Pastor, First Shepherd Your Own Heart

Pastoral ministry is perilous. Not only do pastors face unique temptation due to their work, but their congregation watches their lives and imitation their actions. What a pastor most deeply loves, the church will grow to love. What captivates the imagination and affections of an elder will be mirrored by the church. Based on my anecdotal evidence, churches tend to become like their pastors over the years—both in the pastor’s strengths and deficiencies. This fact proves the wisdom and need for a plurality of elders in a local church, as many shepherds help balance out an individual’s weaknesses. Yet, the responsibility here is weighty.

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J. C. Ryle’s Word to Ministry Workaholics

I came across this quote from J. C. Ryle while working on a sermon from Mark 6:30-34. His application is needed for those who work obsessively in Christ’s church.

Let us note the words of our Lord to the apostles when they returned from their first public ministry. “He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”

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A Testimonial: Don’t Neglect the Hard Books of the Bible in Your Preaching

Recently I preached through book of Job in just four weeks. If you are interested you can listen to those four sermons here. Job is the sort of book that is often neglected in our Bible, and due to its difficulty many preachers skip over it. When I first planned on preaching through Job, I had reservations. It’s a lengthy book with a difficult topic. Yet, convinced with its relevance to the lives of my church, I pressed on in my preparation. Job-Rotator

A few weeks into the series  a woman, who I respect dearly, express her initial timidity about my taking on this particular book in just four weeks, but shared with me the positive feedback she’s heard from many of our members through the Job series. I’ve been pleasantly caught off guard how this little book has impacted so many in our congregation, but I really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the Spirit of God works the the preaching of the word, even difficult books like Job.

Getting Past Glibness

Now I say all this not to laud my own preaching accomplishments. In fact, I believe the impact of the book of Job had little to do with the preacher at all—neither in the crafting of the sermon nor the delivery. No, I believe the impact of the book of Job on my congregation came from the neglect of teaching on suffering in the church today. People just don't hear message much on how to suffer well. In our consumeristic culture constantly trying to attract seekers, a topic like suffering wouldn't appear to draw much of a crowd.

If we let lost people dictate what is preached in the pulpit we end up with pragmatic, moralistic sermons devoid of the Bible and the Gospel. When we preach to people’s felt needs, our worship become superficial and glib. In order to convince people to be Christian, we plaster on our smiles and talk about how happy Jesus makes us. As a result, many Christians appear robotic and disconnected from the harsh realities in which we live. Sadly, that happiness promoted merely reflects the consumeristic culture, which is how the despicable prosperity gospel teaching infiltrates so many American churches. Lamenting Christians don’t make good billboards for our marketing efforts.

Expository preaching forces congregations to go through tough texts and encounter biblical themes that we might not ordinarily choose. Even still, expository preachers tend to neglect the Old Testament. A pervasive genre in the Old Testament is lament. From Job to Jeremiah to the Psalter, the Old Testament wrestles with depression and sorrow. I believe these sections of Scripture provide an significant comfort to Christians who have grown tired of pretending to be happy all the time.

Proclaim Hope to Sufferers

As an Christian could tell you, following Jesus is difficult. Suffering is a recurring facet of human existence in this fallen, sinful world. Pastors and teachers need to expose our people to these neglected gems, like Job, and teach them to suffer well. As I preached through the book of Job, I knew I was preaching to many who were suffering. Because I know my people, I know that there are suffers present: a man ever-weakening with ALS, women struggling with recurring bouts of depression, the widow who doesn’t know how to move on from her husband’s death, the mother who had to burry her own child, and the fathers laid off and struggling to find work.

If pastors are to be faithful in their task of shepherding they must proclaim the hope of the Gospel even in the difficult afflictions of the present age. We must help our congregation set their hope on Christ, in the midst of the depression and questions.

Worship in Tears of Joy and Sorrow

Thankfully, God has given us a wonderful resource to assist suffers: a savior who suffers with us and for us. Jesus identifies us in the frailty of our flesh and endures the cross of Christ to redeem us and to mend this broken world. Hope is here and is coming. the Bible in not a monolithic book, but is contoured with various writers and genres, styles and themes. This diversity allows us to voice the prayers and concerns of the Biblical writers to God, including those who may be going through the must anguished suffering like Job. We ought not to neglect tough books of the Bible, because they help provide balance to the full range of dynamics within the Christian life. We must learn how to follow Christ when the goodness of God’s providence shines brightly on us, but also when that providence darkens and turns bitter. When our hope is grounded securely in Christ, we can worship God both in tears of joy and of sorrow.

The Advantages and Struggles of the Introverted Pastor

God created us with unique personalities including the often subjective scale of introversion and extroversion. We can understand ourselves and each other better by learning where people place themselves on that scale. Our personality brings certain strengths and weaknesses no matter if your the outgoing extrovert or the reserved introvert. As the Spirit convicts me and helps me to know thyself, I've learned how my personality impacts my work as a pastor. In my experience, the pastoral ministry tends to attract more of the introverted than the extroverted. This is due to the rigorous personal study that comes with that weighty mantle of the ministry of the word which requires solitude. As a self-confessed introvert, I've found that my personality helps and hinders my ministry. Every personality contains facets that are prone to sin and to faithfulness. As I've learned (and am still learning) myself and my own quirkiness, I've identified three advantages and three disadvantages of my introversion when it comes to my pastoral ministry. I pray these personal musings will help fellow introverted pastors assess how their own personality can help or hinder their ministry.

