Cultivating Pastoral Friendships

pastor friendI have discovered that several things seem incredibly important for church and pastoral health…developing relationships with those outside your church. Several things which I’ve seen bear fruit in my own life and ministry might be of help to others.  The following thoughts are random though numbered for convenience (or perhaps for those who really like lists):
1) We all need folks we can talk to and share our lives with.  While it is important to share your life with your congregation, there are simply issues that can arise that need the counsel and ears of someone who can understand.  Enter the pastor-friend.  Of course, we don’t connect with everyone and not everyone should be told your life story, but it is important to be able to have a sounding board, or a sympathetic ear, or someone to say, “Yeah, I’ve done that…don’t do it”.
2) There are other pastors in your community who need you in their life.  They may not even realize it, but they need you.  You are their listening ear and sounding board.  This is a mutually edifying and necessary thing.
3) It stretches us all to have someone else in ministry speak into our lives.  Who knows, you may actually learn a thing or three about life and ministry.
4) We all need friends.
This being a short list that simply skims the surface, what would you add?
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Originally published by me at bluechippastors.org on September 21, 2012.

More on Rural Churches

ThoughtfulThink Theology” has offered another thought provoking post on what is involved in rural pastoral work.  Specifically, Pastor Able Baker (in BC) has mentioned four things imperative (to my estimation) for successful rural pastoral ministry (HERE).
The only thing I might add would be that patience is the name of the game.  It does no one any good to be overly pushy in ministry, but particularly in rural ministry.  There is a tremendous need to allow things time to develop properly.  Certainly patience is required anywhere, but in rural ministry it is a MUST as it relates to the cultural ethos at a much deeper level.  There is a great need for (rural) pastors who will allow and encourage the local community of believers to grow and mature together without superimposing any pre-conceived notions of what the congregation must look like.  This God-ordained, Christ-indwelt, Spirit-filled congregation can (and will) hear from God and move forward if the pastor will participate as one who encourages and facilitates such an environment of patience (with the end-game being congregational and personal growth that gives God the glory).
Growth takes time.  In a rural context, it takes TIME.  Particularly when our objective is not growth for its own sake (that is called an “abnormality” in other contexts), but growth that is healthy and God-honoring.  We need to set aside our own agenda (and time-frame) and recognize there are far deeper things the Lord may have in store for us than the “growth” we have envisioned that may never happen if we are not patient.
Can we hear from the Lord together?  Can we be mutually beneficial for one another in due time?  Can we allow each one and every one the grace to mature towards Christ over time as a family?
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Originally published at bluechippastors.org on September 5, 2012.

A Church I Can Believe In

Church FunnyA major issue in our western consumerist culture is that consumerist concerns are immediately applied to the way Church is viewed and practiced.  What can be offered for me?  What do I gain by being a part of this congregation?  What can we do to attract more folks?
While this is not only a problem in the contemporary or western Church (think of the issues mentioned by Paul and Jude concerning preachers in it for their own gain, or the Corinthian battle for pneumatic-supremacy), it has been sharpened by our propensity to consume.  If we don’t find what we are shopping for then we move on. This does not tend to be driven by any biblical notion of priorities for participating in the life of the Church.  Instead, it seems to be driven by market values (e.g., programs).
Certainly there is much to be said for trying to reach our culture in relevant ways, but should it be done at the expense of seriously thinking through our practices as the Church?  Why do we offer this or that message or program?  Why do we feel the need for it?  In fact, what is the purpose of the Church?  Why do we exist and to what end?  Do our various programs actually advance this center or do they simply offer trendy appeals to consumers?
I have often remembered the words of old-time evangelist Vance Havner who wrote, “Your job as the pastor is not to fill the pews, but to fill the pulpit.”  If we are faithful to what matters, we will not try (by other routes) to accomplish what God has determined to do if we are faithful witnesses to His life and kingdom.
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Originally posted at bluechippastors.org on August 16, 2012

