The Rest of God

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While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

What is Love?

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“What is love, baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.:” –Haddaway
I’ve heart a lot of opinions about love in my lifetime and I would sum up our world’s definition of love as relationships void of pain. But is a relationship void of pain really full of love?
After a difficult ministry season my wife and I went on a quiet retreat. I had experienced great conflicts, unfair accusations, and was held in resentment by people close to me. While normally pretty resilient, I was beginning to crumble inside. I spent time in prayer asking God to immerse me in His love and give me the courage to continue in these difficulties. It was then I found myself singing an old hymn.

The Love of God is greater far than any pen or tongue can tell.
It goes beyond the highest height and reaches to the lowest hell…
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky…
The love of God so rich and pure, so measureless and strong,
it shall forever more endure, the saints and angel’s song.

He reminded me that responding to the love of God would guarantee that people would hate us (1 Jn 3:13), and that to continue in this loving relationships with Him by faith I might feel abandoned by Him from time to time (Job 13:15). His loving plan for my life might even involve painful experiences (2 Co 12:8). Dr. Henry Cloud points out in Boundaries in Marriage that “ just because someone is in pain doesn’t necessarily mean that something bad is happening…. (Is it) pain that leads to injury? (Or is it) pain leads to growth?” I realized the pain I was experiencing was not leading to permanent injury, even the fact that it led me to cry out to God was indicating it was pain that was leading to my spiritual and relational growth!
I prayed that He would cast me so far into the oceans of His love that I couldn’t swim back to my flesh even if I tried. I prayed that He would plunge me into the depths of His love so far I couldn’t swim back up to the surface of earthly resentments even if I was tempted to.
In “The Lego Batman Movie” the Joker is trying to convince Batman that he is the villain Batman hates the most. Batman says to Joker: “I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to entrap me into a relationship.” Joker says to Batman, “Do you realize, [in all these years], you’ve never once said, ‘I hate you, Joker.’? Listen to this, ‘I hate you, Batman.’ Now your turn.” And Batman replies, “Me too.” To which Joker replied, “I am not going to be part of a one-sided relationship any longer!” I sat there considering whether you can hate without acknowledging love? Can you be an atheist without acknowledging there is something not to believe in?
The Bible doesn’t define love as the absence of pain. Infact, Jesus willingness to experience a painful crucifixion is His demonstration of love for us. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life.”  Sounds painful to me!  The Bible defines love as the absence of fear (1 John 4:18).  So while love may involves pain, we don’t have to be afraid of the pain.  Love covers a multitude of pains!

for more articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

Why Pastor In Residence Ministries?

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Have you ever lost a job? It’s never a fun experience. It hurts. Cleaning out your office is hard. Then the questions start. What am I going to do? How will we pay the bills? What will we do about health insurance? Will we lose our home?
When a pastor transitions out of a church, there are more conversations. He has to comfort his wife’s tears as she loses her community. He has to explain to his kids why they can’t go to church with their friends anymore. And while many people can change jobs without changing homes, for most pastors, a change of churches requires moving to another city. A pastor and his family invest their whole world into the church, their home, their community, and all their Christian relationships.
My wife and I are in a transition of our own. Two years ago we found mold in our attic because it wasn’t vented properly. We spend a lot of time and money fixing the problem. Recently we realized our kids rashes, stomach aches, and other symptoms may be from mold. We have been displaced from our home for three weeks this time. Fortunately, we’re finding it may not be our home, but our belongings. We are in the process of losing all our clothes and porous possessions. Why do we care so much about where we live and what we wear? I don’t know but we do.
In John 21 Jesus said to Peter, “18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.
Many pastors have a Peter calling and this effects the whole family. Sometimes they find the Lord’s plan is difficult. Pastor In Residence (PIR) Ministries exists to help pastors and their families in the difficult transitions of ministry. http://www.pirministries.org   Many pastors transition every 4 – 10 years and many of these transitions last 12-18 months. If you’re a pastor and you don’t know what is next, you’re not alone. You’re not crazy. Be encouraged. God’s plan may be uncomfortable but He always takes care of His kids.

