Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Ultimate Goal for Pastors’ and Elders’ Ministry

The ultimate goal of pastors and elders in a God-ordained ministry is  to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12) through the faithful exercise of their gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12) in order to form Jesus Christ in the local community of God’s people through love (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; 4:13; Col. 1:22-29; 1 Thess. 3:11-13; 1 Tim. 1:5).

A further biblical objective for pastors and elders is to form Jesus Christ in the local church so that the body becomes one new and mature man who lives in the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13), in an intimate full-knowledge of Jesus that fosters a deep love for and full imitation of Christ (Eph. 4:13), and who lives in the truth that is spoken and expressed through love (Eph. 4:15).


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Filed under The Perfect Pastor? (book excerpts)

Is My Pastor Qualified?

The following is the first chapter in my book, The Perfect Pastor?

Daniel’s head was buried in his hands, elbows sunk into his knees when the part-time secretary bolted into the office. “I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I didn’t mean to interrupt your praying.”

Practically in tears the thirty-seven-year-old pastor dismissed her interruption with a polite, “No problem. What do you need?”  Melissa was impressed that Dan was so passionate in his prayers, but he felt guilty for not being honest enough to correct her.  He was not praying; he was wallowing in pity and self-doubt about his role as pastor.

“Ms. Dumpleton is here to see you again. She’s pretty upset.”   When isn’t she? Dan thought.  The woman was the bewitched Gladys Kravitz, Little House’s Harriet Oleson  and Cinderella’s wicked step-mother balled up into one powerful matriarch of the church. The silver-haired woman made a fortune being a tough businesswoman, and wielded all kinds of influence because of it, and because her family’s long history in town.  Since she inherited the town’s original hardware store that serviced nearly all county contractors, her deep pockets financed the construction of the picturesque facility, complete with red brick, white pillars and a handsome steeple.  Given that she financed the loan for the acreage and built the structure with her money, she believed she was entitled to respect, which in her dictionary meant power and control.  She was an example of what G. Lloyd Rediger wrote, “A general sense of entitlement is growing in the church, as well as in society.  Church members feel entitled to comfort and privilege.  If a pastor does not  please them, they feel free to criticize and punish.  The business mentality that pervades the church says if the CEO (pastor) does not produce, he should be fired” (1997, p. 20).

Her heels hammered the creaky wood floor until she came to the office door.  Irma Dumpleton impatiently barged in, barreling, “Mr. Lee! Mr. Lee, I tried all day yesterday to get you.  Where were you?”

“Yesterday was my only day off, Ms. Dumpleton,” he replied with restraint.

“Well, I left you plenty of messages and you should have returned them.  Pastors are supposed to be available any time they are needed!” she rebuked as if he was one of her young employees.  She had no time to sit, and as usual got right to the punch line. “I’m here to tell you that my brother is finally going to deal with you!  Everyone is disappointed in you.  It’s about time something is done about your inability to pastor this church!”  That was nothing new.  In fact it was almost a mantra with the woman.  For some reason, about every ten days, she had this apparent need to make clear the pastor’s job description or his failures.  She insisted on telling him at the office because he successfully avoided her after church on Sunday.  Without waiting for him to reply, not that his reply was important to her, she announced that her brother was going to deal with him at the elders’ next meeting.  Her brother was an important elder, she reminded him.  Having done her duty she rushed out as quickly as she blustered in.

He got up from his desk and pulled on the new door knob.  The old wood door meowed until it was firmly shut.  He didn’t know whether to throw something and cuss or have an emotional meltdown.  He chose to sulk in a stupor.  It was barely twenty minutes when the matriarch’s brother called.  “Yes, Mr. Dumpleton?  What can I do for you today?” the minister said with all the composure he could muster.  Bernie Dumpleton had served as elder for over forty years.  In fact, he was a founding member of the church.  Most of the members feared the Dumpletons.

Even though Bernie Dumpleton had a dry sense of humor and seemed personable enough, he was controlling and critical.  He nearly always got his way.  “The elders and I have been talking.  We just want you to know that your preaching is not good and it is certainly not great.  What we need in the pulpit is a great preacher.  So we have a plan. I’m going to teach you how to preach.  I’m going to teach you good grammar because your grammar is terrible.  The elders will critique you on a weekly basis.  You will submit your sermons to me, I will edit them, and you will then preach what we approve. Later in the week the elders and I will meet with you to tell you how to better communicate.  Now, we hope this plan is acceptable to you.  We will discuss it Thursday night.  Do you have any questions?”

Too stunned to respond, Dan automatically replied, “Not at this time.”

“Very well. Good day!”

I would have never thought pastoring would be such a challenge, Dan thought.  He wondered what happened to his long-held dream.  No sooner had Dan become a Christian when he had this impulse to be a pastor.  He could visualize doing what his first pastor did:  preaching, discipling, teaching, counseling, spending time with people, serving others, and helping to oversee church activities.  Other pastors he personally knew seemed to make a difference, and he wanted his life to make a difference too; an eternal difference.  Those pastors were also as happy and fulfilled as his first pastor.  Their lives and ministries made a big impression on Dan, so that the more he thought about becoming one the more excited he got.

Years later his dream came true.  Dan was filled with exhilaration when his first church called him to serve.  He entered the pastorate thinking he could have an incredible impact upon the lives of the church members, and take the town for Jesus.  He worked tirelessly and enthusiastically at his sermons, Sunday School and Bible study lessons, along with all of the other pastoral tasks.  When his dream fell apart after four years, he was crushed.  He was ready to give up his passion altogether.  However, a new opportunity availed itself, and Dan believed the second church could not be any more challenging than the first.  So he took it.  But thanks to people like Irma and Bernie he was dead wrong.