A Dirty Secret About Me

Here it is…
Wait for it…Secret
I LOVE pastoring and I love my congregation and I love my community!  Okay.  So that isn’t “dirty,” nor a “secret,” but it is about me. 🙂  I have found too often when speaking with pastors in an intimate setting that they either don’t love pastoring, or their church, or their community (or all of the above).  This is a sad state of affairs and my word to them is, “Get out of the ministry, because you aren’t doing anyone a favor by continuing.” Too often a pastor will remain a pastor just because that’s what they do and they don’t know what else to do.  I do go on to tell such “pastors” that they need to either quit their churches or find God’s love for what they are, where they are and what they are doing.
On the other hand, I meet pastors who genuinely enjoy what they are doing and could never see themselves doing anything else.  They love the folks who gather with them in worship, discipleship and mission.  They even love their community.  It’s a beautiful thing to behold…and I am encouraged by such faithful ministers of the good news.
So I guess I just wanted to share that “dirty secret about me”.  I really do love what I do, where I am…and even who I am (warts and all)!
[originally blogged July 12, 2012 at bluechippastor.org]
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As an update, I also LOVE teaching at Trinity now three years after I first blogged this. Just in case anyone missed that in my status updates over the last two years. 😉

The Suffering Pastor

No thanks, Matthew Mason.  I don’t want to “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col. 1:24).  I want my best life now. (Crying like a baby)
Er…I guess actually I don’t.  What I really want is to be conformed to Christ.  To follow Him in His life here and now.  To serve Him and His Church faithfully with His all surpassing love that does not look away from suffering, but embraces it with hands and feet scarred, with head beaten and bloodied, with the wounds of a back bearing the world’s rejection.  Make me like you Jesus…even though it will (and must) hurt.
[originally blogged June 19, 2012 at bluechippastor.org]

Pastoring Your Spouse

pastors wifeIt is always a difficult thing to be your family’s only pastor. As if it weren’t difficult enough in relation to your children, you also are given the care of your spouse. In this regard, my wife is gone for two days to a minister’s spouse retreat with others in the same life-setting. I find this to be an invaluable ministry to help meet some of her social and spiritual needs. I realize that there needs to be others speaking into her life and that she needs time away from the children to be refreshed and enjoy the friendships of other women who’s husbands serve the church. This is one of those get-aways that I have strongly supported from the beginning as part of my pastoral (and husbandly) care of my wife. So what do you do as a pastor to care for the needs of your spouse?
[originally blogged at bluechippastor.org on May 15, 2012]

The Discipline of Prayer Retreat

Jesus took his disciples away from the crowds to be alone with them…in prayer and fellowship…and he also went alone to be with His Father. (Luke 9:28; Matthew 14:23)
This week I traveled to a neighboring town to spend a day in prayer and fasting with some pastors from the region. It was refreshing to offer prayers for each other and know there are others who take their responsibility as a pastor seriously enough to gather for such a thing. I find these “retreats” to be essential to my well-being and success as a pastor.
Just a few years ago I was feeling the wear and tear of ministry and needing to find a place for retreat. My wife and I had searched online for any possible places where I could take a few days and that would not cost a lot. As it turns out the seminary I was attending would let me stay for a very reasonable price. They housed me in a small dorm where I was the only one staying. No T.V. No music. No internet. Just the solace of the few books I brought with me (including my Bible), a laptop for writing and some basic food stuffs. It became my “monastery” for spiritual retreat and I have often found great refreshment as I prayed and studied there.
In other words, I’ve had to discover (and re-discover) the strength and renewing of such times of retreat…both with others and alone. Lord, teach me to pray and find my daily provision in the hand of your Father.
[originally blogged at bluechippastor.org May 12, 2012]

Resurrection of a Blog

Perhaps this is a bit selfish of me, but I am resurrecting posts to this blog over the next few weeks that were from another blog. I just realized that I was potentially losing a number of blog posts from a now sadly defunct co-authored blog (bluechippastor.org) that I thought should perhaps be shared and preserved. That blog was a tremendous contribution (in my estimation) for pastors by pastors and I am deeply grateful to Dan Thompson (and the numerous others who contributed) for sharing this blog for several years. Thus I will be posting my old posts from that site in order to not lose them and perhaps offer aid to those who might further benefit from them. These ran from May 2012-July 2014 and are dated according to their original publication.

