Humility & Anxiety in Christian Service

Philippians 2 is often called the Kenosis passage because it describes Jesus as emptying Himself. He “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” The word kenosis means empty or nothing, and the idea is key to understanding and solving the issues of humility and anxiety in Christian ministry (See the recent How to Insult Your Pastor Creatively).

Near the beginning of this passage (Philippians 2:3), Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” The word “rivalry” is “found before NT times only in Aristotle, where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means” (BDAG). In this passage, Paul is considering the improper seeking of church office. The word “conceit,” better translated “vainglory” (KJV), is κενοδοξίαfrom κενός (nothing) and δόξα (glory). It is nothing-glory. Paul is concerned here with people seeking church office on the basis of nothing-glory.

We’ll look at the whole chapter to understand the difference between nothing-glory and real-glory. And in doing so, we’ll see humility and anxiety and how to deal with them in our ministries.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:4)

Through humility, nothingness, Jesus gave glory to God. John’s Gospel shows us Jesus in His humility.

So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. (John 7:16)

Note a couple things: Jesus did—in the midst of His humility, His nothingness—presume to teach. He corrected the doctrinal understanding of those around him. He taught the religious authorities as well as those under those authorities. Second, Jesus, in (and because of) His humility, did not teach by His own authority. Instead, He defined evil pride as the desire to speak on one’s own authority.

We must understand these because they define the Jesus-model of humility. The humility of Jesus did not say, “I don’t have anything to contribute. I’ll be silent.” It said, “I don’t have anything to contribute; I will speak the words of God the Father—not my own.”

Paul’s Concern

Now we’re going to see Paul talking about his own anxiety related to his service. He is concerned about whether his service is nothing-glory or real-glory, and he gives us a solution for this concern.

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you … . [live out your faith], so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:12-16)

Paul is concerned that his own service has been a waste—not real-glory, not the grace of God working in his service to the church—but instead, “vain,” nothing. He again uses the word κενός (kenosis). I hope you see the anxiety Paul is confessing, so you can see it in your current elders, pastors, and teachers, and can foresee it in your future elders, pastors, and teachers.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17)

In both 17 and 18, Paul says “rejoice” and “rejoice together.” Paul is rejoicing by himself. He also hopes to be rejoicing with the Philippians.

Those who serve as elders (pastors) agree to spend their lives in service to the church. Paul says he’s happy (“glad”) and rejoices to do that. Can you imagine the feeling of being a pastor and only at the end, or only after years of service, finding out that your service was not appreciated—that the church you served didn’t grow and didn’t rejoice with you?

There’s always a lingering doubt about whether our service is real-glory—done by the grace of God for the glory of God—or if it has been nothing-glory, done for our own glory.

This passage helps us see the anxiety and fear involved in teaching and leadership. 1 Corinthians helps as well. Paul is dealing with the knowledge that the Corinthian church is in-fighting about whether they are followers of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. He defends his Apostleship and expresses his own struggle with the ego and humility and anxiety that go with his service to the churches. Further, in  Galatians 2 Paul asks for his teaching to be reviewed by others (Gal 2:2) “in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”

Joy & the Response of the Saints

Paul’s first answer to ministry anxiety is his own joy in service. “I have sacrificed my life. And I’m glad I did because I have joy in it.” We all look at our own lives and see spiritual gifts. Then we use those gifts and hope we do it to the benefit of our church. But in spite of our own joy, the doubt and anxiety linger.

Paul’s second answer is the response of the saints in Philippi. He longs for the church body to together-rejoice in his service. This word, translated “rejoice with you” (v.17) and “rejoice with me” (v.18), is συγχαίρω (with-rejoice). Paul says that he does rejoice-with-them and that they should rejoice-with-him.

Is the rejoicing mutual? He hopes so. He gives them the imperative; they should co-rejoice. The response of the Philippian saints is found in word, but also in deed. Verses 12-16 are a plea that they live out their faith so that he will know his work wasn’t nothing.

