Pastor, You Don’t Have to Be Superman

This article originally appeared here at LifeWay Facts and Trends.

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“We’d like you to be superman.” That was the answer a search committee member gave me to the question, “What are your expectations of a pastor?” He qualified the answer by saying how the previous pastor had done so much for the church and for the community. He admitted he was being a little tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, his statement was telling, and I did not become their pastor. I’ve thought about that conversation several times since then. It’s probably true that some church members have unrealistic expectations for their pastor. But it’s also true that sometimes we have unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We try to do too much or carry too much. 

Oftentimes ministry is non-eventful, but sometimes it is overwhelming. A recent day in my ministry looked like this. 

4:40 AM alarm went off. 

5:15 AM left the house. 

6:00 AM visited a church member before a rather serious intestinal surgery. 

6:45 AM visited another church member at another hospital. 

9:00 AM arrived at the other end of the state for a denominational meeting. 

10:30 AM received a phone call about the sudden death of a church member. 

1:00 PM expedited the meeting and left for home with plans to visit with the family of the member who died. 

3:00 PM received a call from my dad’s neighbor that he had fallen and she was going to call the ambulance. 

4:00 PM met my dad and the ambulance at the hospital. 

11:30 PM arrived at home after my dad was given a hospital room for extra tests. 

This day was not typical, but I’m sure you’ve had similar days. I never made it to visit the family who had a sudden death. I don’t relate this for your pity or for your praise. My motivation is simply this—I am not superman. I cannot possibly wear all the hats and do all the ministry that my church needs. I need others and so do you. Here are several realizations about pastoral ministry.   

  1. Don’t try to be superman. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t try. When I try to do everything, I usually mess things up and create tensions. Discover your ministry strengths and weaknesses. Share ministry with others especially in your weak areas. Shared ministry may not be good for your ego (we like to think we can do more than we can), but it is very good for your church and for the kingdom.  
  2. Rely on others. Two staff members and at least two other church members visited with the family who had a sudden death. I couldn’t be present, but our church was present. Reactive ministry is necessary and important. But so is proactive ministry (making disciples, reading, studying, leading, evangelizing and planning ministry). If you’re going to do significant proactive ministry, you’re going to have to rely on others for both proactive and reactive ministry. 
  3. Make time to rest and recharge. A pastor friend of mine told to me recently that he struggled to admit that he needed rest and time away. Even Jesus took time away to rest and recharge. If Jesus rested, we need to rest. Don’t be ashamed of taking a day off, taking a holiday or going to be early enough to get a good night’s rest. We are better off and our ministries are better off when we are rested and recharged. 
  4. Be human. Admit your weaknesses and struggles. I know that we have to be careful how open we are, but we should be vulnerable. Most of those in our congregations see us from a distance in the pulpit. That means they often see the best of us—sometimes not the real us. So, it’s not surprising that sometimes church members expect us to be better than we are. Wisely sharing your weaknesses will help your congregation take you off the pedestal and remind them of your need for others.  
  5. Be honest. You need to tell your church leaders when you need help. Paul declared that a primary role of the pastor is to equip others for ministry. It is not my job or your job to do everything in ministry. Be honest by building adequate margin into your ministry and share responsibility for ministering to others. 

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As You Look to a New Year…

2019 is here. If you’re like me, you have ideas for what you’d like to accomplish in the coming year. You have dreams, desires and plans. Did you know that God has grander plans for you than you have for yourself? Let me encourage you with a word from Psalm 37 about trusting in the Lord for the coming year.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

Delight in the Lord. When you delight in the Lord, your trust becomes worship. According to the Westminster catechism, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God created us to delight in him. You delight in the Lord by learning to reflect on his grace in your life and worshiping him for his glory. When you delight in the Lord, he promises to give you the desires of your heart. This promise does not somehow mean that if we delight correctly, we’ll get what we want. You should not think of it like a Christmas list. I’m going to figure out what delighting in God looks like so I can get what I want. Rather, when we really delight in the Lord, we’ll begin to realize that he is all we need. Those desires that remain when we are truly delighting in the Lord are desires that God intends to fulfill.

