“Do you want to be a great pastor for God?”
“Don’t quit, don’t fornicate, you will be the only one left and you will be great.”
I was stunned by those words.
Is that all it takes to be great for God as a pastor?
I heard these words for the first time in my Historical Theology class at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1994 from Dr. John Hannah when I was a 23-year old seminary student studying for the pastorate.
I am now 49 years old and realize how difficult it is and seemingly at times impossible to do these two simple things…
You will be the only one left…
And…well…you’ll be great.
For some of you reading this, this statement is incendiary to you. Maybe you have had a moral failure in the ministry, and have gone through the process of properly being restored, and you are serving God’s people again. If that is the case, please know that this is not about bashing those who have quit or had moral failures. I am extremely grateful for those choice servants of the Lord who did the very difficult task of allowing others to dig deep into their hearts and help them be restored to the pastorate. I wish them nothing but the best and I cheer them on, but this is not about that.
This is not about moral supremacy in the ministry. This is not about how “perfect” someone can be while serving God’s people.
This is about, “how do I set out on a journey to live for God my entire life as a pastor and cross the finish line of life without having prematurely quit or fornicated along the way?”
I have now served at the same church for 23 years. In 1996, my wife and I traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado, with the Southern Baptist Convention and started Vanguard Church. Vanguard was one of 34 church plants in the north end of Colorado Springs that year. 23 years later, I am the only founding pastor still at the church he started. Don’t quit. Don’t fornicate. You will be the only guy left and you will be great.
But here’s the problem, I don’t feel great. I pastor a church that has only averaged over a 1,000 people for one year in those 23 years and that was almost a decade ago. Matter a fact, one year, 23% of the church left in seemingly one week. I really felt “great” that week.
My professor would tell me I’m great but my heart tells me I’m average at best. I had grandeur illusions of what the church I planted could become. I had grandeur illusions of who I could be for God. 13 years into this journey I was lost, discontent, deeply wounded, confused, angry, hurt, betrayed, and forced to face the reality that I too had created a church with problems. It was not perfect. It did not ring the bell and solve all the dilemmas the modern church is facing. Matter a fact, as I look around most of my church is just like your church. As a church planter, I wanted to create a unique church, but the problem with that is the church is made up of other people besides me and eventually someone other than yourself has to win out or you get to do it all by yourself. And as I reflect on the church I planted 23 years ago, I realize 80% or more of the church I planted is probably just like every other church. We are not as unique as I thought we would be.
So, the dilemma is how do I let go of growing a church and focus on God growing me? It sounds simple and it is. But after 20 plus years, I have discovered what my teacher already knew. Simplicity doesn’t equal easy.
In 20 plus years of church planting and pastoring, I have discovered four D’s that have anchored me along the way and have enabled me so far to remain faithful to my calling and to my Savior, Jesus. I don’t pretend to have perfected these, matter a fact, I am down right fearful to even put them in writing. I have battled the Enemy and his ploys long enough to know I do not want to become more of a target for His anger and rage. I tread very cautiously on what I am going to say, because I know I will give an account to my God for how I attempt to lead HIS choice servants who have dedicated their entire lives to serving His people.
1. Stay Disciplined
- Meditate on God through Scripture.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet.
- Confess your sin to God through journaling.
Proverbs 28:13 “Whoever conceals transgression will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
- Grow in your commitment to God through fasting.
Matthew 4:4 Man shall not live by bread alone.
- Learn to listen to and for God’s voice through prayer.
Isaiah 55:6 Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near.
2. Keep Dreaming
Abraham had a dream. Joseph had a dream. Mary had a dream. We ALL need a God ordained and instructed dream to carry us through ALL THE DAYS of our lives.
One of my favorite verses of the Bible is…
Genesis 25:11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac HIS SON.
The verse is subtle but SIGNIFICANT.
Abraham’s dream was to have a son.
That verse is a declaration of a dream fulfilled after 25 years of WAITING.
The value of our lives is not just determined in what is accomplished while we are here on planet earth, but also what we leave behind. Abraham believed God and it is was accounted to Him as righteousness. And by the way, he also fulfilled His dream that God gave Him.
How about you? You still dreaming? After 23 years of the pastorate, I continue to ask God to give me visions and dreams of who He desires me to be and how He desires me to live it out.
Maybe it is time for you to dream again!
This pandemic may be beating the life out of you right now. Ask God for a NEW or RENEWED dream.
Watch what He does!
The third D that has sustained me in the pastorate is...
3. Be Determined.
- Through rejection and betrayal
It happened to Jesus, it will happen to you and me. Jesus told his disciples, “They hated me, they will hate you.” (John 15:18) It is part of the territory. However, after 23 years of the pastorate, I have discovered a valuable reminder. More people are Peter than Judas in your life and ministry. Remember people will fail you and even betray you, but few will vindictively be Judases seeking to destroy you. Forgive people. They have clay feet just like us. More people will be like the Apostle Peter in your life than Judas. Forgive them like Jesus did and give them a second chance.
- Through Disappointment and hardship
Over the years I have struggled with various health and emotional issues due to the ministry and the pastorate. Every time I go to the doctor, they ask, “Are you under stress.” I used to say yes and explain how, now I just, “I am a pastor.”
- Through Leadership failure
I had a week in my ministry when we had to cut $500,000 out of our budget and lay off eight staff. I wish I could say it was completely not my fault, but I learned valuable lessons that have helped me lead better since then.
- Through Temptation
C.S. Lewis said it best, “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good.”
I don’t know what you are dealing with, but I encourage you to be determined to see it through.
The last D is…
4. Choose Dependence
The older you get, and the more people disappoint you, the harder it will be to entrust yourself to others. Resist it and be dependent upon God through others. It is a huge key to maintaining health, balance, and true personal holiness for the long haul.
- Through Accountability
Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
- Through boundaries
1 Corinthians. 9:27 Discipline your body and keep it under control
- Through Rest and Recreation:
Hebrews 4:9 There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
The hardest work of the pastorate is true rest.
- Through Trusting His promises
Joshua said it best at the end of his life…
Joshua 23:14a “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things[a] that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All (the promises) have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 15 But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.”
Please know I am not an expert. Please know I don’t feel great for God. Please know I don’t even feel significant, but so far, I have attempted to heed my professor’s words Please take what is helpful for your ministry and life and use it to bring more glory to Jesus and, whatever you find unhelpful, remember this is not the Bible, it is just a book.
My favorite prayer to pray after I preach, teach, or counsel others is this: “Lord, whatever they have heard from me that is of you, help them never forget it. Whatever is of me, I pray they forget it the moment they walk out of the building.”
I am just a servant like you. But I am more convinced than ever that after two plus decades of ministry that these words of wisdom, which I will outline through a series of “D’s” have guided and protected me along my journey. More than I can emphasize with my native tongue, these four D’s have anchored me along the way and allowed me to live out the calling God has placed on my life.
It makes me nervous to say these four D’s will “make you great for God.” But what I do feel comfortable saying is these four D’s can help you be a good pastor for Jesus. And with that said, I think these D’s are good enough. May they anchor you as they have me and may you be able to say at the end of your life these words:
“I didn’t quit.”
“I didn’t fornicate.”
And may you then hear from the Lord…
“Well done, good pastor.”
And you, my friend, will be known as GREAT for God by your spouse, your children, and God’s people in your lifetime!