Are You A Church Reformer?

The Church always needs reformers. In every generation, the church drifts into theological malaise and a numbing apathy. The Gospel leaks from our churches over the decades as churches assume the Gospel, forget the Gospel, then replace the void with a non-gospel. There tend to be two different times of drift in churches (often they happen together, but not always). On the one hand is Gospel-drift. Churches can drift into heresy as they abandon orthodoxy, reject the authority of Scripture, and modify the Gospel for the contemporary palate. On the other hand is mission-drift. Churches can abandon their mission to spread the Gospel, as their orthodoxy grows stale, legalistic, and dead; their hearts grow cold to the lost and dying world as the church would rather preserve their traditions than modify their methods for reaching their community. God uses church reformers to boldly correct these two errors. As pastors shepherd their churches they may discover potential gospel-drift or mission-drift. Sometimes they will discover both. Perhaps you are a pastor or a ministry leader serving in a church that’s in need of reform. After all, no church is perfect. If you are called to reform or revitalize churches, what are the characterizes of church reformers? Let me offer four suggestions.

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1. A Deep Dependence on God

Reform can only happen by the power of God. The man who thinks he can bring about reform and revival within his church in his own might and ingenuity is a fool. Church reformers know that the power for transformation does not rest on their own talents and abilities, but the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, church reformers regularly fall on their knees and beg God for help.

2. A Commitment to the Authority of the Scripture

Church reformers point people to the authority of God’s word. They are committed to its power and authority in the life of the church. Sadly, protestant churches, who so zealously committed themselves to sola scriptura at the launch of the reformation, sadly begin to look exceedingly Catholic, as their own traditions supplant the authority of God’s word. The church reformer commits himself to the authority of the Bible, and leads the church in light of its teaching. Thus, the Church reformer boldly preaches God’s word every week, as he constantly explains the Bible and and calls the church to action.

Everything is suspect, and no tradition is unchallenged. Every church practice, every ministry, every organizational activity must be cast under the probing word of God. The reformer loves the Bible and continually points the people to obedience to the Scripture, no matter what the cost or the extensiveness of the change. People will say, “We’ve always done it this way”, but the reformer responds with, “My conscious is bound to the word of God.” He challenges assumptions, digs out idolatrous motivations, and calls people to obedience to the Scriptures.

3. A Willingness to Put Your Neck on the Line.

Any man who wishes to engage in such work, must be willing to put his neck on the line. Church reform is risky business. Those who challenge the status quo will be bombarded with criticism and critique. If you want a comfy pastorate, then simply tell people what they want to hear. Yet, that’s not what we are called to as pastors. We are called to challenge sin in the life of the church and call for repentance and belief.

People may accuse you of the most malicious motives. They will grow angry and begin to squirm under the biblical intensity you bring. Yet the purity of the church is at stake: the integrity of the Gospel, the souls of your community, and the glory of God. Press on! What’s the worst that could happen. You lose your job? Church history is filled with courageous reformers who acted in fear of far worser consequences.

4. An All Consuming Love for the Flock

Finally, reformers must display a deep love for the flock. What compels the reformer to action is the glory of God and the love of the people. He must long to see the people flourish in holiness and engage in mission. Every action he takes is not for his own ego, but for the good of the flock. Church reformers endure such criticism and heart ache because they want the best for God’s people. Though sometimes we must strike the sheep when they wander into a den of wolves, we always strike in love.

Church reformers labor in love for their flock. Therefore, they are willing to be patient and they delay plans of reform when the people are not yet ready. Church reformers see their churches not as projects to be accomplished, but a people to be loved and cared for.

The Call of Every Pastor

Church reformers depend on God, commit themselves to God’s word, and put their necks on the line to love the flock of God for the glory of God.

I believe the call to church reform is the call of every pastor. Ecclesia temper reformanda set; the Church is always reforming. Every Pastor must take his flock again to God’s word, address areas of Gospel-drift or mission-drift, and call the church to repentance.

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.

 

The Most Frustrating Thing About Being a Pastor

Shepherding a church can be an incredibly frustrating work. As a pastor you do your best to lead in accordance to God’s word. You seek his wisdom and his direction for his church. You preach your heart out week after week hoping to be catalyst for spiritual growth or even revival. Yet, the road to achieving that vision seems dark, lonely, and filled with bruises. Shepherding God’s church is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts, endurance, patience, and above all the work of the Spirit of God. I guess that is what I find the most frustrating thing about being a pastor. Despite all my efforts and all my labor, all I can do is plant or water the seed of the Gospel into the hearts of my people. I cannot cause the growth. In this since, the Pastor is impotent and unable to cause true revival and awakening in the hearts of his people, no matter how much he may long for it. The hardest part about leading a church is not the teaching, the meetings, the counseling, or the criticisms. The hardest part is waiting on the Lord.

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the pastor stands before the people proclaiming the whole counsel of God to his people hoping that the seed scattered would take root and grow. Often God doesn’t work in our time table, but God works slowly over time. Revival is great and spiritual awakenings are wonderful but they are an extraordinary working of the Spirit’s work in a condensed amount of time. When it comes to revival in a local church, normally that revival comes slowly over many years of faithful Gospel teaching that exhorts, challenges, and admonishes.

