feel a little at a loss when I’m in the presence of the dying (I’ve had a lot of experience, 29 years active and reserve in the U.S. Coast Guard, five years of ministry, averaging 5 funerals a year). And for most of the big box churches, death just doesn’t fit into their message. Afterall, if that person had more faith, he wouldn’t be dying????

Speaking of baseball, apparently the parishioner was a regular attendee at the local college baseball team’s games. OK, good for him, I’m a baseball fan, I should try to get to more of the local teams baseball games myself. Lutheran worship is not about eulogies. It is about the person faithful in Jesus, and His church and how Jesus has saved Him and also intended to be a message to those in attendance. You need to really pray that God is merciful and will save you too. I very bluntly told people who asked, that any eulogies would be after the funeral service.

This may sound a little harsh, but good call on my part. The eulogies lasted longer than the funeral service. They were all about how this man showed up at every game to score the game. OK, nice, certainly worthy of mention. But it was essentially the topic of every eulogy for about a half hour. (At least the interment went on in a dignified manner, there really weren’t that many people there.)

There was little mention of his work, and essentially none of his life in Christ, just college baseball. Hey fine, we all want to be remembered for our unique life, but I, want to be remembered for that unique life as a servant of Christ. It’s not that any life is more or less worthy, as long as it’s in Jesus.

As a Coast Guard Petty Officer I was both a United State Law Enforcement Officer and also a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. In both capacities the uniform conveyed important messages. As a police officer to assert control, protect anyone from harm and to neutralize anyone that constituted a threat. The more I asserted power and authority through my uniform and weapons, the more seriously I would be taken and the less likely other people, me included, would be hurt. If I looked less than professional, than I would not be as capable of asserting control, I would not be taken seriously and other people might be more in jeopardy. The same principal as a pastor. The more I appear as a serious representative of Christ, what I say about Jesus, the more I symbolize Jesus and His promises (the black shirt, suit, the white collar, the prominent cross/crucifix) all assert things about my relationship with Jesus, how I represent Him to others. This is taken seriously and the intent is to comfort those who are going through trauma, up to and including death. Anything less than that trivializes you, trivializes Jesus, trivializes the comfort that you are trying to provide to those who are going through their final moments and to those who will be left behind to mourn his/her loss.

There’s a time and a place for casual clothes and conduct, playing, games, jump around singing. But we have to make time for the dignity of a human life, to honor and respect the person who is dying or dead. We have become such a frivolous world, “hey, don’t want nothing to harsh my buzz. Need to make this as easy as I can, I don’t want to be uptight.”

Sure remember happier times of their lives. But please if you can’t think of more than one limited capacity that person was in, don’t camp on it over and over. It takes it from an interesting aspect of one’s life, to overdoing it to the point of being a tragic waste of life. Death is a time to remember what Jesus does in our life, in our death and in the eternal life of the resurrection and to remind others that it is about what Jesus has done for us. Let’s not trivialize it.

Our emotional responses

I guess this is a follow up on the previous diatribe, it’s not intended to be, not as high minded but something I feel I should raise. Henry Blackaby (Experiencing God day by day p 19) “…discipleship … Is learning to give Jesus Christ total access to your life so He will live His life through you…” Okay, I’m not sure about Jesus “living His life through us” I would see it more as Him guiding our life to be more like Him.  Blackaby goes on to write:”when others see you face a crisis, do they see the risen Lord responding? Does your family see the difference Christ makes when you see a need? What difference does the presence of Jesus Christ make in your life?”

” God wants to reveal Himself to those around you by working mightily through you…” I will say that when it comes to genuine crisis that I respond pretty rapidly and effectively. Over twenty years of being in a U.S. Coast Guard boat station, responding to many cases I have had to deal with many life threatening situations and I can only remember one time when I had an emotional reaction and I did get that under control.  Business, church, I think I do well in that area. If I do get a little assertive I think it is for the right reasons. I’d like to say it’s always Christ like, conforming to His nature, but I’m sure you would be, at least dubious and rightly so. I do need to respond in a more Christlike way and set aside the emotion, except for compassion. But the areas I really need help in is the petty nonsense.  I just get so fed up with the selfish, lazy (intellectualy and physically) attitudes. I expect others to be Christlike because I try to be and when I see the failure in others prayI respond in a manner that is most definitely not Christlike. I end up shooting my self in the foot by exemplifying unChristian behavior to those in the world who are certainly never going to be Christlike.

