Letter to my Pastors

To my roughly fifteen Pastors in six congregations of four mainline denominations over my forty-nine years in the church.

Greetings in Christ from your brother in the pew.

For those outside the church, if they wander across this letter, let me unpack what is meant by the word Pastor.

Pastors fulfill their calling (vocation) in public ministry, shepherding their flock (John 21:15-19), and raising them up to be disciples (students and followers) of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). They preach the good news of God’s rescue of us from the fruits of our own rebellion (Romans 10:15, 1 Corinthians 9:14, 16, 2 Timothy 4:2, 17). And, they faithfully administer the sacraments (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Sounds great! So why am I writing?

The purpose of this letter is one of encouragement.

I have noticed that the job description above is what might be described as “the recruiting poster“. Sometimes recruiting posters fail to describe the activity in the trenches. Let me describe the trenches for the benefit of outsiders and for the encouragement of all Pastors.

I want pastors to know that someone out there “gets it” and that someone out there is praying for them.

Pressure

What pressures do Pastors face on a daily basis?

  1. Spiritual Pressure – To quote Paul in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God… Pray, stay alert, persevere, and intercede.”
  2. Public Pressure – Pastors work in PUBLIC. Their good days are public. Their bad days are also very public. The scrutiny is tremendous.
  3. Effectiveness Pressure – Pastors are expected to mentor babies in the faith AND to develop mature disciples (Hebrews 5:12-13, 1 Peter 2:2). This balance is almost impossible to achieve. Simple sermons bore those who crave “meat” and Greek and Hebrew exposition lose the “young” toddlers in the faith.
  4. Image Pressure – Pastors families are public. This one hurts the most in my view. The pressure of having a photogenic and behaviorally-perfect family is a source of many stressful days and tear-filled nights for Pastor, their wife, and children.
  5. Cultural Pressure – Pastors stand in the “no-man’s land” between the trenches of church culture combatants. There seems to be no safe place to stand when the old guard and the new guard are both taking well-placed shots to move you toward their entrenched positions, to join their side, and to drive the others back, out, or away. Some Pastors choose sides and wage war. Others try desperately to “blend the trenches” and are criticized by both armies without mercy it seems. No matter the approach the Pastor finds himself “without a country” emotionally, and often this is in the center of church life, namely worship.
  6. Administrative Pressure – The organizational and administrative pressures have increased to an all-consuming level in some congregations. Pastors often have academic abilities to study, write, and teach. Others have affective abilities to encourage, listen, and give wise counsel. Still others have a servant’s heart to know who needs what and when. But few can do all these things AND run a board, manage the office, untangle human resources regulations, understand health plans for employees, wisely choose retirement packages for employees, and make necessary hiring, firing, and promotion decisions.
  7. Health Pressure – Trying to do it all has led to many health problems in Pastors over the years. Or if they are in good health, now, there is no margin. If they have a health issue, there is very little play in the joints for backup and assistance. This takes a great toll on the mental health of a Pastor.
  8. Political Pressure – I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up with a rising pressure that many dislike the most. There are mounting political pressures on pastors. Pressures from within the congregation to take a stand and to speak out on behalf of the congregation. Pressures within to NEVER do that. Pressures from without to comply with secular culture’s demands and fads. Everything is politicized to tbe benefit of no one.

Pascal’s Law in fluid mechanics says that “pressure in a confined incompressible fluid is omnidirectional and omnipresent inside the container“.

From my perspective pastors live in an incompressible fluid.

Living, working, and loving under omnidirectional, omnipresent pressure with no near-term end in sight (because that is the nature of your calling) is impossible…without God.

“…what is impossible with man, is possible with God…” – Jesus describing the likelihood of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Luke 18:27

Impossible People

Pastors (and all other disciples) are called to be “impossible people” as Os Guinness wrote.

May God in His grace empower us to fulfill our impossible callings:

  • to respond with love when insulted
  • to seek wisdom in every decision
  • to gather advisers and to take their advice
  • to trust our brothers and sisters in Christ
  • to trust again after that trust has been violated
  • and to DAILY worship and pray to Him from whom all blessings flow

May God bless you and keep you, Pastor, (and your family also). May God lift up His countenance upon you. And most precious of all, may God grant you His peace in this IMPOSSIBLE life. -Amen

Your brother in Christ,

Darren

Advertisements

Living Life Looking at a Screen

Thanks Ken, for this thoughtful post. I’d like to set a goal for all of us to make it a point to have screen-free face-to-face conversations this week with members of our family AND colleagues at work.

Reflections

shutterstock_461106463

How much of your day is spent looking at a screen? Remember that “screen” includes smartphones, computers, tablets, televisions, movies, jumbotrons, video games, digital billboards, and e-books. One online source estimated there may be a total of 8 billion screens in the world.1 Now let me ask you a more indelicate question: If you are a parent, how much of your child’s day is spent looking at a screen?