At first Irma’s abrupt imposition and Bernie’s arrogant dictate stunned him.  Now Dan was hot.  With his secretary next door and others within earshot, he confined his tirade to the arena of his mind.  What to do?  He is supposed to be submissive to his fellow elders, but this did not seem right.  On the surface it appeared they were well- intentioned, yet he doubted his preaching was that bad.

Dan walked the half block home for lunch.  There his wife prodded him into revealing why he was so obviously angry.  Dan was not in the habit of bringing such matters home, but under this latest challenge he gave in.  She tried to comfort her Danny, but he didn’t want comfort.  He wanted action.  As far as he was concerned the old man’s apparent display of pious aid was really camouflaged manipulation.  After inhaling half of his meal he escaped to the home office and called the first of three seasoned pastors.  No answer, so he shot off a two-page email describing the recent encounters.  He sent another email to his pastor friend and mentor before dialing the third man.  Thankfully he reached his old pastor and was calmed by the discussion.  His counsel seemed wise, but Daniel would wait for replies from the others before formulating any action plan.

Late that evening he heard from the other pastors.  Each had a different perspective on the matter, but all agreed on the crucial points.  First, this was indeed a form of manipulation, and if the pastor gave in, he would forever after be expected to cater to the Bernie’s and the other elders’ every wish and whim.  So Dan could not submit to them in this way.  Secondly, he needed to demonstrate humility by admitting that he was not a great preacher.  That he knew.  It was, in fact, a major part of his personal turmoil as pastor.  Third, he needed to formulate and present a counter plan.  Such an admission would show he agreed with the need for improvement, though not on their terms.  None of Dan’s advisors had ever heard of an elder editing or rewriting the sermons for the pastor.  Unable to sleep, Dan put on paper an alternate plan, and the approach he would take at the elders’ meeting.

A short night of sleep does not make it easy to grasp the obvious or to evaluate things with a level perspective.  Daniel tried hard anyway.  He mentally rehearsed similar events of his five years as an ordained minister.

When the embattled man settled into his desk chair he picked up the page Melissa had typed for him.  She was a very organized and efficient part-time secretary.  The twenty-five-year-old single woman grew up in town and stayed after graduating from the local community college to help her widowed mother.  She often typed excerpts from books or magazines that Dan had highlighted to help him with his research or sermons.  The page was what he had been reading the day before when he was interrupted.  It was on the state of the contemporary American pastorate, and it astounded him.  He read that each month over 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to conflict in churches, burnout or moral failure.  Eighty percent of Bible school or seminary graduates leave the ministry within the first five years of entering.  Half of all pastors are so discouraged and disillusioned with ministry would seek other work if they could.  A majority of pastors believe they are unqualified, and overworked.  Most believe they did not receive the kind of training really needed to pastor in today’s church (Arnold, 2002; Wolfe, 2004).  “Man, I can relate!” Dan mumbled to himself.

As a whole the previous congregation had no problems with Dan’s sermons.  With the exception of one family and regular Sunday complaints from two well-meaning men most of the people seemed to receive his messages well and were challenged or comforted by them.  The two men were on opposite sides of a theological debate on preaching.  The one man complained Dan did not have enough law or application.  The other carped on Dan for using application.  After all, preaching with application was supposedly usurping the Holy Spirit’s role.

The local leadership at his first pastorate failed to inform the new kid on the block of their philosophy of ministry, but neither had Dan asked.  Since that experience, Dan learned that it is good to come to the interview at a prospective church with a list of hard questions (see Appendix A).  Meeting after meeting the church leadership revealed the kinds of ministries or programs acceptable to them, but very few were acceptable to Dan.  Nevertheless, he figured that over time he would change his views and comply with their desires, they would change their views and comply with his, or both parties would come to a compromise.  He was a poor mathematician.  During that time they informed him that his vision and mission for the church was wrong.  This amused him since he formulated the vision and mission largely from notes he took at seminary, which they respected, and a book on the church by Edmund Clowney (1995), whom they admired.  He ended up leaving because neither side would change their views of ministry.

One intervening denominational leader determined that it was a case of bad leadership on Dan’s part.  At a meeting of the oversight board an elder told him, “You know, some men aren’t cut out to be pastors.”  The implication was obvious.  The chair of the oversight board tried hard to steer the discussion in a different direction, but the insinuation seemed clear: Dan was not competent enough to be a pastor, and as an appointed leader he was a big reason for the church’s problems.  Months later in another meeting, they surprised him by asking him to resign.

Dan and his family came to Grace Church with high hopes and expectations.  It was a new start.  A little less idealistic, he still expected things would go well, particularly since the candidating process, a unanimous vote and a great installation service appeared to indicate a good and long term of service.  In spite of these foretastes, he quickly learned about clusters of people with allegiances to former pastors, and about the critical spirit among the leadership and a small, but vocal faction.  Dan was quickly measured against each and every one of the previous pastors and fell short on many, many points.  He did not preach like any of them, and certainly lacked the quality of those radio and television celebrities.  He did not lead like Pastor S., or teach as well as Pastor B.  There was no question he was not the door-to-door evangelist like Pastor K.

Even though Dan allowed the jibes and cuts to get him down, he came to his senses when his wife wisely posed, “If all those previous pastors were so great, and this church is so fantastic, then why aren’t any of them here today?  Why have so many pastors come and gone over the years?  Danny boy, I don’t think it’s all about you.”

Still, it was not easy to be the brunt of relentless criticisms, deserved or otherwise.  Neither was it easy to have 6 percent of the congregation behaving as if the church was theirs to own and rule.