I need your prayers to help me to respond in the highest manner. Sometimes that response does require an emphatic demonstration that shows this is serious and vitally important. But if the other person just doesn’t even get it, what’s the point of getting in a twist? Pray that I can properly respond. To remain composed in a crisis, to respond lovingly to those who just don’t know better and in those times, which will be rare to be emphatic, but to not lose my composure. I do have to be strong. We just had Good Shepherd Sunday. The point being that Jesus stays strong and vigilant to protect us and isn’t going to stand for Satan’s nonsense or the nonsense of the world, He is there to protect the flock, His church, from so many dangers. As a pastor I am an under shepherd and Jesus uses me to protect the part of the flock I’m responsible for.  Help me do it in a way that honors Jesus. So that the world knows I, in Christ, am serious, determined even to death. But still compassionate and welcoming. And also so that my share of the flock will feel safe and secure in Christ. Thank you for your prayers.

When Churches Want a Pastor Who Can “Bring In Young Families” . . .

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Almost every church I’ve ever known has wanted to Attract Young Families.  The reasoning behind this includes the following:

  • If we don’t regenerate, everyone will eventually get old and die.
  • It’s energizing to have young people around.
  • Younger members can do the work that older members can’t/won’t do anymore.
  • Older members tend to be on fixed incomes and younger working members are needed for their pledges.
  • Young families (i.e. mom, dad, and kids) remind us of church when we were (or wish we were) part of young families.

There are a few things wrong with this reasoning, including the fact that “attracting” people in general feels manipulative – as if people are “targets” to be used for our own purposes.  Yuck.

Let’s be honest about the “why.  Are we saying that we want these rare and valuable Young Families for what they can give to us?

What if  – instead – the “why” of this demographic quest was about feeding souls and sharing authentic community?  I always hoped – as a young mom – that church would provide adults that could help me nurture my children.  I always wanted to know that – if my kids couldn’t come to me or HH with a problem – they would have other trustworthy adults to whom they could go (and they did.)

Young families are great.  Old families are great.  Families made up of child-free couples are great.  Families of single people are great.  Imagine if every church simply wanted A Pastor Who Could Bring In Broken People.  Now that’sa church.

Also, the days are gone when Young Families were present in worship every Sunday.  The statistics are in about how the definition of “regular worship” has changed since the 1950s.  (“Regular” used to mean weekly.  Now it means once or twice a month.)

Instead of seeking a Pastor who can bring in those vaunted Young Families, we need to call a Pastor who knows how to shift congregational culture.  The culture in which we live and move and have our being has changed, but we are killing ourselves trying to maintain a dated congregational culture.

News flash:  Most pastors will fail at “Bringing in Young Families.” Families of every kind are drawn to communities that are in touch with real life.  For example, check out Carey Nieuwhof’s recent post about why even committed Christians do not worship as regularly as they did in previous decades.  At least two of his “10 Reasons” specifically impact cultural changes connected to Young Families.

So how can we be the kind of congregation that welcomes Young Families for more than their energy and wallets?  We can:

  1. Be real.  Deal with real issues in sermons, classes, retreats, conversations, prayers.
  2. Listen to parents’ concerns.  Listen to children’s concerns.
  3. Ask how we can pray for them.  And then pray for them.
  4. Allow/encourage messiness.  Noses will run and squirming will ensue.  There might be running.  There will definitely be noise.
  5. Check our personal Stink Eye Quotient.  Do we grimace when a baby cries?  Do we frown when the kids are wearing soccer uniforms?
  6. Refrain from expecting everyone to be the church like we have always been the church.
  7. Help parents, grandparents, and all adults become equipped to minister to children and youth.  How can we learn to offer such loving hospitality to the younger people in our midst that they will always experience church as home?
  8. Do not use children as cute props.  Yes they say the darndest things during children’s stories, but they are not there to entertain us.
  9. Give parents a break.  Really.  Help struggling parents get coats and hats on their kids.  Hold an umbrella.  Assist in wiping spills.
  10. Give parents a break administratively.  Make it easy to participate. Minimize the unnecessary.

