Death by One Thousand Cuts

This July marked 22 years of pastoral ministry for me in the same church. Growing up, I moved often and rarely lived more than three to five years in an any given location. Two decades in the same place has been surreal and filled with its joys and pains.

Pastoral ministry is not easy and not for the faint of heart. In pastoral ministry you get to see the good the bad and the ugly of society in general and of your congregation in particular. There is more difficult jobs than being a pastor but few require the combination of emotional, spiritual, and intellectual engagement around the clock.

The pain that a pastor feels is unique because you can not prevent your heart from exposure to pain that you can in other lines of work the exposure of your heart is the very thing your people need to see as it points them to God’s heart. Pastors don’t burn up and burn out overnight they die a death from one thousand cuts over time.

Few people in our society ever face death or deal with it regularly, as a pastor, you walk multiple families a year through the darkest valley of their lives. Some people have been ghosted by a friend or loved one for pastors; this is not just a once in a lifetime event but a constant reality. Few people know the emotional and relational pain of baptizing families, rejoicing with them in their successes, the birth of their babies and walk with them in the darkest valleys only to have those people one Sunday not show up. One person did this to me I called to see if they were ok they answered the phone and when I said hello and they heard my voice they hung up. I still to this day have no idea why they left and how I must have hurt them without even knowing I did. One thousand cuts.

To have people that have come to your church since they were kids who you have spent hours praying with, crying with, and laughing with turn and blast you personally on social media or through text message is incredibly personal. One thousand cuts.

To watch families you have served, families you love, families who you thought would be together forever instead suffer losses that you can’t stop. It feels like a personal failure from which you can’t separate yourself, thinking you could have done something more to help them or point them more clearly to Christ.

I have found that the way I can keep showing up and what keeps me from giving up is the reapplication of what I offer to others. The tender mercy of God. I have to find a confessor on earth that I can share my sin and sorrows. I have to reapply the gospel to a heart bent on excusing sin and earning favor. I have to learn to hate my pride and clothe myself in Christ’s humility every day.

One of the ways I remind myself as a follower of Christ I need Gods help is through a Puritan prayer book called the Valley of Vision I often pray I hope it works as an ointment on the one thousand cuts on your soul and brings you back to your real home in Christ.

A MINISTERS STRENGTH

UNCHANGEABLE JEHOVAH
When I am discouraged in my ministry
        and full of doubts of my self,
  fasten me upon the rock of thy eternal election,
    then my hands will not hang down,
    and I shall have hope for myself and others.
Thou dost know thy people by name,
  and wilt at the appointed season
    lead them out of a natural to a gracious state
      by thy effectual calling.
This is the ground of my salvation,
  the object of my desire,
  the motive of my ministry.
Keep me from high thoughts of myself
    or my work,
  for I am nothing but sin and weakness;
    in me no good dwells,
    and my best works are but sin.
Humble me to the dust before thee.
Root and tear out the poisonous weed
    of self-righteousness,
  and show me my utter nothingness;
Keep me sensible of my sinnership;
Sink me deeper into penitence and self-abhorrence;
Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
    before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
    and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls
    of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.
I am a poor, feeble creature when faith
    is not in exercise,
  like an eagle with pinioned wings;
Grant me to rest on thy power and faithfulness,
  and to know that there are two things
    worth living for:
  to further thy cause in the world,
  and to do good to the souls and bodies of men;
This is my ministry, my life, my prayer, my end.
Grant me grace that I shall not fail.

So profound:

Break the Dagon of pride in pieces
before the ark of thy presence;
Demolish the Babel of self-opinion,
and scatter it to the wind;
Level to the ground my Jericho walls of a rebel heart;
Then grace, grace, will be my experience and cry.

For us, as ministers, our strength does not come from being what our people need at the moment they need it. It comes from our own experience with the grace and mercy of God and the overflow of that mercy. Our work is heart work. It is to apply the reality of the gospel to the hearts of our people in every season in every situation of life. Never forgetting that the person who needs the message we spread most is us.

Father remind us of your saving grace, your empowering grace and grant me grace that I may not fail at last.