The road I have traveled has sometimes been steep,
through wild jagged places of life.
Sometimes I’ve stumbled and fallen so hard
that the stones cut my soul like a knife.
But the staff of my Shepherd would reach out for me
and lift me to cool pastures green.
With oil of the spirit anointing my wounds,
there I’d rest by the clear healing stream.
Oh, but now more than ever I cherish the cross.
More than ever I sit at His feet.
All the miles of my journey have proved my Lord true,
and He is so precious to me.
Is Love’s Old Sweet Story too good to be true?
Do you find all this hard to believe?
Has the cruel world we live in so battered your heart
that the hurt child inside you can’t grieve?
I can’t say I blame you.
I’ve been where you are.
But all I can say is it’s true!
You’re wanted, You’re precious,
You’re the love of His heart,
and the old rugged cross is for you.
More Than Ever lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GcihwpFWkE

David Strengthened Himself In The Lord

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As a pastor I spend most of my time in one of two areas.  I serve people suffering weakness, like hospitalizations or financial needs, and I spend time responding to conflicts like  broken marriages and church disagreements.  I was recently encouraged by Dr. Zack Eswine (The Imperfect Pastor) when he shared the story of how David responded to these things in 1 Samuel 30.

In previous chapters David had been fleeing King Saul who was trying to kill him and then he was rejected by the Philistine leaders in 1 Samuel 29 who didn’t approve of him.  In the beginning of chapter 30 David and his men were raided and all their wives and children were taken.  David’s men were so upset they wept till they had no more strength to weep, and then they talked of stoning David.  And the Bible says, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.”  As we continue reading, some of David’s men were so overcome with grief they were too weak to go recapture their wives and children, so 200 of them stayed behind.  Upon reclaiming all the wives and children and plundering the Amalekites, the 400 who went resented the 200 who stayed back and refused to share the plunder with them.

And David, having strengthened himself in the Lord, was able to “manage well with all dignity” (1Ti3:4) and give grace to them all.  Those too weak to contribute were blessed alongside those who worked hard for it.  And those in conflict, who were filled with resentment, were blessed alongside those who had been overcome by love for their families.  May we strengthen ourselves in the Lord and bless those who are weak and those who are angry.

Be encouraged; God’s grace is for you.

Joggling Pastoral Transitions

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Recently I saw a commercial featuring marathon joggler Michal Kapral, who set a world record in running a full marathon while juggling, otherwise known as joggling.  While in a pastoral transition I could relate to the high pace of life while trying to keep multiple balls in the air.  See Michal talk about this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDd07tyMwzA

Pastoral ministry is much like juggling while running a marathon.  There are certainly times of fatigue and endurance.  There is as much mental stamina required as physical, oh, and spiritual stamina too!  What most people may not realize is that every pastor I know, whether serving in a one pastor church, or those serving in a multiple staff churches, every pastor is running and juggling multiple things while trying not to let one of those balls drop.  And when a ball does drop, there’s the grief of people focusing on the one ball bouncing alongside rather than the successful juggling and running act being performed right in front of their eyes!  This criticizing the imperfect circus act can feel very isolating.

I find the same is true in my walk with Jesus.  Why is it that before becoming a Christian, I didn’t feel good enough for God apart from Jesus, but now that I’m in Christ, I don’t feel good enough for God with Jesus?  I’m also focused on the one ball bouncing alongside this miraculous event of the Holy Spirit functioning within me?  The Holy Spirit’s ministry in me makes me look like I’m running and juggling at the same time!

While in a pastoral transition we often find ourselves juggling a few new balls on top of the usual.  There’s the ball of insecurity that comes with a new position or the lack of one.  There’s the ball of new problems and/or new responsibilities to face.  And then there’s that big medicine ball of fear that comes with a transition.  Ever tried to juggle a medicine ball and two tennis balls?!  We have to learn to administrate new things to get this ship back to safe harbor!

When life is moving too fast and there’s too many balls to juggle, I’m reminded of the story of Mary and Martha.  Jesus says Martha is worried and upset about many things, including her project partner.  But Mary is at peace and enjoying what is most important, a forever friend.

So in joggling pastoral transitions, may we overcome the tendency to be discouraged, worried, or upset about things like our project partners, and may we enjoy the forever friends that He provides along the way.

Oh, and way to go, you juggle and run really well!

Creating a Culture of Ministry Health

Dear Church Board and Chairperson,

Management Consultant Peter Drucker called church leadership “the most difficult and taxing role he knew.”1  LifeWay Research Vice President Scott McConnell said of pastors, “This is a brutal job, churches ought to be concerned.”2  100% of pastors surveyed by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development had a close associate or seminary friend who had left the ministry due to church conflict, stress related burnout, or a moral failure.3 

Until your church is large enough to hire an executive pastor, you as a board are the human resources department.  It is a huge responsibility to steward your employees, and stewarding the pastoral position has unique challenges.