Monday was fun day.  Tuesday was quiet and productive administratively.  A pastoral visit was planned.  Dan would take along his young seminary intern.  After a delightful supper and a slice of Mona’s heavenly, pudding-saturated devil’s food cake Dan kissed the children good night and took off for the visit.  It was his goal to visit a family a week in their home, but it turned out more realistic to visit two a month.  He often went alone, though from time to time one of the other elders went with him.  The elders frequently reminded him that a good shepherd visits once a week and expressed disappointment when he did not.  They even suggested visiting two families in one night.  Dan tried that but found people liked to talk longer than the allotted thirty minutes.  Besides, he was more interested in getting to know the people than merely marking off one of his assigned duties.  Twenty minutes accomplished little other than to read a verse, pray and offer a few platitudes.  It did not count for the elders that he and Mona got to know people when they hosted at least one family a week in their home for supper or dessert.

Thus far, pastoral visits had gone well and were enjoyable.  It did provide him some insight into the home life, which was often much different than what he witnessed at church.  Dan learned from the pastor under whom he interned how to conduct a pastoral visit.  He would go to each home in a role like that of a physician to conduct a spiritual checkup.  He used a form he kept tucked in his personal Bible that he would fill out right after the visit (see Appendix B). It was a form he compiled from his internship lessons (Pipa, 1995).

If applicable, Pastor Dan would address the children first to get a sense of who and what they are and to assess, if possible, their spiritual condition.  He would ask them about their walk with God, life at school, any interests, and if they had any questions of the pastor.  Dan would pray for them and then dismiss them so he could have a relatively private time with the parent(s).  If the husband or father was present he would start with him, inquiring about his spiritual condition, how he spent his Sundays, whether or not he was pastoring his family, meaning whether he led in family devotions, had times of prayer with them, taught them spiritual truths, etc.  Afterward he’d inquire about other essential matters.  Then the pastor would turn his attention to the wife or mother and ask her relevant questions.

Of course every family unit, as they are called, is different.  A visit could be with a single person (not yet married, never married or widowed), a single mother with children or a single father with children, and so forth.  Dan could learn a significant amount from a good home visit.  Just by observing the home environment he could often tell their socio-economic condition, their material priorities, which side of the neat and organized scale they fell on, among other things.  At the end of the visit, which normally ran an hour, Dan asked if there were any questions or concerns for him. Then he would read an applicable passage of Scripture, close in prayer, and ask God’s blessing upon the person or family.

This evening was a pastoral visit with a middle-aged couple.  There he found himself the target of a barrage of criticisms.  He was thankful that the church’s pastoral intern was with him to witness it.  What!  Do I look like I have a bull’s eye plastered on my chest? he yelled in his mind.  After addressing their personal problems, he dared to ask, “Do you have any questions or concerns about the state of the church?”

The firing commenced.

“You’re making changes you have no right to make!” she pronounced.   It was not right that he moved a table to the foyer or that the pastor’s office was being remodeled.

“Why are those problems?”

“Because that’s the pastor’s office!” she replied as if he were stupid.

Dumbfounded, he sputtered, “But, I am the pastor!”

“Hrumph!” she muttered.   Apparently it did not matter that the office hadn’t been painted in years or that the old desk had not been cleaned out in over twenty-five. “Who gave you permission to change the pastor’s office anyway?”

“Well… I am the pastor, you know.  The elders said I could paint it and bring in the new furniture.”

Still miffed and with her knuckles pressed hard into her sides she shot back, “They didn’t talk to me about it!  They should have asked the congregation first.  How much did all that stuff cost anyway?”

Looking at the furrowed frown on her round face, Dan thought how sad it was for such a pleasant looking woman to turn into something ugly.  The woman had naturally rosy cheeks, fair features free from the ravages of teenage hormones, with a medium cut of russet colored hair.  Dan’s wife, ever the diplomat who had no beef with the woman, described her as “pleasantly plump.”   “Katrina,” he spoke softly and deliberately, “All the furniture in the freshly painted, newly organized office is mine, with the exception of the new desk.”

Katrina immediately changed channels. “You don’t seem like a pastor. Are you even qualified?  Because you are not like any other pastor we’ve had before.” she protested.

“Well, I myself don’t like how you preach,” Al shot off.

“Why is that?” Dan asked.

“Because you preach like a Baptist!”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know; maybe because you show emotion or something.  And you keep moving out from behind the pulpit. You’re not supposed to do that!  All I know is that I don’t like it.”

After two hours Dan asked the intern to close in prayer, where after the two found their own way out.

“Wow! Some meeting that was,” sighed Dan’s partner.

“More like a beating,” Dan laughed, though his heart ached.

“Are all pastoral visits like that?” the student worried.

“No, not all. But if you are going to be a pastor, an elder or a deacon with any official role in the church you better be prepared to have a fair share of these kinds of ‘beatings.’” Dan chuckled.  “I had five wonderful visits in a row and left pretty encouraged with how those people were doing.  But then enter into hostile territory and come out wounded.  The battles and scars are the ones you tend to remember.”

“And learn from the most?”

“And often learn from the most!”

Wednesday was rewarding as a counseling session went well for one of the members. The evening Bible study was filled with great fellowship and challenging questions.  Yet when the Thursday night meeting coasted in, anxiety overtook him.  Daniel determined to remain calm but assertive.  The meeting opened according to protocol with Scripture reading and prayer.  Items on the agenda were systematically addressed as usual.  The matter of his preaching was at the end of the meeting.

Undeterred, Bernie reiterated his idea of having Dan submit his sermons for Bernie to edit or rewrite, and to have the elders critique him on a regular basis.  At one point, Mr. Dumpleton said “Dan, your preaching is competent, but it is neither good nor great.  We want a great preacher in our pulpit.”  He then blurted rather matter-of-factly, “I don’t think you have it in you to be a great preacher!”

Joe, the younger but middle-aged elder, quickly intervened. “What he’s saying is that he doesn’t know what the Holy Spirit has in store for you.”  Dan ignored the obvious attempt at making peace.  “Are you willing to commit to our plan regarding your preaching?”