In summary, there are two methods of settling our anxiety. First, the one who seeks real-glory must have the mind of Christ in that they must empty themselves. Jesus, remember, did not teach from His authority. Jesus said, “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory.” We’re not going to say, Pastor so-and-so has been doing this for 25 years, therefore we should listen to his opinions. All our elders must teach and exercise authority exclusively through God’s Word. Jesus Himself models this when He says, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” Second, we should have joy in our service. And that joy must be shared with a church body that joins in our rejoicing by expressing their joy in our service and living according to it.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17)

We ask our elders (pastors) to spend their lives as a sacrificial offering for the benefit of the church. Our duty in asking that is to rejoice with them and live out their teaching when they teach us God’s Word, but also to let them know when they don’t.

The nagging question of whether a man’s service is for nothing or for God’s glory will always be there. We must help each of these servants fill their ministries with real-glory instead of nothing-glory so that at the end of their lives, they can say, “I am proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” And when they say, “Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me,” we must say “Yes, we do rejoice with you.”

Support & Feedback

I have taught and taken part in leading my church. I have felt, and do feel, the anxiety of which I speak. So I do think it’s important for church members to understand and appreciate the anxiety we’re talking about.

But what I believe is truly called for here is honest, intentional, timely feedback from the church body. Honest, because members should be encouraged to be honest. Intentional, because to arrive at good feedback, we must ask the right questions. Timely, because leaders need to receive it as they serve.

Humility is needed to make leaders willing to take feedback. But Jesus-humility is important for defining the terms of that feedback. The point is not that leaders should hear all voices. The point is to limit the voices to those within God’s authority. The process of feedback must demand Scripture as its basis.

Pastors often don’t seek any feedback, and generally I think they receive three types of feedback:

  1. haters, who just want to torment their pastor and put him in his place
  2. enamored, who glowingly heap praise
  3. those with peculiar tastes and theological interests (e.g., if you preach on the conscience there’s a good chance I would give you some feedback)

Members are often hesitant to give feedback. This is often a good thing because feedback should come from the church in general, not individuals. But because our churches tend to have one or very few pastors along with a board of deacons, there may be a feeling that the only one really equipped to say whether the pastor is doing a good job is the pastor.

In a situation where a pastor has served for years with little or no deliberate honest feedback, for any given type of ministry he undertakes, he may be doing a good job or he may be doing a poor job.

If he is doing well, the lack of feedback is sad because he has been unable to rejoice with his congregation. That rejoicing is part of Paul’s solution for ministry anxiety. If he is doing a poor job, the lack of feedback is sad as well, for two reasons:

  1. Effective feedback could have been used for his discipleship and sanctification;
  2. It may be that he has worked in vain. For nothing. How much better would have been for him to find that out in the first year?

Dan Miller Bio


Dan Miller is an ophthalmologist in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He is a husband, father, and part-time student.

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There are 27 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Some good food for thought here, Dan. I like the idea of intentional feedback. I did not see the need for it in reference to my pulpit ministry during my tenure as a pastor, though I did use it for other aspects of the ministry.

As for why I didn't seek self-evaluation... I didn't feel I was missing any information on that point. The ministry was a small one and folks spoke the truth in love. Some seemed excessively positive, others more realistic--some clearly offering nothing more than judgments of personal taste, but never with malice as far as I could tell, which is fair enough. Others, intentionally or not, offered feedback that raised concerns about how I was doing things and gave me cause to evaluate and adjust.

Much could be said about subjective vs. objective evaluation. The former is the easiest to get but the hardest to profitably use. The latter focuses on "am I doing what Scripture says I'm supposed to be doing?" But even within that sphere, there is much room for degrees of effectiveness in how we customize that work for a particular group of people/ministry setting/point in time in a church's history.

As 1 Corinthians and Galatians show, you can be doing all the right things and still not be getting the desired outcomes. And I think many pastors defeat themselves with unrealistic expectations in the outcomes department. Scripture does not encourage us to evaluate based on outcomes.

JBL's picture

Dan,

You bring up an interesting etymology of the "rivalry" in Phillipians 2:3, and from it make conclusion to the target audience whom Paul is addressing.  

The word “rivalry” is “found before NT times only in Aristotle, where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means” (BDAG). In this passage, Paul is considering the improper seeking of church office. The word “conceit,” better translated “vainglory” (KJV), is κενοδοξία—from κενός (nothing) and δόξα (glory). It is nothing-glory. Paul is concerned here with people seeking church office on the basis of nothing-glory.

