Friday, November 21, 2008

An attempt to commiserate (an open letter to a family in pain)

Dear Friends,

I am so sorry you have to go through yet another injury inflicted on your souls, again by those who are supposed to give aid and comfort.  No doubt it is emotionally painful.  All the more so since it comes at a time when you were seeking respite and help for the beatings and bruising you have had to endure for so long.

There really is no excuse for your pastor-in-law (as opposed to your pastor-in-grace) to have avoided you during your trials, neglected you during your absence, and betrayed you during your move.  What's more, there really is no excuse for the pastor of the church where you had a happy anticipation of joining, to so quickly reject you (assuming by his actions he really did) on the basis of your pastor-in-law's report.  I can only suspect that a negative report was given about you since the new minister went from a willing and ready spirit to receive you to advising you find another church, all within the space of a day or two.  

Certainly, you haven't been the simple or ideal Christian family who fits the box (whatever that is), who is without any hint of flaws, warts, trials or baggage. You have had far more than the average share.  Perhaps that is why some families don't have such problems - you apparently got theirs?

Now, lest I come across as yet another self-righteous, judgmental pastor, I can say that I relate to those two ministers.  Looking back in time, I too have avoided, neglected and evidently betrayed people.  The neglect came from trying many times to help, but without any ounce of "success" I gave up.  I admit ignoring a few people who so easily monopolized my life and tried so hard to manipulate me and my family.  Ignoring them was a simple, but sinful way of handling them. I have since learned my lesson.  The ones I have been accused of rejecting or betraying are those to whom I boldly spoke the truth (at least what I believed was truthful) and they took offense.  They've never tried to clarify what was said, never forgiven me, and have never been willing to reconcile.  Very sad.  

From a pastor's viewpoint, I understand how easy it is to avoid people who aren't free from trouble and trials.  I'd rather not deal with other people's baggage.  I mean, some of them have baggage over the 50-pound limit.  Some of them have lots of heavy bags. Lots and lots of bags. And I have enough of my own baggage.   So, I can relate to wanting a church filled with holy angels who will neatly fit into my image of a perfect, peaceful, problem-free church.

However, the fact of the matter is those of us who are called to minister in the name of Jesus Christ are called to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.  I can recall years ago a pastor, who was a brilliant, earthy, former blue collar worker, complaining that too many of his fellow pastors never got dirty. No rough hands, tough skin or dirt under their nails.  Of course, he was also speaking metaphorically.  He was right.  But that's the nature of our work.

We ministers are called to get 
into the trenches like soldiers (Phil 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:3-4),
down and dirty  like farmers (2 Tim. 2:6),
tough and smelly like fishermen,
sore and exhausted like athletes (1 Cor. 9:24-25; Phil 3:14; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7-8; Heb. 12:1), and
humiliated and abused like servants (Matt. 20:27; Jn 10:11, 15; Luke 10:34, 35).

Those are biblical descriptions, and they run contrary to contemporary descriptions and models of ministers (CEOs, coaches, university professors.  I'm afraid we have adopted worldly portraits and exchanged them for God's models all to the detriment and injury of God's people.

We are called to apply heavenly truth to life's dirty, earthy issues through the means of the good news of Christ.  As pastors we are called to be gentle (2 Tim. 2:24-26), patient (1 Tim. 3:3), and marked by the fruit of God's Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24; Eph. 5:9), just like Christ.  Think about him - no doubt he was patient with his stubborn, ignorant, at times belligerent, messed up disciples.  He was pure and yet patient and gentle with the lowly scum of the world (the prostitutes, beggars, infirm, and handicapped).  He was patient and kind with those who received so much from him but who were so ungrateful.  He was sympathetic and a great help to those in need.