It’s also okay not to have Young Families in our congregations depending on the context.  Some neighborhoods have very few young ones living nearby.  But there are still people who crave some Good News.

I want a Pastor who can minister to whomever lives in the neighborhood in the thick of these cruel and beautiful times.

Image is a popular one that shows up in lots of random blog posts.

Is the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew Narrowing? Latest Research from LeTourneau University

Is the Gap Between Pulpit & Pew Narrowing? Read about the Latest Research

Dallas TX: New research conducted by the Barna Group for the Center for Faith & Work at​ LeTourneau University shows a substantial uptick in the number of pastors who say they preach on work. However, most church-goers still doubt the significance of their work to God.

“While American church-goers hear more sermons on work these days, there’s still a gap between what’s preached from the pulpit and what’s grasped by those in the pew,” says Bill Peel, Executive Director.

The research revealed that 70 percent of Christians do not see how their work serves God’s purposes, and 78 percent see their work as less important than the work of a pastor or priest.

Jim Mullins is a pastor who’s been pondering this breakdown of communication between the pulpit and the pew. In an insightful article, Mullins tells how one of his parishioners—a biomedical engineer who developed devices to help doctors detect early-stage cancer—was considering a career change to become a pastor or missionary. He told Mullins, “I don’t want to waste my life. I want to do something that has real significance, where I can glorify God and actually love people.”

Mullins says this faulty perspective was not for lack of hearing sermons on God’s view of work. He writes,

At our church, we preach the lordship of Christ over all aspects of life, offer classes about the theology of work, and repeat our favorite phrase every Sunday: “All of life is all for Jesus.”

After mulling why the message about the broad scope of the gospel and its implications for work wasn’t getting through to the engineer, Mullins had a revelation.

I realized that the issue wasn’t with what he heard, but with what he saw. He frequently heard teaching about the importance of vocation and all-of-life discipleship, but he never saw anyone’s work—apart from pastoral, missionary, and nonprofit work—publicly celebrated.

Pastors are awakening to the importance of helping people integrate faith and work. But it’s going to take more than sermons and classes to inculcate a biblical theology of work. Like the engineer, most of us need not only to hear that our work is important to God, we need to see it honored and celebrated as well.

Over the past four years, Barna Group research commissioned by LeTourneau University’s Center for Faith & Work has uncovered some important trends.

In 2011 our research …

  • Nearly all (93 percent) of pastors said that helping people integrate faith into daily work is “very important.”
  • Two-thirds (68 percent) of those pastors questioned their understanding of workplace issues.
  • Only half (49 percent) of churchgoing, employed Christians “strongly agreed” that their church provided information, guidance, and support to live out faith at work.
  • One in four (26 percent) of pastors said their sermons addressed faith at work.
  • Fewer than one in ten (8 percent) of pastors said they provided prayer support for workplace issues.
  • Only a fraction (3 percent) of pastors reported visiting their members at work.

Fast forward three years and note increases our new research reveals.

In 2014 …

  • Over one-third (36 percent) of senior Protestant pastors say they preached a sermon on what the Bible says about God’s view of work within the past month.
  • An additional 36 percent say they have preached on work in the past six months.
  • In all, 86 percent of pastors have preached a sermon within the last year that focused on what the Bible says about God’s view of work, and specifically on how one’s faith should impact one’s work.

According to Peel, “These findings indicate a significant surge in the attention pastors are giving to the importance of faith and work—an encouraging trend indeed! However, there’s a still a gap between what parishioners are hearing about the importance of their work to God, and they are seeing.”

The new research shows that, apart from pastoral and missionary work, little attention has been paid to publicly celebrating the work most parishioners do between Sundays.

  • During the last year, fewer than one in five (18 percent) of churches publicly dedicated or commissioned their members to serve God in the places where they work.

“I believe that this gap between what is preached and what is celebrated continues to cloud how people assess the value of their work to God,” says Peel.

  • Over two-thirds (70 percent) of Christians still cannot envision how the work they do serves God.
  • Almost four out of five church-goers (78 percent) doubt that the work they do is equal in importance to the work of a pastor or priest.

