From “Po-Po” to Pastor: A Tale of One Journey

2015-05-09 13.19.57Recently, I was engaged in a casual conversation with some guys and I mentioned that I had once served as a police sharpshooter. The comment was just in passing but it resonated with one of the new guys in our group. He was taken back to some degree and stopped me to confirm what he had heard. At the heart of his mental disconnect (of how a pastor could once be a policeman) was the underlying question of “how does God call people to vocational ministry?”

First, I don’t claim to be the “village expert” on God’s calling of preachers. There are great resources out there to explore the question including an incredible book by the President of Midwestern Seminary, Dr. Jason K. Allen, called Discerning Your Call to Ministry (which you can learn more about and purchase from Amazon HERE.) What I DO CLAIM though is a call to ministry. I have talked with many men who have also experienced this calling and there are some consistent traits in the calling. Though my list is by no means exhaustive, here are four things that are true of a calling to ministry:

  1. There is a distinct stirring in one’s spirit that is often confirmed by a personal sense of God’s confirmation through His Word. Some discount the “Word/Scripture validation” and argue that a sense of God’s voice in prayer was it for them. Others claim that the affirmation from others (parents, respected elders, etc.) was the affirmation they needed. While I don’t discount these, my experience was an affirmation in the Word (Romans 10:13-15 to be precise).
  2. There is a recurring dissatisfaction with NOT being “in ministry.” My pastor said to me in the counseling process leading up to my surrender to the calling to preach, “As long as you can do anything else and be satisfied, then do that.” [That’s good advice].
  3. There is a desire for the calling that exceeds the cost of pursuing the calling. A call to ministry is a call to prepare. Don’t even think about it if you won’t submit yourself to higher theological education. (I know…I have heard that “with all of the information on the internet, you can get everything you need—for free—and, after all, Moses never went to Seminary”). In response, I’d simply state that if I needed to have my spleen removed or a diagnosis of my heart, I’d want to have a practitioner who had been to medical school do it. It’s great that some kid watched 300 hours of YouTube videos of the Surgery Channel but he can keep his scalpel away from me, no matter how sincere his sense of calling to medicine is. (If one agrees with me about this and our physical well-being, how could we even consider diminishing the view of a spiritual doctor, shepherd, leader to guide us in our relationship with God. After all, your spirit is eternal!)
  4. Finally, there should not be any significant protest by those who love and care most for you. If your spouse thinks you’re nuts…perhaps you are, or perhaps she is…but in either case, you need to wait long enough for God to change her heart or for this yearning within you to pass. If your church leaders don’t sense an affirmation of calling is in order, perhaps you need to revisit and ask why godly people don’t see what you sense in your spirit.

The pathway of ministering to God’s people is littered with guys who once were. The ditches along the road are filled with degrees from Bible Colleges and Seminaries, cassette tapes of “best sermons ever” and clerical robes, stoles, or coat and tie “get-ups” discarded as a man turned away from his place of service forever.

Again, the list is not universal or exhaustive, but I hope it is helpful. If I can help you think through any of these things more in depth, feel free to give me a shout at my contact page. Blessings!

The Draft, the Bench, and the Will of God

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Two years. That’s almost how long I “rode the pine” in ministry. God had spoken and moved in my life. I surrendered to the call to ministry and began to preach immediately, and often…most months as often as three times per month. But no church called me.

Have you ever “known” the will of God and were certain that God was sending you in a particular direction…only to get passed over?

How did it feel? Did the enemy whisper in YOUR EAR as he does mine?

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You’re not ready.
  • You’re not qualified.

We have recently gone through another season of college football players being examined and selected in the NFL Draft…

The players in the draft represented the best of the talent from their college football squads. They were the guys who made the amazing plays caught on the ESPN highlight reel, and they were the guys making the block that made the plays on the reel possible.

One of the familiar refrains among many of the observers related to why “their player” did not go sooner or did not go to a particular team. Certainly, the “Monday morning quarterbacking” (pun intended) is evident as people like me try to second guess those involved in the process. We might not approve of the message it sends when our favorite University standout doesn’t go until the second or third round. We may even carry a burden of offense for the message of “value” attributed to our player if he goes later in the draft. After all, aren’t all the good players going in the top ten of the first round?

What we may miss now and again is the underlying message. The draft picks are based on the quality of the player AND the needs of the drafting team. It is important to remember that a team with a great quarterback and significant depth on the bench is not making a value judgment of our favorite quarterback when they choose to select a defensive player first. Their selection is about the needs of their team first, and the caliber of your player second.