Christ has redeemed, gifted and called us to be servants to God's people.  Servants filled with the kind of humility that is not always self-serving or rewarding (Luke 14:10; Rom. 12:1-3, 10, 16:  1 Cor. 10:31-33; Titus 1:7; Jas. 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:5), just like the Servant Jesus (Phil. 2:3).  And just like Jesus we are called, gifted and empowered to practice and model true hospitality (lover of strangers) which goes above and beyond loving our neighbors as ourselves (Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8, 9; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9).  Our calling is to genuinely love others, especially those of the household of faith (1 Cor. 13; Gal. 5:25; 1 Thess. 2:7-8).  Like it or not we must be gracious, merciful (Matt. 25; 1 Cor. 12:28) and proactively, unquestionably kind (Matt. 11:29; Acts 24:4; 2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2:7).  What's more, God does not give us a choice about who it is with whom we are to be loving, merciful and kind.

Jesus was lowly, meek and gentle.  All believers in Christ should also be lowly, meek and gentle, but particularly ministers.  As brought out in the book, The Perfect Pastor?,  "Gentleness, a very important feature in a godly leader, is the quality of being gracious, kind, mild, patient and reasonable.  A gentle person is caring, considerate and has an ability to sympathize (Rom. 15:1; 1 Pet. 4:8).  The gentle one shows carefulness in choosing words and expressions so as not to unnecessarily offend (Gal. 6:1)" (p. 352).

In the book's Appendix F, which is a self-examination of godly character, the potential deacon, elder, pastor, and other church leaders are encouraged to test themselves.  One of the questions probes whether, "I reflect care, affection and good-will toward others (2 Cor. 10:1; 1 Thess. 2; Eph. 4:2)"  (p. 352).  The implication from the Bible is that I do so, not only with those who have it all together, or who are apparently absent any challenges or "issues," or only when I feel like it (which admittedly is rare).  I or we are to reflect care, affection and good-will toward others as gentle leaders - always! Especially toward those who need it the most!

This is the very nature of the redemptive work of Christ.  He came to save sinners, not saints. He came for the infirm, not the healthy; the poor, not the self-sustaining rich; the prodigal, not the pious.  His grace is extended to the chief of sinners, for grace abounds more where sin seems to flourish.  As ministers we must never forget that.  But, dear friends, it appears that some ministers have indeed forgotten just that.

Certainly, when I reflect on what is required of me in character and action, I too fall far short.  Yet, these are the qualities of godliness and ministry this unique calling requires.  If I, or any other person who has taken on the yoke of shepherd ministry, refuses to press toward these high and heavenly goals and refuses to practice them, then we need to step down and step away from the office called the pastorate.  May God daily spare me of my pride and keep me from falling into such pious worldliness.  May the Lord grant to such men the grace of repentance to change and become more like our Master who faithfully served us.

I am so sorry that you have had to endure men in the name of Christ, but do not minister in the spirit of Christ.  Frankly, they have failed you.  Their actions, their sins, mostly of omission, say quite a bit about their character and philosophy of ministry.  But in this sense, be encouraged that God has used this "rejection" of you as a grace to spare you of their miserable orthopraxy, horrible hypocrisy and intolerable misdeeds.

With affection;


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Some Things You Should NOT Do To Your Pastor

1. Don't love your pastor more than you love the Lord God.

2. Don't idolize or worship your pastor.  He is neither God nor Messiah.

3. Don't be a living contradiction to the name and person of Jesus Christ in you.
Don't be a hypocrite, trying to convince your pastor that you are "good" and wonderful believer when you are thinking and behaving like the devil.

4. Don't overwork your pastor.  
Don't rely too heavily upon him either.

5. Don't neglect the honor and respect, duty and obedience you owe the pastor in Christ that is concordant with God's Word.

6. Don't kill your pastor.
I could write a book, "1001 Easy Ways to Kill Off Your Pastor!"  Of course, I don't mean physically murdering the minister; though that has happened.  I mean to say, don't murder him by mouth through gossip or slander. Don't beat him into the ground with the innumerable ways people can verbally assault the minister.  It is also possible to over work the pastor or place too much stress upon him.

7. Don't allow your pastor or put your pastor in a situation that could tempt him or provoke him to immoral, unchaste thoughts, words, or deeds.

