The Grounded Pastor – Patterns for a Healthy Pastoral Life, Part 3

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” – 1 Timothy 4:15

 One of the highest compliments I hear being given to a pastor or ministry leader is that they are “well grounded” in their teaching. It implies that they have committed themselves to the study of Scripture and the formation of good theology. Very important! However, rarely (if ever) have I heard a pastor’s life acknowledged as well grounded. This is very curious to me, especially considering how careful the Apostle Paul is to highlight the importance of being grounded in life as well as teaching in his letter to pastor Timothy.

It seems that Paul refuses to let Timothy compartmentalize his faith. Life and doctrine are joined at the hip in pastoral leadership. In the same way that good theology must inform our teaching, there are foundational theological issues that need to inform the live our lives as ministers.

When a candidate for ordination steps forward, I wonder if asking questions like,

“What will your life in ministry actually look like?” “How will you create a framework for ministry life that is grounded in the biblical and theological truths of WHO and WHAT you really are?”

These are probably good questions for any ministry leader, no matter what stage they’re at.

Like many who deeply desire to serve God in a vocational ministry role, I forgot that God was more interested in WHO I was than WHAT I did for Him. The result was a major crash and burn that did violence to relationships that I cherished, the church I served and to my own soul. The framework on which I hung my ministry life was far from what I now see shining through the Scriptures. My work as a part of PIR Ministries now brings me into contact, every day, with pastors who also seem to lack this vital framework – busy, overwhelmed and living on adrenalin, they attempt to exceed the limits of what their actual life in Christ can sustain.

“Your wife and your body don’t lie” – A pastor who suffered severe burnout.

This goes beyond the practical do’s and don’ts of preventing burnout. As Gretchen Ziegenhals recently said,

“… how can we think differently about the work itself and what we can physically manage? It is not simply about having that little    plastic gizmo on our desks — the “NO” button — that says “No!” in three different ways when we push it. Or repeating to ourselves, “I’m not on that committee” when we try to control too much.” (Alban Institute)

We need to think deeply and differently about our work and our role.

May I invite you to consider with me a framework for ministry that will ground us in a healthy way of life? One that may provide for the flourishing of our own souls and, in turn, the souls of those we shepherd? This framework consists of understanding:

 You are Human – Do I live conscious of being a created being – a HUMAN being; “crowned with glory and honor” but limited, broken, redeemed and Christ-dependent every day? If we will let it, the present sense of our humanity roots us in this truth – there is a God, and I am not Him! This simple realization can transform us from human doings – with an unrealistic belief in our unlimited capacity – into people who live and work in a very human way. We will daily bump up against the sinful defaults of our hearts, our inability to fix things and people and the limits of our own bodies. And that will be OK.

“I am a real person who occupies an office.” – David Rohrer

 You are a Disciple – Prior to any call to serve there is the call to follow. The call to follow Jesus, to know and love Him above all else, grounds us in the Gospel. Sometimes we minister types can forget that the Gospel we preach is the Gospel for US as well.  A recent survey found that 70% of pastors only spent time studying the Word when they are preparing their sermons. The daily, intentional personal relationship with Jesus is where we are leading people. We probably should get there first! Jesus has always been after our heart, not our performance.

You are a Pastor/Minister/Shepherd – This vocational piece is what most pastors and ministers focus on exclusively once we experience a “call” to ministry. But ministry is more than the sermons we preach, the service we give, or the leading we do. We are called to give voice to God’s work in our own life -the whole of it. The Apostle Paul admonished the Philippians to follow not only his words but the things they had seen in him. Vocation is the voice of my life – human, disciple, servant.

“As pastors, we must be in God for the world, not in the world for God.”

 Do you see how we often flip these – maybe even ignore one or two? It is vital to see how they build on one another and need to be in order. I like to think of this as the Ordo pastorium – the order of being a pastor – that forms a framework for a grounded and healthier ministry life.

News Release from PIR Ministries

 

WE ARE GROWING!