In our lives and assignments, it is tough at times to watch God draft others for assignments ahead of us. Sometimes He selects people that we should have beaten out for a job. But doesn’t such assessment lack insight? Is God not also able to consider the needs of the team as well as the talent of the player?

Monday comes every week. Every week we look back on Sunday and ask the question about our usefulness in our assignment. If we have a good understanding of God’s will and God’s ways…we must consider that He is working on a larger vision than we cannot often fully grasp. We look at our areas of awareness but God is infinitely more aware of the needs that exist everywhere and at every time…including those that won’t even be revealed for months or years to come. So, rest easy dear friend. Trust the process of the Draft and war against the desire to accept the implicit value judgments. You are valuable. You were drafted. You are exactly where He assigned you and your next assignment, whatever it is, is already known. It is perfect…not only for you but for Him who called you as well.

Pastoral Leadership is…

Bible at Night (2)Someone said of her pastor, “He is a great visionary! He has motivated our church to reach our city.” Another states, “He is such a people person. He is the first to be at the hospital bed of one of his parishioners.” Still another notes, “He is an amazing salesman. He raised a ton of money for that building.”

While I might agree that these are skills that serve a leader well in leading a church…I would also ask, “Is this the primary role of a pastor?” More directly…is pastoral leadership primarily about visiting the sick, casting incredible visionary strategies or raising funds to resource the mission?

I had a leader in a church I served once say to me, “You’re a really good preacher, but you lack in sharing vision and getting people to follow the plan.” I’m not sure if that was true, or if it was an attempt to wound, but ultimately, is this what we need more of…

QUESTION:
When did that become the primary criteria to evaluate a pastor’s leadership? 

I know and have heard the pragmatic arguments. I am not dismissive of them; rather, I am wondering why they do not appear 3 or 4 down the list.

Acts 1 states that prior to Pentecost, the disciples gathered in the upper room and gave themselves completely to prayer.

Acts 6 reminds us that the Apostles sought to delegate ministry to appointed men so that they might give themselves completely to the ministry of the Word and to prayer.

It was Peter’s Spirit-anointed sermon at Pentecost that led to the conversion of 3,000 (Acts 2) and it was the teaching of Peter and John that shook the city and incited the leaders to arrest them in Acts 4:1-4. Teaching that also led to the church’s growth to about 5,000 souls.

In his book, Leading God’s People: Wisdom from the Early Church for Today, Christopher Beely notes that, “It is significant…that the major theologians of the early church devote their reflections on pastoral leadership almost entirely to the ministry of the word (105).” Catch that, PASTORAL MINISTRY to the early church fathers was almost entirely focused on the ministry fo the Word of God to the people of God.

Early church father, Gregory Nazianzen stated, “The first of all our concerns is the distribution of the word.”

Beely also notes, “Pastoral leaders are primarily interpreters of the scriptures…teaching Christian truth and opposing falsehood and error.(108). This was the task the Apostle Paul called Timothy to in the pastoral epistles as well (1 Tim 4:13-16, 2 Tim 2:1-2, 2 Tim 3:16-4:5).

Application: 

As I have been meditating on some recent reading that prompted this short article, here are some thoughts that I believe warrant consideration:

  • If you’re a pastor seeking to balance expectations of God’s people…FIRST minister the Word. If there is time left for hospital visits, then do that. If not, equip others to visit the hospitals or call an associate pastor to assist you in this valid ministry of compassion (Eph 4:11-12).
  • If you’re a pastor and you’re not good at teaching, remember it is a qualification of office (1 Tim 3:2). Get better. You can! If you cannot or will not, then quietly leave the ministry and go work retail or file papers or hang lights in houses. I know God uses foolish things to confound the wise (1 Cor 1:26ff) but that is a statement about His power, not an invitation to be foolishly inept at the high calling of pastoral ministry.
  • If you are a part of a local church, guard your pastor’s time to study. He wants to study and meditate and pray but also to serve you. Bless him by telling him you are assured of his love and care, but that you want him to drink of the fountain of Scripture deeply so that he can lead God’s people well through the ministry of the Word. He will need your help doing this…because many fellow parishioners berate him if he is not there for the procedure to remove an ingrown toe nail.
  • Reset the paradigm. Vision casting, business acumen, and mercy ministries are all admirable, but choose to esteem most highly the ministry of the Word. It has been and continues to be the primary leadership task of pastoral ministry.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts…