Banishing Amiable Religiosity

During his 1907 Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching at Yale University* (these lectures became his classic Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind), Forsyth shared the three ways in which he thought the Church suffers:  i. from triviality.  ii. from uncertainty.  iii. from satisfaction (with itself, or more specifically, complacency).

He later went on in that address to emerging pastors and preachers to make this statement:  “What we need is not the dechurching of Christianity, but the Christianizing of the Church.”  This was his answer to the three ways the church suffers.  But how was this to happen?  Here’s what he said and he may well have been speaking yesterday:

Continue reading

The Movements of Sin

“The people encountered in pastoral ministry today are sinners.

But they don’t look like it, and many of them don’t even act like it.

They rather look and act and feel like the youth they admire so much, struggling for “identity” and searching for “integrity.”

A quick theological eye that is able to pick up the movements of sin hiding behind these seemingly innocent characteristics will keep a pastor on track, doing what he or she was called to do:

sharing a ministry of grace and forgiveness centred in Jesus Christ.”

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.128

IMG_2695

If we referred to the Church as a collection of broken and battered sticks from everywhere and no where,

that would be a pretty good description of what it means to be part of God’s family.

More Kicks Than Kisses

dragonfly-rain-storm_45835_600x450Last week began with a serious spiritual kicking for reasons I am not entirely clear about, though I can hazard a couple of half decent guesses.  But by Friday, an unknown person put up two sheets on two different notice boards at church called ’20 things you should know about your pastor,’ and after Googling the title, I found it here.  That was a great encouragement to me.

On Sunday, after the church service, someone else (the same mystery pastor-loving stalker?) left this note on my desk which I have copied out below.  I don’t know the author or the article from whence it came, but it is here for your encouragement and I hope it serves to show that there are people who get the ministerial role, odd job that it is, but they do get it and they do understand, even if our role as pastors takes us to places in peoples lives where we and they wonder why on earth we even exist!

“He…gave some to be…pastors…” Ephesians 4:11

“Pastors have a tough job.  They get more kicks than kisses.

If a pastor is young he lacks experience; if he is grey haired he is too old.

If he has five kids he has too many; if he has none he’s setting a bad example.

If his wife sings in the choir she’s being forward; if not, she’s not dedicated enough.

If he preaches from notes he’s dry; if he’s extemporaneous he’s too shallow.

If he spends too much time in his study he’s neglecting his people; if he makes home visits he’s not a good time manager.

If he’s attentive to the poor he’s after public approval; if he attends to the wealthy he’s ingratiating.

If he suggests improvements he’s a dictator; if he doesn’t he has no vision.

If he uses too many illustrations he neglects the Bible; if he doesn’t use enough stories he’s unclear.

If he speaks against wrong he’s legalistic; if he doesn’t he’s a compromiser.

If he preaches for an hour he’s windy; less than that he has nothing to say.

If he preaches the truth he’s offensive; if he doesn’t he’s wishy-washy.

If he fails to please everybody he’s hurting the church; if he tries to please everybody he has no convictions.

If he preaches tithing he’s a money-grabber; if not, he’s failing to develop his people.

If he receives a large salary he’s mercenary; if he doesn’t it proves he’s not worth much.

If he preaches on a regular basis, people get tired of hearing the same person; if he invites guest preachers he’s shirking his responsibility.

How’d you like to change places?

Bottom line:  Love your Pastor.

encouragePicture Source

To my encouragers, this meant more to me than you will ever know…….

Say the word ‘God’ accurately

Under PlantOnce again I have been saved by the wisdom of Eugene Peterson.  His book, Under the Unpredictable Plant arrived in the post today (thanks to Amazon and Royal Mail and Terry the postman), and just about became the Word of the Lord to me, and how I needed it as I began to spiral down into a terrible post-ordained apocalyptic storm of self-pity!

He writes,

“Propagandists are abroad in the land lying to us about what congregations are and can be.  They are lying for money.  They want to make us discontent with what we are doing so we will buy a solution from them that they promise will restore our virility to our impotent congregations.  The profit-taking among those who market these spiritual monkey glands indicates that pastoral gullibility in these matters is endless.  Pastors, faced with the failure of the purchased procedures, typically blame the congregation and leave it for another.  The devil, who is behind all this smiling and lacquered mischief, so easily makes us discontent with what we are doing that we throw up our hands in the middle of it, disgusted, and go on to another parish that will appreciate our gifts and ministry and our devotion to the Lord.  Every time a pastor abandons one congregation for another out of boredom or anger or restlessness, the pastoral vocation of all of us is vitiated.” p.18

The very next sub-heading title, following the words above were like a train hitting me in the spiritual slobiness I mistook for self-justification.  The words were:

Stay Where You Are

If ever I needed to hear those words it was right now.  God to the rescue through the pen and anointed ink of Eugene Peterson.  To all my fellow pastor brothers and sisters:  Stick with it.  You have a high calling indeed.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world and sell your soul to religiously cheap versions of capitalism and consumerism.  We are ministers of the Gospel, called and sent to proclaim Jesus Christ and all His goodness.