PIR(Pastor-in-Residence) Ministries welcomes new staff
One of the significant prayer requests that has been running in the background of our ministry for some time has been that God would bring new staff our way. He has answered in abundance. Since January, we have welcomed on board two new Regional Directors – Rev. Mark Yurich (Michigan) and Dr. Daniel Borg (California) These are folks who share the same passion and vision for bringing grace and hope to pastors “at-risk” and in transition as the rest of the PIR team. We are deeply grateful for both, as well as the whole new set of skills and network of ministry leaders that come with them. Check out their full bios at www.pirministries.org.

Thanks be to God – and thanks to all who pray for and support us in this work!

PIR Ministries is a faith mission. Support for this ministry comes in many forms: prayer, encouragement and financial contribution. Each of these is so important to making it possible for the work to grow. 

For more information about the work of PIR Ministries or how you might become a partner with us, contact us at:

PIR Ministries Inc.

PO Box 64934

Virginia Beach VA 23467

(757) 853-7889

info@PIRMinistries.org

PIR Ministries is a 501 (C)3 Organization

Restoration…not a sprint, but a marathon!

I am grateful for the insights that my friend Ray Carroll shares regarding any “timetable” we might attach to restoration for those that have experienced a moral failure. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

You can read his cautionary words of advice here: http://fallenpastor.com/long-fallen-pastor-restoration-take/

Update 3/23/16

While the spirit of grace and hope runs deep in the efforts of Willow Creek Presbyterian church leaders to restore Tullian Tchividjian after his fall, this is a prime example of “too soon”.

 

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/march/tullian-tchividjian-confesses-second-affair-coral-ridge.html

 

 

A Loose Grip

“Today, I can write about helping pastors, or I can actually help them.”

This was the statement I made to my wife sitting out on our patio the other morning. As we talked over coffee, I was facing choices about my agenda for the day. There were a couple of situations that had come up recently requiring hands on involvement in the ministry of helping pastors. But I had planned on doing some long overdue writing for my blog, a task that has eluded me over the last couple of months. What has kept me from writing? Because I have been actually working at helping pastors – preparing seminars, having lunch, talking on the phone, walking with people in crisis, setting up Pastor in Residence programs.

And so, there on a bright summer morning, real life battled with my expectations.

to do listI have faced this often in my life; and it continues to be a struggle. I am deeply committed to people, but I can also be deeply obsessed with accomplishing my agenda. The horns of my dilemma – tasks vs. people! When I have opted for the former, it has been easy to shut others out and not be present in the moment. I can get grumpy when my plan gets interrupted. Clearly, there are tasks that are important to tackle – things do need to get “done.” But it has been my inability to loosen my grip on the day – on my agenda – that has made many days miserable and unfruitful in a more lasting way.

When I was pastoring, I remember not always being at my best for people. My mind was on what I was NOT doing, what I could be doing other than actually listening, caring, helping. Go figure!

It has taken awhile, but I am learning to step back from the emotions that hijack my ability to see the bigger picture – emotions like frustration, annoyance and anxiety. It is not a pretty picture sometimes. And I definitely need help – from my wife and others – to challenge my default mode. An actual willingness to listen to their input has often resulted in a better grasp of what I am feeling and what the real priorities need to be.

I am in process. And the sense I have is that I am moving in the right direction. God’s agenda is always more deeply satisfying. The paradigm of “people over projects” is mostly true. (I am still not fully convinced!). However, I am convinced that our treasures in heaven are not completed “to do” lists.

reins According to my resident equestrian expert, having a “death grip” on the reins of a horse typically doesn’t result in the best ride. It is counter-intuitive, but light contact and a deeper seat in the saddle create the kind of connection that makes for an effective ride. I sometimes find it difficult to release my death grip on how I think a day should go. When I do, my connection to real life is actually much better .

So now, it is becoming easier to step back, to loosen my grip. When God completely turns my day upside down, I find there is a new grace that frees me to be present in the moment and adjust my agenda to His.

I think it is a good choice.

What about you?

The Daily Grind

clean upAs pastors, laboring among broken people (and being broken ourselves!) there’s a lot of mess.

Sometimes it feels like all you do is clean up the mess: “Clean-up on aisle 10!” So much work and effort, and it is most often unnoticed and unrewarding.

