If you could choose between the two, who would you rather be Saul or David? If you know much of the Old Testament story of these two men I imagine you would reply David pretty quickly. Me too. I mean who doesn’t want to be the guy that drops a 9-foot tall giant with a rock to the forehead? Who doesn’t want to be the guy who’s considered to be the man after God’s own heart? Most would say, “sign me up,” right away.
In the beginning, God… These words probably seem familiar because they are the beginning of the Bible. And, what great words they are–of beginnings. I can think of no better place to begin reading on the first day of the year than Genesis 1:1.
Jump right in and make a way,
Do your best and seize the day,
This the advice that they all say,
But how? I’m just a vessel of clay.
What if I try and then I fail?
What if there’s suffering along with this gale?
You say blessed are the weak and so are the meek,
But I’m just a vessel in desperate need of keep.
You say ‘follow me’ by faith I will see,
I follow and struggle and try not to flee,
But through failure and trial I’m reminded that I,
Am not promised victory just because I try.
What if I stumble, what if I fall?
How will I ever then answer this call?
I need to keep pace to finish this race,
But so often I seem to just fall on my face.
In desperate need I look at Your Word,
It reminds me I’m weak but also it stirs,
Truth in my heart that brings me to light,
It’s not up to me, this isn’t my fight.
All along you’ve been present and now I can see,
By your own work a miracle in me,
I may not win but you’ve chosen to stay,
To glorify yourself through this cracked vessel of clay.
Soli Deo Gloria
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.
Another great day in Jamaica today. We began the day with some rest and relaxation at the beach. It’s the first time we’ve been to the beach on this trip. (We will probably get to go again for a while on Friday.) Needless to say, it was absolutely beautiful and incredibly relaxing to just float in the warm Caribbean water. Here’s a picture from this morning’s view:
After this morning we had a Jamaican lunch called “Juicy Beef” which is kind of like a hot pocket but you eat it wrapped in a piece coco bread. I’d put a picture of it here but I ate all the evidence before a picture could be taken. Wow, was it good!
Back to the Bible College after lunch with Cletis and we had a great time today teaching more pastoral theology to the students. Yesterday I introduced you to them by name; today I talked them into a group shot:
These guys really interacted well today and asked a lot of questions; I love that! Cletis and I also really enjoyed “tag team teaching” the class today. It was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get back there tomorrow.
I want to share a little more today about the village we’re staying in. If you didn’t see the pictures I ended yesterday’s post with, scroll down and check them out. This village is called Granville and it is a very poor area. Because of the poverty there is a lot of crime, and though we haven’t witnessed any violence, it’s not safe for us to walk through the neighborhood. As a matter of fact, in one of the pictures I posted yesterday there is a man in red near our van. When he saw me take the picture he immediately yelled out that he wanted money for it.
We are staying in Granville and the Caribbean Christian School for the Deaf. This is basically a little gated compound that has a night watchman and tall walls around the entire school campus that have glass on the top to keep people from climbing over.
Don’t worry though, we’re completely safe!
Laura and I have had the opportunity to meet a sweet family that I want to introduce to you. This is the Daniel’s family. Jeff, Jodi and kids are here in Jamaica as missionaries and they oversee the Caribbean Christian School for the Deaf where we are staying. We’ve been privileged to get to know them some this week and will spending more time with them as the week goes on. I can tell you, that living in Jamaica is not like coming to visit. I’m sure that there are times that it’s very difficult for this family who just want God to use their lives for His glory. So, I’m asking for you to join me in praying for them. Will you?
Tomorrow I’m going to show you more of Bogue village where Bay Life Baptist Church is and the community they’re trying to reach for Christ.
By the way, our day concluded with Chinese food with Cletis and Tammy. That’s the last thing I thought I would eat in Jamaica but it was very good…..mon.