Ah my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.
I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.
God sometimes does the opposite of what we desire. In response, we must more often act in the reverse of how we feel.
There is no more fundamental description of what the role of a pastor should be than the role of a shepherd. There was a season of life where I was only reading leadership books. They have great advice and fantastic insight they can help you be a better leader which we should all strive to be. The fundamental flaw in being a pastor who strives to be a CEO versus a pastor as a shepherd is the focus of what you do and the motivations behind what you do.
A CEO is driven by the need for efficiency and measurable outcomes. They make the mistake of being efficient with people so you can be effective in ministry. This is where we make our fatal flaw as ministers we think that we are judged by some elusive bottom line, and in the frenetic pace of ministry we kill ourselves trying to make it across some finish line we have set up for ourselves, but we never end up crossing. We burn up and burn out because we become disillusioned with the pace and the culture of pastoral ministry.
You Are an Undershepherd, Not an Owner.
We live in a very entrepreneurial culture. If you build it, they will come. The dream you have can be realized, you can be a self-made man. While all these things are true to a point as a pastor, you will never be satisfied with your work if these are the ideas you have about pastoral ministry. As a pastor, you are more of an undershepherd than even a Shepherd. We are stewards, not owners. A steward recognizes that he doesn’t set his goals or achieve his outcomes. A steward’s job description is to take care of and grow his flock for the person whom he works. When we are the owner we tend to obsess over outcomes rather than the hard work of planting, loving and trusting. When we see ourselves as the owner we are shaken when things happen that we can’t understand. As a CEO we don’t think anything as above our paygrade, as an undershepherd, we have a greater capacity for mystery because in ministry there are many things that don’t make sense.
A few months ago I was in a Chipotle in New York City with my wife. We were doing our best to keep to ourselves and not make eye contact so as to fit in with the natives of New York City. As we were successfully avoiding eye contact there was a group of college students that were sitting next to me they started talking about abortion. What brought me into the conversation something I don’t typically do was the fact two of the three were self-professing Christians the third was Jewish. They were discussing abortion and if it was ok, one of the Christians said that he could prove that abortion is ok from a biblical perspective. I could hold back no further I joined the conversation uninvited because I had to speak for those who literally can’t speak for themselves. I found myself unintentionally using my friend Dr. Scott Klusendorf’s SLED defense. It is a powerful defense against those who argue that a baby is not a baby and just a collection of tissue.
Here is Dr. Klusendorf explaining his SLED method in less than three minutes. I beg you to carve a few minutes to inform yourself for the next conversation you may have with those contemplating having an abortion or those advocating that abortion is a viable option.
Today let’s stand with the Evangelical community as they are marching on Washington to pray, and bring awareness to life. It won’t get the coverage that the Pro-Abortion “Woman’s March” got but what matters is that we continue to fight for the life of babies that are taken daily in this country due to the gods of ignorance, convenience, and pleasure.
Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise”— that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride—“ they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all.”
St. Augustine, The City of God
If you own a television or have access to the internet, you understand that the last year or so in politics has been brutal. Both sides of the ideological aisle have acted savagely to each other and themselves. It is very easy for us as Christians who live in the city of man to get caught up in the savageness of our day. We value self-expression at the expense of self-reflection. Don’t believe me go on Facebook for five seconds. My argument today is not in support of a cause, party or politician.
Augustine writing his brilliant work city of God in the ruins of the mighty Roman Empire had the perfect political and eschatological perspective. Augustine was getting at some things that as followers of Christ we must not ignore. He was arguing against an over-identification with the temporal aspects of even the greatest city of man. The political problem in the church is not an Obama or Trump issue. It isn’t a red state blue state issue. The problem with the church and politics is those in the church are too quick to identify as Republican or Democrats. It was from the ruins of perhaps the greatest city ever that Augustine pleads with us to find our identity in the city of God rather than the city of man.
One of the dangers that can come from being a Pastor who is a leader is you forget or neglect the fact that you are first and foremost a disciple. Leadership is fun it can be very challenging but is many times rewarding because we look behind us and can count those following us and be encouraged by our weekly mini census. The problem with being a disciple is that it is not glamorous it is not visible. It is difficult and often times painful.
Under-shepherds, pastors, always remember that you are more fundamentally a sheep than a shepherd. – Mark Dever
We as pastors can be so busy getting others to live the Christian life that we forget that the Christian life is a daily dying. It is walking in a moment by moment obedience to the call of Christ and to the cross of Christ.
Youth pastor your job is to preach the gospel to the next generation, absolutely but if you fail to follow Christ primarily, your messages will be shallow, and your ministry will be short. I have pastored at the same church for nearly 20 years and what I have learned is that I want to duck and I want to hide. I have now known most people longer than I have lived my life not knowing them. What that affords me is people speaking truth to me when I need it most, even if I don’t want to hear it.
I have led in times when I wasn’t following well and the ground was as hard and as inflexible as my heart. I find the more I live my life yielded to Christ the more I am concerned with how well I am following. Healthy leadership is most often the byproduct. There are many unhealthy churches in America because there are many unhealthy leaders in America. Pastor, you must preach the cross of Christ not just principles for better living, you must model what it means to deny yourself and carry the cross you preach.