Would you therefore say that the actual audience to which Paul is writing in Philippians 2 is pastors or those seeking that office, and that it is only by application that the rest of the church at large should benefit from this passage?  

Is there any room for a reading that would permit Philippians 2 to be written to the church at large, and have as application to pastors the ideas you forwarded?

John B. Lee

TylerR's picture

Editor

I never understood the subject to be those who are seeking church office. I always took as a general command to all believers. It is certainly applicable to the Pastoral office, though.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dan Miller's picture

No, I would not say that Philippians 2:5-11 (The nothing-ness of Jesus) is only applicable to pastors/teachers. It applies to every Christian. The whole of 2:2-18 is an extended argument about good leadership and knowing whether your leadership is good.

However, there is a line of thought which connects vv. 2-4 to 5-11 to 12-16a to 16b-18.

2-4 No rivalry (which I'm observing is either office-seeking or faction-seeking) and No Nothing-glory

5-11 (Humility of Jesus)

12-16a The good lives of the Philippians is encouraged

16b-18 Paul is encouraged about his ministry by the good lives of the Philippians, his own joy, and their rejoicing with him.

So like Tyler says (if I'm reading him right), the humility of Jesus is applicable to every Christian. But here, in this passage, Paul applies it to discerning good church leadership and to his own confidence about the goodness of his own leadership.

Dan Miller's picture

JBL wrote:
Would you therefore say that the actual audience to which Paul is writing in Philippians 2 is pastors or those seeking that office, and that it is only by application that the rest of the church at large should benefit from this passage?  

Is there any room for a reading that would permit Philippians 2 to be written to the church at large, and have as application to pastors the ideas you forwarded?

Think about what real-life leadership is like. There are formally elected leaders ("elders," "pastors," "deacons," some combination). And then there are voices that sometimes come up and ask for influence. How often have you seen a church come to a point where some member has amassed a faction of people who he has convinced of something? Perhaps he thinks the pastor has committed an offense or preached falsely or should be fired. It happens and that sort of faction-making ought to be included in the prohibited "rivalry." Also, every time some member teaches a Sunday School lesson (especially to adults), he is teaching. He's asking to be understood and hoping to change thinking and behavior. That's leading (perhaps not formal leadership, but still a sort of leadership). Every time some member speaks up in a Bible study with advice or explains what he sees a Bible passage to mean, he is teaching (not formal or official, but still real).

This passage ought to apply to all of that. So it's about much more than "official leadership." However, I would say that official leadership needs this in a very significant way.

So the sheep and the under-shepherd have a relationship. Paul says here that the elder needs certain things from the sheep in order to quiet his anxiety about whether his service is Nothing-glory or real-glory.

  1. Lives changed.
  2. His own joy in service
  3. The joy of the sheep as they say they love his service.

Some might apply this passage in the role of the sheep most of the time. The passage should certainly impact them in their role as sheep.

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Some good food for thought here, Dan. I like the idea of intentional feedback. I did not see the need for it in reference to my pulpit ministry during my tenure as a pastor, though I did use it for other aspects of the ministry.

As for why I didn't seek self-evaluation... I didn't feel I was missing any information on that point. The ministry was a small one and folks spoke the truth in love. Some seemed excessively positive, others more realistic--some clearly offering nothing more than judgments of personal taste, but never with malice as far as I could tell, which is fair enough. Others, intentionally or not, offered feedback that raised concerns about how I was doing things and gave me cause to evaluate and adjust.

Much could be said about subjective vs. objective evaluation. The former is the easiest to get but the hardest to profitably use. The latter focuses on "am I doing what Scripture says I'm supposed to be doing?" But even within that sphere, there is much room for degrees of effectiveness in how we customize that work for a particular group of people/ministry setting/point in time in a church's history.

As 1 Corinthians and Galatians show, you can be doing all the right things and still not be getting the desired outcomes. And I think many pastors defeat themselves with unrealistic expectations in the outcomes department. Scripture does not encourage us to evaluate based on outcomes.

Great comments. I'm hoping that we can have a discussion of what proper feedback should look like

Who should be asked? everyone? deacons/elders? trusted lay people? (who decides which are trusted?)

What should be asked? If we ask certain questions and not others, what does that teach about what our people should be seeking in leadership? 

