August 12, 2008

How To Care For Your Pastor

Last night I finished reading one of my latest acquisitions, "How To Care For Your Pastor: A Guide For Small Churches" by Kent Philpott. Kent has been a pastor for over 40 years and has seen a lot of things in his time. He has seen the ups and the downs of pastoring small churches and has much great advice for congregations who care about their pastor and his mental, physical and spiritual health.

The book is pretty small (5x8" footprint) and its 120 pages are broken up into 16 chapters. It was published in 2008 by Evangelical Press (who I am not familiar with). I was quite pleased to see that Kent used the English Standard Version (ESV) when quoting Scripture.

While the book does start off a little slow, it picks up the pace as you read on. I read the book in 4 sittings but read the last 10 chapters in one sitting! While the earlier chapters are pretty much the cut and dried stuff most of us have already read (the pastor is a sinful human being like the rest of us and not some kind of superhero, etc.), the last half of the book is just great at relating the triumphs and struggles of being a pastor. Kent tells many stories about the failings of both he and his congregation and how all of God's people must be willing to learn and forgive. He provides many details of his own life while not going into particulars that might make some uncomfortable.

Chapter one starts off by pulling no punches in proclaiming that the pastor's job is to teach and to preach. And it's the congregation's job to help him get this done. For pastor's who teach Biblical truth, these actions can have repercussions to those who would rather believe their own theology over that of God's Word. Preaching the truth that Christ is the only way of salvation and that the duty of His disciples requires discipline and sacrifice is bound to win you some enemies. And Kent is eager to talk about not only having Satan as an enemy but also those who work with him to oppose the truth. Persecution is a definite possibility for both the pastor and those who support him.

Chapter two is pretty straight forward in trying to convey to the masses that the pastor is just a man and not some kind of perfected saint who is constantly surrounded by angels and an invisible, impenetrable spiritual force field. Chapter three is a good follow-on in that it explains that pastors are a work in progress like the rest of us. He explains how pastors grow emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and theologically. Chapter four follows by explaining how new believers mistake the pastor for a super-Christian and when reality sets in, it can come as quite a shock that they are not the perfect representation of mankind!

Chapter five begins to forge into new ground as Kent relates how pastors, according to God's Word are to receive double honor (1Ti 5:17) and are due respect and support. But after reading the last few chapters, some may be hard pressed to do so but since God is our source of truth, this must be done without thinking and it is not something that must be earned.

Chapter six talks about how pastors of small churches are busy people (since they must usually hold down several positions within the church) but if he is supported by the congregation, he will always have time for those who truly need him. Chapter seven goes along with this theme in stating that the pastor is not the only minister in the church. A mature congregation will understand their need to bear the burdens of church work, using their time, energy and spiritual gifts to make it run as it should. Chapter eight discusses the many roles the pastor must fulfill and this extends beyond the church doors out into the community which is an area few people in the church fully understand for the time and effort it takes.

Chapter nine relates the struggles the pastor will face battling the world, the devil and, unfortunately, even wolves within the congregation itself. Pastors need our prayers, our comforting and our support. Chapter ten reminds us not to forget the pastor's family and all they must endure with having to share their husband and father with the church all while standing in the spotlight themselves. But Kent makes it very clear that God comes first, the pastor's family is second and the church gets third place.

Chapter eleven talks about a difficult subject; seasons of life which leave us "spiritually bankrupt." And pastors are no exception. Many pastors can hide this well but those who are close to him should be able to detect subtle signs and provide help accordingly. What is needed most often is simply understanding, caring, discussion and patience.

Chapters twelve and thirteen delve into the areas of leadership and failure. As Kent puts it, "Failing is not the problem; failing to lead is the problem." The body must give the pastor freedom to lead and, as we have all experienced, failure is sometimes a result but it is not a reason to give up and give in. He also talks about failure in ministry, becoming "burned-out" and
even failure so total that, gulp, the pastor resigns from the ministry.

Chapter fourteen addresses monetary needs of the pastor and his family. While they do not need to live in the lap of luxury, the don't need to live like paupers either. Too many times Kent has seen those who feel the pastor should have to scrape by on bread crusts and, many times, get a second job, a secular one, just to keep his family housed and fed. But the Bible makes it clear that the body is to pay the pastor wages and we are therefor the ones to blame when financial burdens put an undue strain on the pastor and, as a result, his ministry.