With his stomach in knots, Dan looked down at the table and paused.  “I’ll have you know that I have consulted with three other pastors around the country, and at a committee meeting this morning I talked with two additional pastors and an elder.  They all advised against submitting to your proposal.”

“So you won’t?” queried a very surprised Joe.

“No.  I am not one of your interns and refuse to be treated like one.”  This took the seven men totally off guard.  This plan of theirs was a practice they had established with a couple of their previous pastoral interns, though they had never required this of any previous pastor.  “I am not going to preach someone else’s sermons.  And I will not give messages each and every Sunday knowing they will be graded by men who have never had training in preaching, or in public speaking for that matter.  Do you know how distracting it is to preach to critics?  Even friendly ones?  Often you end up focusing upon the process, the gestures, the articulation, the phrasing and grammar, the content, or how the judge is going to score.  It limits the freedom to preach the Word to the congregation.  No, I will not do it that way!”

Still somewhat astounded Joe sternly asked, “Are you so proud as to believe you have arrived at the pinnacle of your preaching capabilities?”

Dan, holding his emotions in check, responded, “Do you men know how I long to be a great preacher?  Do you really believe I think I have arrived?  You don’t know how I struggle every day to grow, and not just in my preaching!  I will never arrive at the pinnacle no matter how hard I strive.  There is not a Sunday where I do not fear going into the pulpit because I am gripped with the burden of responsibility to preach to those souls in front of me.  You don’t know how often I agonize over this matter, how often I am tempted to throw in the towel!  I am well aware that I am not a great preacher.  It didn’t take Bernie to tell me.  But neither am I a bad preacher.  Seminary professors gave me A’s, my pastor during the internship said I was a strong communicator, and my sermons passed the scrutiny of the ordination exams.”

Now in a soft voice Joe responded, “I didn’t realize how hurt you would be by this.”  Joe asked forgiveness for being insensitive toward Daniel.  He was forgiven.

“I said I will not accept your proposal.  However, please consider this one,” Dan said as he gave each one of the elders a handout.  It was a rigorous one-year plan to improve his preaching.  It involved reading at least two books on preaching a month, subscribing to preaching magazines, and submitting one sermon a month to respected pastors around the country for their input.  It also gave the elders the occasion, on a quarterly basis, to formally critique a sermon and provide useful suggestions using an objective evaluation form (Pipa, 1995b; Schuringa, 1995) (see Appendix C).  Additionally, the plan included a proposal for Dan to return to seminary to take advanced classes in communication and preaching.

Each man studied the plan without comment.  Dan continued, “As you see, this plan to improve my preaching involves you elders.  However, each elder of this session must also engage in a program for self-improvement.”  Two of them nodded in agreement.  “Each one of you must also read and study the topic of preaching.  You cannot be in a position to judge anyone’s preaching without a standard for measuring it.  You must also commit to more serious, diligent and frequent prayers for the preaching of the Word.  Without it, all other attempts at improvement could be futile.” Dan was surprised at the willingness of the men to adopt the proposed arrangement.  Bernie made no comment.

On a roll he added, “I am already in the process of sending sermon tapes to these other pastors.  You will see their responses when I get them.  I predict that each will have a different response.”  Dan admonished the men to find a credible standard against which to assess preaching and to avoid personal preferences.  In the past, Bernie had made it clear that Dan needed to become like the previous pastor whom he considered the best preacher alive.  A short discussion ensued about the various philosophies of preaching.

“You see,” Dan added, “I don’t believe we disagree on the philosophy or theology of preaching, but we do on the style and form. What do we do then?  How would you determine what style is best?  Do you see what I am getting at?”  Several nodded in the affirmative.  “Isn’t the bottom line,” Dan summarized, “whether the preacher is faithful to the text and whether the preaching ministry results in changed lives for Christ?”

The elders formally accepted the plan.  Joe even admitted the plan was much more thorough than theirs.  While things seemed to be resolved, Dan had an uneasy sense that the differences in method of preaching and philosophy of ministry would continue.

At home with his wife, Dan rehearsed some of what happened at the meeting.  He went to bed exhausted, but satisfied that the counsel of many was fruitful.  Friday morning Dan reported to the other pastors about the meeting.  Each was pleased, but warned that Bernie would probably continue to take charge if he wasn’t appropriately confronted.

By Friday afternoon Dan was on-line placing an order for books on preaching by Haddon Robinson and Jay Adams, and subscribing to two magazines.  Copies of the previous Sunday’s sermon were mailed off to ten different pastors around the country with an explanation and a request for their critique.  Dan also retrieved sermon evaluation forms used in seminary and emailed a revision to each of the elders (see Appendix C).  He asked them to randomly pick a Sunday each quarter without his knowledge and use the form to assess content, structure, order, flow, presentation, articulation, and so forth.  He invited them to put the quarterly assessment on the elders’ meeting agenda when they were ready.

On Sunday morning two of the elders appeared relaxed, but Bernie’s body language said he was still the antagonist.  It was hard for Daniel to ignore Bernie shaking his head, rolling his eyes, and frowning.

Dan’s tact was to seek out and serve those in need, in part because that was what he was called to do, and in part because he enjoyed helping others especially if they learned the grace of receiving and began to find resolution in loving, redemptive ministry.  He also enjoyed it because he happened to realize that serving others kept him away from pity parties.  He learned that among the needy are those where extra grace is required (EGR).  With them he had to increase the volume of kindness, mercy, compassion and wisdom.  Those EGRs have a tendency to absorb and take everything from others often without any returns.  If a servant is not careful, EGRs can draw him or her down like a black hole.  Dan learned the hard way that these folks would consume all the time, energy and even material resources if he let them.  All one can do is serve kindly and graciously, but also very wisely.  The hard lessons humbled him to where he finally accepted the fact that he is not their Savior.  So, he deliberately limited the time and energies he expended with the very needy and focused those limited resources on discipling people who wanted change, growth, maturity, and to serve others.  That, after all, was the pattern of Jesus.