When I listen to myself in a Sunday School lesson I've recorded, I say, "So" and "right?" an unbelievable number of times. I'm a terrible public speaker. 

What sort of ministry activity should be "rejoiced over"? Are we talking about preaching? Small group leadership? Ministry leadership? Counseling (personal,marriage,etc)?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Some thoughts on how to get feedback:

  • I think a very small, trusted group of people (say, 2-3) ought to be entrusted with coordinating and soliciting feedback from the congregation. They should probably be Deacons, and they should probably be men who have a very good relationship with teh Pastor. Men of integrity; not people-pleasers or men looking to ferment a revolution.
  • I think these men should solicit anonymous feedback by surveys, either online or in person. They can be mailed to church member's homes, emailed to them, or linked to an online survey.
  • I think the questions need to be targeted around areas of real concern for a church which wants to be faithful to the Bible. In other words, the questions should seek to get an idea of whether the mission of the church is being carried out faithfully.
  • There also need to be targeted questions on areas where the Pastor himself is concerned about improvement and quality control. These questions should probably be developed with the Pastor and the group before being sent out.
  • This should be a periodic thing (say, once per year).
  • the church leadership should sit down and go over the results and see what needs to be done.

Those are my quick thoughts. I think there is everything to lose and nothing to gain by getting the Pastor involved in direct conversations with church members about their complaints, criticisms or critiques. This is why, in the real world, these "employee satisfaction surveys" are anonymous. Now, the local church isn't in the business of "employee satisfaction," but you get my point (I hope). People will also be more honest in anonymous surveys.  

The focus is not to please the church members. It is to weigh how effective the core mission of your church is being carried out in the lives of the congregation. Some of the data will obviously be disregarded. But, if 85% of the people say they would like more classes on Christian doctrine, that may be an indicator of something. If 90% say the sermon is too long, feel free to preach longer (kidding . . . maybe).

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Dan Miller wrote:

How often have you seen a church come to a point where some member has amassed a faction of people who he has convinced of something? Perhaps he thinks the pastor has committed an offense or preached falsely or should be fired. It happens and that sort of faction-making ought to be included in the prohibited "rivalry."

Clearly, some of this will be in how it's handled.  The scriptures themselves state that an accusation should not be brought against an elder without 2 or 3 witnesses.  That implies that these witnesses will have to get together and agree before they go to the elder.  Obviously, the witnesses should handle this carefully and discreetly and shouldn't be creating a faction that gets together to hold something over the elder, but they will have to approach him privately to handle this before they bring it to the attention of the whole church.  If they do this in the right way, the act of getting together to confront an elder biblically should not be seen as prohibited rivalry in and of itself.

I would assume that for churches that have multiple elders/pastors, the advice of one of the other elders should be sought (and that elder should act as one of the witnesses), unless of course none of them are willing to hear it.

Dave Barnhart

Dan Miller's picture

That's why we need John 7 to define Jesus-humility. If the faction-forming is Jesus-humble, then it teaches the words of God, not the ideas of the objectors. In that case, it's not rivalry/Nothing-glory. It's real-glory. "the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood." As Jesus called out the teachers of His day, He fit in this category you describe.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Ahhhhh . . . . !

Obviously, the witnesses should handle this carefully and discreetly and shouldn't be creating a faction that gets together to hold something over the elder, but they will have to approach him privately to handle this before they bring it to the attention of the whole church.

I hear you, but it never happens that way. Take what I say with a grain of salt, but I resigned and left my last Pastorate because a retired apostate "pastor" couldn't stand not being in charge and attacked any and everything I did or tried to do. He led a faction which destroyed the church. People were afraid to invite folks to church because there might be an outburst from this reprobate during the worship service. Even people who know better never handle things that way.

As a general rule, people should be given the benefit of the doubt and their concerns should be lovingly heard and weighed. They should be taken seriously. When it becomes apparent that the gripe is not over a Biblical issue, but tradition, pride or stupidity (or all three), then it becomes a church discipline issue. A good group of Deacons will act as a check to help ensure this response isn't handled in anger, but by honest Biblical application.

In other words, many men (like me) are little more then burnt toast today because of factions. Even so, come - Lord Jesus!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Been meaning to do a post on this for a long time, but it hasn't worked out yet.

