My Advice to Future Pastors

My Advice to Future Pastors

I am in my tenth year as a solo pastor. In that time, I have led our congregation through a lot of changes. Our first Sunday together, I candidated for a down and out congregation that had just moved into a newly renovated space. They had already offered the pastorate to someone else, who had decided God wanted him on the mission field instead. I was their second choice. That was August, 2004. In November of that year, the congregation called me to be their pastor.

Five years later, with our lease expiring and our funds dwindling, God led us to another congregation and I was privileged to help lead the two congregations in a merger that resulted in Bedford Road Baptist Church. That process took over 18 months from beginning to end.

Now, after nearly ten years, I finally feel like I have something to give to the next generation of pastors – in the form of a single piece of advice.

If you can live without doing this job, do something else.

I say this in all seriousness and without the slightest reservation.

If you can do something else, do it. The pastorate is not something you do because you think it will be neat or a challenge. It is something you do because there is a fire burning deep inside your gut and God won’t let you do anything else.

Look, I am a pastor’s kid. I know just how much being married to a pastor or having a pastor as a dad sucks.

As a pastor, you will put your family through more garbage than you would ever wish on anyone else. You will have bouts of depression and frustration. You will have days of complete exhaustion. Sometimes, you will cry for no reason other than the disparity between the way you thought your life would go and the way it has.

Make no mistake about it.

You have to be called into this gig.

If you can do anything else, do it. If you can be anywhere else, be there. If there is someone else, then let them do it.

Being a pastor is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is tiring. It is frustrating. It is painful. It is trying. It is brutal. It is emotional.

And I can’t imagine myself doing anything else because God dragged me kicking and screaming into this gig – so I know it is His work, not mine.

Casual pastor-wannabe? Get out while you can, before this thing consumes you. It isn’t for those who aren’t called, because it isn’t about you.

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Too Casual?

Too Casual?

I am all for casual dress. I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy during the week. I like to be comfortable. I love my driving caps, and my pair of bright red Converse All-Stars. I do not, however wear those things when I am ministering publicly.

That’s not to say I somehow transform into Fundy-Pastor on Sundays or on hospital visits. Sometimes, I wear a coat and tie to our congregation’s worship gatherings; but generally, I wear a nice button-down shirt and khakis.

Like I said, I am all for casual dress.

But (and you knew that was coming!), can church leaders be too casual? I submit that they can.

What do I mean by too casual? Here’s a checklist:

  1. Ripped jeans – actually anything that is ripped or torn.
  2. Skin tight t-shirts (particularly with horrendous pseudo-hipster silkscreening)
  3. Belts made of canvas
  4. Suit jackets with epaulets
  5. Paint splatter (nothing bothers me more than intentionally dirty things)
  6. Mascara (ok, ladies you can wear it. I was referring to men.)
  7. Unkempt facial hair
  8. More than one stretchy bracelet around either wrist
  9. Any kind of “ironic” advertisement, like a mechanic’s shirt with a nametag embroidered on it (especially if it says “pastor”)

(#5 and #9 do not apply if you actually ARE a mechanic or painter and have to come to church straight from work.)

I just think that a pastor should be clean, neat and together when he is speaking or leading. His clothes should be clean and ironed. His appearance should communicate preparation, not primping. (I have written similar things about leaders who dress to gaudily and showily as well.)

What gets me about this too casual look adopted by some church leaders is that it is intentional. They are adopting a slovenly appearance because they believe it makes them more relatable, that it helps them connect with their audience.

And I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything “relevant” about wearing dirty, ill-fitting and/or damaged attire. There is nothing in me that says, “Wow, that guy tries really hard to look cool” and equates it with Scriptural instruction or moral authority. All I see is the legions of youth leaders I encountered as a teen and rolled my eyes at when they tried to act my age.

People are going to disagree with me, and that’s ok. I am not a bishop telling my underlings how to behave. This is just my opinion. I don’t have Bible for it or anything. In fact, since those who dress too casually use “cultural relevance” as their justification, I will as well.

I believe it is “culturally relevant” for church leaders to communicate a certain level of maturity when performing the functions of their office. (How can you argue with cultural relevance?) My standards of dress are simple – clean, neat, in good repair.

I don’t care if you wear a shirt designed not to be tucked in. I don’t care if you wear jeans. I don’t care if you wear sneakers. I don’t care if you have a fauxhawk or a soul patch or sideburns or a lumberjack beard (I think those are kinda awesome, actually!) or you frost your hair.

Wait. No, I do care if you frost your hair. You’re a dude, embrace your manliness and do not frost your hair.

Wear pink (if you must!). Wear salmon. Wear pastels. Wear dress shoes. Wear a tie (if you can tie one correctly). Wear whatever.

Just be clean and neat. Respect the congregation, and they will respect you.