Dan also learned to surround himself with encouragers and those who were authentic about their own sins and failures as well as their strengths and blessings.  He intentionally hooked arms with men and women who served more than were served, who spoke the truth with love, and who knew the joy of Christ and relished life.  He fully appreciated and needed the spiritually mature, not merely because of the blessing of mutual benefit, or merely because it bolstered and energized his ministry, but because he knew that one tends to take on the characteristics of those whose company one keeps.  Maturity means thinking less about yourself and more about others.  Maturity is about loving God and others at least as much as you love yourself.  As he explained to a group of teens at a snow-filled winter camp, “Obviously, babies are the most immature.  Nobody is going to argue with that.  What is it about them that defines immaturity?  Their self-centered absorption.  It’s all about them!  Me-me-me-me-me!  As they grow they begin to see that life is not all about them.  The more they think about and love others the less self-absorbed and baby-like they are.  But what happens when you have a person in a grown up body who chooses to keep the emotional thinking and behavior of a baby?  Not a pretty picture.  In fact, self-centered immaturity in an adult body is down right ugly!  I mean, who likes to see a grown person in a bonnet and dirty diaper throwing a temper tantrum?  The more your life is concerned for others the more mature you are.  God calls us to become mature like Jesus Christ.  What kind of maturity is that?  Jesus tells us, when he says, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as you love yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-38).

Daniel spent his Monday working on household chores but thinking through the months at Grace Church since he accepted the call.  Mondays are often down days for pastors, having been drained mentally, emotionally and many times physically the day before.  People don’t often realize how much energy an average pastor expends each Sunday doing the various works of service.  Some studies have reported that the calories burned up through an hour’s worth of public communication is comparable to that of an hour’s worth of physical exertion, such as playing a rigorous game of football.  So when Monday rolls around the minister is usually spent and needs refueling.  That is why exhausted Mondays can be days of illness or depression.

Questions began to haunt Dan.  He was satisfied the right course of action was taken, and in his heart of hearts he was not spiteful.  But were the elders right to say he was being proud by not submitting to them?  What is the true nature of elder authority?  How is it they could judge his character like they did?  Did Bernie have the right to make demands and order the pastor around or tell others in the congregation what to do, even if he was a founding member and the oldest of the elders?  At what point does a pastor or elder lord it over others?  What pastoral job description were they working from?

Serious doubts smothered Dan once again and he found himself slipping into despair. Maybe Irma, Bernie, Katrina and others like them were correct?  Perhaps he wasn’t qualified, or if qualified then not competent.   Providentially Daniel picked up an article written by Ken Sande of Peacemakers Ministry.  In Strike the Shepherd, Ken presented more “sobering statistics:

  • 23 percent of all current pastors in the United States have been fired or forced to resign in the past.
  • 45 percent of the pastors who were fired in one denomination left ministry altogether.
  • 34 percent of all pastors presently serve congregations that forced their previous pastor to resign.
  • The average pastoral career lasts only fourteen years – less than half of what it was not long ago.
  • 24 percent of the churches in one survey reported conflict in the previous five years that was serious enough to have a lasting impact on congregational life.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their assignments every month in the United States because of conflict, burnout, or moral failure (2004, p.1).

The article went on to state that surveys “reveal that the most common causes for

forced exits include:

  • The church already being conflicted when the pastor arrives
  • A lack of unity and the presence of factions in the church
  • Conflicting visions for the church
  • A church’s resistance to change
  • Power and control struggles
  • Personality conflicts
  • Poor people skills on the part of the pastor
  • Conflict over leadership styles
  • Dissatisfaction with the pastor’s performance
  • Theological differences.

All of these reasons for forced exits can be summarized in one word: conflict. When a pastor is forced out of ministry, it is usually because he has been unsuccessful at resolving differences with other people in his church” (p. 1).

Dan seriously wondered if he was going to share the experience of so many other pastors he had known, read or heard about and be forced to leave?  At this point his emotions told him to flee, but the good counsel of Jay Adams years before resonated in his head: “Never make a major decision when you are depressed, or if you are a pastor, on Mondays!”  Besides, it was not in Daniel’s nature to quit.

Though it was hard for him to hide his emotions, he could not let on to anyone, except perhaps his wife, that he was this discouraged.  It wasn’t that long ago at an elders meeting that the elders rebuked him for showing stress.  As was their habit they waited until after the agenda had been covered before bringing up a “concern.”  Dan was beginning to hate that word because the elders used it so often.

Their concern was that not only had they noticed, but the deacons and others had noticed he exhibiting signs of stress.  “Leaders don’t show stress.  You aren’t being a good example of a leader if you show you are under stress.  What could possibly be so stressful for you?” asked Joe.

“For one, this very meeting is stressful.  Accusing me of just one more thing is stressful.”

“It’s not right that people should be coming to us and asking about your condition.”

“No, you are absolutely right.  It isn’t good for people to come to you and talk to you about me.  If they are so concerned, they should be coming directly to me, and you should be instructing them to speak with me about it first.”

“Well, it’s not good leadership.  What are you going to do about it?” Joe pursued.

“You know…”  Dan started, pretty exasperated.  He took a deep breath and then sighed slowly.  He shook his head, looked at each of the elders, then turned to his accuser and said, “You know why you are only adding to the stress or discouragement or depression or whatever you want to call it?  Because you come accusing me, rather than coming along side me as fellow brothers in the Lord or fellow elders in the ministry.  You could have come privately to me and said, ‘Dan, we noticed you’re under stress.  Is there anything wrong?  Is there anything we can do to help you or encourage you?’  But no, instead you sit as my judges, make your accusations and then demand I straighten up because you are afraid I am giving off a bad impression of what a leader is.  This is disgusting!”

