We know pastoral ministry is hard, but it is also tricky. In a given week a pastor can get the following comments:
Your preaching is blessing me greatly. I am learning to love Christ more and more!
Your preaching is too theological, it is not helping me.
Your preaching is too emotional, you need to be more doctrinal.
Sometimes this type of thing will cause you to spin in circles asking, “What am I doing? Is this working?”
I’ve heard John Piper speak of this and he talked about feeling like he is looking in one of those mirrors at the carnival. As you look at one angle the head is small, at another the head is big, etc. No matter which way you turn you get a different view. Ministry can be like this and the pastor can begin to think he is viewing his ineffectiveness in a carnival mirror.
One great, but often neglected resource for encouragement and straight-shooting is the pastor’s own wife. In this case they may not want to seem weak, complaining, or whatever. However, I would encourage pastors to talk to their wife. There is no one who knows you better (for better or worse) and no one who loves you more and wants what is best. You can trust them. So ask questions. Encourage honesty.
What’s more, take note of your wife’s growth in godliness. Many times we take for granted that our wife is going to be godly and growing in godliness. We should never presume upon grace! Instead, …
I found this quote from Clowney’s book Called to the Ministry to be very encouraging.
Have you ever lost interest in Bible reading when you came to the endless names of the Book of Numbers, or the genealogies of Genesis or Chronicles? You may stumble in pronouncing those strange names, but you would not want a Bible without them. God’s people are known by name. Their names are recorded in the book of his covenant, and he remembers. The very writing of the names is a memorial of the faithfulness of God. As the names of the tribes of Israel were written upon the precious stones in the breastplate of the high priest when he stood before the Lord to pray, so the names of the true people of God in all their generations are written in God’s book (Ex. 28:9-12, 17-21; 32:32; Ps. 56:8; 69:28).
…It is well to reflect on the fact that your individual calling is in the midst of the people of God. You are called individually, but not alone.
Edmund Clowney, Called to the Ministry, (pp. 8-9)
As a pastor I find myself reading and rereading books on pastoral ministry. When written well these pastors serve others in the fraternity by providing thoughtful and practical insights into their own ministries. Sometimes the smallest detail can translate to a large impact in other setting.
I recently read through On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. Most likely you have heard of Begg while perhaps you are not familiar with Prime. Derek Prime served at Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh for over 30 years. In fact, it was here that Alistair Begg served as an assistant pastor. This book was originally written in 1989 towards the end of Prime’s ministry and served to capture many items that he did well while also exhorting a new generation unto faithfulness. Later it was decided that the original should be revised and expanded a bit to fit a wider context. Begg joined the team and they labored together to produce this volume.
Like most books on pastoral ministry there is detailed treatment of the qualifications for ministry as well as the responsibilities of ministry. This book also spends time talking about things such as leadership, delegation, leading a worship service, family life, and leisure. If that sounds ambitious it is—and it’s not a short book (weighing in at nearly 300 pages).
Pastors who wake up on Mondays face a unique reality. We are coming of a time where we have worked hard the previous week in the study. The preparation culminates on Sunday morning as the sermon is delivered. In the aftermath we are humbled and encouraged; humbled because of our preaching and encouraged because of God’s sovereignty. But overall, much of the time, we feel good because we worked hard.
Now it’s Monday. And you feel, well, helpless. What can you do? Can you call up individuals and give application questions, or have them restate your proposition, main points and fallen condition focus? Unlikely (and unrecommended.) We are in that familiar spot of weakness. We so want people to get it but feel so limited in how to make them get it.
Everyone is prone to discouragement. No matter our vocation, we all face the temptation to feel like what we are doing does not matter. I can remember working in the military and wondering how much my work really supported the mission. I recall working in Insurance Compliance and debating in my mind as to how in the world all of these reports and analysis really did anything. These are natural and common questions.
From my seat there is no other vocation that trumps pastoral ministry with the feeling of not making a difference. In addition to our knowledge of our own weakness there is the front-row view of many other people’s problems. The pastor sees people at their worst. Whether it is the horrific impact of sin on their lives or the activity of sin within the church. Furthermore, there is the overall burden to see every member presented complete or mature in Christ (Col. 1.28-29). Oh, and by the way, you, Mr Pastor, will give an account for the souls of your sheep (Heb. 13.17).
So here you stand, knee deep in the sludge of personal and corporate sin, knowing your own weakness, and watching sheep alternating between picking each other off and falling asleep, and you ask, “Am I doing anything?”
It’s Monday morning. If you are a pastor who preached yesterday it means that you probably are somewhat discouraged. Of course you try to shrug it off by thinking through it logically but even that reminds you that you left some runners on base.
So what do you do? By about noon you start to feel the blood pumping a bit as you look ahead to the week. You might even go and grab the Dr’s medicine, Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). He does a fair job of reminding us of the task at hand. It’s good. You start to get encouraged, but then it hits you, “I wish I could preach like MLJ.”
Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.
In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them. In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
How does he begin?
May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3
The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!
Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!
Whether you are stepping …
As an elder in a local church I am always on the look out for books that will help me and my team better serve our congregation. At the same time, I have been looking for a book that would serve church members by encapsulating what to expect from their elders. In this concise and lucid book, Church Elders, Jeramie Rinne has done both. Written to the new elder who asks the question after installation, “Now what?” it serves to outline basics of pastoral ministry.
I mentioned Rinne’s writing style. It is clear and memorable. For example, to make his point that the elders need to know the sheep he has a chapter titled, “Smell like Sheep.” His point is clear: the elders are not to be separated from but intimately involved in the lives of the sheep, even like Jesus, our Great Shepherd (Jn. 21:15-16).
Baseball pitchers need to have a “go-to” pitch. This is their best pitch. And, it is their most important pitch because it sets up effectiveness and it compensates for under-effectiveness. How do you know what a pitcher’s money pitch is? It is what he throws when he is down in the count or in some trouble with runners on base. It is his “go-to” pitch when he gets into jams.
As Christians we have something of a spiritual go-to pitch. When we are in a jam or need answers we shake off other pitches in favor of what we think will get the job done. Whether at work or in the home, physical or emotional, in the church or in your neighborhood—we get into jams. What do we do?
As a pastor my life is characterized by an incessant longing for people to taste and see the goodness of God’s grace in the gospel. I pray for it, plan for, organize events to promote it, and even dream about it. I want to see the gospel come to our city and our church. I want evident gospel renewal.
In Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, there is a memorable scene where a large cask of wine is dropped and broken in the street. The cask had burst like a walnut shell and gushing all over the stones in the street. Dickens goes on to write:
All the people within reach had suspended their business, or their idleness, to run to the spot and drink the wine. The rough, irregular stones of the street, pointing every way, and designed, one might have thought, expressly to lame all living creatures that approached them, had dammed it into little pools; these were surrounded, each by its own jostling group or crowd, according to its size. Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers. Others, men and women, dipped in the puddles with little mugs of mutilated earthenware, or even with handkerchiefs from women’s heads, which were squeezed dry into infants’ mouths; others made small mud-embankments, to stern the wine as it ran; others, directed …