When I was in seminary preparing for ministry, I never imagined what I have encountered since then as a counselor. So many times I sat with confused and discouraged people, people who had made regrettable personal decisions that further complicated their travels through this broken world.
I want to begin this Ministry Article where the last one ended. We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There's a danger in thinking that the well-educated and trained seminary graduate is ministry ready. There's great danger in mistaking knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity.
To fight these two areas of vulnerability, all you need to remember is these three words: "HE SAT DOWN." These words are in the first chapter of Hebrews and are found in a phrase that says of Jesus, "After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." (Hebrews 1:3)
How well do you know your pastor? I don't mean where he went to seminary and what his weekly schedule looks like. How well do you KNOW your pastor. I'm afraid that many times, we don't actually look after the soul of the man leading our church; we ask too few questions and make too many assumptions.
I'm convinced that many of the problems in pastoral culture result from an unbiblical definition of the essential ingredients of ministry success. A pastor's ministry is never just shaped by his experience, knowledge, and skill. It's also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart isn't in the right place, knowledge and skill can make him dangerous.
Life in this fallen world is hard. Preparation is hard. Change is hard. It's easy to get discouraged. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. It's easy to remain or revert to being self-absorbed. It's easy to feel alone. It's easy to think that no one understands what you are going through.
Have you noticed that everything in your life wears out? The sweater that you loved so much and wore winter after winter is now stuffed in the bottom drawer of your dresser, threadbare, unused, and unwanted. The car that excited you so and that even smelled new is now just a car with scratches and squeaks to prove it. The stain-resistant carpet ended up not being so stain-resistant after all.
Waiting can be difficult. It reminds us that we're not in control. But instead of being discouraged during the wait, we should be a participant in what God is doing in us and through us during the wait. Last week we looked at four of those reasons, and today we'll add three more to that list.
As you wait, tell yourself again and again that you haven't been singled out. Remind yourself that you're part of a vast company of people who are being called to wait. Reflect on the biblical story. Abraham waited many years for his promised son. Israel waited 420 years for deliverance from Egypt, then another 40 years before they could enter the land God had promised them.
Life is a struggle. The Lord, in His wisdom, has left us in a fallen world. But perhaps our struggles are not primarily about the brokenness that surrounds us. Could it be there is something we bring to each of these struggles that makes them harder to bear?
I'm convinced that many Christians live with a big gap in their understanding of what God has done for them. Most people understand that Jesus died so their sins can be forgiven, and most people understand that He died so they can have a future with Him in eternity, but I've found that few understand what Jesus has provided for them today.
It is important to understand the two essential parts of effective preaching and how each requires its own discipline of preparation. First, there is the content part of preaching. Preaching is all about accurately exegeting and understanding the truths of the gospel as they unfold in a particular passage of Scripture. I cannot rush this aspect of my preparation.
I want to examine one place where there is entirely too much mediocrity in the church of Jesus Christ: preaching. For about 40 weekends each year I am with some body of Christ somewhere in the world. Often I am not able to get out on Saturday, so I will attend the service of the local congregation (when I am not scheduled to preach). What I am about to say will probably get me into trouble, but I am convinced it needs to be said. I am saddened and distressed to say it, but I am tired of hearing boring, inadequately prepared theological lectures, delivered by uninspired preachers reading manuscripts, all done in the name of biblical preaching.
If your heart is in functional awe of the glory of God, then there will be no place in your heart for poorly prepared, badly delivered, pastoral mediocrity. We should all be shocked at the level of mediocrity we tolerate in the life and ministry of the local church.
I wondered how many congregations around the world are plainly and simply being poorly fed by unprepared pastors. I wondered how many sermons end up being boring restatements of favorite commentaries or little more than impersonal, poorly delivered theological lectures.
Fear is a daily battle that everyone in ministry is called to fight. Because we all tend at points to suffer from God amnesia, because we live in a fallen world and do not write our own stories, being ruled by fear is always a clear and present danger. There are moments when all of us get captured. When all of us get sidetracked.
Few things better reveal the full range of sin, immaturity, weakness, and failure than ministry. Few things will expose your weaknesses so consistently. Few endeavors will put you under such public expectancy and scrutiny. Few things are so personally humbling.
In a sin-broken world that doesn't function as God intended there are reasons for every pastor to be afraid. It would be silly and unwise not to be. But you must guard your heart against being ruled by fear. So let's take an honest look at fear and pastoral ministry.
He carried with him the dirty secret that many pastors carry; the one that is so hard for a "man of faith" to admit. The dirty secret was that much of what he did was not done out of faith, but out of fear.
What traits does the awe of God produce in the heart of a pastor that are vital for an effective, God-honoring, and productive ministry? Here is a list of six.
It is hard to overstate the importance of functional awe of God to your ministry. Awe of God is one thing that will keep a church from running off its rails and being diverted by the many agendas that can sidetrack any congregation.
The question that ended my last article begins this one. Could there be a greater danger in ministry than the one leading the ministry losing his awe? Let me explain.
What powerful words of warning to everyone in ministry of any type: "the great danger lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things." What is the danger? Familiarity with the things of God will cause you to lose your awe.
It took God employing hardship for me to embrace the inescapable reality that everything I did in ministry was done in allegiance to, and in pursuit of, either the kingdom of self or the kingdom of God.
I didn't just give way to the temptation to let pastoral ministry become my identity. I fell into two other temptations as well. I let biblical literacy and theological knowledge define my maturity.