In early 2010 I sat in a meeting with church leaders. I had been a senior pastor for just over a year. We were having a meeting to discuss a new building that was to be constructed to house our church in the next year. This turned out to be one of the those meetings a pastor never forgets.
I’m sure many of you have heard of the public resignation of Bob Coy in Ft. Lauderdale this month, as I have. The purpose of this letter is not to muse or lament over this pastor’s public failure. He has not offended or failed me, though I do hurt for him as I also remind myself that I’m more than capable of the same sin; or worse.
There are no shortage of news reports, all the way up to CNN, reporting about his resignation along with countless news articles and blog posts. In reading a few of them a word jumped off the screen this morning which prompted this open letter to my fellow pastors: Epidemic.
More than one article or blog post has determined that pastoral failure to sexual temptation has reached epidemic proportions. I, however, disagree with this assessment. Oh, I do think there is an epidemic. But, I believe the public failures that we read and hear about so often are but a symptom, not the whole disease. The epidemic runs much deeper than that. So many good men have been lost from the ministry and I know I could just as easily be one of them.
I received a copy of Leadership Journal yesterday and the entire issue is about struggle and failure. Like me, you probably have heard many of the gruesome statistics of pastoral dropout. Leadership Journal published that it’s even worse that many of us may have thought. In a side-bar called “Hard Calling” (Spring 2014 issue p. 24) the Journal reports, among other things, some very sobering reminders of this epidemic:
- 80% of pastors are discouraged in their role as pastors.
- 50% of pastors would leave the ministry if they could.
- And, here’s the scariest of them all. For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry. That’s 5%! That’s tragic!
So, what is the epidemic? The epidemic is that we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten that this calling is a calling to enter into a fight. It’s a war! And wars have casualties. Any time we forget this truth we run the risk of becoming a casualty ourselves.
Here are three things I believe we must do, immediately: (If you’re reading this and you’re not a pastor, these principles will help you too.)
- We must have a continual camaraderie with other men who do what we do. Not so we can develop some kind of sub-culture or help each other cover up sin, but so we can encourage each other in the life of holiness to which our God has called us. And, the life of holiness to which we also, by the Word of God, call our churches members. (Just for clarity. We’re not called to a higher standard. We’re called to the same standard of holiness but with a stricter judgment. James 3:1)
- Do not seclude yourself, pastor. If you do, you make yourself a sure target for the enemy. We must have friendship and fellowship with other pastors.
- Do not push away accountability. Though it’s easier, at times, to lead without accountability around you because it keeps away opposition, accountability is necessary. I know none of us like the prospect of a blow-up in a business meeting or some self-absorbed lay person throwing a monkey wrench in to plans that we’re convinced are of the Lord. But, we must resist the urge to lead without input and accountability. It’s just too dangerous.
- Have someone in your life that has permission to ask you anything, at any time. That type of accountability, like having your computer monitor facing the door of your office, just may be what you need to “keep it holy” during times of weakness and temptation. And temptation is going to come, often!
- We must pray for each other. No, seriously. It’s imperative that we begin to have times, even seasons, of prayer over each other.
- What if the first question we ask when we meet in our fellowship is not, “how many did you have Sunday?” but instead, “Can I pray for you, right now?” Think of the spiritual difference it makes in us when we know our brothers are praying for us.
- I have to tell you, one of the most encouraging statements ever made to me was a friend and fellow pastor who told me he was praying for me before he ever knew me. That was incredibly uplifting because I knew he meant it!
- We must remember.
- First, we must remember that every day we wake up and get out of bed we are walking into to a spiritual war. A war that is as real as any conflict we’ve ever seen reported between nations on television. This war is even more vicious and dangerous because we can’t see it with our human eyes. (Ephesians 6:12) There is an enemy and he seeks to destroy. He seeks to destroy you! As soon as you surrendered to dedicate your life to the Gospel of Jesus Christ you became his greatest enemy.
- Second, we must remember that the calling that God has placed upon our lives is not an easy one. Don’t ever expect it to be. Don’t drop your guard and don’t wish for better days or places. Remember, our calling is to deny ourselves and pick up the cross (the block of wood we will be crucified upon) and follow him. (Matt. 16:24) You can do that where you are!
- Third, we must remember that we have the greatest power in the universe working within us. His name is Jesus. Failure happens when we rely on our ability instead of his. We must learn to live a life of, “it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
- Finally, we need to remember there are success stories. There have been, and are, men who have lived long lives in service to the gospel, without failing! I know some of them. It is possible to survive and even more than survive, to flourish! There are men in the fellowship of pastors of which I take part who have been pastoring their churches, successful Gospel proclaiming churches for many, many years. Some of them have been faithful for 45 years or more. It can be done and that should be our goal too!
There is one last thing. When a brother struggles or falls that’s when he needs the love of his fellows more than ever. This is the time we reach out, not ostracize. I hope there are pastors who know Bob Coy who are calling just to tell him that God loves him as do they. When a man falls, he is still our brother.
Every now and then the question comes up: why do you preach the way you do? The question is never about style, it’s always about content. Like, why do I preach series instead of just stand alone messages and why do I preach through books of the Bible?
The reason comes from my own conviction which comes from the Bible itself. Paul warned Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 that the day was coming when people with their ears itching would “heap” up for themselves teachers and try to persuade them to tell them what they want to hear; “suit their own passions.” But, Paul tells Timothy not to fall for that but instead preach the inspired Word of God. And by the way, it’s all inspired. I read today a blog post that explains very well why I do what I do, so let me share it with you.