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:5

Commit your way to the Lord. When you commit your way to the Lord, trust becomes surrender. In the original language, committing your way to the Lord is more than just praying about something. The idea is that we “roll” our concerns onto the Lord. Literally, when we commit our way to the Lord, we roll our burdens, anxieties and decisions onto him. In short, too many of us are carrying pressures we were not meant to carry. The stress is palpable. We remain burdened because we continue trying to carry our situations and concerns on our own shoulders. If we want the Lord to act, if we want the Lord to guide and direct our steps, then we must commit our way to him. We need to trust him by rolling our concerns and worries onto him. We need to surrender our need to be in control, and trust the Lord to be in control.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Psalm 37:7

Wait on the Lord. When you are still and wait on the Lord, your trust becomes as patient, but active anticipation. Notice first that David tells us to be still which literally means to be silent. Some of us talk too much, and I don’t mean to other people. I mean that we talk too much to God. Our prayers are not offered in surrender and trust. Rather, we give God advice and suggestions. For example we say, “God, here’s my situation. I’m going to try to trust you with it. Here’s how you can fix it. Give me this. Solve this issue. Deal with this person.” Now, while we might not be quite so bold, our prayers too often follow a pattern like this. Instead, we are to roll our concerns to the Lord and leave them there. We are to be still and wait on the Lord. Don’t mistake waiting for being passive. In the original language, to wait had the idea of being in labor. For a mother to be in labor and to give birth is an act of waiting. But it is definitely not passive; it is active and often difficult. But it is worth it. I’ve yet to meet the mom (no matter how difficult the labor) who said that it wasn’t worth it. Maybe you’re in a period of waiting. Maybe it’s difficult or even painful. Get spiritually active. Lead others to follow Jesus. Worship the Lord. Learn to follow Jesus. Serve others. Replicate the life of Jesus in others.

Work while you wait. It is a glorious expression of trust in the Lord. Ask yourself as you move into 2019. Am I delighting in the Lord? Am I committing my way to him? Am I waiting on the Lord? If you want him to act, then trust. Let Psalm 37 guide your expression of trust in the New Year.

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Strength By Grace

In 2 Timothy 2:1 Paul writes to Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Paul had faced desertion and difficulty as he suffered in his final Roman imprisonment. Abandoned by friends and even those he had won to Christ, Paul wrote this final admonition and encouragement to Timothy, his son in the ministry. Several affirmations arise from this verse that I hope will encourage you today.

  1. We often need strength. There are times we are all weak and tired. Timothy faced the challenge of pastoring, the burden of Paul’s imprisonment and the difficulty of Christians abandoning Paul. Our strength doesn’t come from effort, but from grace.
  2. We definitely need grace. We are helpless without God’s help. We deserve death, suffering and hell. But by God’s grace, we have life, hope and heaven. We have unmerited favor because of Christ Jesus. God’s saving grace and daily grace will strengthen us.
  3. We daily need the gospel. Our experience of grace and strength comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not strong enough or good enough on our own to make it. We need Christ and the reminder of the gospel everyday.
  4. We need to give the grace that we’ve received. Don’t be guilty of hoarding grace for yourself. What do I mean? Well, it is easy to give yourself grace for bad behavior while holding others to a higher standard. We should give away grace to others. I don’t mean we ignore truth. After all, grace is based on the gospel which tells the shattering truth about our sinfulness. But, as followers of Jesus, we should be quick to offer grace.

I don’t know what you’re facing today. Maybe a personal difficulty? Maybe frustration at the tumultuous political climate? Maybe an immovable obstacle? Maybe a pattern of sinful behavior? Maybe doubt and discouragement from your past? In whatever you face, pursue the strength of grace that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Peace in the Storm

Some of you are like me and paying special attention to the news and weather. You are watching all the details about Hurricane Florence, her path, arrival times, estimated rainfall, etc. It is easy to look at a storm like Florence and wonder where God is. Why would he allow such catastrophic damage to happen?

Let me share a word of encouragement from the book of Acts. In chapter 27, Paul was a prisoner on a journey to Rome. He had to travel by sea and on that trip, he and the crew experienced a 14 day storm at sea. They were sick, water-logged and in desperation. They all feared for their lives. If anyone deserved a comfortable trip, it was the Apostle Paul. Yet, Paul faced the danger and discomfort of the storm just like everyone else. No matter what happens in the coming days around us or on the coast of our country, God is in control.