Training Kids to be Truthful and Kind

At the risk of sounding like a nerd. I remember reading the encyclopedia as a child. The encyclopedia salesman came to the door and sold us a set. I loved it. It was the internet before the internet was cool. I had something many kids didn’t have I had a private stash of information. What I thankfully didn’t have was a platform to share that information I had gathered about historic events, strange animals and various states. This generation more than any other has more information at their disposal and more opportunity to share their ideas than ever before. Knowledge plus platform minus the humility that failure and difficulty over time bring is a recipe for arrogance and self-reliance.

When I was growing up information was hard to come by now information is everywhere. Growing up sharing what you have learned was not easy now with the advent of social media everyone has a platform. The job for parents when I was growing up was helping lead your kids to information. Today parents are no longer curators of information but clarifiers of truth.

As a pastor and a father, I have come to realize that if I don’t teach my kids someone else will. What we teach our kids today is not primarily information that can be found elsewhere we need to teach our kids how to use the information they have acquired. We have to give them a grid that will enable them to interact on social media and other online platforms that don’t feed the ego and the subtle arrogance that knowledge and opportunity bring. We have to teach them what no one else will. If we want our kids to be a meat eater and a bone spitter we need to teach them clarity and charity.

What are meat eating and bone spitting? It is the ability to in every conversation and situation look for what you can learn, look for what is true rather than trying to win every argument. If you have been on social media we have a massive problem in our country that is more than Democrat/Republican we have informed or misinformed people who think they are right and are hell-bent on making sure they do not lose an argument. What we need more of is not information. We need more clarity and more charity.

The first thing we need to teach our kids is clarity. Is it true? Is what they are reading is what they are saying true? We have a generation that is ruled by their emotional response to any given situation yet they have failed to stop and ask “Is this true?” Truth is not relative there is objective truth. As Christians, we believe that objective truth is the Word of God. We have to teach our kids to check their ideas, information, and presuppositions against what the Bible tells us the truth is. We do this by pointing them back to scripture over and over again. We do this by personally showing them how we filter our political, moral, and spiritual decisions based on what the bible says over what someone tells us we should say or do as an “Evangelical Chrisitan”. Clarifying for our kids what is true will help them properly filter information that they are given or come across on their own. If they are not clear on what is true they will belive a lie. If they don’t have an external filter for the truth they will believe things about God and themselves that isn’t true.

We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree.

The next thing parents have to teach their kids is Charity. Modern culture has traded charity for certainty. We would rather be certain we are right than charitable with those we disagree. In our online and offline interactions, we need more charity. Charity is achieved over time through the crucible of pain and the realization that we don’t know it all. Without charity, we will produce a generation that is convinced they are right and will never learn how wrong they are until it is too late. Charity is more than an attitude towards others it is manifested in neighbor love. When we no longer have to live to one-up our “enemies” on facebook we are free to learn from them and ultimately love them. Jonathan Edwards said this in his book Charity and her Fruits. “Do not make an excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water it will send forth streams.”

– Jonathan Edwards

The greatest gift you can give your kids and the kids you pastor is the twin girds of clarity and charity. Is this true and is this kind? Information is superabundant truth and kindness are not. May we raise kids who collect information and in an attitude of charity spit out the bones of untruth and cling to the meat of truth. May our kids grow in their knowledge but grow even more in kindness and truth.

Are you a Preacher Who Pastors or a Pastor who Preaches.

One of the temptations in ministry but particularly in youth ministry is to be a preacher who pastors. Pastoral ministry is tough there is no way around it, it just is. Preaching is generally immediately rewarding with people telling you that you did a great job or how what you said impacted them positively. Pastoring generally results in very few positive short-term results. Pastoring people is getting down into the middle messes and walking people through dark valleys. It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t get lots of likes on Instagram.  Pastoring is the necessary hard spirit transforming work of leading your people to a long obedience in the same direction.

The problem is that we like instant feedback we like being told of our impact, so the temptation is for us to become preachers who pastor on the side. If we only ever look at pastoring as the necessary evil that allows us to preach, we have missed what it means to be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. When youth Pastors see what they do as a means to get more people there to heart them preach they have missed the point and have failed to have a broader understanding of what Pastoral Care looks like in the Bible.