8. Don't steal from your pastor.
Don't rob him of his devotional time, study time, down time, family time, or vacation time.  Don't rob him of the double honor he is due.  Pay him well so that he may be free from material concerns. Don't forbid him to exercise his God-given talents and gifts. Too often ministers are pressured or commanded not to do the things they are talented, equipped or find pleasure in doing.

9. Don't injure the pastor's good name, and don't lie to him.

10. Don't covet another pastor when you have God's minister in your midst; and do not compare or contrast him with other pastors, especially high profile, popular ones.
Here is a quick way to discourage or defeat your pastor: compare him with another minister or leader.  It doesn't matter who.  It could be a previous pastor, a celebrity, or even a famous dead one.  Just don't compare!  It's demeaning and demoralizing when you communicate that your pastor isn't like Pastor X in preaching, or Pastor Y in serving, or Pastor Z in personality.  If you love that other minister so much that you have little room for the pastor the Lord has provided you and your church, then pack your bags and go where your hero is serving.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Some Things You Can Do for Your Pastor

1. Live with him in the love of Christ by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and might.

2. Love him in the Lord.

3. Pray for him frequently.

4. Let him rest.
You know what this means? Give him opportunities for personal and familial rest. Be proactive to make sure he is getting spiritual, emotional, mental and physical rejuvenation.  Encourage him to take off for times of prayer, meditation and reflection.  Leave him alone during his day or days off, unless, of course, it is a serious emergency.  Maybe even raise some funds and send him on a cruise, special vacation or study leave.

5. Honor and esteem him (Phil. 2:29; 1 Thess. 5:12, 13 cp. Acts 28:9-10; 2 Cor. 7:15)
The esteem for a pastor about which is spoken in Philippians 2:19-29 is a highly valued respect.  It's the treatment one gives to something or someone of great and precious value.  How do you esteem your pastor?  Very highly, according to 1 Thessalonians 5:13.  Why esteem the pastor?  Because, the Bible says, he labors for you as a servant and Christ's undershepherd.
God reminds us that one of many reasons to esteem the pastor is because he teaches and admonishes in Christ.  You cannot properly receive the full benefit of teaching and admonishment if you do not have humility and if you do not respect or esteem God's pastor or elder. 
Another way to esteem your pastor, according to the Bible, is by respecting him, providing for his needs, and treating him with godly love.  The opposite would be to despise him, which is forbidden according to 1 Corinthians 16:10.
Finally, a third way to honor and esteem your pastor is to appreciate him.  This is the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 5:12.  It means giving him a deserved recognition that is based upon the office of pastor and because of his labors.
Granted, there men who aren't worthy of honor and esteem; but if that is the case, then the man ought not be in the position as pastor. However, often times people do not honor and esteem the pastor because they are rebelling against the Lord, but taking it out on the man.  And sometimes, they know that if they are successful in undermining God's delegated, pastoral authority, then they will be successful in achieving their own selfish and sinful agenda in the church.

6.  Do everything you can to pump life into his soul.
"Build him up, encourage him, and communicate to him in a variety of ways to show him how much his service means to you.  Lift him up, inspire him, and bless him in Christ.  You will reap the residual effects for it.  Be a conduit of grace, hope and love to build up your pastor.

7. Be loyal to him in Christ.
Trust him when he is trustworthy. Treat him kindly, for who he is and because of his office.

8. Give to him as he gives to you.
Give, not merely monetary support; but give service to him and his family.  Be imaginative and think of ways you can serve your pastor: provide genuine and valuable feedback; give him moral support; give him time, pray for him.  Above all, give him love and affection.

9. Speak the truth about him in love.
Do all you can to safeguard his name and reputation.  More than that, build up his name so that it becomes a name of honor.  Certainly, the pastor must maintain his own reputation and integrity in Christ.  This is not an admonition for you to pretend he is honorable, if indeed he has clearly sinned and defamed the name of Christ or Christ's church.  But if he has a character above reproach, then uphold it, maintain it, and promote it. 

10. Follow him in the way of Christ as he leads with his fellow shepherd-elders.