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Advantage 1: Diligent Study Comes Easy

Introverts recharge in the quiet of solitude. Thankfully, the pastoral ministry requires great time alone. Each week the pastor must feed the congregation with the Scripture, therefore the work in the study is paramount. Introverts thrive in this environment. The quiet tasks of reading, writing, prayer fill the introvert's heart and the soul. While our more extroverted friends would go stir crazy digging through the Bible, parsing verbs, studying commentaries, and writing sermon manuscripts, this environment energizes the introverted pastor.

Advantage 2: Listening Comes Easy

Introverts are inclined to listen before speaking. Many times we often speak before we think, and talk before we listen. Though even introverted pastors can hastily take over the conversion (trust me, I've done it several times), in general, the introverted pastor listens before speaking. When it comes to counseling, handling critiques, or observing the spiritual life of the congregation, introverted pastors excel at taking the pulse of those around them. Listening helps you to discern the issues beneath the conversation and draw them out to the forefront.

Advantage 3: Discipleship Comes Easy

People draw the typical caricature of introverts as those who cannot stand to be around people. This just simply isn't true. Introverts love being around people, it is just that people drain rather than recharge. Introverts hate small talk or chewing the cud with the latest weather reports or sports team, but we love conversations that probe deeper issues of significance. This makes introverted pastors able to invest easily in personal disciple making. Introverted pastors though they tend to the many, thrive best when they invest heavily in a few. As a result, sitting over a weekly discipleship breakfast talking about the joys of the Christian life, the implication of the doctrine of justification by faith, or the struggle of temptation, come easily to the introverted pastor. Introverts love conversation, just meaningful conversation. In a world filled with small talk, superficial commentary, and meaningless pleasantries, introverted pastors can drill down the conversation into the recesses of people's hearts.

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Struggle 1: Pastoral Care Can Drain You

Yet, there are not only advantages that come with introversion in the pastoral ministry, there are also struggles. One of them is the fact that people drain you, and as a pastor you are with people a lot: hospital visits, meetings, phone calls, counseling, and more. As a result the sometimes laborious and unrealistic expectations churches have on pastoral care, fatigues the introverted pastor. Out of all the aspects of pastoral ministry, this one is my greatest weakness. It is not that I do not enjoy seeing my people, visiting with them, or checking-in with their needs, it is just that it drains me physically, emotionally, and above all spiritually. I tend to pack most of my pastoral care visits on Monday, and I intentionally plan my sermon prep day on Tuesday. By the end of the day Monday I'm so spent (especially coming off Sunday), it takes a day in the study to recharge for the remainder of the week. While extroverted pastors thrive in pastoral care, introverted pastors often struggle and can sometimes sinfully neglect this vital responsibility.

Struggle 2: Large Groups Fatigue You

Each Sunday I walk into our sanctuary. I "work the room," moving from pew to pew, shaking hands and giving hugs with a smile. After worship, I hang around saying goodbye as people leave and engaging in conversations with questions about the sermon. This wonderful work leaves me dead tired by the end of day. Those large group meetings fatigues introverted pastors due to the taxation they take on the soul. Introverts tend to avoid large group settings and would prefer standing quietly in the corner, avoiding the lime light. Yet, out of love we must step outside of our comfort or preferences, mingling with the people of God—providing encouragement, prayer, and love.

Though I would sometimes prefer not to talk to anyone, I intentionally die to myself and step outside of my comfort zone. I've seen many introverted pastors neglect their people by remaining a reclusive figure, clinging like a fly to the wall, avoiding their people like they have a disease. This is a sinful neglect, and introverts must combat their tendencies to withdrawal by forcing themselves to meet new people, start up conversations, and show love to others.

Struggle 3: Solitude Disruption Annoys You

If you've been a pastor for any length of time, disruptions come. Each day is never the same and at any moment the Lord throws a wrench into your plans for the day. A member drops by unannounced and barges into your office, interrupting a time of prayer or a phone call comes informing you of a members heart attack, so you drop what your doing and head to the hospital to meet them. Introverted pastors can find themselves usually annoyed by such interruptions, yet our ministry to people is not always convenient or time-sensitive. When duty calls, we must drop what we are doing and serve.

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I have my suspicions that Jesus might have leaned introvert. Though he loved the crowds and had compassion on him, we see the demands of his ministry often led him to get away to solitude. He got up early in the morning to spend time with his Father. Again, every personality comes with advantages and disadvantages. As I've assessed my own introversion, I've spotted some strengths and weaknesses. As we pastors shepherd our people, may we exercise our strengths and seek to balance out the aspects of our personalities that are prone to weakness or sin.

If you are a church member, be gracious to your pastor, patient in his short-comings and lift him up in prayer, showing him continual grace. He ministers for your soul and for your good. Whether extroverted or introverted, he loves he and works diligently of your spiritual vitality.