If you want to create a culture of ministry health and growth, you need to intentionally identify and address the risks that could sabotage your goal. Below are 10 questions that reflect the challenges that you and your pastor face, as researched by Dr. Charles A. Wickman in Pastors at Risk (note chapter references in parentheses).

  1. How do we become unified with our pastor to clarify, communicate, and contend for God’s vision for our church? (Ch#4) “The primary stressor experienced by pastors, leading the most often to forced resignation, is vision conflict.” -Wickman/Spencer4
  2. How do we help our pastor by setting appropriate and manageable expectations of our pastor and clearly communicating them to him and our church? (Ch#7) “In a survey asking how exited pastors experienced stress in their ministry, role conflict was a top ranked producer of stress second only to conflict over how ministry was to be done in the church.” –Wickman5
  3. How are we helping our pastor train volunteers and delegate (administrate) responsibilities? (Ch#6)George Barna has discovered that while 69% of the pastors of effective churches have preaching/teaching as their primary gift emphasis, administration and leadership are found in only 15% of these pastors.” – John Hawco6
  4. How are we facilitating healthy communication in our church? (Ch#9) “Most church conflict results from poor communication.” -Rick Warren7
  5. How do we help our pastor manage the grief and loss he experiences regularly and create a culture of joy? (Ch#11) “Ministry is fraught with grief because of difficulty in relationships between sheep and shepherd, people and pastor.” -John A. MacArthur8
  6. How do we help our pastor manage stress related burnout and encourage him to have enough rest? (Ch#1-2) “75% of pastors experience a significant crisis that they faced due to stress in the ministry” -Fuller Institute9
  7. How do we help our pastor say no and handle the criticism that comes with it? (Ch#8) “All of the top at risk pastors said it was difficult for them to say no.” -Wickman10
  8. How do we help our pastor manage discouragement and encourage him to invest in self care? (Ch#3) “70% of pastors constantly fight depression.” -Fuller Institute11
  9. How do we support our pastor to pursue a healthy relationship with his wife? (Ch#10) “77% of pastors felt they did not have a good marriage.” -FASICLD 12
  10. How do we help our pastor manage isolation and encourage him to meet with pastors of other churches and denominations? (Ch#5) “Only a fellow minister can point out the width and depth of the rut in which a colleague may be running.” – Winton H. Beaven13

Thank you for investing in the health of your church by addressing the 10 Risks every church and its pastor face.  If you would like further resources or there’s any way we can support and strengthen your ministry, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Serving Jesus together,

jason@pirministries.org

1 Grudem, Elliot. “Pour It Out,” Leadership Journal, Winter 2016.

2 Green, Lisa Cannon. “The One Percent;” Christianity Today, September 1, 2015.

3,8,9,11,12 Krejcir, Dr. Richard J. “Statistics On Pastors,” http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=36562, 2007.

4,5,10, Wickman, Dr. Charles A. Pastors at Risk, 2014.

6 Hawco, John. “The Senior Pastor/Executive Pastor Team: A Contemporary Paradigm For The Larger Church Staff,” Dissertation, https://www.xpastor.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/hawco_john.pdf, 2005.

7 Warren, Rick. “Develop These 7 Skills When You Want People to Listen,” http://pastors.com/develop-these-7-skills-when-you-want-people-to-listen/, October 2, 2015.

8 MacArthur, John A. “Restoring the Grieving Pastor’s Joy,” https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/47-48/restoring-the-grieving-pastors-joy-part-1, September 24, 1995.

13 Beaven, Winton H. “Ministerial Burnout-Cause and Prevention,” https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1986/03/ministerial-burnout-cause-and-prevention, March 1986.

Pastor, Are You At Risk?

In 2012 my 10 year plan was completely derailed as I found myself exiting a pastoral position I loved.  In the wake of this painful transition I was introduced to the Pastor In Residence ministry to pastor’s and their wives.  Their at risk survey would have been a huge benefit to me on the front end had I known about it.

If you or those around you are feeling that something isn’t right about your present pastoral situation, please take this free survey created through years of research by Dr. Charles A. Wickman regarding the risks pastors face.

At-Risk Pastor Survey

May God richly bless you and your family.  Thank you for serving His church.