Ok, tirade over. Now to go check Facebook and see how many people defriended me over this.

Just a Pause

Just a Pause

In January of 1776, a small book by a recent immigrant to America took the colonies by storm. Entitled Plain Truth Addressed to the Inhabitants of America Containing Remarks on a Late Pamphlet entitled Common Sense, the pamphlet was published in all the major cities of the colonies and in short order was found virtually everywhere.

Even then, the pamphlet was known by a much shorter name – Common Sense – and it made the author Thomas Paine famous. It was one of America’s first best sellers, and it was one of the final catalysts that drove the colonial leaders to seek independence from Britain.

What made Paine’s little pamphlet so readable was a wondrous innovation – printed emphasis. Paine used italic letters to set certain important statements apart from the rest of his text, and he utilized punctuation to simulate spoken speech. The readers could then almost hear the text as it should be read.

It is remarkable to think that before Paine, punctuation existed in a kind of willy-nilly world of irregularity. Just read the King James Bible or an early edition of Shakespeare and you can see what I mean. The punctuation really has nothing to do with how to read the text.

Paine’s pamphlet could be read easily, by people who would not normally read such things. It was even read out as a sermon in a church in Connecticut (although that may have been more from the laziness of the vicar than from the quality of the pamphlet).

Never discount the little flourishes and touches. By adding commas and italicizing important statements, Thomas Paine gave a revolution its voice. He set his message apart, and people took it to heart. Changing the world is not just about big ideas. It is also about little details that make those ideas accessible and comprehensible.

Eleven Things You Need to Understand about Your Pastor

Lyn Swenson is one of our dear friends and a veteran of decades of ministry in Japan. He is a member of our congregation and a voice always worth hearing.

This Sunday, after the worship gathering Lyn handed me a newsletter from First Baptist Church, Portland, Maine. The newsletter included something that Pastor Keith Moore had received in the mail, and Lyn thought that it might be an encouragement to me. It was.

I am reproducing the list here, which Pastor Moore got from somewhere else. (I’m not sure of the original source.)

  1. Your pastor is tired. Fatigue is part of the job, but it’s still tough to be tired a lot.
  2. Your pastor is dealing with a major problem that you have no idea about. Pastors are masters of concealing private issues-like the deacon who is going through divorce, with a mother struggling with guilt over an abortion. You just never know what he might be dealing with.
  3. Your pastor loves you, but sometimes he needs some time alone. Even though the role of pastors focused on people, he also needs to pray and study the word. Don’t be too miffed about the closed office door. That’s part of his job description.
  4. Your pastor doesn’t feel ready for Sunday’s message. You might feel that way too if there was this book that God wrote, and you were supposed to explain it.
  5. Your pastor feels like Sunday’s message was a flop. Have you ever said something that you later regretted? When you speak for 30 or 40 minutes a stretch, those feelings can pileup. They are so uncomfortable.
  6. Your pastor is juggling 91 balls in the air. The pastor has many things to do-so many people to pray for, so many counseling situations to keep straight. Pardon the occasional dropped ball.
  7. Your pastor just got a piece of sizzling hate mail from a hater. The scathing emails can hurt, even if your pastor does have thick skin. Hopefully the sizzling email did not come from you.
  8. Your pastor is being tempted to sin. Everyone is tempted. Pastors do not ride some plane of supreme sanctification. Even Jesus was tempted.
  9. Your pastor’s family needs his time, attention, and ministry. He leads to church, but first of all, he leads family.
  10. Your pastor struggles with some aspect of his job. It might be counseling. It might be organization. It might be email. It might even be sermons. Cut him some slack, and do what you can to help out-in the nicest way possible.
  11. Your pastor is really trying. Be gracious. Except as blunders. Encourage him on tough days. Just try to understand.

Some of these apply to me more than others, but they are all true. It is easy for people to think the pastor has a job that does not require much of him. It is easy to think that a pastor can handle a lot. We are masters of concealing what is really going on within us. Even someone like me, who is pretty upfront about my struggles, still has to hold back a lot of things because – well, to be honest, they’re none of everyone else’s business.

Pastors have one of the most emotionally demanding, exhausting jobs in the world. So, lift your pastor up in prayer frequently and try to remember that you only see a part of everything that is he is in the middle of.

Hillbilly Preachers, Homosexuals and Speaking Grace

A video of a North Carolina pastor was making the rounds of the internet recently. Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church begins a diatribe on placing “lesbins, q-u-weers, and hom-o-sessuals” (that’s how he pronounces the words) in what amounts to concentration camps so they will die out.

The video has over a million hits on Youtube and has generated so much traffic that it crashed the congregation’s website. Needless to say, every Christian blogger has jumped in and linked to it, so I feel that I must cave to the peer pressure and post it here. (Wait, is that considered cyber-pressure?)