I'm convinced that part of the reason pastoral transitions are so often so ugly in independent churches is that the church has no policy/procedures in place for "how to pursue pastoral replacement."
Having no way to broach the subject legitimately, folks are left only with options that invite unethical behind the scenes machinations.
There should be ways to evaluate & make decisions on this in an orderly fashion.
In churches with a history of turbulent turnover, it might even be wise to call pastors for a specific term--say five years--at which point evaluation and reicandidacy are built in.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Tyler, I hear what you are saying, and I can see that it probably doesn't get handled the right way most times (I don't know about "never"), but that doesn't mean that handling such issues biblically shouldn't be attempted.  Church discipline goes sideways many times too, but a church can't shirk its responsibility just because the task is difficult (or even nearly impossible) to get 100% right.

That's why this whole idea of humility is important for *all* of us.

Dave Barnhart

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree with what you wrote. I said:

As a general rule, people should be given the benefit of the doubt and their concerns should be lovingly heard and weighed. They should be taken seriously. When it becomes apparent that the gripe is not over a Biblical issue, but tradition, pride or stupidity (or all three), then it becomes a church discipline issue. A good group of Deacons will act as a check to help ensure this response isn't handled in anger, but by honest Biblical application.

This is one of the reasons why solicited pastoral feedback should probably be anonymous and be handled by the Deacons. It's also why the Deacons are necessary in difficult situations (like mine) to ensure things don't roll over to a boil. In some churches, however, there is no infrastructure. There is just "The Pastor," and everybody else who does what he tells them. Now that I'm older and a bit wiser, I wish I would have run away from that church as fast as I could. There were flashing **DANGER** signs all over it. I was just too dumb to notice them.

But, to wrench this back to the topic, humility is important and good Deacons are essential to feedback.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dan Miller's picture

Interesting that we have a few former pastors in this thread. I believe it's obvious that this extended argument (vv. 2-18) is about good teachers and how to evaluate. But I have not found commentaries or sermons that say the same. Why not? I think a few reasons:

1. Two distractions within this text (the kenosis of Jesus and working out salvation) require a lot of discussion 

2. It requires seeing a forest, not just trees. 

3. As pastors preach, they seem so focused on assembling food for their members. Perhaps they miss the fact that this passage is about how to deal with their own anxiety.

4. Many pastors, I think, have such high levels of anxiety that they can't even admit it exists. Especially after years of service, I think that they idea that perhaps they have worked for Nothing-Glory is too much to contemplate and so they just deny the possibility and try not to think about it.

Dan Miller's picture

Tyler, above, gave some feedback suggestions. Including anonymity. So let's ask: should feedback be anonymous? 

In favor of Named feedback:

  1. If you have something to say, you should be willing to put your name on it.
  2. Your complaint/criticism might be poorly understood by those reading it. Follow-up might be necessary for clarification.
  3. Your complaint/criticism might be wrongly conceived. e.g., if your complaint is that the pastor acts like God's Word is so-o-o-o important and really there are multiple sources of truth, then those who read it should follow up with you.
  4. The feedback of some ought to be more highly valued than others. A mature, not generally critical man ought to be heard more than a constantly complaining immature Christian.

In favor of Anonymous feedback:

  1. Some might be more willing to be honest if their name won't be tied to their criticism. 
  2. Some might have fear of criticism against them if they are critical.

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Anonymous surveys protect the Pastor from bitterness against somebody who was simply being honest about their concerns. I just think it's bad to get the Pastor directly involved in this. Of course, people are free to come talk to the Pastor about anything, whenever they wish. That should be encouraged.

But, for the purposes of a formal program where you encourage and solicit feedback, it should be anonymous.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dan Miller's picture

Tyler, I think your comments on bitterness are important...

In terms of "planning your work and then working your plan," we (at my church) are at the very end of the "planning" stage for this.

Regarding anonymity, we struggled with it. We opted for a hybrid system. Our elder feedback forms ask for a name, but the elder doesn't get to see either the feedback forms or the names. All the feedback will go to the elder's "mentor." This is [ideally] another elder who is assigned to the elder. Part of his responsibility is to go through each type of feedback and decide what and how much to convey to the elder. It is yearly. We seek feedback on several aspects of elder work (counseling, ministry leadership, marriage, small group leadership, etc.) The mentor has a fair amount of discretion in terms of what he chooses to work on out of each year's feedback. He is not to overwhelm his elder, but to help him. We are working on how to do this in submission to the other elders. There's a lot more to explain, but that's the gist...