And the reason He must be proclaimed is because we live in a world of sin where the people we serve are luke-warm at best.  Let Jesus spit them out of His mouth – pastors do not spit out the very people God has entrusted to us.  Jesus does that, that’s what Scripture says; let us not be found spitting out the people of God from our mouth; our mouth is set apart to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel.  He is the Saviour, not us.  We serve.  We love and serve.  We love and serve and preach.  We love and serve and preach and love.

godPeterson goes on, magnificently (p.172) to say what pastors do.  He says it is simple, and on one level I agree, on the only other level available it is the most complex, most profound ‘doing’ any human being can be involved in, he writes that a pastor’s vocation is to “…say the word God accurately….”

That to me, speaks more of my vocation or role as a pastor that anything else.  Speak ‘God’ accurately.  WOW.  I am tempted, like Job, to clasp my hands over my mouth and speak no more, but God in His glorious Triunity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has called and commanded me to speak  of Him and His mystery and majesty.  To speak of Him accurately.  That’s what He has called me to do, and he will do it because He is faithful.

Pastoral Care on the Death Star

footwash

The Christian minister (or “pastor” or “priest” or whatever) is a strange beast.  We are not C.E.O.’s of an organisation.  We are not there to “run a church” as so many within the church seem to think.  The ministry of pastoral care and preaching is also not a category of professionalism that ingeniously provide vision statements and financial reports and relate with each other as though one is an employee of the congregation, who themselves often see their role as employee, or judge, jury and executioner on a ministers vocation.  Call from God and ordination into sacrificial service really does slip the memory of many Christians in churches around the world.

Happily, John Piper understands this distinction of the radical and dangerous secular professionalisation of the Christian minister, outlined superbly in his book, Brothers, we are not professionals‘.  Sadly, the usually excellent Paul Beasley-Murray, in his editorial for a recent ‘Ministry Today UK’ publication did not seem to quite grasp what Piper actually meant, and so lampooned him as one who advocated the non-professional view as a blank cheque for laziness and sloppiness in ministerial practise (I think my respect for Paul deserves a proper response sometime soon, as he did seem to pick up on the word “professional” and just pile up the assumptions)!

DeathStar2

My ordination vows made me promise to be faithful.  Faithful in the ministry of the Word and of prayer.  It is out of these that I am a pastor.  The secularisation of the Church sometimes feels a bit like the incomplete Death Star in Star Wars – it is almost complete.  The cultural waves of living in a liberal, secular, consumer society has penetrated the Church to the degree that the Minister is seen, by default, as the one who can do his “job” without recourse to serious and sustained Bible study, theological reading or prolonged times of theological reflection.  In short, he can do his job without the religious shenanigans of ordination, and consequently, prayer and Bible study can likewise be marginalised.  Either the devil is very clever (which I doubt) or the church is very stupid (which I want to doubt)!

forsyth-1892

Below is an extract from a letter written by the brilliant P. T. Forsyth, to the church in Cheetham Hill, UK, that had just called him to be their pastor.  In it the call from God is supreme, because Christ is Lord.  Forsyth understands only too well the pitfalls and snares mentioned above.  And we need to pay attention to him, not least because he has the most manly moustache I’ve ever seen……

“You have called and I have answered gladly. But it is not your call that has made me a minister. I was a minister before any congregation called me. My election is of God. Paul speaks of ‘a faithful minister of the new covenant’ … The minister of this covenant, therefore, the minister of Christ, has his call, first, in the nature of God and God’s Truth; second, in the nature of man and man’s need. We have on one side the divine Gospel; we have on the other the cry of the human. His call is constituted both by the divine election and the requirements of human nature. Would that some who are sure of their election by God, were as sure of their election by man, and their fitness to adapt God’s truth to human nature. It is not therefore the invitation of any particular congregation that makes a man a minister. It is a call which on the human side proceeds from the needs rather than from the wishes of mankind, from the constitution of human nature as set forth in Christ, rather than from the appointment by any section or group of men. I am here, not to meet all your requisitions, but to serve all your needs in Jesus Christ. You have not conferred on me my office, and I am Christ’s servant more than yours, and yours for His sake. The minister is not the servant of the Church in the sense of any special community or organization. The old Latin theologians used to subscribe themselves V.D.M., Minister of the Word of God,—Minister not of the Church, but of that Christian human nature which our particular views and demands so often belie. A minister may, on occasion, never be so much of a minister as when he resists his congregation and differs from it.” (“The Pulpit and the Age”)

Ministry Insanity: it shouldn’t be like this but it too often is!

Image

I am a passionate lover of God; I love God’s people the Church and those yet to be His people, BUT please note: I am not Robo-Vicar……

“I am appalled at what is required of me. I am supposed to move from sickbed to administrative meeting, to planning, to supervising, to counselling, to praying, to trouble- shooting, to budgeting, to audio systems, to mediation, to worship preparation, to newsletter, to staff problems, to mission projects, to conflict management, to community leadership, to study, to funerals, to weddings, to preaching. I am supposed to be ‘in charge,’ but not too in charge, administrative executive, sensitive pastor, skilful counsellor, public speaker, spiritual guide, politically savvy, intellectually sophisticated. And I am expected to be superior, or at least first-rate, in all of them. I am not supposed to be depressed, discouraged, cynical, angry, hurt. I am supposed to be upbeat, positive, strong, willing, available. Right now I am not filling any of those expectations very well. And I am tired.”

(Chandler W. Gilbert, “On Living the Leaving” in Edward A. White (ed.) Saying Goodbye, Bethesda, Alban, 1990, p.25)

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!