Leonard Sweet on Ministerial Training

Reading a student’s paper tonight, I was struck by a statement Leonard Sweet (always thoughtful and provocative) made about the potential that we (particularly ministerial training institutions) might be training pastors for a ministry that no longer exists…

Leonard SweetReading a student’s paper tonight, I was struck by a statement Leonard Sweet (always thoughtful and provocative) made about the potential that we (particularly ministerial training institutions) might be training pastors for a ministry that no longer exists (found in his forward to Edward H. Hammett’s, “Reframing Spiritual Formation: Discipleship in an Unchurched Culture” [Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2002.], p.x).
I have often wondered if we are failing to adequately prepare ministers for the kinds of issues and situations they will face. Perhaps we have landed on certain models of and content in ministerial education that fails to address the needs of our contemporary world.
Some questions in my mind:

  • Are we properly addressing the issues of healthy sexuality? Singleness and marriage?
  • Are we considering how the church of tomorrow can and should function to give proper worship to the Lord in contextually relevant ways?
  • Are we equipping students as disciples to make disciples rather than simply hoping they will be discipled and hoping along the way they might figure out how to disciple others?
  • Are we encouraging and developing theologically and imaginatively rich ways of “doing church” that are both rooted in the Church historic and universal, but culturally sensitive?
  • Are we training in ways of communication to further the modes and manner of effective discipleship and evangelism?

We often seem to get locked into one way of conceiving of how things should be done. It can be difficult as well when we who are educators might have served in ministry some years prior to our service as professors. This can at times mean we no longer think creatively or in culturally relevant ways because we are not being pushed to do so by “living in the trenches” of the pastoral vocation. On the other hand, sometimes ministers (and educators) can become consumed with the latest trendy ministry models and tools all the while still failing to effectively evangelize and disciple (themselves and others).
What are your thoughts?

IHS – What Does It Mean?

IHSI had a conversation with a couple of the ladies in my church today about a symbol that is imprinted into the fabric lining the bottom of our brass offering plates. I had overheard one of them telling the other that “IHS” stood for “In His Service”. Sounds good enough. Makes sense. It would be a good meaning to take away from it. But that isn’t what it actually means.
I have found that many times symbols have a way of taking on a life of their own and often their significance shifts (sometimes rather dramatically) over time. This may largely be to a lack of pastors and teachers discussing the meanings and significance of symbols within the Church (or perhaps many pastors and teachers don’t know such matters themselves). But we really should take care to do so.
I have encountered times in my own life where folks have decided that such symbols are somehow pagan…often this comes from a lack of historical appreciation. Or because of the lack of historical understanding it was easy for some other folks to force their seemingly spiritual interpretation onto the other folks in order to attack such symbols. Sadly lacking historical appreciation of the Church makes us easy targets for false teaching.
So what does “IHS” mean? It belongs to a VERY EARLY tradition found in the Greek manuscripts of the early church wherein the sacred name (nomina sacra) of “Jesus” (Gr. ‘ΙΗΣΟΥΣ; transliterated as ‘IESOUS) was abbreviated by use of the first two letters of his name (IH – sounded like “yeah”) and the final letter (Σ which is a ‘sigma’ for ‘s’). It is actually a Christogram where the name of Jesus holds great significance and has been used as a tool of veneration among many.  As a Christogram it has been also variantly explained to refer to an abbreviation of the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator (“Jesus, Savior of Humankind” which provides both the sacred name “Jesus” and its implicit meaning found in Matthew’s gospel 1:21: “he will save his people from their sins”).
While the simple misunderstanding mentioned in my church today was nothing significant (it was my own understanding for many years) it simply reminded me of the need to ground the local church in the history of the Church as one guard against false teaching and a greater appreciation for the richness of our heritage as members of the Church universal. Or maybe I’m just sentimentally reflecting on my responsibilities as a pastor and one who desires to find myself an understanding and appreciative member of the wider Church. And I’m convinced such symbols aid our congregations to find creative entrée into discussing and appreciating the rich history of the wider Church. 🙂