TylerR's picture

Editor

It sounds like you have a good plan in place. I never got to the point where I was able to develop a Biblical infrastructure at my church. I was on the way, but the more pieces which began to fall into place, the more the train began to run off the rails. I pray your efforts along this line will help your church and your Pastor(s). Let us know how it goes!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Dan Miller wrote:

Great comments. I'm hoping that we can have a discussion of what proper feedback should look like

Who should be asked? everyone? deacons/elders? trusted lay people? (who decides which are trusted?)

What should be asked? If we ask certain questions and not others, what does that teach about what our people should be seeking in leadership? 

When I listen to myself in a Sunday School lesson I've recorded, I say, "So" and "right?" an unbelievable number of times. I'm a terrible public speaker. 

What sort of ministry activity should be "rejoiced over"? Are we talking about preaching? Small group leadership? Ministry leadership? Counseling (personal,marriage,etc)?

These are great questions. I also like your hybrid approach. There would definitely be tradeoffs involved in anonymous vs. not anonymous vs. hybrid. Maybe there is room to do it more than one way... a very specific anonymous survey could be useful.

As for your questions, really needs some thought. It seems clear that the criteria laid down in the pastoral epistles should be the basis for the lion's share of criteria... and what should be rejoiced over. But that wouldn't be exhaustive, especially if you're talking about including the various ministries of the church. 

There's a nexus where it stops being an evaluation of a pastor/elder's ministry and begins being an evaluation of the church as a whole and then of the congregation... more of a "we" thing than a "he" thing.

But as for the rejoicing over part, I'm convinced it has to be task oriented not outcome oriented. So it should involve looking at what the ministry of the word is supposed to be like and condensing some criteria from that. Then looking at the "people ministry" as we see it in the pastorals and the apostolic example as well.

I suspect "rejoicing with" ministry leaders, like anything else, is an acquired skill: that is, there is discipline involved in learning what one ought to rejoice about. What we all tend to do is just go with how we feel about things and not ask "how should I feel"? So there's an element of proper affections required of those who would do this sort of evaluating. In some ways I think Paul might be telling them what they ought to find "rejoicing worthy" more than he is looking for assurance that what he is doing is worthy of rejoicing. He is not usually in doubt about that. Where he thinks his work might be 'in vain" is when people are not responding as they should. In which case, it's not vain at all in the ultimate sense (of God's glory) but is vain in the sense of unfruitful for the individuals involved.

So there are really two very different concepts of "vain" and "anxiety" here. One is "I'm concerned that I'm not doing what I should be doing" the other is "I'm concerned that you are not doing what you should be doing in response." I really think that what Paul has to say is mostly about the latter, not the former.

Fatigue has me wondering all over this topic, but hopefully there's something helpful in there... and somewhat clear.

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron, you said a lot there. Let me start with this:

Aaron Blumer wrote:
there are really two very different concepts of "vain" and "anxiety" here. One is "I'm concerned that I'm not doing what I should be doing" the other is "I'm concerned that you are not doing what you should be doing in response." I really think that what Paul has to say is mostly about the latter, not the former.
Hmmm... 
I think I get what you're saying - but I don't agree about Paul. He said "so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain." According to what Paul's words, the quality of his work was in view.

Now, you also said:

Aaron Blumer wrote:
...But as for the rejoicing over part, I'm convinced it has to be task oriented not outcome oriented...
This is true. And I don't think that Paul would ever have suggested tailoring his ministry according to what people wanted. 
That's why Jesus-humility is so important. Because it is a putting off of one's right to teach on his own authority. And it's not the putting on the right to teach on the authority of the church body. It is teaching what God says.