“Clearly, increased preaching and teaching about faith and work is a positive, praiseworthy step, but much more is needed. Churches must become fully engaged in shaping people spiritually for the workplace. A powerful next step is to schedule time in worship services to publicly celebrate all kinds of work that advance God’s creation,” advises Peel. “This simple action can help people connect God’s truth with their work in life-changing ways.”

Find ideas for conducting a commissioning service by clicking here.

ABOUT THE RESEARCH

The 2014 data about pastors originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The PastorPollSM included 602 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of senior pastors of Protestant churches from within the continental U.S. The telephone interviews were conducted from June 3 through June 13, 2014. The sampling error for PastorPollSM is +/-4 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. The cooperation rate in the PastorPollSM was 96%.

The 2014 data about church-goers originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The OmniPollSM included 1,036 online surveys conducted among a representative, nationwide sample of adults ages 18 and older.  The online interviews were conducted from September 2 through September 10, 2014. The sampling error for OmniPollSM is +/-3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The participation rate in the Fall 2014 OmniPollSM was 95%.

The 2011 data about pastors originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The PastorPollSM included 646 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of senior pastors of Protestant and Catholic churches from within the 48 continental United States. The survey was conducted from May 26, 2011 through June 20, 2011. The sampling error for this PastorPollSM is +/-4% at the 95% confidence level.

The 2011 data about church-goers originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The OmniPollSM included 1,007 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of adults over the age of 18 within the 48 continental states. The survey was conducted from August 1, 2011 through August 14, 2011. Only those adults who self-identified as Christian or Catholic, who attended church in the past six months, and who were employed full-time or part-time qualified to participate in the module of questions for LeTourneau University. In this study, a total of 350 adults qualified to participate. The sampling error for a sample of this size (n=350) is plus or minus 5.2 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level.

– See more at: http://www.centerforfaithandwork.com/node/804#sthash.ndE6cXFa.dpuf

Pastoral Ministry, Seel Sorgers Soul Doctors

As I’ve said before I spent 20 years working in corporate finance for some of the largest companies in the world. I also spent 29 years in the United States Coast Guard Reserve, even reserve members of the Coast Guard are operational and are expected to be as currently qualified in their position as those in the regular Coast Guard. I’ve had many and various vocations/callings and I am convinced that God has used each of those different vocations as a way to prepare me for ministry. I often find it bizarre that I’m often treated as though having a collar on means that my brain is somehow disengaged. I find it equally bizarre that those with little or no training presume to be ministers and usually have no clue what that means. Luther said that pastors are “seel sorgers”/”soul healers, to help us grow in Jesus and to confront the world as a Christian. Those who presume to be pastors don’t understand the trials of life and they often treat worship as a sort of time to have a little party instead of dealing with the realities of life in Jesus. Sure being a Christian should be celebration, but too often we treat it very lightly and then with the trials of life arise we reject God and isolate ourselves. Pastors, like me, are professionally trained to help those going through the trials to grow in their trust of God instead of being discouraged and rejecting Him, thus being a “soul healer”. So one of the books that I keep right on my desk to remind me that as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to serve those in my parish in all aspects of life, the good and the bad. So take a little time to read St Gregory’s “The Book of Pastoral Rule”. The title might seem a little authoritarian for our post – modern ears, but seems to me that we want our pastor to be a strong leader in Christ. The church of the last, at least, hundred years has been far too concerned with “people-pleasing” and too little concerned with helping people deal with the trials of life in faith in Christ. So this is a paper I did in seminary on Gregory and I hope it gives you more insight into the importance of the pastor and helps you to realize the serious and meaningful role he fills:

““St Gregory the Great (often known in the East as St Gregory the Dialogist was born in the year AD 540 to an aristocratic Roman family.” Gregory’s family was a religious one; his great-great grandfather was Pope Felix III (483 – 492), and another pope, Agapetus (533 – 536), was a distant uncle. His father was also minor church official.

Gregory’s family was well do and as such Gregory was well provided for and received the best education available, which was expected being from such a family.

Gregory had a rather auspicious career he started out as the Prefect of Rome.

He resigned from that position, sold all his family’s property and transformed the family estate into a monastery named St Andrew’s, which he entered as an ordinary monk.

Needless to say this state did not last long.

