The Struggle for Contentment in Ministry

I got into ministry hoping to do something great for God. I was going to change lives, shape communities, and see people in large numbers become super-Christians. I took a small church while in seminary to give me experience and to support my family. I was never going to stay there. I had gifts and abilities that made me a good prospect for larger churches.

But then God did a funny thing (as God often does, I have found). God called me to stay at that church. I assumed that God had big things in store for this church. But then another funny thing happened—God has not done huge things there. He has done a lot and it has been cool to see. Still, it moves a little slow for me. I even started a doctor of ministry to burn off some access energy.

I am not complaining. I love it where I am and feel truly called there. What I am reflecting on is this drive that I have for bigger and better. Pastors are in a weird place. We are called to love our people where they are while we are helping to shepherd them to where they could or should be. God may call us to larger churches, but God also might call us to stay where we are. We get into this vocation to do great things and then we end up doing a little of boring and ordinary things.

I think too many pastors are working for their next church or striving for the church that their current church could be. What we really should be doing is being faithful in the little things where we are. We all struggle to be content in ministry. Mountaintop moments of success are far apart and far too quick when they happen.

I wonder if we, like the Old Testament prophets, are called to embody and experience what we are prophesying. Maybe we are like Hosea marrying an unfaithful woman living out God being cheated on. Or maybe we are like Jeremiah laying on a stone to represent sin.

Pastors, more than anyone else, live in the tension of “now and not yet.” This is the theological understanding that God’s kingdom is paid for and has come and yet is not here in the potency and power that it someday will have. We live deep in the current conditions of our world and our people and at the same time we proclaim and work for a world that has not yet come. Our sermons are preached from this tension. Our counselling is done in this tension.

So maybe this struggle of ambition vs. contentment and of what is vs. what could be is not something to be feared. Maybe it should be expected. Maybe it is normal. Maybe it is part of the call.

 

The Church and the Wealthy

The church has been tough on the rich. We have loved preaching texts about the Eye of the Camel and the Rich Man and Lazarus. We hang onto passages where the rich are the bad guys.

Certainly there are warnings for the rich. Having wealth can make you self-reliant and make it harder to humble yourself before God. Wealth can be earned at the expense of others or used to abuse others. The prophets rail against this.

wealthy

But we need some better perspective. I Timothy 6:10 says that the love of money is the root of all evil. It does not say that money is evil. Proverbs shares a lot of principles for money. Sometimes the wealthy person was the good guy in the parables. The father in the Prodigal Son had lots of wealth. The Good Samaritan had to be people of means to spend the way he does on this hurt man. The Vineyard Owner in the Parable of the Vineyard had to be wealthy to pay even the later workers a full day’s wages.

Jesus’ ministry was supported by some wealthy people. Lazarus and his family had a home big enough to host Jesus and his disciples often. Martha could cook for the whole group. Joseph of Arimathia gives Jesus a tomb.

Wealth may have challenges for Christians but it also has opportunities. Ministries need funding. The poor need help. Sometimes people are given gifts by God to be fruitful with money so that they can also be generous.

In ministry we love to be with the poor. We love to do ministry to people where they are. But we don’t think this way if people are wealthy. We want their checks, but do we shepherd their hearts toward generosity? Do we give them opportunities to give to things they feel are important? Do we only invite them to serve by giving money?

Today our churches are struggling financially. Perhaps part of the problem is they have not cared for those with financial means as we should have. We have made them feel guilty for God’s blessing to them and God’s calling for them instead of encouraging and supporting it.

Learning Followership

I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of reading a book or blog or listening to a talk or sermon and thinking—“This is the conclusion to something I have been thinking about for a while.” It is almost as if the authors knew what you were thinking and were able to take it to its end and flesh it out for you. The teacher of my Doctor of Ministry Program Len Sweet has an uncanny knack for both writing and assigning books that do this to me.

Most recently I had this experience with the book Leadership is Half the Story: A Fresh Look at Followership, Leadership, and Collaboration. In it, the business authors write about the need for us to look at teaching not just leadership but also followership. We have not taught people how to be good followers. If everyone is a leader then there is no teamwork, no partnership, or no collaboration. There are only individuals.

At the same time that we have not developed followership the world has increasing demanded it. More work is being done in teams. These teams require a growing amount of collaboration as individual members of the team have unique contributions to projects. This is even more challenging when the team has to function over distance.

I loved how the authors talk about leadership and followership. They say that leaders set the frame of the work. They are responsible to set up the goals, constraints, and timelines for the work. The follower do the work within that frame. I loved this because I think this is a great way to frame leadership. Leaders don’t control all of the work but actually help those they are leading to do the work. This also emphasizes the importance of good followers.

How many bosses really help their employees do their work? How many employees really work to help their bosses get their goals accomplished?


I think the idea of followership is especially important for Christians. As Len Sweet discussed in his book Summoned to Lead, Christians are first and foremost followers. Central to our identity and work is the reality that we are followers of Christ. Sometimes God summons us to the front of a group of followers, but we are always still following Jesus. How are we doing at following?