The objection to what you call "outcome-oriented" is an interesting one. It's like when someone gets in a heated argument and then they tell you the story of that argument. It's always: "Then I said [rational and kindly-spoken words]. And he just BLEW UP!" (Yeah - that's probably how it went down...) No one ever says: "First, I said, and I was pretty sarcastic and demeaning at this point, '[mean insulting words].' And he tried to keep his cool, but I offended him and he reacted to me with anger." 
My point is that you can say we have to be "task oriented and not outcome oriented." And you're right. But I think Paul thought there was quite a bit of correlation between good Jesus-humble teaching and a good response. Not perfect correlation. After all, Paul says that their obedience was literally, "you holding the word of life towards rejoicing-ness of me in the day of Christ." That's how I see v. 16. The good works of the Philippians are not confirmation of Paul's good service. But they are "towards" that confirmation. They point to it. It's an indicator - and a pretty good one - but not a final judgment. 

 

I do understand that we shouldn't act like results are the basis for judging the performance of a pastor. At least pastors should not change based on what works. However, that line of reasoning can also be used to excuse poor performance. Criticism? Just play the "do what's right - not what brings results" card and poof - no more criticism. It's like communication - if the hearer doesn't understand, is that his fault or the speakers's fault? 

 

(That was my objection to your post - and it's only a partial objection, because you do have a point. I still need to reply to the part I agree with...)

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's true that Paul links his thoughts on laboring in vain to an assessment on "the day of Christ" and the like. What's needed here, I think, is a more comprehensive study of how Paul evaluated his own ministry. There is much on in this in the epistles. For now, I suggest that his reference being able to rejoice proudly (we don't quite have an English equiv. for the phrase) is still a reference to a different kind of vanity. Not a lack of satisfying God or bringing Him glory, but a lack of fruit to show for it--which does take some of the thrill out of it.

Consider an OT example for some context. Jeremiah is absolutely faithful as far as we can tell, but he, like many of the prophets, sees little if any positive response. What is required of stewards is that they be faithful, not that they get results. But what would Paul say about Jeremiah's ministry as far as "laboring in vain" goes? I think he'd say that in his relationship with his hearers, Jeremiah labored in vain--his harvest basket is empty (kenosis). But Jeremiah ran the race, fought the good fight, finished his course. And has his reward. He was not vain in relation to God, only in relation to man. 

The latter matters to us, because (a) we're human, and (b) the nature of the work is such that it's impossible to do it right without caring about that. So Paul expresses a genuine and appropriate desire that people respond as they should and this bring joy to him in is work and at the day of Christ. 

I'm pretty confident he is not saying he us unsure he's doing his work right and that God's glory is at stake. He certainly doesn't seem to be in any doubt about that in 2 Tim. 4:7.

... However, that line of reasoning can also be used to excuse poor performance. Criticism? Just play the "do what's right - not what brings results" card and poof - no more criticism. It's like communication - if the hearer doesn't understand, is that his fault or the speakers's fault? 

Poor performance cannot be excused if it's evaluated rigorously by the "what pastors/elders/ministers are supposed to do" standard. It's not like we have to choose between "evaluation by results" and "no evaluation at all."

Pastoral epistles give us plenty to work with... and results are not among the standards. 

Dan Miller's picture

Aaron, I've been thinking about this all day (while doing other things). 

In certain ways, I agree with you. Mostly....

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think your main argument still works either way, because, whether Paul is talking about empty labor in relation to God or empty labor in relation to others' response, he clearly calls those under his ministry to make his ministry one of mutual rejoicing rather than empty.

Where the distinction I've been suggesting comes into play is mostly on how evaluation and feedback are shaped and delivered. "Third party" (as in not God Himself and not the ministry leader) feedback has an important role both in the question of "Is he doing what he's supposed to be doing?" and in the questions of "is it as effective as it could be?"

But I think the distinction helps frame the feedback process... and maybe "weight" the feedback. We know there are lots of ministry implementation details that aren't "holy writ" and can be more or less effective in different settings, for different individuals, etc. That sort of feedback is subjective but far from useless!

Dan Miller's picture

Yes, I agree with that, too. I ask: Why rejoice in the changed lives of followers?
1. It's just plain something to rejoice in. 
If it does come, how wonderful! 
If it doesn't, then there's a mix of rejoicing and sadness. Jeremiah and Hus would be good examples. Jeremiah was teaching God's truth; his detractors preached the opposite. He never got a lot of followers. He wept. Hus traveled to Constance to defend his teachings. I'm sure he believed, as Luther did a hundred years later, that God's Word would win out; he would convince the assembled council. But he didn't. I'm sure there was a sadness (both for the council members themselves, and for his own joy of having his teachings affirmed).
2. It's a pointer to the success of one's ministry. Paul is pretty explicit about this in Phil 2. 
It's an imperfect pointer. Both because good teaching can fall on hard ground and because evil teaching can amass a great following ('"itching ears"-2tim4, Osteen, Gothard, etc.).
But it's still a pointer - in both ways above.

