Category Archives: General

A BLOG: Christmas Reflections and Flawed Ministry

_MG_2958A broken, dying stump, the remnant of a once strong tree now forms the beautiful foreground for this picture I recently shot. Much of what I do in helping pastors and ministry leaders in pain is to guide them to get perspective. For so many the youthful hopes of this life and ministry impacting the kingdom are now nothing more than memories of what could have been. Rather than towering as a tall tree, the life of the pastor, reduced by years of failure and resistance by others, now sits, an insignificant stump in the landscape of all God does through the apparent successes of others. Yet, here there is victory, and meaning.

To me this is the heart of the Christmas story.

Once his troubled and broken life is viewed through the lens of God’s sovereignty and purpose, everything else appears in proper perspective to the pastor. A accurate view of oneself, against the backdrop of God’s larger mission, gives meaning to brokenness. This is why I rarely talk a pastor, or a missionary, out of what he is feeling, or going through. I have no right to that. Neither can I do much to change the hard circumstances that have contributed to his brokenness. He, too, has no access to alter his history. All I can do is speak of Jesus, his love, his sovereignty and the larger purpose of his mission; his coming to enter our brokenness. I also carefully suggest that God allows brokenness to further advance his purpose. Like Paul in prison we are able to say, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.” (Phil 1:12-13)

Once the pastor views his broken, frail and fragile life next to what Jesus is doing, and why he came,  he sees it all differently, especially his own experiences. I love that moment when the eyes light up; the chin lifts and a long sigh releases the burdens of a heavy heart. Why? Perspective! A selfish, self-centered view of oneself, the sort driven by desire for recognition, will not allow a pastor, or any of us for that matter, to see what God is really doing. I know the message has gotten through when I hear the pastor say something like this: “You know, I think God actually wanted me to go through this. It is helping me to see better what he is doing. My trial, and this burden I carry,  this difficult church, antagonistic people, are allowing me to see him and what he is doing in a new, fresh way.” This willingness to allow the broken dreams of a great life, to stand now in the foreground as vulnerable and weak, roots the pastor more deeply in his relationship with God and brings deeper meaning to the pastor’s life and his ministry.

Be sure to thank you pastor for his faithful service to the ONE who came to set us all free, and to  to the ONE who came into this broken flawed world to fill us with amazing purpose. It’s what the Christmas story is really about.

Statistics and My Father-In-Law

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 4.26.35 PMI showed my father-in-law some of the statistics about pastor burnout and dropout, and he could not believe it. I don’t mean he could not believe it in the, “That is unbelievable,” kind of way. Literally, he did not believe it. I don’t think at all that he suspected me of cooking the numbers to better justify my ministry. A little background might help.

My father-in-law is 87 years old and worked 44 of those years as an engineer with the Best Lock Company in Indianapolis, IN. Need I say more? I have known the man for over thirty years now and have never seen him assume anything. Engineers never do! He is, and has been, one of those, “You better show me proof,” kind of men. I love it, particularly in a day when you can find anything to say what you want by just googling it. Try to convince someone that the Lock Ness Monster ate your rabbit and you will probably find backing somewhere on the internet. So when my “not so ready to swallow what I hear” father-in-law read that fifteen-hundred pastors leave the ministry each month, or that fifty percent of them end up divorcing, or that seventy percent fight chronic depression, or how eighty percent of Bible and graduate students leave the ministry within the first five years, he was not quick to buy it. It took me two full days of legitimate research, and one and half cartridges of ink, to finally show solid evidence to back up the statistics. What I think finally convinced him, though, was a question. “Dad, tell me about the pastors in your life.” He did. And as he did his voice grew somber. His heart seemed heavy. His voice grew shaky. It dawned on him, and on me, that these are not just numbers. They are people, shepherds, friends who we knew, and know. Who loved us and served us. Who gave their lives to us and to the gospel. But something happened. For most, something happened, but no one really knows what. One pastor began to look tired. Withdrawn. His preaching lost that zest that first drew us to him. That infectious chuckle absent. And then, one day, he was gone. I am a pastor to pastors. Why? Not because of statistics, but because I know too many of them who are wounded and discouraged. I know too many of them who are just starting out and I can see the signs. I know too many of them who love life and love pastoring, and I don’t want them to ever lose it.