Archive for Pastors

Skye Jethani has written an incredible piece titled, “The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Pastors.” Its thoughtful, well written, and worth your time. You can find the article by clicking HERE.

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Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway, has an excellent post describing the life cycle of a pastor’s ministry. While he doesn’t cite specific data harvested from research, those of us who have been around the local church for any period of time can attest that Rainer is pretty accurate in his evaluation. You can find the article by CLICKING HERE.

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Signs a Pastor is Losing His Way

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One of the helpful sections of Paul David’s Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling was his insightful list of signs that a Pastor is losing his or her way. Here it is:

1. You ignore clear evidence of problems and are defensive.
2. You become blind to the issues of your own heart.
3. Your ministry lacks personal devotion and private confession.
4. You are not preaching the gospel to yourself.
5. You stop listening to the people closest to you.
6. The acts of ministry become burdensome.
7. You begin to live in silence due to fear of becoming known.
8. You begin to question your calling.
9. You start looking for a way out.

I think people are surprised when pastors have emotional meltdowns, morally fail or just plain quit. Tripp’s point is well taken. Pastors never just lose it, or sin, or quit suddenly. Something began to erode privately long before the issue(s) became public. Before a pastor loses their ministry they first lose themselves. It’s not like falling off a ladder where one slight misstep leads to sudden catastrophe. It’s more like drifting. No one ever drifts all at once. Its a slow and subtle process. Neither does one drift closer. One always drifts away.

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Dangerous Calling

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Every now and then you come across a book that stops you in your tracks. My most recent read, Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp is without reservation the best book I read in 2012. Tripp spent the early years of his ministry career in pastoral ministry in the local church. Today he serves the Body of Christ through consulting and counseling pastors and people with the goal of helping them develop healthier lives and ministries.

Over the course of the next several weeks I want to interact with some of the provocative material he presents for a couple of reasons. For one, it helps me work through it personally. Every vocation has a dark side, filled with subtle temptations and challenges. Pastoral ministry is no different. Interacting with Tripp’s book as you look over my shoulder will help keep me from sticking it on a shelf alongside a multitude of other books I’ve read.

The other reason I want to do this is to help those of you who are faithful to Christ and his church understand a little more about your pastor. While this book is by a pastor for pastors, I believe some of the best support a pastor can receive from the congregation he or she serves is understanding; the proverbial mile in my moccasins, if you will. Maybe you will be so inspired that you would even consider purchasing a copy for your pastor. It could be a gift that your pastor would find to be life changing, if not life saving.

The opening pages of the book begin with the author sharing his personal struggles in ministry. I anticipated that he was going to unpack a series of stories about some terrible sin he committed and then write about other pastors who committed scarlet letter sins. But the book isn’t about those pastors we hear about on the news that got caught stealing money or violating their marriage vows or trapped in the snare of addiction or substance abuse.

To the contrary, Tripp didn’t focus on the gross public sins of pastors. He went to the heart of the matter, dealing with the private, personal issues that fester deep within. Yes, sometimes those personal challenges do manifest themselves into public scandal. But they also can slowly simmer, causing pastors to wither away in spiritual atrophy. How does this occur? As Tripp sees it, the major problem pastor’s face is the disconnect that exists between their public ministry and their private life. How does this occur? According to Tripp, the problem develops because three temptations are not dealt with.

Temptation #1: Allowing ministry to define one’s identity.
Pastors face the ongoing challenge of differentiating their profession from their personhood. When pastors see their profession and their personhood as one in the same, they begin to neglect applying the truth they offer to others to themselves. Pastor’s offer grace to others without seeing their own need for the same.

Temptation #2: Allowing biblical literacy and theological knowledge to define the depth of one’s ministry. According to Tripp, “Maturity is not about what you know it’s about how you live your life. There’s a difference between growing up and growing old.” If pastors are not careful, the truth they affirm with their brains will cease to impact their hearts.

Temptation #3: Confusing ministry success with God’s endorsement of one’s life.
Or, in everyday language, “How can I be so bad? Look at how God is blessing my ministry?” Obviously this line of logic has led and continues to lead many down slippery slopes toward self-destruction. Pastors can never forget that God will always honor his word and advance his own kingdom and often does so in spite of His human servants. God is first and foremost bound to honor his Kingdom and advance its purposes. He is not obligated to advance my kingdom or anyone else’s for that matter. Therefore large does not equal legitimate.

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Those of you who know me are aware that I have recently made a transition in ministry. For the last six years I’ve served as Lead Pastor of Ashworth Road Baptist Church in West Des Moines, IA. That position ended for me in December following my call to serve as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Greater Des Moines, IA. This transition, as would be true for any vocation I suppose, was difficult. How should a person evaluate the options? How can one discern the leadership of the Holy Spirit? I used three questions to help me work through the decision I faced.

Question 1: Have I finished the work I was called to do in my present position?
Or to put it another way, have I accomplished what I was supposed to accomplish? Notice the question is not, “Have I done everything I can do?” There’s ALWAYS more that can be done! No, this question is more about gut than to do lists. There comes a point when you realize that you’ve accomplished the main objective that you were supposed to accomplish.

When that happens for me personally, I experience what mystics will call “a sense of release.” Being “released” is the awareness that the burden and calling that brought you to the present position has been removed by God. I don’t want to over simplify it, but it is the conscious recognition that you’re finished. This may even happen prior to an invitation to a new opportunity. When you sense that you’ve been “released,” your attention needs to heighten for the next thing that God is preparing for you. If you haven’t sensed God’s release from your position, it might be that you need to re-engage with what is before you. You may be closer to a break through than you think!

Question 2: Am I called to the new opportunity?
I don’t think its healthy to leave a position to escape problems or adversity. When you leave because of problems you usually just transfer the same issues to the new position. After all, when you run away you take you with you. When you have a sense of release from a position then you’re free to explore the new opportunity based on its own merit. You go forward to a position rather than go from a position. “To” and “from” are basic prepositions that we use multiple times every day. But when it comes to making a change, the difference is immeasurable.

Question 3: Is my family on board with the transition?
I grew up in a pastor’s home, so I know the implications of making transitions in ministry from a kid’s perspective. In my personal career, I’ve never made a change without the full support of my wife. I’ve also done my best to consider my children and to take into consideration their best. During the past year I’ve had several inquiries from churches, each which would have required an out of state move. After considering this third question, however, I recognize that each of those changes would have required some significant sacrifices by and potential risks to my family. It became, in effect, a “deal breaker.”

You may have your own set of questions that you consider as you evaluate a transition. These questions have helped me so I share them with you today. They aren’t limited to ministry changes. Anyone considering a potential career change or job transition can benefit from these diagnostic questions.