The pastor cannot make spiritual growth happen anymore than he can direct the wind with a baton. The wind blows where it wishes, so it is with the Spirit. Perhaps God will move unexpectedly and profoundly in revival. Perhaps not. Yet, let us pastors not resort to gimmicks, fads, and entertainment in attempt to manufacture it. May we trust in those ordinary means of grace God has ordained to grow his church. Trust the Word to work and let the Spirit move in his time.

God’s sovereignty over the spiritual growth of our people can be so very frustrating, but so very hopeful. God’s work in our churches is not dependent upon our gifting, talents, or abilities, but rather on the omnipotent will of God. This truth brings us to our knees in prayer, trusting in God for growth not in ourselves. It gives us confidence to stand before our congregations each week and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ not knowing that at any moment the glorious light of God might pierce through the darkened veil over our peoples eyes and grant them to see the excellency of Jesus. In our frustration, may we humble ourselves before God in prayer trusting in His Word to pierce the hearts of His people, all the while having confidence in God’s ability to work in us and through us.

4 Ways to Shatter the Super Pastor Illusion

People put pastors on a pedestal, and rightly so.  Pastors are called to be examples to their flock.  They are to lead by modeling spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. Pastors are men who are to be above reproach. Many people look to pastors as super Christians.  Although they might struggle with sin or find it difficult to spend time in prayer, the pastor doesn’t, at least thats what people think. Many people envision that pastors have a special connection with God or even a direct line to him that normal Christians just do not have.  All of this is just hogwash. Pastors are just like every other Christians, sinners saved by grace.  Although a pastor is called to lead by example, the idea of a “super pastor” is a lie.  We struggle with personal sin. We find it difficult to love our wives and families well.  We sometimes struggle to find our joy in God. There are even times in which preaching on Sunday morning is the last thing we want to do.  If you are a pastor reading this, you know this to be true.  Yet, pastors self-inflict themselves with a demand to maintain the image of “Super Pastor”.  We think we must always have the right answers even though we do not know, and we must always seem joyful even though we are in a season of melancholy, and we must always seem righteous even though we struggle with hidden sin. Not only is this the hight of hypocrisy, the pressure to carry the weight of this projected image will one day cause our collapse.

Pastor, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our people is to shatter the illusion of “super pastor”.  We must invite people into our brokenness and remind them that we too desperately need Jesus each and every day. They need to see that you too are a real person, who sometimes struggle to follow Jesus.  They need to know that Jesus is the only savior, not you.  Here are a few ways you can help shatter the illusion of super pastor not only for yourself, but for your church.

1. Don’t Make Yourself the Hero

Its easy to be the hero in all your own sermons and to spin illustration after illustration of your own illustrious spiritual life.  Don’t do that. You are not the hero, Jesus is.  In your sermons constantly be pointing to Jesus and pastors need him too.  Share stories (where appropriate) of your own failures and struggle to obey the text your preaching from that Sunday.  Talk about your failures as a Christ follower, a husband, or a dad.  Although we want to make sure we are being appropriate and we do not want to be self-effacing to create some guise of profound humlity, we do want to be reall with our people. We want to invite them into our lives and even be vulnerable both publicly and privately.  Again, caution and discernment are important here, but we must not seek to create an image of infallibility.  We are not the hero, Jesus is.

2. Ask Others for Forgiveness

Pastor’s mess up a lot.  We make mistakes. We speak in the flesh.  We hurt other staff members in our actions. When we do sin, we must be quick to confess it and ask for forgiveness.  Own up to your error and ask your brother or sister to forgive you. Every time your confess sin and ask forgiveness you begin to shatter that illusion of super pastor, and people begin to see you too as a sinner in need of grace.  However humility in this way will not hinder your leadership, but help it.  No one wants to follow a man who thinks he’s always right and refuses to admit he’s wrong.  By displaying humility and confession not only do we shatter the illusion of our own perfection, we actually lead our people more faithfully.

3. Ask for Help

You cannot do it all.  I’ve tried, trust me. Pastors must be quick to ask for help for the demands of ministry whether from another pastor, deacon, or another church member.  When you ask others for help it encourages others to join together in the cause of ministry and helps raise future leaders.  When we ask other people in our church for help, it shows that we are not super pastors and we need the body of Christ just like every other Christian.

4. Ask for Prayer

Ask others for prayer when needed.  Again, this must be done when appropriate, but do not think so highly of yourself that you cannot ask others for prayer.  We need other people to be interceding to the father on our behalf, because we need the body of Christ!

These are just four simple ways that pastors can begin to shatter the illusion that we have it all together.  We don’t.  Pastors need the gospel just like every human being needs the gospel.  We are broken sinners whose only hope is Jesus. Pastor, make sure your people know that you are not the epitome of a Christ follower.  Any maturity in your life is by the grace of God, and continually point to Jesus as the hero, and not yourself.  The only super pastor who ever existed was Jesus Christ.  He is the one your people need.  Point them to the true super pastor.

Have you ever felt the pressure of maintaining a perfect pastor image? How are some ways we can shatter this facade?