Pope Pelagius ordained Gregory to the deaconate and then appointed him apocrisiarius (i.e. papal representative to the emperor in Constantinople). He was there as a representative of the Pope and as a political representative of Rome. He also served as the abbot of the community he was a part of in Greece. He spent seven years in Constantinople he was also the abbot of his community and started a commentary on Job.

Six years later he returned to Rome where he assumed the office of abbot of St Andrews.

Five years after that Pelagius died and Gregory was elected Pope and he served until his death in 604 serving as Pope fourteen years. As Pope he daily fed the indigents of Rome, refurbished the city’s dilapidated churches and fortifications, the initiation of monastics to the Papal curia and reintroduced Christianity into Britain. [1]

The Liber regulae pastoralis was written before 590. It is also referred to as the Book of Pastoral Care.  ” … after reading the Book of Pastoral Rule, the Byzantine emperor Maurice ordered the book to be translated and disseminated to every bishop in his empire.”[2] The Bishop of Cartagena expressed reserve “that it might be beyond ordinary capacities….It was recommended to Charlemagne’s bishops…Alfred the Great in the late ninth century, translated it into English.”[3]

Most historians agree that Gregory was Augustinian in his theological perspective [during this period there were various heresies that were beaten back by the Roman church which included the Pelagians, Donatists, Manicheans]. While this is about a hundred years after these controversies, there were still elements of various heresies in the church and was a constant concern. Gregory seems less concerned about doctrine and more about practicalities of ascetic living and pastoring, as someone who had been on track for senior positions in the church from the start, he surely had to be aware of these heresies and assuring that his pastors were faithful to the doctrine of the Catholic church.

When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire a large number of converts came into the church. Needless to say they were perceived as “lacking the depth of faith that had been possessed by the pre-Constantinian community.”[4] While this had been about two hundred years, apparently the church was still adjusting and two separate types of pastoring had emerged. One was to the people who wanted to lead an ascetic life that is, monks, nuns and other clericals. The other was for the lay person. Clearly Gregory was writing to the ascetics, but mostly as they related to lay people. While Gregory wrote it in the context of his position as an abbot of a monastery it seems that his perspective was more about being a pastor to pastors. His text “defined who should and should not receive ordination, identified the priest’s practical responsibilities, and anticipated many of the priest’s pastoral challenges…to resolve the tension between ascetic idealism and the realities of pastoral ministry.”[5] Gregory “went on to describe the priest’s responsibilities as a combination of the active life of pastoral administration and the prayerful life of the remote ascetic. It was Gregory who first proposed a combination between action and contemplation…”[6]

In Gregory’s book Apology for his flight to Pontus “he concluded that the ideal candidate for the priesthood was a man who had the benefits of wealth and education (in antiquity, only the wealthy received an education) but who had abandoned the pleasures of the aristocratic life and adopted the life of abstemiousness and contemplation (i.e. that life of the monk).”[7] I wonder if this was because Gregory expected priests to be educated and only the aristocracy was educated, or if this was some form of Noblesse oblige or a combination of both. I further imagine that this must have seriously limited the pool of potential candidates.

This book is written as Gregory would guide and teach the monks under his charge at a monastery, “…it develops many of the pastoral techniques employed by the abba.” The book is designed as a way for an abbot to pastor the monks in his monastery. As pastors we are not going to have a senior clergy person watching over us, so we might be well advised to keep this book handy. Read through it once, highlight the pertinent passages and then put it in your daytimer or blackberry to review the highlights once every six months or so. For those things that are pertinent for the post-modern pastor we should give ourselves a regular review to see how we are doing as compared to the ideal that Gregory presents. I know that this will maintain a prominent place on my desk.

I often feel that there are many who tend to trivialize the pastoral office, that feel they could do it just as well as the pastor. The following should be pointed out when you want to emphasize the importance of pastoring to those who might not fully appreciate the pastor’s responsibilities: “No one presumes to teach an art that he has not mastered through study. How foolish it is therefore for the inexperienced to assume pastoral authority when the care of souls is the art of arts.” [8]

“The spiritual director ought to know that there are many vices that appear as virtues. For example, greed disguises itself as frugality and wastefulness is thought to be generosity. Often, laziness is accounted kindness and wrath appears to be spiritual zeal.”[9] This is an important consideration, I know a lot of times I am guilty of the last, justifying my “wrath” by telling myself that I am being zealous as a citizen and a Christian, I’m not I’m just letting something get under my skin. It also bothers me to seen laziness accounted as kindness. So often I see a pastor confronted over a meaningful issue and instead of answering the question directly or offering to set a time to sit and discuss the question meaningfully, he just gives a glib answer and sends the person on their way none the wiser, and that person thinking “gee what a neat guy our pastor is”, when he really isn’t he just doesn’t want to take the time to truly instruct someone with a genuine concern.