In a recent article entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge states that research indicates that young people who spend lots of time looking at screens tend to feel isolated and lonely, get less sleep, and lack ambition.2

This article was adapted from Dr. Twenge’s new book, which is provocatively entitled iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the…

View original post 456 more words

A Real Resurrection and Why It Matters

We should tell our kids the TRUTH.

Natasha Crain’s latest post at Christian Mom Thoughts is a good one. I’ll let her set up the issue:

We attended that church for three years before we realized something wasn’t quite right. It was Easter Sunday when the pastor informed us, “It doesn’t really matter if Jesus rose from the dead or not. What matters is that he lives on in our hearts and we can now make the world a better place.”

We didn’t know the term for it at the time, but we had been attending a “progressive” Christian church. I knew the pastor was preaching something unbiblical, but I couldn’t have begun to articulate why—even though I had grown up in a Christian home and had spent hundreds of hours in church.

It’s sad to me in retrospect that the question of why it mattered that Jesus was raised from the dead was not completely clear in my mind by that point. But I think it’s a good example of how explicitly we need to connect the dots for kids. We can’t assume they will automatically deduce why the resurrection matters just because they learn the resurrection happened.

So why does it matter?

Read the rest of her excellent post here.

There are several reasons a real, bodily resurrection matters.

1. All of Christianity rests on Jesus and his death as the sole atonement for our sin.

[1Co 15:17 CSB] 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

[emphasis mine]

2. The MAJORITY of kids walk away from the faith. Why?

In almost every case it was because they have never been given ANY factual basis for belief.

They’re being talked out of their faith. Why? Because they’ve never been talked INTO it. – Frank Turek

More from Frank on the Youth Exodus Problem

We can lay the blame for much of this on ourselves — that is, on the church. While there are notable exceptions, most American churches over-emphasize emotion and ignore the biblical commands to develop the mind (1 Pet 3:15, 2 Cor. 10:5). In other words, we’re doing a great job performing for our youth with skits, bands and videos, but a terrible job informing them with logic, truth, and a Christian worldview.

We’ve failed to recognize that what we win them with we win them to. If we win them with emotion, we win them to emotion.

3. There are two types of sharing what we would call good news.

One type of good news is SUBJECTIVE.

  • “Hey! This new workout plan works for me, and it might work for you.”
  • “Hey! I love this new restaurant, and I bet you would too.”
  • “Hey! I was hurting and this book really helped.”

This is sharing a SUBJECTIVE opinion about things we find helpful and important. It is based upon the opinion of the subject making the observation (YOU). You are assuming that others might receive the same benefit, so you share your opinion with them.

THIS was the type of evangelism training I received in multiple churches in multiple denominations. “Give your personal testimony”, they said. “No one can refute your personal story”, they said.

Looking back, I see that this was a deliberate effort to avoid having to know any disputable facts. It did not serve me well at all, and it wasn’t an effective evangelism strategy for people who had questions about the facts of the Christian truth claims.

The other type of good news is OBJECTIVE.

  • “Hey! Large doses of acetaminophen will damage the liver, so don’t give your infant an adult dose of Tylenol!”
  • “Hey! You have a broken leg, and you need a doctor. I’ll take you to mine.”
  • “Hey! Don’t step off the ledge because gravity at this height will KILL you.”

These three examples are warnings and OBJECTIVE observations. It is not my opinion that excessive doses of Tylenol will harm the liver. Anyone could repeat an assessment of the data to see what the FACT of the matter is.

How is it that I’m classifying warnings as good news? Well, if your leg is broken, it is good news for someone to point that out to you. It is even better news if they know of a doctor who can set it.

The quote from Paul captures the OBJECTIVE connection between the resurrection and “your sins”.

[1Co 15:17 CSB] 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

IF you ACTUALLY have a SIN problem, then being warned about it is an example of OBJECTIVE good news.

If Jesus ACTUALLY rose from the dead, then this has HUGE implications about who HE is and who YOU are. This has huge implications for the connection of YOU to HIM. It points out that this connection may well be the most important connection in YOUR life.

It’s worth exploring. So PLEASE explore. Start with these posts, and pull the thread for you AND for your precious kids.

Aside

Easter Fools Day

Many of my friends have remarked that Easter falls on April Fools day, this year. Although they don’t say much, it seems like they are bracing for a bunch of jokes and snide comments about the foolishness of Christianity in general and the foolishness of believing that Jesus rose from the dead in particular.

If it were just a bunch of Aesop’s fables, Kipling tales, and folk lore, then not only would I have left the fold long ago, but I would be excited to tease the non-thinking adherents this April Fool’s Day.

I hope that shocks you. Hopefully, you think that doesn’t sound like me. It does, however, sound like the “old me” before I took my behavior seriously. I began taking my behavior seriously because I began taking my faith seriously. I began taking my faith seriously because I began to see the Christian truth claims as TRUE, not just as cultural clothing.