I recently concluded teaching a class called “When God Hands You the Impossible.” It was a study of the book of Nehemiah, and we were trying to learn from Nehemiah’s example as we face our own impossible tasks. During a session a few weeks ago, one of the class members brought up a detail that I had completely overlooked in our study. He pointed out that those who were rebuilding the wall had to spend time and energy hauling the debris away, cleaning up the rubble; and at the end of the day, tidying up the work site. Huh…hadn’t thought about that! (Being an electrician, and spending a lot of years on construction sites, it seemed pretty obvious to him!)

It’s one of those little details in Scripture that can end up speaking volumes into our lives.

I was immediately reminded of the times when, trying to supplement my income with part-time work, I took on the task of cleaning up worksites for my Dad – who was involved in commercial construction, installing acoustical ceilings in new office buildings. There were a lot of hours spent picking up the junk left behind the installers. It was dusty, dirty work. But somebody had to do it!

Somebody has to clean up the mess.
It matters.
It’s inglorious.
It’s sweaty, hard work.

This got me to thinking about how much of life is actually the daily grind – simple, direct, repetitive and ordinary tasks without which it would be impossible to build the good things we envision. Cleaning up the messiness around us is dull and often thankless work – certainly not what we signed up for in ministry. It is made even more difficult when the cultural noise around us literally shouts that life is all about the exciting, the evident, the big results.

I must have missed the conferences that were titled “I Want to Pastor an Ordinary Small Church with Consistent Clean-Up Required.”

wall rebuildThe need for cleanup was not the only thing that emerged from our discussion of this lost detail in the story of how the Israelites rebuilt their city. We discovered that one of the keys to the success of rebuilding the wall was the “next to each other” principle. As each person worked on their section of the mess, they had the opportunity to look over and see that everyone else was doing similar work. Side by side, they could shout encouragement, laugh together and share tips over a coffee break. And, it allowed them to be ready to defend each other.

They had each other’s back, sharing the load if necessary – jumping in rather than sniping or criticizing each other’s work. The main point was the main point: rebuild the wall.

Their hearts were all in, at least in part because they were all in together.

The sense and experience of isolation kills! The daily grind of cleaning up the mess can grind a heart to dust without the knowledge that it matters. It’s important. It is an experience shared by everyone else. And that someone takes note.

One other neat idea that jumped out at me from looking more closely at the experience of rebuilding the wall occurred to me as a question: “Why all the names?”

Why bother with mentioning all the people who were showing up every day for 50 days, hauling broken stones away, dressing the usable ones and then repairing one broken section after another?

It mattered. They mattered, and the record of their names is God’s “Thank you!”

thank you 2The writer to Hebrews encourages us with these words, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (Hebrews 6:10)

So when you are mopping up yet another spilled cup of hurt feelings or repairing yet another hole of misunderstanding, or just setting another table of weekly worship, remember that there were plenty of “in between” days in Jesus’ earthly ministry; it’s quite likely that Jesus learned to clean his room and sweep the stable. If you find yourself in the midst of working on the wall, remember that we are working alongside you – with Him – to build His church, His kingdom. Take heart in that you are not alone, and that God remembers His people!

The Thankful Pastor – Patterns for Healthy Pastoral Life Pt. 2

Years ago, when I was pastoring, I asked one of the ladies at our church to create a banner around the Latin term “Sursum Corda.” She did a fabulous job, visually depicting the concept of what the term literally means: “Up with Your Heart!” Hanging for all to see at the front of the church, that banner was a weekly reminder to look up, to spiritually take our hearts by the chin and look into the face of a gracious loving God who has provided “everything we need for life and godliness” in Christ.

sursum corda 2

Living under that banner has been a big struggle for me, both in ministry and in life. I spent a lot of time laboring under the shadow of the emotional environment with which I grew up; expectations were never achievable and little time was devoted to truly being thankful. Family members’ constant reminders to send “thank you notes” made that gracious act into an obligation, and not a true expression of my heart.