The Scariest Passage in the Bible Part 2

In my previous blog I wrote about Matthew 7:21-23 which I think is the scariest passage in the Bible. In it Jesus shows people who did miracles, cast out demons, and prophesied in His name who are not granted eternity with Him. In order to really understand that passage, you have to understand what follows:

[24] “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. [26] And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. [27] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-25

Let’s play the passage out like a movie for a moment. Two people go out to build houses. One builds in the sand where it is easier to dig and easier to level everything out. One man builds on rock. It is harder to chip into the rock and anchor the house. The rock is also uneven which makes building difficult. Probably the one in the sand gets done first and sits in a lawn chair watching the other work a lot longer on his house. But a storm comes with driving wind, rain, and floods. The text says the one of the rock stands but the one in the sand falls and great was the fall. It is obliterated!!

You are building a house. This means more than your spiritual life. It is your whole life. What you do. Where you work. Jesus has, in this sermon, be talking about all kinds of areas of real life. The question is–What are you building your house on?

USCG_Tillamook_Rock_Lighthouse

If you are wise it is on the things of God and on the will of God. If you are foolish it is sand. Sand for the people in this story is trying to build your life on the very impressive public displays of faith like those who are previously denied entry into heaven.

What distinguishes the rock and the sand? Whether you do words of Jesus or not. Not if you know certain things or pray certain things. Are you doing them? Protestant and evangelical Christianity have been so scared of a works salvation that they have sometimes failed to grasp the true important of doing God’s Words. If you are not living the faith in real and tangible ways in everyday life then your foundation is wrong. A foundation in Christ is a foundation that produces good works.

So how do you know what your foundation is? Your foundation is revealed in the storm. On nice days both houses might look good. But when the rain starts falling and the floods come then the foundation will be revealed.

The tricky part is that Houses are built in good weather, but they are built for bad weather. I have seen so many people that don’t develop their faith and aren’t involved in church and when a storm in life comes they collapse because they don’t have a good foundation. I don’t see them for a year or two at church other than Christmas or Easter and then they lose someone suddenly and are devastated. It is like not working out for a long time and then life demanding that you run a marathon. They did not build their house on good days and when the flood comes they can’t build fast enough.

I told you that this is the scariest passage in the Bible. How could Christians that do such great things be told by God “Depart from me”? How can someone who did the work to build a house lose it because the foundation was bad?

Yet as scary as these ideas are, this is also a passage filled with hope. The words you hear before the Lord don’t have to be “I never knew you. Depart from me” Jesus does the work to offer you the hope of being known. He is the wrong and offers you a different kind of foundation. He is the one with authority to say “I never knew you” but He is also the one who crossed the cosmos so that He could know you. And if you will do the hard work of living with Him truly as your Lord, then you can instead hear the words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. I know you well. Come into the party.”

This blog is based on a recent sermon. You can listen to the sermon at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com/e/the-scariest-passage-in-the-bible/.

The Scariest Passage in the Bible Part 1

[21] “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23

This is the scariest passage in the Bible. In this little parable Jesus shows a group of people who are refused entry into heaven. They were never known by Him. They claim to have prophesied, cast out demons, and done mighty works. This claim is not refuted by Jesus. But still they are forced to depart from Him.

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Last_Judgement_-_WGA20225It should first of all stand out to us, as it had to have for those listening to the Sermon on the Mount, that Jesus is claiming that He will be judging in those days. That is a pretty incredible claim.

These are supposedly exemplary Christians. These are not dirty rotten sinners hearing these words. They are externally excellent. – How many of you prophesy, cast out demons, or do might works? Got a lot of healings under your belt? They say the right things and the do great work and wonders. They say that they do these things in God’s name but they are also claiming that they are doing them and not God doing it through them.

These are exemplary Christians and would be all-stars in our churches, but they get it wrong. Prophesied things about other people- but did they pray? They cast devils out of others, but what about the devil in them? They did marvels, but not the essentials. Did they serve others, pray in secret, did they have meekness, did their hearts break for the wounds of others?

How many Presbyterians are going to get to heaven and say- “Lord, Lord, didn’t I show up to Sunday most weeks, put money in the offering plate, serve as a liturgist, do coffee hour, serve on session, serve on the deacons…?”

Just because God is using you does not mean that your relationship is right with God. The opposite is clearly expressed in the life of Job. Just because your life is not going well does not mean that your relationship is wrong with God. God does with us what God wants.

I think this is so scary because it makes it difficult to know where we stand with God. Are we known by God or not? I am especially terrified by these verses as a pastor. Am I leading people to Christ or just to the church? How many of my people will hear the words “I never knew you” on that day?

But to understand this passage, you have to read it with the next passage. I will explore that in my next blog.

This blog is based on a recent sermon. You can listen to the sermon at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com/e/the-scariest-passage-in-the-bible/.

Why Waiting on the Lord…Why I don’t Like It

Isaiah 40:30-31 says:
[30] Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
[31] but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

I don’t like these verses. I don’t like waiting. I go to the grocery store when the lines are shorter. I don’t like amusement parks because I don’t like to wait in line.

