Who pastors the Pastor?

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll notice that I commonly post up stuff about ministry amidst all the other stuff about life, family, and the other interesting things I find online.

The reaction to one article I posted recently has taken me by surprise. It’s been liked over 100 times, uncommon in of itself, but more surprisingly almost three quarters of those likes have been from non-friends. Further the article has been reshared 37 times – and again, mostly from people I don’t know. What is it about this article which has hit such a raw nerve in people?

In brief, the article summarises the sad resignation of Pastor Pete Wilson, who stepped down as senior pastor from Cross Point Church back in September, 2016. The reasons for his stepping down, as indicated in the article, were because, ‘I’m tired. I’m broken.’ The article goes on to detail the sadness of this admission and reluctant stepping down, and the many ways in which pastoral ministry is a real struggle for those involved in it. Some of they key ones mentioned include criticism of sermons, sermons delivered during spiritual emptiness, scrutiny over pay, close relationships ended through innocuous decisions, loneliness, and temptations. It’s a long read, but worth your time and effort – if only to encounter the very real circumstances many pastors minister under.

In a number of ways the struggles listed in that article echo my own struggles that I have previously posted about. I’m glad that my experience has contained many joys in ministry as well, and so far the joys have outnumbered the negatives. Still, this is not always the case for many pastors. Even late last year I experienced a short season of discouragement, which all came to head one afternoon as I studied 1 Peter 5 with my beloved youth fellowship and realised that the instruction to elders to shepherd willingly and eagerly (ie cheerfully, with joy) was something I had been struggling to do for a while. It was hard to lead a study on that knowing I had been empty of it for some time, and I am thankful for the friends who ministered to me and prayed for me during this season. Eventually I was pulled through.

This brings me to an important discussion paper I read a few years ago, and have run training sessions on before. ‘Who Pastors the Pastor?‘ by Philip Jensen and Tony Payne. Again, it’s a long article worth reading. But here are some highlights:

On whether it is right to depend on other pastors to encourage your pastor:

  • Depending on other pastors to encourage your pastor creates an elite class that is inconsistent with Scripture. Of course, it is natural that people who have trained for the ministry together, or who have been associated in some way in the past, should turn to each other for advice and encouragement. But for a congregation to unload the spiritual care of their pastor onto his fellow professionals is extremely unwise. It places him in a different class, as if something more substantial than the application of the Word of God to his life is required. If the pastor does not confess his sins to, and receive encouragement from, his ‘laymen’, an unbiblical hierarchy is created.

On who in the end should pastor the pastor:

  • The congregation should pastor their pastor. This is not only in keeping with the emphasis of the New Testament, but is far more practical. The congregation is in the best position to care for their pastor. In the web of personal relationships between a pastor and the members of his congregation, there is ample opportunity for sharing spiritual things, for encouragement and for rebuke. The congregation will be aware of their pastor’s shortcomings and will be able to help him through them in a way that no outsider could.

On the obstacles to this sort of mutual encouragement:

The pastor:

  • …the pastor himself can prevent his own spiritual nurture. Too many pastors lock themselves away, spiritually speaking, by being unable or unwilling to receive the ministry of others.
  • Those who carry the Word of God to others can easily fall into the trap of always teaching it, but never listening to it.
  • Many pastors find it impossible to receive the ministry of others because of their own insecurities… The pastor may feel that if he reveals too much of himself, he may be seen as a weak leader, and lose control. As a result, he holds it all in and discourages others from taking the initiative.
  • Pastors are encouraged along this path by the whinging and criticism that they so often bear. Everybody knows how to run the church, and the constant griping tends to drive the pastor back into his shell. He protects himself by refraining from any kind of interaction at this level.
  • Another problem for the pastor is the sheer number of people who might minister to him. He is known by all, and his foibles and shortcomings are seen by all, and members usually feel they have the right to comment on them – mostly to each other, but sometimes to the pastor himself.
  • [When] a pastor accepts the mantle of [many impossible and often unspoken] expectations [in their ministry] and fails to meet them (as he inevitably will) he begins to hide. His guilt becomes a barrier between him and his congregation. He will not open up to them… for fear that they will see his ‘double life’.

The congregation:

  • [Members of the congregation can often be reluctant to approach their pastor – sometimes out of an appropriate reverence for those who have been placed over us in the Lord, however…] …it is more usually the result  of an inappropriate elevation of the pastor onto some super-spiritual pedestal. Many congregations regard their pastor as a breed apart, rather than as a fellow heir of the kingdom, who is as much in need of care and spiritual nurture as all of us.
  • But perhaps the chief reason for congregations failing to pastor their pastors is that they don’t know how. Even if the congregation is willing and the pastor is open, it is still hard to work out how to do it effectively.

At this point I’d love to copy and paste the five suggestions outlined by Jensen and Payne, but I won’t as I think it’ll breach copyright – and I would like to encourage everyone who loves and cares for their pastor to click through and read it for yourself.

So let us know in the comments below – if you’re a minister, what has been some of the most encouraging things your congregation has done for you to spur you on in ministry? If you’re a congregation member, what’s one thing you’d like to do for your Pastor to encourage them more?

No Winners: Applebee’s, Pastor Bell, and Jesus

This is really a lesson on life in a social media world.