This is straight from the “Grace to You” blog and is written by John MacArthur. I have copied the post titled “Preach the Word: Because It Brings Depth and Balance to Ministry”in it’s entirety because it explains as well as I ever could why I do what I do:
“One frequently overlooked benefit of consistent Bible exposition is that the preacher’s faith and practice is tested by every text. Over the long haul, everything I have ever taught has had to survive the scrutiny of the Scriptures. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to teach through every verse of the New Testament (using the Old Testament as support and examples). Both my doctrine and my life have been radically shaped by the Word of God, as they have had to stand the test of every single text.
In the big picture, preaching verse by verse, book by book brings a divine balance to ministry. It keeps the preacher from leaving things out or from getting on a hobby horse and riding it to death. It forces him to deal with topics he might not naturally be drawn to if not for the fact that the next verse he is preaching addresses them. Put simply, it requires him to teach God’s truth in the way God revealed it. And that’s the best way to teach.
Some preachers allow their audience to determine what topic they will address. As one popular pastor has written:
Adapt your style to fit your audience. . . . The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text, expecting the unchurched to be fascinated by it. You must first capture their attention, and then move them to the truth of God’s Word. By starting with a topic that interests the unchurched and then showing what the Bible says about it, you can grab their attention, disarm prejudices, and create an interest in the Bible that wasn’t there before.
But such a bait-and-switch approach is really just a recipe for compromise—tempting pastors to tickle the ears of their audience or water down the gospel in an effort to be more appealing. In essence, this approach says that God’s Word is irrelevant, and makes human ingenuity the key to getting sinners interested in the gospel. It is therefore an approach that should be categorically rejected. As James Heidinger writes
Evangelical pastors and theologians can learn from the mainline experience of placing relevance above truth. We must avoid the lure of novelty and soft sell, which, we are told, will make it easier for moderns to believe. Methods may change, but never the message. . . . We are called to be faithful stewards of a great and reliable theological heritage. We have truths to affirm and errors to avoid. We must not try to make these truths more appealing or user friendly by watering them down. We must guard against a trendy “theological bungee jumping” that merely entertains the watching crowd.
We are called to preach the Bible consistently and accurately, fixed on the text as the revealed Word of God which, through the work of the Spirit, alone has the power to save and sanctify souls. When we do this, we can be confident that God is pleased, since our preaching will be in keeping with His Word (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15; 4:2).”
For those who do what I do, you understand the pressures that come with being a pastor or a leadership position that requires you to lead a lot of people. Like any position of leadership, there are always critics and the critics are rarely critical because they want to help. We all know that the negative kind of critic can cause us to hurt, second guess our decisions and even, at times, second guess our calling. So, this short post is intended to be an encouragement to anyone who is discouraged in what they’re called to do. (I’m not grinding any axes here.)
One truth I always try to remind myself is that I am really working, serving, preaching and leading before an audience of one. That is, when this ministry and life are all said and done, I will stand in judgment before the One who has the right to call me out on everything I’ve done; and He will. So, my purpose and goal, ultimately, is to please Him.
That’s a pretty good goal isn’t it; to please Him?
But, we all have those days when we’re down because someone has complained publicly about us or lied about us or expressed (again publicly) their dissatisfaction with us. I was very encouraged the other day when I read these words from Theodore Roosevelt in regard to the critic and to our calling. I hope you’ll find them as inspiring as I have.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is no effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
To my brothers and sisters who are battling in ministry and leadership and even struggling through criticism; keep on! What you’re doing is eternal in value which means it’s eternal in weight. But, the majority of the load of that yoke is carried by our Savior. Remember, most critics are doing nothing. That’s why they have time to criticize.
To my critics, I ask you to remember that I’m as human as you are. What I’m doing is by divine call and I have a Master whom I desperately want to please. If you join me in that pursuit, you may find less reasons to criticize.
I read a blog article this morning on Dan Dewitt’s blog “Theolatte.” He wrote of a new T.V. documentary that shows the life of several wealthy, possession driven, name-it-and-claim-it type pastors in LA. It makes me sad that this show is being produced and broadcast, but of course there’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do, as Dan has, is give a reminder, biblically, as to what is important in this life. First, here’s the video trailer for this show:
Please know that God does provide for His people. This has always been true and always will be. But, the pursuit of possessions and the things of this world is a death knell to true faith. So here’s my reminder: Jesus is the prize, not the stuff He provides! To miss this truth is to miss the Savior. Here’s what the Apostle John wrote in regard to the desire for riches in this life:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15–17, ESV)
Unfortunately, the world will get yet another dose of an unfortunate side of Christian ministry (so called.) All I can do is hope and pray that this show has little effect over those Jesus can reach with His Gospel. Unfortunately, many have a skewed view of what true Christianity is because of this type of “witness.” As Dan wrote, “If all I knew about Christianity came from religious broadcasting I’d likely throw in the towel and join them.”
As a Pastor who lives on a modest salary and works well past 40 hours a week to earn it, (and gladly do it), let me tell you that there are many, many more of us giving our lives away for the Gospel with no care for this world’s “stuff” than there are of those who live like ministry is a means of gain. Here’s Paul’s take on it:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain,” (1 Timothy 6:6, ESV)
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10, ESV)
Jesus has called us to follow Him forsaking all the things of this world, in trade, that in the life to come, we will be compensated and completely satisfied; in Him.
Here’s a link to Dan Dewitt’s article: http://www.theolatte.com/2013/07/the-posh-pastor/