In another section Gregory gives us some more guidance in terms of how pastors should conduct ourselves: “Indeed, pastors ‘drink the clearest water’ when, with an accurate understanding, they imbibe the streams of truth. But the same ‘disturb the water with their feet’ when they corrupt the study of holy meditation with an evil life. Obviously, the sheep drink that which was muddied by feet when, as subjects, they do not attend to the words that they hear but imitate only the depraved examples that they observe. While the laity thirst for what is said, they are perverted by the pastor’s works as if they were to drink mud from a polluted fountain.”[10] In my time here I have twice, two different seminarians, on two separate occasions, been in the weight room and just absolutely pornographic music was on, one time two women seminary employees were in the room. What kind of witness is that? I know I’ve been in plenty of workout areas that were R rated. What lay people see us do is a testament to them of what we are truly devoted to. This is not prudishness on my part I can’t in good conscience write down what was playing, I was a sailor for twenty nine years and I could have taught both of the seminarians in question plenty that they haven’t an education for. The first time this happened my youngest son was seventeen years old. I can well imagine what he might have been thinking associating that music with the seminarian who was there and I cringe to think what the two women who were there were thinking. I went to the first one and pointed out that it wasn’t appropriate. His response took me aback when he said “oh, sorry I didn’t notice.” We have to be diligent in noticing the things that we do that may offend our weaker brother or sister and clearly this is a theme that is important to Gregory also.

Gregory had a great concern with men not squandering their gifts to serve others. In the following quote he emphasizes the need for us, as pastors, to set outside our desires and be ready to serve: “…when one is subject to the dispositions of the divine Will and averse to the obstinacy that comes from vice, if he is already endowed with gifts whereby he might help others, then at the time when he is commanded to accept a position of spiritual authority, although he might flee from it in his heart, he should be obedient, if reluctantly by his actions.”[11] There are certainly times when I’d rather sit at home and watch the Red Sox instead of having to go and visit someone who could use pastoral care.

On the flip side, Gregory describes the man “who feels the burden of worldly cares to such an extent that he never looks up to what is lofty but instead focuses entirely upon what is tread upon at the most base level.”[12] The quote is rather extensive from here, but suffice to say Gregory is talking to pastors in terms of watching out for themselves that they can become so burdened and forget about God. But to also watch out for those who we are to care for. It is easy to recognize the need for care for the person in the hospital, for the person who is going through loss, but we often don’t see the person who is burdened down and has lost sight of God and His care. He has become buried under worry and stress. We need to be proactive with that person and also to make sure that we don’t get caught up in constant burdens and cares. Gregory seems to like to create a lot of contrasts, particularly at the end of the book. This is one contrast that is important in the pastorate, that there are many who should be serving, that have gifts for the kingdom and are using them to pursue their own desires. However there are many pastors who are just driving themselves into the ground under the weight of concerns for their congregation, for his family, for himself. Both the one who avoids serving and the one who serves to a high degree need to focus back on the fact that it is not about them, but about God. I am guilty of both ends of this spectrum and I’m not saying that everyone has to be in the ministry, but Gregory’s point is well taken and another aspect that we never seem to truly focus on in our relationship with God.