A Pastor eats at a well known American restaurant chain. Her table of six rang up a bill of $34.93, on top of which an 18% gratuity (tip) was automatically added, which amounted to $6.29. Pastor Bell then scratches out the tip, writes ‘0’ in it’s place, and then adds ‘I give God 10%, why do you get 18’ before signing off ‘Pastor Alois Bell’. Another waitress, who didn’t serve this table, takes a photo and posts it in all it’s glory and traceable detail on Reddit. The photo goes somewhat viral, landing 4000 comments in a few hours. People track down the pastor, who then complains to Applebee’s. Applebee’s fires the waitress who posted the photo.

And then all hell breaks loose. You can read about it here.

So let’s sum it all up:

Applebee’s loses because by all accounts this turns into a PR nightmare. Did they do the right thing? Yes. Even though the waitress claims she did nothing wrong according to the guidelines, common sense dictates that you don’t take any client information (like receipts) and publish them. Have they handled it well? Probably not. A brief glance at their Facebook profile suggests that Applebee’s has been swamped by the response – and that their own response puts blame back on their guest. Threats of boycotts if the waitress is not reinstated litter the comments.

Pastor Bell loses because not only was she tracked down, but her initial response inflamed the situation further. If she had let it slide, it may have blown over. If she had talked to Applebee’s and sought to reconcile with the waitress, that might have made for an interesting follow up post. But her actual response set the ball rolling and has brought unwelcome attention to her and her apparently 15 “strong” flock, which apparently has dwindled since (point 8 here).

But the biggest loser: Jesus. It’s not hard to see that in all of this the name of Christ has been raked through the muck.

Life in a social media world – where a rash decision to scrawl something like this ends up with everybody losing.

Fellow shepherds, may our personal and public lives reflect a standard becoming of our great Shepherd.

QTC Reflections

It’s coming up to Christmas shortly and I got an early present: my results from this semester’s studies. And the results are good, so I finally graduate after what has been, honestly, three of the best years of my life so far. Spending hours and hours each week studying and being trained to think through God’s Word will, I hope, produce a fruitful life of ministry.

Recently I’ve been greatly encouraged by the increasing number of people in my circles who are interested in and seriously considering theological education. While I don’t think study is for everyone, I generally wholeheartedly encourage study for those who are willing, able and available.

After three years here are some of my reflections on my time at College. Some useful, some slightly more trite. Over the coming years I will most likely expand upon these as ministry and theology meet with experience. But the following few points I hope will be an encouragement and food for thought for those considering the jump.

Learn to see that godly people will disagree, and that’s OK.

I’m speaking specifically about non-crucial matters of faith and salvation. Whether in writing or in person, people will disagree. There are some further things to say on this:

  • Take care not to overplay theological dominoes, aka the slippery slope argument – just because you might hold a particular view doesn’t necessarily mean you also believe some of the logical out-workings of that view (ie, holding to an old earth view of creation doesn’t automatically mean you’re an evolutionist).
  • Learn what hills are worth dying on – there are lots of fights to fight in theological studies, but most of them are not fights people fight in church on Sunday – so learn what it is that you’ll fight for, and what it is you’re willing to leave for the sake of relationships and ministry.

Learn to live with tension

A common error in biblical interpretation is to so focus on or emphasise one view that it becomes detrimental to another equally valid view. Quite a number of tensions exist in scripture not because of its ambiguity but because of its clarity, and it appears that scripture is happy to live with these tensions (eg. the debate over the extent of Christ’s atonement). So be careful of overstating your case to the detriment of what scripture actually says.

Another common error in relation to this is presenting arguments in a false dichotomy. It’s annoying when you’re reading through some material and they’ve caricatured a closely held doctrine. So don’t be hasty in your presentation of an argument. Do it honestly and faithfully, that your ‘enemy’ would sit there listening to you and agree with your presentation.

Grow a robust view of scripture

Quite often our reading of scripture is pretty narrow. By this I mean we tend to usually take the literal meaning of a text at face value and move on. My three years at College have taught me that scripture is more robust: it invites us to pause more often to consider how it should be read and applied.

Faithfulness does not necessarily equate to a narrow reading of scripture – artistry and beauty are two lenses which give equally (sometimes more) satisfying explanations of some difficult texts. This takes more time and effort, but is worth it.

Why so serious?

One of the best pieces of advice I heard early at College was from a long-term ministry worker who said he had learnt in his time to ‘harden up theologically, but soften up relationally’. He had learnt that we shouldn’t treat our relationships like we treat theology: calculated, dispassionately and theoretically. So while I would say that you must take theology seriously, you yourself are not ‘theology’ so don’t be so serious!

Along with this, use College Missions not just as an avenue to serve churches, but as an opportunity to build friendships and networks that will last you into ministry. It took me three missions to learn this, don’t waste yours.

Non-College Activity

It surprised me during my final year that many people did not have clear interests or hobbies. I want to argue that it’s good to develop outside interests while at College. Things that can help you unwind and take your mind off ministries, things that can help you relate to others on a different level and things that you might be able to build a creative ministry around. So get into it!

Learn to Read Scripture Pastorally

Essays are at once a challenging and rewarding exercise while at College. You’ll have very few opportunities in ministry life to research and write to the same depth as you do during studies. But it comes at a price as it’s widely reported that most people coming out of College tend to write their sermons like they write their essays.

So while you’re writing your essays keep an eye on your clarity. Take the time during your studies to ensure that you know how to clearly put forward an argument in your essay, and translate that to your teaching generally.

Finally, as you’re reading through your essays take some time out to think through the question pastorally. This may not work for every essay, but for most of them some pastoral reflection will do your heart much good, and it will keep you thinking about how God’s word speaks to yourself and to others.

 

There are my thoughts. If you’re a recent graduate or have been in ministry a few years, what would you add?