What led to this? Well, I found a surprising amount of historical and archeological data supporting the central claim of Christianity – that a dead guy (Jesus) came back to life.

Really?

Really.

Read my friend Ken Samples post for this evidence.

via A Dozen Evidences for the Resurrection of Jesus

Desiring Deep Conversations

Today’s article in the Stream struck a cord with me. I go to a couple of Apologetics conferences each year to connect with other Ratio Christi Directors and to sharpen the saw. And the most pleasing feature by far is the deep conversations I enjoy with the other attendees.

Tom Gilson writes…

It shouldn’t be this way. But the fact is, it’s a lonely world for the Christian thinker, the one who cares to think deeply and well about the faith.

I’ve just returned from a terrific week of fellowship at the annual Defend conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s an apologetics conference, which means its purpose was to share and to study the many reasons for confidence in the Christian faith.

Speakers’ topics ranged from the resurrection to the problem of evil. But even though I was one of those speakers, the talks weren’t the real highlight of the week. It was the conversations instead.

Three nights in a row, my friend and team-teaching partner, Dr. Timothy McGrew, and I invited conferees for coffee and conversation. It was about 9 pm when we gathered each evening, but dozens came anyway — so many that we had to move over to a nearby dorm lounge. We stayed as long as the dorm rules allowed.

And one of the main topics of discussion was how refreshing it was to be able to have the kinds of conversations we were having there.

Read the rest of his post.

As for my congregation in Huntsville, I’m pleased that there is a Thursday morning men’s group. We enjoy fantastic discussion each week as we crawl through a book on the Christian faith or a book of the Bible.

But nothing has matched the tightly-focused fellowship I have had with my apologetics colleagues. They have stretched me to my intellectual limits in philosophy, physics, ethics, hermeneutics, theology, and on and on. And I love every minute!

Love to all,

Darren

Good Criticism Takes Work

If you looked at this mess and said, “I don’t like Thomas Kinkade’s paintings” you would be revealing more about yourself than you would about Thomas Kinkade.
And yet, often critics look at the disordered bits of the Christian world view that they are vaguely familiar with, and proclaim “I don’t like Christianity”.

Again, they are unwittingly revealing more about themselves than about Christianity, because they have not done enough work to understand the thing that they are criticizing.

It take work to put together a puzzle. And it takes work to put together the pieces of someone else’s world view in your own mind. But it is critical to reserve judgment until you have understood the thing you are judging.

For puzzles, it’s easy. Look at the box.
For world views, read an apologetics book that puts the pieces together in a concise way in modern language.

I highly recommend J Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity or God’s Crime Scene or Greg Koukl’s The Story of Reality

Should Christians expect to know God’s will by means of feelings and intuitions?

This is the most popular topic I have ever presented on the college campus. Students typically flood the front area to ask questions afterward. The subjective, feelings-based, and mystical discernment model that has become the folklore of American Christianity is severely hurting the young adults I serve.
Thanks for posting on this topic, Wintery Knight.
-Darren

WINTERY KNIGHT

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

There are two views on the topic of decision making and the will of God. The view you learn in the church is called “the traditional view”. I call this view the feelings/intuition view. This view that elevates feelings / intuitions to the level of divine communications from God. The more practical view is called “the wisdom view”. I call this view the battlefield commander view. I am a proponent of the wisdom / commander view.

Let’s learn about the two different views:

[The traditional view is] that God has a plan for our lives and that we receive guidance through methods such as “open and closed doors”, “feeling led” and “the still, small, voice”.

[The wisdom view] holds that God does not have an “individual will” for our lives, but rather that all of God’s will can be…

View original post 1,439 more words

Worship – within a larger context

The latest article by Rod Dreher is worth pondering. I hope you will take 15 to 30 minutes to soak it in. He is interviewed by a college student, and thus, he is forced to give a sketch of his last many years writing and wrestling with the biggest issues.

Since I have kicked the wasp nest of worship here and here, I thought I’d excerpt his thought-provoking words on worship as a teaser to the larger article. Please savor the whole thing one morning this Christmas season.

My interviewer told me that there’s a strong tendency among his Christian peers to dumb down Christian worship — to make it instantly accessible to anybody, without having to do any work. He said he struggles to understand the anti-intellectualism of all this, especially as it manifests itself among college students. What’s more, they act as if anti-intellectualism was an egalitarian virtue.

This, I responded, is exactly the wrong approach. It’s not that they ought to be making worship more complex and demanding, necessarily, but this stance assumes that we stand over worship asserting the right to mold it to fit our preferences. You end up with a ritual that worships yourself, not God, whether you mean for it to or not. Similarly, if you see the Christian tradition that way, as a repository from which you can pick and choose this or that thing, and make a bricolage of it, you may soon find that you have decorated a temple to yourself.

Powerful words. Read the whole enchilada… It’s worth it!

Love to you all!

Darren