Nothing was resolved at that meeting.  The elders never did ask why Dan seemed so discouraged nor did they offer to find ways to encourage him.  In fact, they didn’t even pray for him.

He wished he had Larry Michael’s statement with him at that meeting:

Many Christian leaders become discouraged.  The work doesn’t go as one imagines, the church doesn’t grow as one desires, lay leaders won’t cooperate with one’s leadership, people are excessively critical, or finances are down.  The list goes on and on.  Someone said that discouragement is the occupational hazard of the ministry, and Spurgeon was no exception to this rule.  As successful as he was, he still experienced discouragement, and, in his case, it often deteriorated into depression.  He became so depressed at times that he could barely function.  In his lecture on ‘The Minister’s Fainting Fits,’ Spurgeon opened with these words: ‘As it is recorded that David, in the heat of battle, waxed faint.  So may it be written of all the servants of the Lord.  Fits of depression come over the most of us…The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy’ (2003, p. 191).

It probably would not have made a difference if Dan read them this or not.  To them he had failed in presenting a good image of a leader:  always up, always happy, always bright.  To them Dan had sinned, for stress and depression was clearly sinful.  He failed. And that was stressful

Once again Daniel found himself on the phone calling his mentor.


The Perfect Pastor? (Xulon Press, 1997)

A humorous and poignant, this engaging book uses Biblical insights to illuminate the relationship between pastors and church members. It is a must-read for any churchgoer, ministry leader, or student.

ISBN-13: 978-1602666566

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Book: 20 Controversies That Almost Killed a Church

20 Controversies That Almost Killed a Church was written by Richard L. Ganz, a former conservative Jewish man who came to faith in Jesus Christ over thirty years ago.  He considers himself a recovering psychologist, having left the field in order to attend Westminster Theological Seminary and become a pastor. He now pastors a thriving church in Canada, which in turn is responsible for planting many others. Along with pastoring and planting churches, Rich is a husband, father, biblical counselor, conference speaker and author.  I enjoy his books, have appreciated his insights, and especially appreciated his help as a friend over the years. You can read more at

As I normally do, here are excerpts from this particular book which resonated with me:

“Not many were of noble birth,” Paul wrote.  The inscriptions on the catacombs, where early Roman believers hid from persecution, showed that the church was constituted of the lower classes of society. The philosopher Celsus wrote toward the end of the second century that Christians “are the most vulgar, the most uneducated of persons.  They are like frogs holding a symposium around a swamp, or worms convening in mud.”  This Christian faith, which vanquished kingdoms over the centuries, was an army of the inconsequential. P. 35 – Richard L. Ganz: 20 Controversies That Almost Killed a Church

God shamed the wise and the strong.  He reproached the “things that are” (I Cor. 1:28).  The world says that people are great when they are intelligent or beautiful, talented or wealthy.  But God says that these characteristics count for nothing with him.  If you are proud of your gifts, then God says you are nothing.  He is no respecter of persons.  He chooses whomever he pleases.  It is important to get our priorities straight and see that the kingdom’s view of greatness is antithetical to the world’s view. P. 36

When this word envy is used in the Bible, it is speaking about depraved and corrupt activity that is fueled by rage and hatred, such as when it propelled Cain to murder Abel.  P. 48 

The Bible is clear, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing to do with him” (Titus 3:10).  Divisive people are individuals who cause divisions in the church.  They could be pleasant and popular folks, since divisiveness has nothing to do with personality.  It has to do with character.  There are those people who in their antagonism for a leader of the church, or their supposed esteem for a leader, will badmouth the rest.  Most people are so afraid to offend someone, even one who would divide and destroy the church, that they let such a person continue rather than confront that person and put him or her in a position to be disciplined by the church. P. 49

However, a quick look at the Scriptures reveals others [divisive behaviors of envy and strife which divide and ruin good churches], most notably grumbling and complaining. The most striking example in the Bible of this sin is the activity of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  They continually grumbled and complained against the leadership of Moses.  Numbers 16 said, “They rose up against Moses.  With them were two hundred fifty Israelite men.”  These men had contempt and disrespect for God’s ordained leadership, attitudes that could only kill and divide the congregation.  In this case, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram had gathered others in their cause.  When they came to Moses and presented their complaints, it sounded very spiritual, “You have gone too far, for the whole congregation is holy, every one of them.” P. 51

But this is not all—there is a related issue.  Inseparable to this is fault-finding, which like the previously mentioned sins can only divide the congregation as well.  When individuals start finding fault and taking these faults to others, it subverts and divides the work and the ministry of the congregation.  Even in the example concerning the leadership of Moses, which involved grumbling and complaining, there was fault-finding.  The attack against Moses was over presumed faults in his leadership.  He was supposedly not acknowledging the holiness of everyone in the congregation.  God did not view this accusation as positive criticism but as rebellion.  He quashed it immediately.

Observable in this foul example as well is backbiting.  When the grumblers and complainers went about their nasty business and found fault after fault, their next step was to backbite.  They didn’t let up on the supposed leadership weaknesses of Moses, and eventually they enlisted 250 of the leaders in the congregation to join in a rebellion to overthrow him.  Remember that the purpose of this rebellion was to get rid of Moses, because he didn’t elevate all of them (which of course would elevate none of them).  Rebels such as Korah are not interested in elevating everyone but only in elevating themselves.  Such is the way of grumblers, fault finders, complainers, and backbiters.  There is no room for them in the church.  They are not welcome, and their divisiveness is abominable, even if those who listen to it find it appealing.   Pp. 51-52

It is unfortunately rare to find a marriage in which the husband recognizes that he bears the responsibility of headship and exercises it in humility and love rather than in force and authoritarianism.  P. 155

