“The inner action of prayer takes precedence over the outer action of proclamation. The implication of this for pastoral work is plain: it begins in prayer. Anything creative, anything powerful, anything biblical, insofar as we are participants in it, originates in prayer. Pastors who imitate the preaching and moral action of the prophets without also imitating the prophets’ deep praying and worship so evident in the Psalms are an embarrassment to the faith and an encumbrance to the church.” (Eugene Peterson in Working the Angles)
I mentioned yesterday that I was reading Eugene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor. To say he is rocking my world would be an understatement. Here is some more gold from this book specifically focusing on pastors and prayer…
“But prayer is not a work that pastors are often asked to do except in ceremonial ways. Most pastoral work actually erodes prayer. The reason is obvious: people are not comfortable with God in their lives. They prefer something less awesome and more informal. Something, in fact, like the pastor. Reassuring, accessible, easygoing. People would rather talk to the pastor than to God. And so it happens that without anyone actually intending it, prayer is pushed to the sidelines.
And so pastors, instead of practicing prayer, which brings people into the presence of God, enter into the practice of messiah: we will do the work of God for God, fix people up, tell them what to do, conspire in finding the shortcuts by which the long journey to the Cross can be bypassed since we all have such crowded schedules right now People love us when we do this. It is flattering to be put in the place of God. It feels wonderful to be treated in this godlike way. And it is work that we are generally quite good at.”
Brothers – may we never settle for being our people’s messiah!
This morning I spent some time with a fellow pastor in our community. We have a great friendship and meet periodically to discuss our lives and ministries. As we were finishing our conversation this morning, our discussion touched on our schedules. We lamented how “busy” we were and whether or not this reflected well on our primary calling – to minister the Word of God and pray (Acts 6:4).
Interestingly enough, I picked up Euguene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor this morning and began reading his chapter on “The Unbusy Pastor.” If you are a pastor or know a pastor send them this blog post and encourage them to pick up Peterson’s book!
“The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”
“I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both are ignoble.
1. I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. 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.
2. I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day’s work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people’s minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.
But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don’t have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?
If I am not busy making my mark in the world or doing what everyone expects me to do, what do I do? What is my proper work? What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?
1. I can be a pastor who prays.
2. I can be a pastor who preaches.
3. I can be a pastor who listens.
This is good stuff and I’m only 3 pages into the first chapter!
Recently, Donald Miller lit a firestorm in the blogosphere when he said he has stopped going to church. Many people were outraged and others were relieved. Those who were outraged expressed concern that this is not biblical (I agree) not to mention the fact that, at least partially, the target audience of Miller’s books is churchgoers. Those who expressed relief at Miller’s confession pointed to their own negative experiences in the local church and the liberation they felt now that a “Christian leader” has said it was ok not to attend church.
As a local church pastor, let me openly and loudly declare that there are problems with the local church. I am saddened at the “Disneyfication” of the church. I am disgusted that the church looks very much like the world when we should be “salt and light.” I am troubled that false gospels run rampant throughout our “churches” and especially on “Christian” TV.
With all the problems with the church I can understand, for a brief moment, how someone could stop going. But, it is only for a brief moment because I am reminded quickly that Jesus loved the church. He loved the church so deeply that he gave his life for the church. The Bible knows nothing of a follower of Jesus Christ disconnected from the local church.
The early church was not perfect…far from it! Paul wrote scathing letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia. If anyone could have thrown his hands up and walked away from the church it would have been Paul. But he did not walk away. He stayed. He prayed. He encouraged. He loved.
I think the language of “going to church” has caused a disconnect from what it means to BE the church. We go to restaurants. We go to concerts. We go shopping. And all of these places tell us that they are there to meet our needs and serve us. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, we ARE the church. So here is my encouragement to you, my faithful reader – stop “going” to church and BE the church.
1. “Going to church” makes you a consumer. Many people who attend church expect Burger King’s slogan, “Have it your way,” to apply in the church. They want their preferences met and when they are not, they head down the road to the next church to get what they want. This is what Donald Miller is saying – no local church in his community offers him what he wants. The problem with this mindset is that we are never encouraged to be involved in the church for what we can get out of it. We are to be involved in the local church to serve others and use our gifts to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4). Will we receive benefits? Yes, but that should never be our end goal!
**Being the church makes you an owner instead of a consumer.
2. “Going to church” makes you a critic. When you do nothing more than “go” to church, it is easy to criticize what you don’t like. You may say things like: “The sermon was too long, “The song was too loud,” “I don’t like the color of the carpet,” “The coffee is burnt.” When you have bought in to the vision of the church as an owner you have a different perspective. You will pray for your pastor recognizing the immense responsibility that comes with proclaiming God’s Word each week. You will rejoice that people who were once far from God now worship Him. You will recognize that a businessman whose life was radically transformed by Jesus donated the carpet to the church. You will praise God that someone is willing to wake up early enough to make sure hot coffee is available on Sunday mornings. You will struggle to have the perspective of an encourager when all you do is “go” to church.