Remember this, God does not promise us a comfortable journey, but he does promise that he will never leave us. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that God has abandoned us. Storms (literal and figurative) occur in our lives because we exist in a fallen world where sin abounds. Paul affirmed in Romans 8:20-22, that creation itself is longing for redemption when the curse of sin will be lifted. Until then, we will experience storms and hurricanes. But we don’t face these days or these challenges alone. In the Acts account of the storm and eventual shipwreck, Paul and the crew suffered mightily. They faced hunger, sea sickness, lack of sleep, pain, worry, fear and the possibility of death. Yet, Paul was not alone; they were not alone. God was with them, and we can know that God is with us.

Paul had God’s peace. An angel appeared to him informing him that all would be saved. Paul used his peace to inspire courage in his shipmates. He invited them to eat a meal, blessed it in front of them and told them they would survive. God used Paul’s peace, wisdom and courage to instill courage in others. He can do the same through us today.

You should pray for protection and peace in the middle of this storm. Just before writing this, I took some moments to pray for family and friends that are likely to experience the storm more directly than we will. I prayed for their safety and peace. I even prayed that the hurricane would move away from as many people as possible. You say, “That’s a futile prayer.” No, even if the predictors are correct and the storm doesn’t move, the prayer is not futile. It is not futile because God can move the storm, he can calm the storm, he will give peace in the middle of the storm, and I know that we have his presence in the storm. We can pray boldly and expectantly because God promises that he will never leave us.

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Esther—Stand Down

Bible study originally published here at the Biblical Recorder. Focal Passage: Esther 4:1-3; 10-16

Haman was angry at Mordecai’s refusal to bow down. But not only did Haman hate Mordecai, he hated all the Jews as well. Wanting to rid himself of Mordecai’s dishonor and the Jewish people, Haman plotted to have all the Jews killed.

Mordecai and Esther messaged back and forth about the proper course of action. From this passage comes the most famous phrase in the book of Esther, “Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (4:14).

To readers looking backward at the sovereign intervention of God over and over again for the protection of His people, Mordecai’s statement is obvious. But Esther was the one who had to act. The future of the Jewish people depended, at least in part, upon her action. And yet, if the king did not receive her, she could be immediately killed.

Remember how quickly the king dealt with her predecessor, Vashti. But Esther did not act immediately. Notice what she ordered Mordecai to do. She insisted that the Jewish people fast for three days. While the word prayer is not included in the narrative, fasting in Jewish faith nearly always included prayer.

It is safe to assume Mordecai, Esther and the Jewish people fasted and prayed over this dilemma and over Esther’s opportunity.

They stood down. They paused their planning in order to pray. They waited in faith-filled fasting rather than in worry and fret.

Why? I think Esther and Mordecai knew it was entirely possible she had been ordained for this moment, but that did not mean they would act in brazen self-confidence. They stopped to pray.

I think sometimes we are not wrong in our assessments of situations, but we are often wrong in the bravado of our actions. Instead of praying, we plot. Instead of waiting, we work. Instead of trusting, we talk.

Esther and Mordecai give us an example we would be wise to follow – stand down, fast, pray and trust.

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My Takeaways from the #SBC2018

I grew up going to the SBC. My father retired a couple of years ago from a more than 40 ministry serving as a pastor to a number of SBC churches. We attended SBC meetings as a family in cities like Atlanta and Orlando. Now, I attend as a Sr. Pastor representing my SBC church. Some things about the SBC remain the same. There always seems to be media attention pinpointing whatever controversy threatens discord in the largest Evangelical denomination in the US. There are always interesting comments and motions as our congregational form of government gives the microphone to messengers from across the nation. There are always reports offered by leaders, both encouraging and discouraging regarding the state of the SBC. Here are several takeaways from this year’s SBC in Dallas, TX.

Takeaway #1—The frontline passion and emphasis on evangelism from the IMB must become prominent locally and nationally. The most poignant moment for me by far at this year’s meeting came during the commissioning ceremony for the IMB. The theme, “Every Church, Every Nation” reminds us that when we give cooperatively, we all participate in evangelism to the nations. In many ways, we perceive the IMB as frontline evangelism. We celebrate missionaries whose names and faces remain anonymous because they are being sent to unsafe places for the gospel. We cheer their courage and applaud their obedience. It is time that we pastors and churches adopt a frontline mindset for evangelism in our communities. We say regarding the IMB, “If we don’t send, how will the unreached hear?” We must say about the lost around us, “If we don’t share, how will they hear?” While we look forward to denominational vision, we must not wait on the denomination to lead us in evangelism and discipleship. The responsibility for evangelism, discipleship, church planting and international missions rests with the pastors and churches of the SBC.