I am tired of hearing that feminists are responsible for the breakdown of the family. We need to put responsibility where it belongs—on the heads of homes.  They have not been the loving heads that they were called to be by Christ, but rather, petty tyrants.  P. 155

Where prophets spoke divine revelation, which became the corpus of the Scriptures, we can say this function of the prophetic office is closed, that prophecy in this sense has ceased, because the final revelatory Word of Christ is spoken.  As Hebrews 1:1 says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets…, but in these last days he has spoken” (the aorist tense of “has spoken” would mean “finally, fully and definitively”).  Pp. 177-178

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Book: Jesus the Pastor

Jesus the Pastor by John W. Frye offers relatively decent material and insights for those who are pastors or have leadership in some ministry.  Here are some things from the book that intrigued or resonated with me:

The favorite quote from this book is, ‘Jesus Christ defined teaching as training for a way of life, not as transferring information from one mind to another. “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher’ (Luke 6:40).” P. 116

Good concepts and principles that are certainly applicable to pastors, but also good for anyone in a leadership position.

I guard this vital truth [each individual is made in the image of God and, therefore, has worth] each time I receive persons, no matter who they are and where they are, into my life and engage them on their terms in a respectful and hopefully redemptive, but never contrived, conversation. We must become masters of ordinary “small talk” if we want to be good pastors. Heilsgeschichte (salvation history) comes in talk about simple things like wind and water, not in heady talk about Hebrew scrolls and Greek parchments.
P. 30 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

Did I secretly want to “win” in our discussions about biblical morality more than I wanted my struggling friend to authentically know the life-changing love of an almighty  God revealed in the person of Christ? P. 31 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

In my valiant attempts at times to “defend the faith,” I have trampled on the lives of those whose struggles are both serious and sinful, yet who may, nonetheless, qualify in Christ to be my fellow worshipers of God. Jesus didn’t offer the woman a restatement of the Mosaic moral law, he offered himself. She needed first and foremost a hero and Savior, the Messiah, not moral lessons on the sanctity of marriage.  My friend told me about a Bible study she led for people in the entertainment industry. She related that these people were not known for either their Bible knowledge or their commendable morality. The study was based on the Gospel of John.
P. 32 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

Issues are issues. People are people. Issues need to be addressed. People need to be loved. P. 33 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

When I think of Jesus the Pastor and crowds, one word comes to mind: story. Jesus the Pastor was a storyteller who told down-to-earth stories about everyday experiences and ordinary things. Some pastors are bothered by the fact that Jesus told stories. I, however, am now intrigued by it.  Storytelling is certainly one practice that might have Jesus ejected from many of our evangelical pulpits. Why didn’t Jesus spend more time “exegeting Isaiah 53” or expounding the intricacies of Daniel’s seventieth week? Why didn’t the Son of God, the most brilliant human being to ever live, solve the mysteries of God and evil or at least explain who the “sons of God” were in Genesis 6:1-4? Why did he spend so much time talking about earthy things like dirt and seed, flowers and birds, fish and nets, pearls and pigs? He created characters like stubborn judges, rebellious sons, lazy workers, callous religious leaders, compassionate outcasts, and risqué women. So let’s be frank and just ask it: Why wasn’t Jesus a good Bible expositor?
P. 33 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

Again, let me emphasize that I’m all for polls and I like and have been influenced by many of the popular, well-known pastors. I like to read their books and hear them speak. I am simply insisting that these are insufficient resources for creating a personally compelling and enduring pastoral vocation. P. 41 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

The Pharisees believed that education made a rabbi “a somebody,” respected and accepted. Like us, they held that training gave a person a recognized platform from which to influence others. Have we—pastors, Christian leaders, the teaching profession, and churches—fallen today into this dangerously faulty Pharisaic thinking?  Education has its strategic place, but I believe it is not the place many of us think it has. Why is our belief in and dependence on a good accredited education an issue blatantly ignored by Jesus, our Chief Shepherd? Do “smarts” ever replace “heart”? Was Jesus modeling a truth for us that there is a source more profoundly forceful in shaping a pastoral vision than theological training? P. 45 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

To reduce the promises of Jesus’ “manifest presence” to meaning only his omnipresence is to gut any meaning from the yoke metaphor. Omnipresence, on the one hand, means that Jesus as God is just a much “present” to the sincere Hindu priest, Buddhist monk, New Age guru, Muslim Shiite, Ukrainian atheist, rock, pear, and lizard as he is to his won “brothers and sisters” or with his “undershepherds.” Taking the yoke, on the other hand, is more than affirming this doctrine of omnipresence. It is an intentional surrender to him who is ready to impart his life and skills to us, to make himself known in the particulars of our lives and ministries. We become eager apprentices of his character (who he is) and his ministry (the way he works). We begin to learn the way he “pulls the load” that we define as pastoral ministry in this world. P. 78 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

Pastoring, by contrast, is moving out from behind the pulpit and into the lives of harassed and helpless people, bringing God to them in the ordinary time and space particulars of their lives. Pastoring, as earlier defined, is bringing God to people. The pastor, having described the map of the soul in preaching, now serves as an “up close and personal” spiritual guide into that vast inner terrain. P. 91 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

The people in Jesus’ day had “good Bible teaching.” Scripture was valued, studied, and taught in the synagogue. The people also had plenty of religious leaders and political rulers—Pharisees, Sadducees, the Herods, Roman centurions, Pilate. Jesus saw what the people had, and he also saw what they did not have–pastors. In the absence of shepherds, the people, like shepherdless sheep, wandered harassed and helpless. Feeling compassion for people saved Jesus from the devastating turmoil that many pastors easily fall into: anger, resignation, boredom, condescension, and burnout.   I have heard too many angry men and women passing themselves off as pastors. Anger, one of the seven deadly sins, creates enemies and then tries to destroy them, but “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (I Tim. 2:24). Resentful anger emerges and builds in those pastors who realize over time that what they accepted as a mighty calling has turned out to be, at times, a dull, irritating job, a job that is often thankless and underpaid. “If there is anything that makes ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.” P. 92 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