Now, you might be asking me how I feel about the things that Pastor Worley had to say. First, I need to say that this kind of rhetoric is nothing new to me. I grew up going to revival meetings where the “Sodomites” we’re ruining our nation. I remember one memorable preacher who said, “The flamers will be flaming alright – when they’re burning in HHHEEEEEEELLLL!!!!!” (It is hard to get the flavor of the rebel yell that was that last bit, but you get the idea.)

Others like Erik Raymond have written effectively about the warning flags and cautions for us, and I don’t need to repeat it. And I have written before on the subject of the Church and homosexuality, so I won’t retread that road either.

Rather than going over things already addressed, I want to contemplate what I think may be the hidden source of rhetoric like this – and that is fear.

Fear? Yeah. When I watch this guy railing, I cannot help but think that he is harboring a hidden, probably even subconscious fear that he might be “one of them.” He is so busy condemning and diatribing (and where exactly in the Scriptures are we told that building electrified fences to keep undesirables contained?) that he never stops to think about what he is saying. I cannot help but think that his fear drives this craziness.

How does that work? Think about it. If you were to admit that despite knowing the sin in which a homosexual is living you are called to love that homosexual, that would make you a homosexual lover, wouldn’t it? Who loves homosexuals? OTHER HOMOSEXUALS. Do you see? You have to run the opposite direction as fast as you can to prove that you are not a homosexual.

I call this the Gays-Are-Gross Factor.

This is craziness. I cannot tell you how many gay, lesbian and “other” acquaintances and friends I have had over the years. I remember one young man telling me over AOL Instant Messenger (remember that?) that he was gay, and when I acknowledged it without any kind of anger, he was genuinely surprised. Recently, someone I know decided that they were homosexual. (I say “decided” because the person in question is in a “am I?” kind of stage.)

Do I agree with their lifestyle? No, I do not.

And just to be clear, I believe someone can actually be born homosexual. We are all sinners by nature – born into sin. It is written into our DNA, and if you can be born a liar then you can also be born gay. The choice is not to be gay or straight, but rather is whether we will live in what God calls sin or we will accept his righteousness as our own and seek his grace to be conformed to Christ’s image.

We, as followers of Christ need to overcome our fear. We need to find renewed confidence in the grace of Christ, just as the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians, “such were some of you.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

Fear says that I could be like “one of them” so run away.

Faith says I am reborn in God’s grace and his grace overcomes all sin.

Instead of fear, we should acknowledge sin while extending grace. Not a one of my gay or lesbian friends is unclear about my position on the subject. But then again, none of my friends living in adultery, fornication, substance abuse, complacency (read sloth) or gluttony are any less aware of my view on those sins as well. I don’t need to be violent or outrageously vocal to make my position any clearer.

Jesus spent his life surrounded by those who did not embrace his teachings. He made his position clear, but he still extended grace. He still loved, even the unlovable and reprehensible. And at the point of repeating myself from other posts, the ones he found most reprehensible were the religious elites – not the whores or lepers or Gentile sinners.

If I have one prayer for the Church in the coming age, it is that we will recognize our own fears and the extremes they take us to. I pray that we would find the voice of gracious strength and that we would become the manifestation of Christ’s truth and grace, held in tension for the world to see.

Not everyone will agree with me, and that’s ok. There are some readers who might even take this article as defending homosexuality – so be it.

I believe God’s grace is greater than man’s outrage. I would rather entrust my gay/lesbian friends to God’s grace than to rely on my own railing and rhetoric.

Worth Reading

Churchleaders.com had a great article on the vulnerability of pastors. Worth reading.

All in the Family?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a blog on Commodus, the Roman emperor who inherited his rule from his father Marcus Aurelius. My original intention had been to write about choosing people who are qualified rather than people you are close to but somehow I got sidetracked.

This entry from Out of Ur got me thinking about that topic again.

I know a lot of pastors who have family members on staff at their churches. I am somewhat ambivalent about it. I love my wife, and for awhile she was our volunteer music director when the church was a little smaller; but whenever someone asks me if we should hire her in a paid role, I tell them no.

Why?

Because we should be hiring and selecting the most qualified people and we need to set aside existing relationships in favor of what will accomplish Jesus’ mission most effectively. In some cases, that is a family member but not always.

But even when a family member is the most qualified, they may not be the best fit. In the case of a congregation like Crystal Cathedral in the article, it is possible that the most qualified person was actually Robert A. Schuller, but he did not fit with what the leaders wanted. They wanted him to be his father, and he is not.

I love my family, which is why I keep them at a distance from what I do for a living. The only thing harder than pastoring family is often trying to work with them. That’s just my personal opinion, and has absolutely no Scriptural or theological basis. But for me, I find it is the best course.

How about you? What do you think?