Gregory sets a very high bar for those who will be a pastor. “The active life of the leader ought to transcend that of the people in proportion to how the life of a shepherd outshines that of his flock…he should be pure in thought, exemplary in conduct, discerning in silence, profitable in speech, a compassionate neighbor to everyone, superior to all in contemplation, a humble companion to the good, and firm in the zeal of righteousness against the vices of sinners..”[13] He goes on to say that the pastor should always be the first in service. “…so that the flock (which follows the voice and behavior of its shepherd) may advance all the better by his example than by is words alone.”[14] If you expect people to be out on a summer Saturday afternoon to knock on doors for the church, you should be out there longer and farther then anyone else. Too often the pastor sees a division of labor, as it were, between the clergy and the laity, that is pastors are in their office writing and contemplating great thoughts and the laity are out doing the work of discipling and evangelizing. I have even heard some seminary students that they expect to work forty hours a week because of their family. No pastors can’t run everything, and do everything, but on the priorities of the church which are pastoral, writing, preaching, counseling, hospital visits there is also the evangelizing, discipling, welcoming, being visible to and sometimes participating in the different groups. In this day and age no one works a forty hour week, at least not those who are trained/educated professionals. The idea that the pastor should be exempt while those in the parish work fifty plus hours a week seems to me to be a modern day example of what Gregory is talking about.

Our society today does not want people to take a stand, to speak out on principle. Gregory chastises those “who fear to lose human favor, [who] are afraid to speak freely about what is right… to ‘go up against the enemy’ is to oppose worldly powers with a free voice in the defense of the flock. And to ‘stand in battle on the day of the Lord’ is to resist, out of love of justice, evil persons who oppose us. For if a shepherd fears to say what is right, what else is it but to turn his back in silence? But certainly, if he puts himself before the flock [so as to protect them]…”[15] How can we expect those in our flock to stand up for the truth at their office, their school, their team, their club when they don’t see their pastor doing it. Most importantly we have been given the responsibility. People aren’t going to like it when we defend the unborn, the aged, the poor, when the world tries to deprive Christians of their rights to witness, to pray and to worship. But we are here to serve our Lord Christ, not to be concerned about public opinion and we have to live that for ourselves and for our congregation.

“Often, however, a spiritual director swells with pride by virtue of being placed in a position of authority over others…”[16] In the modern context I think that we are prone to believe what people say to us about us, we believe too much of what we hear, and we lose the ability to be critical in our thinking on the issues and how we conduct ourselves towards those in the congregation. We get too high an opinion of ourselves, but at the same time we can let people sort of lead us around by the nose when it comes to the issues. “For he controls this power well if he knows how to use it to gain a mastery over sin and also knows how to mingle with others as equals.”[17]

Gregory discusses failure to discipline a little more: “Self-love inclines the mind of the spiritual director to laxity when he observes the laity in sin but chooses not to correct them because he fears that their affection for him will grow dull. In fact, sometimes when he should rebuke the errors of the laity, he actually softens them with flattery.”[18]

Gregory never denies that we should not exert church discipline: “Supreme rule, then, is well administered when the one who presides has dominion over the vices rather than his brothers. But when superiors correct the delinquents among the laity, it is necessary for them to be careful that when they attack sin through due discipline, they should still acknowledge themselves, as an exercise of humility, to be the equals of those they correct… Because if a leader lowers himself more than is proper, he will not be able to affect the lives of the laity through the bond of discipline. Let spiritual directors, then, uphold externally what they undertake for the benefit of others and let them retain internally what scares them about their own condition. Nevertheless, the laity should perceive, through subtle signs that appear at the proper times, that their spiritual directors are humble. In this way, the laity will see what they ought to fear from authority and, at the same time, know how to imitate the virtue of humility.”[19] I find it interesting that now to “lower oneself” does not mean to humble themselves to be an example to the laity, but to somehow compromise your position. That is to make you less credible because you lowered yourself below your position. I think we should define the word as Gregory did and make it to mean that we live as an example to the lay person.

It seems to me that we ought to seriously consider, on a regular basis, if we are giving our flock enough lessons in humility through our example.

Gregory quotes Ezekiel who is chastening the shepherds: “’You did not mend what was broken, nor did you retrieve what was driven away.’ (Ezek 34:4) Indeed, that which is cast away is retrieved whenever one who has fallen into sin is called back to the state of righteousness by the vigorous work of pastoral care.”[20]

Too many times it is a case of pooh-poohing, oh well too bad for John Smith, nothing can be done, he has to deal with his sin. It is as much our responsibility to search for the lost sheep, as it is to exhort the faithful. God chastised Israel for failing to do that, why wouldn’t He chastise us as well?