Takeaway #2—Some SBC leaders have misused their positions of influence, but the misuse of power and authority does not appear to be systemic. We need to learn from the failures of others. Our churches and entities need to become safe places for the abused and disenfranchised. We must implement policies and protections that will lead us to defend the abused and protect our churches from predators and abusers. One of the tensions in the SBC leading up to the convention regarded Dr. Paige Patterson’s failure to appropriately handle an accusation of rape while he served as president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Encouragingly, the other seminary presidents affirmed that this was not a systemic issue at their schools. Surely, we have had and will have situations where one or more leaders misuse their power and authority. But thankfully these appear to be exceptions.

Takeaway #3—Pastors and churches need to engage the theological conversation within their churches regarding complementarianism—what it means and does not mean for the important roles women serve in our churches. It seems unconscionable to me that a complementarian position can be used to silence women who speak out about abuse. Complementarianism is affirmed in the Baptist Faith and Message and recognizes the biblically derived view regarding gender roles in the home and church. But to hold this view does not mean women remain silent, don’t serve or don’t teach. More women than men were commissioned with the IMB this year (in the spirit of Annie and Lottie). And to quote Dr. Albert Mohler from the convention platform, “There’s not a man in this room who has not learned from a woman.”

Takeaway #4—Many, at this year’s meeting, appear to be moving away from public political party affiliations, and I think that’s a good thing. Personally, I found Vice President Mike Pence’s speech uncomfortable. Let me explain. I’m conservative. But VP Pence spent more time lauding presidential policies than he did commending his Christian beliefs. It was a campaign speech. By the way, I’m fine with campaign speeches and conservative policies, but it was out of place at the SBC. I know that his speech fit historically, as we’ve had political leaders speak before. But to me at least, it did not fit thematically. Around two hours after David Platt reported on Muslims coming to faith in Jesus, VP Pence promised to destroy ISIS. I realize one is speaking from the realm of theology and one from the realm of politics, but that’s the problem. Those two realms are divisive, distinct and require nuanced conversations. And I believe the SBC would do well in the future to refrain from having sitting politicians use our denominational platform for campaign speeches (a motion that was referred to the Executive Committee for action in Birmingham next year in 2019).

Takeaway #5—If we want a voice, then we need to be present and be willing to serve. Dr. Steve Gaines represented the SBC well as president. And Dr. Ken Hemphill would also have led well. But it is good for the present and future of the SBC to have Dr. J.D. Greear elected as SBC president. His election as well as the makeup of the messengers at SBC 2018 reflects an invigorated engagement from Gen Xers and Millenials. The congregational format of our denomination provides an opportunity to be present, have a voice and serve. If you like the direction of the convention, then be engaged and be involved. If you don’t like the direction of the convention, then be engaged and be involved. Either way, you have a voice and an opportunity to speak. It was an honor to attend the convention this year, and I’m already looking forward to the NC Baptist Convention meeting later this year and the SBC meeting in Birmingham next year.

This article was originally published here at the Biblical Recorder.

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Esther—Stand with Conviction

This devotional was originally published at the Biblical Recorder here.

Focal Passage: Esther 2:21-3:6

Mordecai, though a Jew in a foreign land, was loyal to his king. Overhearing a plot against the ruler, he promptly informed Esther who reported the planned crime. Mordecai’s loyalty to the king came from a deeper source. He would not compromise his faith in God.

When Haman was paraded through the streets, Mordecai would not bow. He would not worship a man. He would only worship God. These two mini-narratives in the book of Esther remind us that it is always right to do the right thing.

Mordecai’s conviction reminds me of another man a few centuries later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Not content to stand idly by under Adolf Hitler’s evil Third Reich, Bonhoeffer actively opposed the Nazis. Bonhoeffer held his Christian faith firmly and even served as a spy for the German resistance. Eventually, Bonhoeffer was captured and sent to prison. While at Flossenberg prison, Bonhoeffer was executed. He was only 39 years old. The doctor at the prison commented about his execution, “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor, praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer.

“At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps of the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost [50] years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

How was Bonhoeffer able to die with solemnity and peace? I believe the clue is the same as Mordecai’s strength. Standing with conviction begins by kneeling in prayer. We can pray with that same boldness and conviction because Christ died to give us the right to pray.

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