I want God to answer my prayers in my timing (which is basically immediately). I don’t like waiting for God to answer or to lead. Waiting drains my strength. Waiting makes me want to lie down. Waiting makes me weary. Waiting makes me faint.

So are these verses wrong? I don’t think so. I think these verses come from the long term perspective that we need to have. We faint and we get weary, but we need to wait on the Lord. We need to not rush to take care of things ourselves. We get impatient and try to do our own will because we don’t want to wait for God.

It may be hard for a while, but we do better when we wait for God to save us and lead us. That is the only place where we can find strength. That is the only place where we can fly.

I may hate it in the moment, but that is worth waiting for.

Are Pastors Pros? A response to a response

I recently wrote a blog pondering what ways the pastor is and is not a professional. My blog was responded to by a blog of my good friend Dan Turis. Dan said that he disagreed with me and then proceeded to write a blog that I agree with. I think where Dan and I ultimately disagree is about the danger of professionalism.suit tie

Dan seems to be worried that pastors are not being professional enough. They are seeing their jobs as less important than the work of people like doctors, lawyers, or business executives. There certainly seems to be a decline in the public opinion of pastors.

I think Dan is right to be worried about that. I have seen too many pastors trying to be cool. Pastors need to have and show more respect for their vocation if others will follow.

But I am more concerned in the other direction. The more prevalent problem today is that pastors have hidden behind their professionalism. The can lead an organization and play a role instead of caring for people or tending to their own sanctification. They can become proud and use their pulpits and their parishioners to fill their own ego. They can build vision statements and do organizational development instead of living God’s Kingdom in this world. They separate themselves from the care of people and from truly listening to God.

Dan says, “Simply put being professional and “having a heart for God and his ministry,” are not exclusive. They are one in the same.” They should be, but sometimes pastors get out of balance and ministry becomes either/or instead of both/and.

Grace AND Truth

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is much more than forgiveness. It means that God is for us and not against.

Truth is reality. It is facts. It is honest but more than that is means being true to what the world is really like.

Jesus is full of grace and truth. He is not all grace. There is a reality to Jesus coming that makes some people run and hide. Jesus is truth that we do not always want to hear. But Jesus is not all truth either. Yes, staring into the face of Christ may mean that you have to change or may have to confront a truth you don’t want. But God is also for you, on your side, and in your corner. God wants the best for you even when you, like a child at Toys R Us, don’t know what is best for yourself.

Grace are not opposites. They are two sides to the same coin. And we need them both. We need the support of knowing that those around us are for us and we need others to speak truth into our lives when we are off base.

Have you ever been in a church or on a team that is all grace and no truth? Here you are great, special, perfect the way you are. It feels good, but people in these contexts are never challenged and never grow.

Have you ever been in a church or on a team that is all truth but no grace? Here you are not doing this right, not living up to this standard, or not doing enough of that. These contexts do not feel good and many people think this kind of feedback will force growth. But in the end people in these contexts are not supported enough to really step out and grow.

We need a balance of grace and truth in our lives over time to see growth and change. Jesus was full of both. I think that Christ’s churches and Christ’s followers ought to be full of both as well.

(For more on grace and truth, please devour the works of
Henry Cloud and John Townsend)

Are Pastors Professionals?

The last few hundred years have shown the rise of the professional. Before that most people were farmers or traders. But now we have professions—doctors, lawyers, executives… These people are marked by their dress, their full time work, their education and training, and their respect and prestige in the community. Another mark of a professional is specialization. Some doctors may be general practitioners, but many specialize in things like pediatrics, oncology, or neurology. When you get sick you may get referred to one of these specialists. Lawyers have their specialties in certain types of law just as executives often have their own areas of the business to manage.

professional

Is the pastor a professional? Do pastors also fall into this category? We have certainly tried. Starting in Calvin’s day the pastors tried to look and act like university professors. In recent years, pastors have tried to look and act like psychological counselors or CEO’s. We have even specialized ministry. We have pastors for youth, young adults, family, counselling, worship, and preaching.

The trick is that we are professionals and we are not. We are in the sense that there is someone of a part to play and we need to respect that part. Whether a pastor wears a robe, a suit, or skinny jeans there is still a wardrobe for the pastor. Many are still full time and most certainly have the expertise and training. We een retain some respect and prestige in the community. Some of us are specialists and some contexts demand more specialized ministry.

At the same time, we are not quite professionals. We are required to general practitioners. We have to be proficient (or at least knowledgeable) about a bunch of areas—Bible, preaching, teaching, worship, organization, running meetings, organizational development, pastoral care, funerals, weddings, community outreach, facilities, fundraising…

Besides the need to be a general practitioner, I believe the heart of being a pastor is not being a professional. The center of the ministry is having a heart that loves God and pursues God’s will. Pastors need to be distinctly non-self-reliant. I worry that an overemphasis on professionalism has harmed the ministry.