learn

This past week my sermon came from the most familiar Proverb.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Solomon offers a number of incentives in this chapter for the person who walks wisely. Verses 5 and 6 detail the demands for one to be wise. In my sermon, I listed those demands:

  • Trust the LORD completely.
  • Reject self-reliance deliberately.
  • Acknowledge the LORD constantly.

God often convicts me with my own sermons. And one of the ways he is convicting me this week is about acknowledging him constantly. In all my ways, I must acknowledge him. In all your ways, you should acknowledge him.

What are our ways? Well, we have many of them. We have the way of our own spiritual walk. We have the way of family interactions. We have the way of work or school. We have the way of leisure. We could on. What is clear is that Solomon teaches us to acknowledge, that is recognize and testify to our relationship with the LORD in all our ways. Acknowledge comes from the Hebrew word da’at which means a relational knowledge. So we must confess and testify to the LORD’s saving presence with us in all our ways.

A verse in Isaiah relates what we mean.

Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
    and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save.

Isaiah 46:3-4

The LORD knows us from before birth and carries us into old age. He guides, protects, saves, and defends. He knows all our ways. He watches over his own throughout their lives. His saving compassion is motivation to acknowledge him in all our ways.

One way we could acknowledge the LORD is in light of our mission. Our mission at Wilkesboro Baptist is to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus. We do so by worshiping, learning, serving, and replicating.

Here are some thoughts I’ve jotted down for myself for this week.

In my way of worship today and this week, I will acknowledge the LORD. I will remember his greatness and majesty (Isaiah 46:9). As best as I’m able, I will go through the day and this week acknowledging the presence and greatness of the LORD in my attitude and practice of worship.

In my way of learning today and this week, I will acknowledge the LORD. I will be attentive to what I read, hear, and learn from others. Intentionally, I will seek to be teachable and to grow in my understanding of what’s going on around me.

In my way of serving today and this week, I will acknowledge the LORD. I will seek to serve the LORD as I serve others personally and ministerially. Rather than be overwhelmed by the ministry conversations and interactions of the week, I will seek to let each of them be a means of serving the LORD who is worthy.

In my way of replicating today and this week, I will acknowledge the LORD. I will consider conversations, relationships, and opportunities in light of the Great Commission mandate to make disciples. From my discipleship group to interactions with family and even to strangers, I will seek to acknowledge the LORD in these relationships by seeing these moments as opportunities to replicate the life of Jesus in someone else.

There are of course many other ways that we will walk this week. If we truly want the LORD to make our paths straight, then we need to acknowledge him in all our ways. The opportunities and decisions are in front of us. So let’s acknowledge him in our ways today.

Photo by Gunnar Ridderström on Unsplash

According to research shared from Barna Group, 29% of pastors thought about quitting during the pandemic. Our local paper, the Wilkes Journal Patriot, ran a national article reflecting on the difficulty of the pandemic year for pastors, and how some had stepped away. Anecdotally, I know of several pastors who have stepped away from ministry of their own accord or were encouraged to leave by their churches. Also anecdotally, the associate pastor at our church shared that 5 of the 7 close ministry friends he has worked with over the past 20 years are no longer in vocational ministry.

Personally, the past 15 months have been challenging and at times overwhelming. I understand the sentiment and concerns for many of these pastors who have stepped away. But I long for something more. I long to finish well.

In this post, I’m writing to pastors and church leaders. My aim is to encourage you to apply some of the strategies for finishing well. In a subsequent post, I’m going to write to churches and church members encouraging you to support and encourage your pastors and ministers on their journey.

In his book, The Making of a Leader, J. Robert Clinton reflected on several barriers to leaders finishing well. They are:

  1. Finances-their use and abuse
  2. Power-its abuse
  3. Pride-which leads to downfall
  4. Sex-illicit relationships
  5. Family-critical issues
  6. Plateauing

The strategies below will not specifically address each of these barriers. But they will help us as leaders to build habits and character traits into our lives that will help us finish well.

No leader plans not to finish well, but leaders who finish well make plans to finish well.

Leaders don’t finish well accidentally.

Strategy #1. Create spiritual habits that keep you close to Jesus. If you examine the barriers above, many of them relate to sin issues. Fame, flirtations, and finances have been the downfall of many pastors/leaders better than us. Avoiding sin issues that disqualify leaders requires spiritual habits that keep us close to Jesus. We need to read and study the Bible devotionally, to pray dependently, to preach the gospel to ourselves regularly, and to confess and repent consistently. When we drift from Jesus, we will drift into sin.

Strategy #2. Keep your family a priority. Some ministers are forced to step away from ministry because ministry itself became an idol and destroyed their families. The leader who wants to finish well must prioritize healthy family relationships and interactions. Eat meals together. Talk. Have a family devotional time. Do fun things together. Go on holidays and vacations.

Strategy #3. Stay physically active and healthy. Vocational ministry is largely sedentary. Sitting, writing, reading, counseling, and relational interactions are not physically active parts of the job. Physical activity helps me sleep better and encourages better eating habits. Physical sloth encourages poor health habits. Take walks. Go running or hiking. Play an active sport. Physical activity is a natural stress relief and longterm health benefit.

Strategy #4. Never stop learning/growing. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 2 Timothy 4:13: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” Paul was in the latter days of his ministry, but he still wanted to read, study, learn, and grow. I was convicted by the reality referenced in Clinton’s book that many ministers don’t burn out of ministry, they plateau. Develop a reading and study plan. Write. Take a course. By continuing to grow and learn, we remain pliable and teachable as pastors/leaders.

Strategy #5. Develop friendships and accountability. I need people in my life to look me in the eye and call me out for folly or sin. God has graciously given me several people who will regularly speak truth into my life and ask the hard questions. If you don’t have these people in your life, pray that God will give them to you. Finishing well means that God has protected you from foolishness and sin, and often God protects us by using friends as our accountability. Get in a discipleship group. Find an accountability partner. Open up to your spouse.

Strategy #6. Ask for help. You can’t do everything you are responsible for. You need help whether that help comes in the form of staff members, assistants, or lay leaders. Pastors (leaders) that last are pastors (leaders) who don’t try to do it all. Delegate. Train others. Disciple fellow workers and leaders. Turn over key tasks and responsibilities. During the pandemic, our church has remained strong because we have so many key leaders (staff and lay) who have taken ownership of everything from technology to cleaning to other protocols.

Plan to finish well.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash