This morning I did my daily reading of the news headlines and then scanned several minister’s blogs and websites. As I tried to get a fix on the pulse of some of America‘s most well-known church leaders I thought about the other 98% of preachers and other church leaders who are out there in the trenches toughing it out day after day, week after week, trying desperately to make it work. It occurred to me that some of the reasons ministry is so hard is really the key to making local church ministry easier.
Since I am not a pastor or church leader it’s a fair question to ask “Why do you think you can offer anything worthwhile to a struggling pastor?” The answer is, “I read the Bible”. Yes, it’s too simplistic, it’s almost a smart aleck answer, but nevertheless it’s the right answer. So, here I offer some well-intentioned advice, just some suggestions that might help you.
GROWING THE CHURCH IS NOT YOUR JOB
I believe most pastors feel the weight of church growth almost all of the time. They might not speak about it, or in most cases not even be consciously aware of it, but it’s there. The reason is that success in ministry is usually measured by numbers. Numbers of baptisms, numbers of new members, the measure of giving, etc. All of those things are necessary and important but not any of them is your responsibility. Your responsibility is to make Jesus and his claims known and to teach the Word of God as clearly and plainly as you can. And, you are to live the Christ life out before your people, being an example of one man devoted to Jesus and totally dependent on him, for everything!
The burden of growing the church is on Jesus, not you! Jesus made this important truth very clear.
I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
If Jesus is the one building the church (and He is!) check that task off your list of “to do’s” and move on to what you can do. That’s one job you can’t do!
FOCUS ON DOING WHAT YOUR JOB REALLY IS
When I read job descriptions that church’s post when searching for preachers I am amazed at how unbiblical they are and they have no idea they are so offensive to God. They want SuperRev to do everything in church life in the community. I read one ad in disbelief, what they were expecting was impossible for a human who also had expectations of being a father and husband and having a life.
Your job is to feed the sheep. If you faithfully give your people a steady diet of Jesus and you get them focused on living out his life in the power of the Holy Spirit you will not have to be concerned about whether or not the local nursing home gets visited or not. And, you will not have to worry about if the community is going to hear the gospel.
A pastor’s focus must be on discipleship, primarily. If on Sunday morning the pews of your church are populated with people who know and exercise the disciplines of prayer, repentance, confession, Bible study, loving God and others in tangible ways, ministry will get done.
Every successful pastor is one who preaches Christ centered messages and teaches the people to be completely devoted to Jesus. We must understand that websites, programs, presentations, music, atmosphere, and every other innovation are only tools to get people to Jesus. No church reaches the lost because it has a world-class website or a really big presence on Twitter. People who reach people for Jesus are themselves intimately related to him themselves. It is the pastor’s job to facilitate his people’s loving and living for Jesus. If that happens ministry of all sorts is the natural outcome. Don’t try to do what God never intended you to do.
KEEP FIRST THINGS FIRST
If you are a family man (most are..) your first responsibility is to your wife and then your children. If you get that wrong you’ll be wrong. Right under your devotion to God your number one allegiance must be to those who live in your house. Ministry and everything related to church life comes after God and family, not before. Many pastors fail because the allow “church” to inch up slowly so that it becomes more important than family or sometimes even God. Be careful. Plan your days and weeks so that you have time for your personal discipleship, and for loving and caring for your family. It takes quality time to love your wife and kids as you should. Plan to do it!
Never, never, get far from the gospel of Jesus. In your personal life, in your family life, and in your ministry, keep focused on Jesus and the implications of what he has accomplished for you and those you minister to. You must see the gospel as not only the entrance into the kingdom but as the strength and power for everyday living with all it’s challenges. Make this passage the foundation of your life and work.
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13)
Be constantly aware that it is God who is doing in you what is good for his cause. It doesn’t depend on you, it depends on him. Your task and mine is to surrender to his perfect will and to be available to do his bidding. It is in view of God’s work in us for his pleasure that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. As my friend Edward Fudge puts it, “We work out what God has worked in”. I think that nails it!
Preach and practice and promote Christ and him crucified, risen, and coming again. That is what ministry, church, and God’s mission is all about.
THE WAY UP IS DOWN
Again and again the Bible cautions us to not think more of ourselves than we ought. Especially young men in ministry sometimes take too seriously the nice comments, gifts, dinner invitations, etc that usually accompany the new preacher. And, for sure, some older guys get the “big head” because of their position of authority and the respect the position demands. The truth is you are not all that different from the average Joe in the pew. You just have greater responsibility.
Humility, sincere humility, is a rare thing in my view. And that is especially true of ministers. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing”. If any good has been accomplished in your ministry it’s God’s accomplishment, not yours. One of your greatest enemies is pride. All of us love the praise of men to some degree. Don’t get caught up in being proud of yourself. It’s a potentially fatal character flaw. It can kill your ministry dead in it’s tracks!
The most humble are the most prayerful. Unless you see yourself as very needy before God you will never amount to much in God’s kingdom work. You must realize that using your talents, your training, and all of your energy, at the end of the day all you can do alone is what a man can do. But, if you surrender your whole being to God and rely completely on him for everything you can expect God sized results. The failure to pray and depend on God is an admission that you really don’t think you need him.
Try the best you can to let God call the shots in your life and work for him. If you humble yourself He will lift you up!
I LOVE PREACHERS
My heroes and some of my best friends are preachers. Those “beautiful feet” souls are a special lot. There is not a more important job on earth in my view. I hope this post encourages you to keep at it. If my words help only one struggling preacher out there my time thinking about this and writing these words will be well spent.
Preach Christ! Leave the results to God.