We need to change our paradigm of discipleship. Preaching is a powerful means of discipleship, but if those we are training and leading only see us on stage they will fail to understand how that message is formed in years of pain and tears and think that standing on the stage in front of kids as what the Greeks called “Summum bonum” the highest good. Jesus confronted this in his disciples through his radical call to authentic discipleship. Do you want to be great? Yes? Be the least. (Matthew 20) Do you want to follow me? You can’t if you love anything. Anything. Including the good things, he gives us more than God himself (Luke 14). Jesus modeled a life a self-sacrificial love showing us what the highest good actually is.

One of the greatest temptations in ministry is to find value in the wrong things. To find our identity in what we do rather than whose we are. Not in the fact we can preach really well or if we can gather a crowd or if our Instagram photo of us preaching gets enough likes, or by getting good feedback on our facebook page after we preach. Our job is not to preach a tweetable message but to proclaim the fullness of God’s word to a generation who doesn’t want to hear the gospel.

What I have found in over twenty years of ministry in the same church is that even my best sermons are forgettable, but the moments I loved those who are the least of these those moments were never forgotten. Pastoring is showing up to pray for an 8-year-old boy in the hospital about to get his tonsils taken out and is scared. It’s walking into the room where a family is gathered because their dad just when home to Glory. It’s sitting in a living room telling a family that even though their dad left them that Jesus isn’t like that. Those moments are when you better be ready to know when to speak the hope the gospel provides and when to be quiet and weep with those who weep. It is in those moments of pastoral care that your life connects the dots preaching creates. Young pastor be a pastor who preaches not a preacher who pastors.

There is No Such Thing As a Pastor’s Kid

Pastor's kid

A few nights ago I had a conversation with my wife because our son was in a play that had some language in it (he didn’t have any lines). There were also a few suggestive ideas in the play. My wife asked me “should this be a play that a Pastor’s Kid is in?” My response was there is no such thing as a pastor’s kid.

Being a pastor’s kid is challenging. The expectations are more than most people realize. Some people are waiting for you to mess up so they can say “See, told you so” others see you make a mistake and they act as if this is a total shock that this should ever happen. What doesn’t help is your peers tend to view you with suspicion or with the expectation that you should know every answer to every Sunday school question. There are some benefits to being a pastor’s kid, but in general, the crushing burden that you feel from most people can be overwhelming. In my experience with being a pastor’s kid and knowing lots of them the reaction to these expectations tends to create either rebels or Pharisees.

I was a Pharisee. This is still something I struggle with, I was a good kid that goodness led to pride until I failed to live up to the expectations that others had for me, then my failures were both public and crushing. I strove so hard to be a good kid and not to embarrass my parents or the church that I ended up being a professional people pleaser. I don’t want that for my kids. I don’t want that for any pastor’s kids.

How as a church community do we help the children of our leaders not become rebels or Pharisees? How do I as a pastor raise my kids to love the church and cherish Christ? Here are a few things I have learned the hard way.

Pastor, What Do You Agonize Over?

Last week I attended Together For The Gospel a conference for Pastors. So man incredible sessions one that stood out to me was a message by John MacArthur on Sanctification and the Pastor’s Passion. Such a powerful reminder to us all of what matters most. In life and ministry, we can become sidetracked by good things but still distracted by what we are called to do. We can so easily get caught up in things that we think will make a difference. Dr. MacArthur offers a clear call back to what matters what pastors as shepherds are called to do.

Here is what John MacArthur says.

Ask yourself be real honest, “What pains you in the ministry, what disappoints you, what depresses you? Is it the carnality, the lack of devotion to Christ, sin weakness in your people. If it is then you are a true shepherd. But if it’s about you somehow you have managed to get seriously off track. Someone came to Moody onetime and said my congregation is too small. To which Moody replied “Maybe they are as large as you would like to give account for in the day of judgment. You will not be judged on the size of your membership or the size of your auditorium, you will be judged you will give an account Hebrews tells us, on the Christlikeness of your people. Agonize over that.

So powerful. What do you agonize over? Your influence or lake thereof or your people’s Christlikeness. Pastor lets by God’s grace agonize over that.