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

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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…….

Healthy Conflict

Church has always been, and is, and will always be a place of tension, dissension and conflict.

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Of course, conflict isn’t all bad, some is very necessary, but all too often, conflict is done badly – the Old Adam rising to the surface, making demands (without love), speaking the truth (without love), speaking plainly (without love or wisdom) – all the pain, anger and frustration gushing out like an unstoppable Tsunami of muck!

Christians hold in tension a vast array of beliefs and preferences whilst holding to a collective Credal declaration.  A lot (most) of disagreements can come down to the secondary issues and preferences, not to mention ‘historical romanticism’ about the past, or as one friend recently said, historical amnesia!

A great teacher I have leant much from once said to our class, “In life, in Christian ministry, choose the mountains you die on!”  In other words, work out what is primary (die for those things); work out what is secondary (don’t die for them but learn to hold them in a creative and humble tension).

In the book Mastering Conflict and Controversy, the authors highlight six helpful points to dealing with conflict:

1.  Conflict can be healthy and useful for our church.  It is OK for people to differ with one another.

2.  Resolutions for the sake of quick agreement are often worse than agreements that are carefully worked out over time.

3.  Fair conflict management includes:

  • Dealing with issues one at a time.
  • If more than one issue is presented, agreeing on the order in which the issues will be addressed.
  • Exploring all the dimensions of the problem(s).
  • Exploring alternative solutions to the problem(s).

4.  If any party is uncomfortable with the forum in which the conflict is raised, it is legitimate to request and discuss what the most appropriate forum might be.

5.  Inappropriate behaviour in conflict includes, but is not limited to:

  • Name calling.
  • Mind reading (attributing evil motives to others).
  • Inducing guilt (e.g., “Look how you’ve made me feel”).
  • Rejecting, deprecating, or discrediting another person.
  • Using information from confidential sources or indicating that such information exists.

6.  Fair conflict always allows people who are charged with poor performance or inappropriate behaviour to:

  • Know who their accusers are.
  • Learn what their accusers’ concerns are.
  • Respond to those who accuse.

The authors then suggest that if these “rules” can be agreed, a variety of conflicts can be worked through.

For me, the oil in the engine of all conflict must be love, wisdom and grace.  The “rules” above do not cover all bases and sometimes, frankly, pastors and leadership teams deal with rude, obnoxious, immature, repressed and infantile church members.  Pain can go very deep and often come out of nowhere.

Church isn’t perfect (yet), but I’d rather be in the ring fighting than outside the ring offering my tidy suggestions.

CrossinEarth

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)!

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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”)