Chapter fifteen is unusual in that it addresses the issue of anger. As established in the first few chapters, pastors are people too. They will lose it sometimes and if they do, we are responsible for loving him, forgiving him and reconciling him back into the ministry (obviously depending on how far off the handle he flew! ;-)

Chapter sixteen is a wonderful closing to this book and a counter point to the previous chapter in that he explains the joy of doing his job. He explains why he finds his work so much fun and if it wasn't, he wouldn't have made it through the trials. In a roundabout way, what I think he's trying to say is if the pastor ain't happy, ain't no one happy!

Overall I have to say that I enjoyed this book and the brief glimpse it gave into the life of a man who has filled the role of pastor for many years. Even if it is only a 30,000 foot view, it is a start and more of us in the body would do well to read something like this every now and then to make sure that he who shepherds us is looked after as well.

Kent also wrote a book back in 2000 titled "For Pastors ... Of Small Churches" which is what prompted him to write this book. He has also written a few other titles, a few of which I will want to look into further: "Are You Really Born Again?: Understanding True and False Conversion", "Why I Am A Christian" and "Are You Being Duped?".

I will leave you now by closing with two tidbits contained in the Afterward:
It is not my desire to have churches develop plans to facilitate ministry to pastors, but rather to help individuals within churches understand the nature of the pastoral ministry and then, in whatever means suitable and appropriate, put the caring into practice on an individual basis.

My view has been that a book like this was needed because it is not always evident to many in the congregation that they are to love and care for pastors. I did not want this point to trump or overshadow the mutuality of loving and caring in the Body of Christ.

August 6, 2008

Grace & Mercy

I continue to be amazed on a daily basis by God's grace and mercy. And I pray that this will always be the case. Two news articles, one yesterday and the other today, got me to thinking about this and, unfortunately, how shallow and caught up in my own world I can get at times. How far I have yet to go in being anything even remotely resembling Christ. And there I am once again, thanking God for His grace and mercy in the form of His patience. I have every reason to be gracious and merciful yet rarely am, yet He always is and has no reason to be toward me, the rebel and sinner.

I see so much brokenness, pain, suffering and misery in the world and I know why because I believe in God's Word and His explanation of the fallen nature of mankind and the universe we inhabit. So much I take for granted and then I read another headline, or hear about family or friends who are going through a trial. It is sad that it takes such things, or even drastic events in our own life, to make us appreciate what He has given us out of His loving kindness and grace. I deserve nothing that I have in life. I deserve the death penalty and eternal punishment for sinning against an eternally holy and righteous God.

But thank GOD for the cross! In what is surely the most miraculous event in history, the God of the universe stuffed Himself into a mortal body and lived as one of us. Knowing full well what awaited Him in persecution and suffering, not only from man but from the Father as well, He came anyway and gave up all He had to redeem us. Why would He do that? I don't think I shall ever know or even understand this either now or in eternity. But I do know it is real, I have experienced it and He has changed me for all time. Thank you, Lord Jesus! I shall never be able to thank You enough.

Thank You for my beautiful wife whose patience and love are only second to Your own. Her love for You makes we want to be a better husband, father, friend and servant. Thank You for my precious children who invoke in me feelings and wishes for them I had never thought could be possible. May the day come soon when they will repent and trust in You so that they may know the blessings and assurance that only You can give. Thank You for godly in-laws who have given me great encouragement over the years with their service in Your honor. May they continue to be a beacon of light and hope serving You by serving others.

Thank You for my church home that has, even after a short time, already provided me with an abundance of blessings. May I never hesitate in giving back to them that which I have to give (which, again, is all thanks to You). Thank You for the many brothers and sisters in Christ I have been blessed with throughout the years, who have helped me see You in different ways and stretched me to see more of You and life than my own myopic viewpoints. The list, it seems, could go on forever. One day it will, when we stand before Him in the bliss of His presence and enjoy Him forever.Everything old will truly pass away and this life, the blink of an eye it is, will seem so pale in comparison to His glory in person and the rewards He will bestow upon us.

If you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, please, take a few minutes to get alone before Him and truly meditate on Him and all He has done for you over the years. Confess all of your sins no matter how new or old, let the blood of Christ cleanse you of all unrighteousness, enjoy the forgiveness that only He can grant and then spend time before Him in thankful prayer. Lift Him up in gracious adoration, thank Him for all that He is, all He has done for You and tell Him how much you look forward to being in His presence one day; even if you are like me and have a hard time of understanding exactly what that will be like. But it WILL be good and glorious because that is all that He is. It is all He has ever been and ever will be.

Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be all glory, honor and praise. Forever and ever.

Chick-fil-A Owner Doesn't Press Charges
(Be truthful, could you be this gracious and merciful?)

Should You Pass On Bad Reports?
(Talk about shining the light of conviction into the depths of your soul!)