Pastoring Beneath the Surface
OCTOBER 8, 2014
“What are the top 3 things you either would never have done and/or have done but done differently in ministry and why/how?” –Bishop Jayson Quinones. I thought he was my friend until he asked me that question.
Having told him previously that I asked Steve Brown to be my mentor years ago and that my practice was to write Steve with 3 practical pastoral questions at a time every other month, Jayson did the same in prep for our upcoming newly scheduled monthly meeting.
This first question froze my fingers to the keyboard.
Really? I suppose I have to answer honestly and authentically because that’s what we voices of Key Life are supposed to do and want to do. But this time…Every fiber in my being was conscious that I was heavy into spin mode as I wrestled to find safe issues to bring up. The specter of Steve’s famous “no matter what” authenticity floated around my office. Well, I thought, “kiss the demons on the lips” and they’ll bother you no more.” Easier said than done. Whenever I think of kissing demons on the lips I think of some Middle Eastern statesman doing that to some other Middle Eastern leader and I get sort of wigged out.
It’s the beneath the surface issues that make pastoring so challenging, and the reason why around 5,000 of us leave the pastorate each month. Some of my non-pastor business friends still have a perverse delight in exclaiming in public, when I’m on the spot, that pastors of course only work one day a week. What helps to endure those pernicious small-minded comments is my firm belief that the wrath of God will rightly fall on my “friends” for such comments. In His sovereign timing of course. Meanwhile pastors motor on with so many issues that no one knows they even face. As in every profession, the ministry has unique pressures and demands that outsiders simply cannot grasp.
I gave up years ago expecting people to understand what it was like to be a pastor.
If you’re a pastor, you should too.
Kiss the demons on the lips I have done, however, and these are my top 3 “I would never have done had I known” comments. There are many more, mind you, but 3 is, mercifully, only 3:
1. I would never have rushed into the pastorate without my wife’s full buy-in to me being a pastor and, by default, her being a pastor’s wife.
“You did that? You became a pastor without her full agreement?” Exactly, and I would never do that again. I asked my incredible wife to marry me based on the plan that I would get a PhD and teach communications and we’d have a cool ministry to college students. She was way up for that. Needing some theological training first we got married, and went to seminary where I became a teaching assistant in communications. Before long I was convinced that I was supposed to preach and basically told her we were going to do it. After seminary we served a church for 5 years and then started one which we served for 26 years. She’s an incredible lady and came with me, and we’ve worked it through, but I put her through a whole lot of unnecessary pain, psychological bullying (I hate to admit), and it stressed our marriage, as you can imagine. While a psychologist would have a field day analyzing my motives and actions (which I’ve done!), the point is what I did was not loving, sacrificial and spiritual leadership.
We could easily have prayed this through together and waited for the Father to work out in our marriage His good grace in leading us to His desired paths for our life. That would have been the better way. His timing is perfect. I’ll tell my friend that, and more.
2. I would never have hired staff as quickly as I did nor underestimated the extremely hard work it is to find the right staff.
Not too long ago I ran into a pastor who had served his church for 41 years. Have you recovered yet? 41, count ‘em, years. Anticipating my own transition out of the pastorate I asked him, “So what about the pastorate do you miss least?” Without a second of hesitation he said, “Staff.” Some pastors like to work with and through their staff, but many in my generation struggled to hire well, did not hire well, and they (and their families) and their churches suffered significantly as a result. When a staff doesn’t work well together and there is a lot of difficult-to-conceal conflict, staff are disgruntled, serve less effectively and pass on their pain to the people they’re supposed to disciple. And sometimes have to be let go. All of this is traumatic to a church’s health. People know there is conflict in the world. They just don’t want to see it in their church. Staff issues will happen, it’s unavoidable. But a lead pastor should try to minimize the pain to a church by hiring well, which takes a whole lot of thinking, prayer, time, wise counsel, and interviews. Ah, time. Time is the single commodity that pastors perceive they have least. There are a whole lot of reasons for why we don’t hire well, and many ways to hire well, and I’ll tell my friend what they are.
3. I would never have served outside my core gifts and strengths for as long as I did as a pastor.
When you’re a church planter, which I was, you have to work and serve outside of your comfort and gift zone a lot. At first, in the early years at least, you do. It’s important to move as quickly as possible to know what you do well, are called to do and gifted to do, and then focus on those areas. When we serve out of our gifts and calling we are energized; when we don’t, we become quickly exhausted, frustrated and ineffective. The ministry is difficult enough without us trying to be who we’re not. Of course Paul talks about this tons in the New Testament (spiritual gifts and body life and the need for many gifted people deployed properly). Often as pastors, however, we feel like we’re sort of mini-messiahs or we struggle with delegation, or we feel guilty if we don’t perform up to the standards of other people and keep busy. Sometimes we simply don’t know how to organize our churches to focus on our strengths and bring others in to serve with us. I’m convinced there are many reasons why we don’t spend the majority of our time in our areas of giftedness, and why I didn’t, but I know I’m not alone in this. I’d never do that again. I’ll talk about this with my friend.
As my young, gifted pastor-friend and I talk through all of this, however, I’ll keep coming back to the fact that the Father graciously turned even my biggest mess-ups into His gain. Abba is, after all, omnicompetent and loves using His boys to work in the family business. You know, given who I was back then, I probably would do all of the above again. The clarity is that now, knowing what I know, by His grace, I wouldn’t.
In the long run, it’s grace that wins.
Grace destroys regret, and leaves us with contentment in a loving God and an all-sufficient Savior who “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Phil. 1:11). Grace alone!
I still wish I hadn’t done those things however.