Empowered by the compassion of Christ, a pastor is on the prowl to discover how each individual in his or her charge is part of and actually perpetuates God’s fascinating story of exhilarating grace. Every detail of their lives can be a clue left by the unseen and passionate Lover of their souls. Pastors are detectives searching for the fingerprints of God on peoples’ lives. P. 93 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

Compassion, Christ’s activated love, received and given away to harassed and helpless people, is the heart of empowered pastoral ministry. P. 95 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

Jesus Christ defined teaching as training for a way of life, not as transferring information from one mind to another. “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). P. 116 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

“Avoid conflict” was my middle name. I was the pastorally “nice guy” who swept through the church like the old vaudevillian crying, “Is evvvverrrrybody haaaap-PY?” I thought I was a real peacemaker. What I really was, however, was a pain-avoider. While pain-avoiders may look like peacemakers, there is a world of difference between the two. P. 124 – John W. Frye: Jesus the Pastor

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A Poem: The Perfect Pastor?

This was written in 1983 in honor of my friend who was also our pastor at that time, Dr. A. Strachan:

Our pastor?
Well, he’s to preach and teach, you say…
But only on a certain day.
And what else should he do?

He should clean the church, and empty the trash;
Straighten the pews, and count the cash.
He should sit with babies, answer the phone;
Watch o’er the church until he goes home.

After his supper…he should
Take care of the sick and also the poor;
Evangelize the city from door to door.

He visits the new and comforts the old.
Is told what to do and does what he’s told.
He’s a sports instructor and choir leader,
Secretary, and Bible reader.
He’s a social director, “the man with the plan,”
The legal adviser, the answer man.
He’s memorized the Bible and should be well dressed.
Is a father of a family like on “Father Knows Best.”
He’s a taxi driver, auto mechanic, a newsletter editor…
After all, he should be perfect!

But not only does he do those things, he’s expected to
Look like Rock Hudson, be built like John Wayne.
Preach like Billy Graham and bring “us” to fame.
Should be as tough as a boxer, but loving like mom.
Sing like Caruso, when singing a song.
He should be like a prince, but be one of the guys.
Be tall dark and handsome with piercing blue eyes.
And smart as Einstein and witty like Bob Hope;
Beam like an angel and act like the Pope!

After all, he should be perfect!

© 1983 D. Thomas Owsley

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How to Love Your Pastor

(An application of 1 Corinthians 13)

All of these qualities of love find their source and perfect expression in God through Jesus Christ. If I am truly in Christ, we should express these loving qualities more and more, even toward my pastor. Fill in the blank spaces with your pastor’s name.

1. Does my communication with ____________________ come from a heart of love or am I just an irritating noise maker (1 Cor. 13:1)?

2. Do I use the gifts God has given me to lovingly serve _____________
(1 Cor. 13:2)?

3. Do I love ____________________ sacrificially? In what specific ways do I do so?

(1 Cor. 13:3)?

4. Am I patient with ____________________? In other words, do I show an enduring restraint with him even when I have a right to act? Do I restrain my words and actions when wronged or provoked when I have a right to act, unless there is a particular sin I need to address through gentle rebuke
(Matt. 18:15-22; Gal. 6:1).

5. Am I kind toward ____________________? Kindness proceeds from a tender heart that contributes to his good will and happiness (1 Cor. 13:4).

6. I am not envious of ____________________. I do not feel an uneasiness with the excellence, reputation or happiness he enjoys. I have no desire to depreciate him (1 Cor. 13:4)

7. I do not brag about myself to ____________________. This means that I do not have an anxious display of myself for the purpose of elevating my own life, especially at the expense of putting him down. I do not campaign for the center of attention (1 Cor. 13:4).

8. I am not arrogant, puffed up or swollen with a proud vanity (1 Cor. 13:4).

9. I am considerate and not rude with ____________________. I do not act unbecomingly or unseemly toward him, nor unnecessarily embarrass him
(1 Cor. 13:5).

10. I seek ____________________’s greatest good and benefit (1 Cor. 13:5).

11. I am not easily provoked or angered by ____________________. I do not have a trigger temper that stems from bitterness (1 Cor. 13:5).

12. I do not keep a record of the wrongs suffered by ______________ from which to make a plan for retaliation. Especially since Jesus Christ took the registry of my sins and my pastor’s sins and paid for them with his own sacrificial life and death (1 Cor. 13:5).

© D. Thomas Owsley
See The Perfect Pastor? Xulon Press; Appendix S, pp. 397-398

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How to Get the Perfect Pastor

The following has been circulated in emails, blogs and other venues for quite some time. It’s quite funny, but at the same time many pastors know how close many of these unrealistic expectations are imposed on them:

The results of a computerized survey show that the perfect pastor…

* Preaches exactly 15 minutes, condemns sin, but never upsets anyone.

* He works from 8:00 AM until midnight and is also the janitor.

* He makes $60 per week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drive a good
car…and  gives about $50 a week to the poor.

* He is twenty-eight years old and has been preaching for thirty years.

* He is wonderfully gentle and handsome.

*He has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all his spare time with senior citizens.

* The perfect pastor smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work.

* He makes fifteen calls a day on church families, shut-ins and the hospitalized.

* Spends all his time evangelizing the “unchurched” and is always in his office when needed.

If your pastor does not measure up, simply send this letter to six other churches that are tired of their pastor too. Then bundle up your pastor and send him to the church at the top of the list. In one year, you will receive 1,643 pastors and one of
them should be perfect.  WARNING!! Keep this letter going! One church broke the chain and got its old pastor back in less than three months!

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