. “…the spiritual director must be careful that he show himself to the laity as a mother with respect to kindness and as a father with respect to discipline. And in every case, care should be provided in such a way that discipline is never rigid, nor kindness lax.”[21]

“In short, gentleness is to be mixed with severity – a combination that will prevent the laity from becoming exasperated by excessive harshness or relaxed by undue kindness.”[22] I think that this shows some insight that might be ahead of its time. It is so easy to keep resorting to the Law, “this is what you have to do”, but to reflect God we have to be as He treats us, with more then our share of mercy and surely less then we deserve in terms of discipline. God surely knows that so often we mess up and we don’t want to, we feel like we are often floundering and we often lose and he knows that and He waits for us to come back to Him. We need to reflect that in our ministry, to comfort those who are struggling, but to hold accountable those who simply want to see what they can get away with. God is the entirety of humanity, He can be more compassionate then any number of mothers, and He can be as stern as any number of fathers.

When advising people we must differentiate in our approach to people: Men and women, young and old, poor and rich, joyful and sad, subordinates and leaders; he goes on to elaborate in each case, for example of men and women saying that men are compelled toward the heavier burden. Likewise in terms of subordinates and leaders.[23] As in the last comment, I found this one too to be ahead of its time. Frankly it has seemed to me, in our society since at least the 1970’s, that unless someone had remarkable talent, everyone was pretty much pigeonholed the same way. Gregory is telling us for over 1500 years ago that is just not a practical or for that matter useful way to handle people. Certainly this is not a foolproof approach, for example the sick often think they are healthy, the dull often think that they are wise, those who steal that think they are giving more then they steal. It is becoming more and more evident that as a pastor one has to build and develop relationships as much as possible with those in the congregation. The days of trying to deal with all people equally and having glib, quick answers have done tremendous damage to the church and are probably the main reasons why the church has become such a non-factor. For too many generations pastors thought that they could get by and didn’t make a genuine effort to get to know the people in their congregation as individuals. You can always tell the pastor who does, the loyalty of those in his congregation and the growth in his congregation are evident.

I like his illustration with the lazy and the hasty: We should always be striving for greater things so that we do bring on the possibility of falling for lesser things: “For when the soul does not incline itself to greater things, neglecting itself, its desire increases for inferior things. And when the soul does not restrain itself by studying vigorously for higher things, it is wounded by the hunger of desire for lower things. And as a result of its neglect for discipline, it is all the more distracted by the desire of pleasure. Hence, it was also written by Solomon: “The idle are given entirely to desires.”[24] This is an epidemic in today’s society, people think that they are striving for high things such as, the right to free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of privacy, not because these are necessarily noble, but mostly so that they can look at porn, get rid of unwanted pregnancies and adopt lifestyles without taking responsibility for the things that you’ve done. There is nothing noble or compelling in the things that some people crusade for, it is simply indulging their desires. It is embarrassing when people are campaigning for gay rights as if it is some kind of noble action on their part, when others have risked their lives to free people from concentration camps, to be free from aggression or from dictators. I had two great, great uncles who fought in the Civil War, one of who was disabled and subsequently died. He suffered in attempting to free people, not let people indulge in their unexamined obsessions.

In summary St Gregory gave us the compact handbook for pastoral care. It is ambitious for the pastor to try and meet the goals that Gregory sets. However, if we do what we can to aspire and try to attain the goals he sets, we will be far better then what we would have otherwise been. Again this will be on my desk and will be a reminder that I do aspire to the ideals that Christ has given me, I will not achieve these, some maybe and others I will at least get further then I would have otherwise, but it will be in order to follow Gregory’s counsel to strive for the highest so that I will not let lower things drag me down.”

[1] Demacopoulos. George editor and translator The Book of Pastoral Rule introduction p 9

[2] p 10

[3] Wikipedia

[4] p 10

[5] p 12

[6] p 13

[7] p 13

[8] p 14

[9] p 18

[10] p 31 Part I section 3

[11] p 38 Part I section 6

[12] pp 46-47 Part I Section 11

[13] p 49 Part II section 1

[14] p 51 Part II section 3

[15] p 55 Part II Section 4

[16] p 62 Part II section 6

[17] p 64 Part II section 6

[18] p 74 Part II Section 8

[19] p 65 Part II section 6

[20] p 67 Part III section 6

[21] p 67 Part III section 6

[22] p 67-68 Part III section 6

[23] pp 88-89 Part III section 1

[24] pp 125 – 126 Part III section 15