"I think it's a young man's error to overestimate his own importance, and also to underestimate the amount of time it takes to achieve good lasting change." - Carl Trueman, at the 2015 Westminster Preaching Conference, Philadelphia, PA
The statement above was given in answer to a question from an audience member regarding whether or not he should accept an invitation from his home church to return there to pastor following his upcoming seminary graduation. His concern was that the church had gone in a wrong direction; that it had become what is often called "seeker-sensitive" as a part of the modern times "church growth movement." I listened to this exchange just yesterday.
On Sunday of last week I was listening to a pastor explain to me that his co-pastor, a young man, was looking to leave their church to pastor another one. He said that the youngster was being careful to find a "healthy" church to pastor, and so was taking quite a bit of time with the search.
Two weeks back I listened to a good friend of mine speak to me about ministry possibilities for myself. Over the years I have found myself in and out of a variety of vocational pastoral roles but currently that is not my work. So my friend was attempting to be helpful by feeding me ideas, one of which was to plant a church, thereby avoiding the many hardships that come with laboring among an established congregation.
In addition, I know a young pastor with a thirty year plan for his church. I'm wondering what that means for his understanding of today.
And finally, to continue the testimony, five weeks back I resigned the very part-time church staff position I did hold for less than ten months (Cf Our Potipharian Prisons from 4/25/15). Since then I have thought a lot about who and what I am, and what my expectations should be, of myself and of a church, especially church leaders. What is Scripture's counsel on such things? I don't mean to try to answer fully in this post, but I do want to add to Trueman's comment.
I want to urge pastors to know themselves. How has God built you? What are your dominant spiritual gifts and your recurring tendencies? What is it that you do that God most uses to bless and strengthen believers? Are you getting to engage in that activity regularly? What can't you live with in a pastoral context? What do you believe about the nature and necessity of change? Are you a leader or a support staffer? Do you have biblical categories established for how to think about life? What are your weaknesses? Are you lacking courage? Are you looking at Jesus as your model for shepherding, and then looking at the Apostle Paul perhaps? These men would normally be fired from our churches; that is, if they could get hired by one. They simply did not think or operate in the ways American pastors are expected to today. And some of their ways would even be classified as sinful by many folks - like when they got angry at their people (and showed it); like when they called their folks derogatory terms (like Satan - Mt 16:23, and foolish - Ga 3:1-3, for example); and like when they expressed sadness, grief, distress, and you know, other real human and non-sinful emotions that are quite unpopular (and often considered un-Christian) in the victory-driven American Church of today. (For examples see Lk 12:50; Mt 26:37; 2 Co 2:4, 4:7-12; 6:3-10; He 12:5-11; Ja 4:8-10; Re 2:9-10). So I ask the pastors, what are you, essentially? I ask this question because it's the one to which I continue to return. For what has God built me and to what is He calling me then? (These realities are connected). For what has He suited me? In what context am I designed to be most effective and fruitful? These types of questions are important for another reason - there are many men in pastoral ministry that do not belong there. We may testify that we are called by God, inwardly (an immeasurable thing), but are clearly not equipped outwardly (quite measurable). If that's me, I need to find other work, then I will be free to serve a church in the ways I am actually suited, and as a volunteer.
Here's what I think I've learned afresh, about myself, hopefully not presuming upon the Lord, His plans, His ways, and His intentions; and hopefully pushing pastors to examine themselves constructively. I feel forced into this myself due to my history, my age, my responsibility to my family, and the new transition time in which I find myself, again. So here goes - I am essentially a reformer. I do not want to start something new. I want to work on something old, even sick. So I am not seeking a healthy church to pastor. Healthy churches probably don't need a guy like me. I am not shy but I am an introvert. People sap my strength, none more than myself. I like books and dark rooms and projects. And while its been rare for me in a work context, I should probably be in charge. The one time I have been proved the most visibly fruitful and inwardly satisfying. And I tend to end up in charge anyway, even though my title doesn't recognize the reality and my intentions were not to lead.
Looking back over 44 years, it is clear that it is not in my nature to take the path of least resistance simply because it is least resistant. I strive to take the best path, as I understand it. That's often the hard road. Also, my heroes are the Bible Prophets and the Protestant Reformers. These are the people with whom my soul most connects and resonates. One of my favorites of the favorites is Ezekiel, because of how God constructed him. He gets the assignment no one wants, and is told by God that the people to whom he is sent "will not listen to him" because they "will not listen to Me" and are "nations of rebels." That's hard for a preacher to hear. The prophet's audience has "a hard forehead and a stubborn heart." But here's the good news from God to His spokesman, "I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. . .And whether they hear or refuse to hear they will know that a prophet has been among them." Yes!
One wonders at such an assignment, from God! But the Lord prepares His prophets. Chief in this preparation is the vision of His glory recorded in Ezekiel 1. The prophet learns the worth and glory of God (ch 1), receives God's word (ch 2-3), and so must speak it, even to those who will not hear. (God's thoughts are worth saying because they are God's thoughts. Whether or not people welcome them is not the issue for a preacher or any other truth-teller). This account reminds me much of the Apostle Paul, who also learned the worth and glory of God (Ac 9), received God's word, and then couldn't help but speak, testifying to the Corinthians, "I believed, therefore I spoke" (2 Co 4:13). That's not terribly complicated.
Of course a personality like this comes with glaring weaknesses. Yet God continues to construct folks with a prophetic bent (See Prophets Push from 1/25/15). Should these kind of people pastor churches? Perhaps not, although the Bible Prophets did function pastorally in some measure, as did many of the Protestant Reformers, and of course the Apostle Paul. But it's really tough. Including in a cover letter that you're a task-oriented introvert will not land you a pastoral position. My point is that it's good to know who you are and what you're for and seek a role where that can be useful to folks for Christ's sake. Regarding themselves, the prophets seem to be fairly clear on this, as does Paul and certainly Jesus. The Protestant Reformers had more to figure out, seeing that they didn't receive direct revelation but needed, like us, to understand revelation previously given (the Bible) and then apply that to themselves in their context.
So what to do? I'm not yet sure. But I'm considering enrolling in carpentry school.