**Being the church makes you an encourager instead of a critic.
3. “Going to church” makes you complacent. Here is what ends up happening when all you do is “go” to church: You sit, you soak, and you sour. In the book of Acts, the early believers were far from complacent churchgoers. They served, they loved, they gave, they sang, they praised, they prayed and they suffered. They did not have air conditioned sanctuaries and building funds. They had torturers and prison chains. Following Christ was not popular; in fact it was extremely costly. Being actively involved in the local church should pushes us away from complacency and into costly discipleship.
**Being the church stretches you instead of allowing you to become complacent.
Still not convinced? Consider Paul’s words comparing the relationship between husbands and wives with Jesus’ relationship with the church. Think about how his church is described. Contemplate how precious the church must be if Jesus laid down his life for it:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)
This past Sunday I celebrated my first anniversary as the pastor of New Vision Fellowship. It has been a true privilege to serve this body of Christ and watch God move in a powerful way. I am excited about our future even as we voted two weeks ago on some major proposals that will greatly impact our ministry here in Dublin and around the world. As I head into my second year as pastor, I thought it would be helpful to offer 10 reflections on the first year.
1. Jesus is the point. My name and fame is not the point. My church and its fame is not the point. I never want people to walk away from my sermon or my church impressed with anyone or anything but Jesus and his amazing grace. Too often, in our celebrity church culture, we celebrate certain pastors and churches more than we celebrate Jesus and his amazing grace.
2. Watching God transform lives never gets old. Pastoral ministry is hard work but one of the greatest joys I have experienced over the past year is watching God work in people’s lives. We have seen several salvations, a number of baptisms, and over 20 people joined our faith family over the past year. God is moving and it is fun to be a part of what he is doing!
3. It is easy to get busy and lose sight of what’s important. Acts 6 gives pastors some insight into our primary responsibility: prayer and the ministry of the Word. There are numerous demands on a pastor’s time and many of these demands are good. I have learned that I must carefully guard my time so that I do what is most important. Otherwise, I will spend my days doing good things that are not of primary importance.
4. You can never pray too much. Over the past year, God has burdened me with a heart for prayer. I am amazed at how often Jesus retreated from daily ministry to find a place to pray alone. Prayer needs to be one of the most important aspects of my life and ministry. I plan to spend a good bit of time over the next couple of years studying Scripture and reading books that highlight prayer and revival.
5. My primary ministry is to my own family. It is easy for pastors to sacrifice their family on the altar of ministry. There are numerous demands. There are always more sermons to write and more people to visit. New books are coming out daily and people are blogging and tweeting constantly. However, before God calls me to shepherd the church, he calls me to shepherd my family. This must be a priority.
6. People need to know you care. A mentor of mine shared something with me that his mentor shared with him a number of years ago: Many times the two greatest words in pastoral ministry are “show up.” I can attest to this piece of wisdom. You may be the church’s pastor when you are called but it takes time to become the pastor of every member in your church.
7. Rest and exercise are essential. This has been something that I have grown to learn over the past year. The truth is that I need 8 hours of sleep every night and 5 days of exercise each week to be at my best. This may not be the same for other pastors but I know this is what I need. My goal is not to flame out in ministry but to burn long and strong until the Lord takes me home.
8. Pastor’s meetings are beneficial. This may sound crazy but I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting with local pastors in my area. We usually meet on a weekly basis and these have been times of encouragement and growth. Several weeks ago a couple of local pastors in my area and myself went to a prayer conference at a church about an hour away. We had a blast! It is common to view other local pastors as threats but I have grown to view these guys as comrades in the gospel ministry.
9. Patience is key. I am not a very patient person (this is one of the fruits of the Spirit that God is consistently cultivating within me)! Being a pastor is an exercise in patience. I want to see God do things immediately but that is not how He always works. I have had to learn patience over the past year and I am thankful for the godly elders who have walked with me through this learning experience.
10. Be a constant learner. One of the greatest benefits I derived from seminary was the discipline of being a lifelong learner. This has helped me tremendously over the past year as I grow into the role of pastor. I have been blessed by reading a number of different books on pastoral ministry and the church. I have also enjoyed listening to a number of podcasts on ministry and preaching. As pastors, we need to make sure that we are growing. We should minister out of the overflow of what God is doing in us.
I am currently reading Shawn Lovejoy’s book, The Measure Of Our Success: An Impassioned Plea To Pastors, and it has been a joy. This morning I read a portion that challenged me and I thought I would share it. It comes from a chapter entitled, “Prophecy, Criticism, and Success,” which deals with the responsibility for pastors to fulfill the role of prophet in their respective churches. By prophet, he simply means speaking “Thus saith the Lord.”
Here is what he wrote:
God is looking for prophets on whom he can pour out his Spirit – prophets who recognize that criticism comes with the call to be a prophet. We will be accused. People are going to get upset. We’re going to have to release people from our ministry and care. People are going to leave. We are going to lose followers along the way. We might even lose a few “friends.” Jesus did. Loss will bring hurt, loneliness, and discouragement our way.
He continues with this:
There are three things every pastor needs to know:
- Pastoring is hard.
- Pastoring is very hard.
- Pastoring is the hardest thing you could do with your life.
I am not at all discouraged by this – I am challenged. What a great reminder for all of us in ministry!