Entering ministry, I found pastoral work to be a field of land mines that regularly blew any idea of thankfulness or gratitude to smithereens. People were always coming up short, things didn’t happen fast enough or the way I believed they should. It was far too easy to be affected by the spirit of our age, which – like it or not – sees people as products, with efficiency as the master of the system. Certainly, there are tasks that could use a good dose of efficiency. But people are not projects! They will never be subject to efficiency. The more we try to fit them into that mold, the more angry we become – and less thankful. Unfortunately, in this mode, even God can come up short in our eyes. We unconsciously believe He promised things He never did, or didn’t show up when we thought He should – as if somehow He owes us.

We have become production managers when we should be shepherds.

shepherdI am constantly being drawn back to this fundamental idea of pastoral work, that we are indeed shepherds. It flies in the face of our “chronos” (clock) driven culture, and functions in the world of “kairos” (event) time. Sheep, we realize, are not something that function any better or quicker if ‘managed.’ Sheep will indeed produce fleece, in time! If the sheep are healthy, they will naturally repopulate the flock. The shepherd’s job is to protect the sheep, to seek out green pastures for them to feed on and fresh water for them to quench their thirst. The shepherd is called to be faithful to the owner – since that’s whose sheep they are!

Similarly, pastors must also regularly take their places as one of the sheep, finding nourishment for their own souls and health for their own hearts. This is how we become the kind of shepherds that are gracious and wise; without that time for our own hearts to find their proper posture before God, we will be driven instead by anger, impatience, control, and a sense of entitlement. The inner voices that correspond to our own emotional neediness will demand the drug of approval from others – and that is dangerous.

With these images never far from my mind, I am learning to be grateful, to be a thankful person. The results are becoming apparent and the benefits obvious. I smile a lot now! I am finding that my schedule is more flexible around people and, most certainly, God. People even like to be around me – most times. There are still things to get done, and I have my strategy for ministry, but it is daily put on God’s desk for editing and amendment. And each day is a fresh page to be turned.

So, if I were going to try to describe the “thankful pastor,” I would offer a few things that might be helpful. The thankful pastor is:

First and foremost, daily rooted in the understanding and joy of his own redemption;

  • Attentive to his own call to follow Jesus before he worries about others;
  • Aware that life and ministry are gifts from God – undeserved, but lavishly given;
  • Understanding that the people he leads and the church he serves are not his, nor is he serving at their call;
  • A peacemaker in his own heart between the voices of efficiency and the voice of the Spirit of grace;
  • On a daily adventure with God, having been invited into the wonder of spiritual work;
  • Growing in flexibility, faith, and the ability to take joy in the moment.

gratitudeThankfulness and gratitude are the barometer of our heart, a choice regarding how we see the world we live in, the person we are and the calling we have received. If we can begin with the truth of the gospel every day – for our own lives – we will be the healthy pastor people hope for. Sursum Corda is an invitation to pick the eyes of our hearts up from the ground and look full in His wonderful face. And THAT is a privilege we cannot take for granted!

I recently heard a great piece of advice for pastors who are beginning ministry in a new church: when you begin your new role, find anything and everything you can commend and be genuinely thankful for among the people you have come to pastor. I think that is a great way to start! It helps us to recognize that God was there before us, and softens our hearts so that we are less prone to see only those things that are wrong or frustrating.

In his book, Pastors at Risk, Chuck Wickman makes this simple statement that is so true: “Count your blessings. Gratitude is a healer.”

Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk) expresses his own journey toward thankfulness:

“There is discouragement in my world, but if I am honest, most of it is smaller than I make it. I am the one who amplifies it most of the time. As I’ve learned to listen more and more to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I’m learning that Jesus was very dependable when he taught us that the Kingdom of God is upon is. Right here, right now, close by. I choose to not see it because I am lobbying for that most destructive of emotions: self-pity. Jesus is reminding me that there is sufficiency in the love he extends, and the love he places around us. That love comes in thousands of different ways in a day. The problem is that I don’t expect it, don’t listen or look for it, don’t live in expectation that his gracious love will meet me throughout the day.”

Paul has a lot to say about thankfulness in the book of Colossians, but I have always been drawn particularly to Colossians 2:7. The progression in this passage is noteworthy: rooted in Christ, renewed in the truth of the gospel, which creates a geyser of thankfulness. It reminds us that there is too much wonder in the world to be grumpy. The Gospel is too strong to allow us to remain disappointed.

How have you grown in thankfulness?

sursum corda