I think we must divide feedback into three categories:

Needed - this is like Apollos. "Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately." (Acts18:26)

Legitimate - (need a better word) - this is things that are not needed (not doctrine, or at least not important doctrine), but not still impact a ministry. This is admittedly pragmatic (and maybe that's a better name). This could include speaking style, how to welcome questions in class without letting an individual go on and on, etc. 

Faulty - This is criticism that must be ignored.

Needed feedback is needed for healthy leadership (both leader and follower should demand it).
Legitimate feedback is wanted (by both leader and follower), but healthy leadership is possible without it.
Faulty feedback must be ignored. And followers should be taught how not to give this type.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Like your feedback categories... they could be packaged several different ways and still be essentially the same three. How about "remedial, advisory, and rubbish" Wink

Bert Perry's picture

One thing that comes to mind is that there are some sorts of feedback that a pastor ought to be able to see.  If one preaches, say, on gluttony, we might expect to see people cheerfully eating salads instead of fried chicken at the next potluck.  If one preaches on contentment and fiscal stewardship, one might expect to see more older cars in the lot and fewer new car buys--at least in the short term.  

Or if one preaches on the Trinity or other doctrines, one might expect some questions and comments about the impact and meaning of it.  What some are discussing here is the basic way an employer gets feedback, and that's fine as far as it goes, but I'm not quite sure that this is how it ought to be done given the sheer familiarity shown by the New Testament--Luther rightly chose the informal "du" over the formal "Sie" when translating the New Testament, no?

I admit as well--as I can hear it almost in my ears--that getting this kind of feedback is tough, so I understand the perceived need to formalize things and all that.  But that said, one of my favorite memories of a former job in a small electronics factory was to sit down with a worker who had (or whose friend had) made some faulty product and run through work instructions, difficulties and the like.  After I made clear that the goal was not to blame them, but rather to make it possible to do their jobs right, they would cheerfully walk through the instructions, the difficulties, and the like--more or less doing my job for me--and then we'd also end up discussing personal things.  No prompting from me, but they'd talk about relationships, ask about my kids, the whole nine yards.  

Hey, if a quality engineer can learn that by sitting down to discuss a build instruction, I'd argue that a pastor ought to see that kind of thing as his goal in the pastorate, no?  In the meantime, certainly ask things about sermon delivery, frequency and effectiveness of visitation, and the like, but at a certain point I'd hope a person would get a good hint from what they observed.

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Had a fun time last night asking my pastor how his grandson is doing--evidently had some surgery to correct a malady of the ear of some kind--and while I was rather lightheartedly trying to make fun of myself as not remembering exactly what the malady was (somehow I got it right), he was impressed that I'd remembered that.

My take is that the current state appears to be one in which pastors aren't really sure whether people are listening to their sermons.  Sound fair, y'all?  And then we would infer that our goal state--our "entitlemen" as we say in quality engineering--is one where people routinely discuss these details freely (sometimes disagreeing on nonessentials) and cheerfully.

it's worth noting that I've at least been told that the Pilgrims would spend their Sunday afternoons at church discussing how they would apply the sermon. OK, we're not likely to get that much time out of people anytime soon, but we might think of what we can do to facilitate this kind of thing.  Maybe more potlucks?  We're Baptists after all.  :^)

And maybe step one is to invite a few people to give some blunt feedback about how things are going.  The sermon is probably the easiest place to start, and you could ask questions about the theology (does it match the Solas and Fundamentals?), the presentation (any distracting vocal or body language?), and the non-Biblical examples (are we citing things that are rejected by Snopes and such?).  

For personal ministry, you could ask whether people talk to the pastor when he doesn't need something from them, whether he's gracious in counsel and church discipline, and the like.  

Once again, love the topic and I think there's a tremendous, YUGE, potential for growth in the church here.  Blessings.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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