Tips for Survival in the Service of the Savior, Part 2

See Part 1.

9. Enjoy friends.

Out of all the “leadership traditions” of the past, the most stupid one said that a pastor shouldn’t have any friends in ministry. I’m trying not to use the word stupid. My dear wife, Toni, reminds me that using such words in public sets a bad example in front of the children. I always remind her that the examples are good for the children so they won’t grow up 682159_grand_canyon_scenic_3.jpgbeing stupid! The word stupid in this case is by far the most sanctified term I can come up with to explain the ludicrous nature of the “no friends” approach to ministry. I can already hear the ghosts of that generation say, “Well, some people will think that you favor some people over others.” My response is, “Of course, I favor some over others. I’m not Jesus. I’m Joel!” By God’s grace, I will shepherd all of the sheep, but I don’t read anywhere in Scripture that leaders can’t have special friends outside or even inside the assembly. Not even Jesus stayed within that tradition.

10. Enjoy God’s family.

God loves us. He provided all we need for life and godliness at the cross of Golgotha by the blood of His Son. What a humbling thought! What is amazing to me is that He didn’t stop there. He continues to take care of the needs of His children. One of those needs is to be loved and ministered to. The primary way that is done is through the gifts of the body (1 Cor. 12; 1 Pet. 4). One of the sad realities is that many in ministry somehow think they are here to serve others, but then they don’t allow others within the congregation to serve them. They shut out congregants and don’t allow themselves to enjoy the friendship and camaraderie that the local assembly should be. They’ve bought into the idea that to be a pastor means that we must serve and love on the congregation but that we are not to enjoy the same from them (Gal. 5:13-15; 1 Thess. 4:9-11). Enjoy them. They’ll enjoy you! Don’t enjoy them, and they’ll have to tolerate you! That is not to say that there won’t be times when you’ll need to find a quiet place to recharge your batteries after giving so much of yourself. But some of that recharging can come from church members within your own congregation.

11. Leadership is more than a mouth. It’s a life.

It always cracks me up when I hear people bemoaning the fact that “so-and-so” has such a wide scope of leadership while “others” don’t. I have a variety of theories on that point. First, God is the One who exalts and/or diminishes leadership and influence. Second, God’s people, especially those walking in the Word, are often a much better judge of character than they are given credit for. When a leader is the real deal, not perfect but growing and in the main following after Christ, God’s children will sense that. On the other hand, when a leader is at his core corrupt, self-centered, power-mongering and motivated more by the building up of his own kingdom than by the furthering of God’s Kingdom, God’s children will sense that as well.

12. Shepherding, shepherding, shepherding.

The New Testament gives pastors at least three major titles. They are “elders,” “bishops,” and “shepherds.” All three terms describe the same office. Pride and professionalism often come with the office when the role of serving as an elder or bishop overshadows and frustrates the function of shepherding. The Good Shepherd (John 10) has given good under-shepherds the great example of how to shepherd. Shepherding is lost when pastors view their leadership role as primarily that of a CEO instead of a nurturer. Much of the nurturing can and should happen from the pulpit. But if that’s all the shepherding we are doing, we are failing. The good shepherd knows His sheep. How in the world can we be legitimately shepherding if we don’t even know the people in our own congregation? Ezekiel 34 demonstrates that it is possible for human shepherds, supposedly serving the will of God, to become entrapped with (1) feeding themselves and only themselves (vv. 2-3); (2) ignoring the week (v. 4a); (3) ignoring the ill (v. 4b); (4) ignoring those who have been driven away (v. 4c); (5) focusing only on ruling (vv. 4-5); and (6) ignoring the confusion of God’s children (v. 5-6). Biblical shepherding demands selfless serving. Too many of us are often selfish not selfless.

13. Stay sharp but not all the time.

I’ve decided that the time is right for me to take an even closer look at the Puritans. The more I read about them and interact with their thinking, the more I praise God for their faithfulness and heritage. Those of us who attended Shepherd’s Conference this year were given a new work titled Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, 2006). The book was compiled by Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson. These guys have done a fantastic job. The book gives a great overview of all the major Puritan thinkers and leaders as well as many of the lesser-known lights. I’m also trying to work through some of Jonathan Edwards’ work. Beeke and Pederson really help us with a clear introduction to the nuts and bolts of what Puritanism was all about. This is an area where I’ve wanted to be sharper. This area will be my main personal side-study focus for a while. It’s good to be continually growing and learning. There is a danger, however, with learning and staying sharp.

If we are not careful, the learning can begin to beget more learning. And learning that does not lead to a greater worship of or service to God leads to larger amounts of pride. I am not suggesting that ignorance is preferable; however, the temptation for those who emphasize that they are theologian-pastors is never to get to the shepherding part but simply to stay within the confines of “the study.” Another danger is not allowing our bodies and spirits downtime. Stress and anxiety are doing more than their share of damage to our bodies partly because many of us are always mentally or physically pushing. We need to allow ourselves the rest that was God’s design from the beginning. (This point should lead to a whole discussion about the Sabbath principle of “rest” and how we really can and should apply it to the New Testament saint.) This recommendation is be a bit “outside of the box” for many of my NANC friends. You guys need to read some of the good work put out by the AACC and Archibald Hart on stress, anxiety, and ministry.

14. K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid!)

Ministry really shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. For my church, ministry is about glorifying God through four objectives: worship, instruction, fellowship, and evangelism. That’s it. Sure, many things make up each of those objectives. But really, when we get down to it, ministry shouldn’t be that complex. In a sense, the more simple our ministries are, the more effective and easy it is to grasp what should be central. There’s nothing wrong with large ministries. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with adding auxiliary ministries like Christian schools, day care, counseling centers, and food bank outreaches. My only fear for those of us who engage in the adding of ministry functions is that if we are not careful, we can lose the simplicity of ministry. After a while, instead of being the tool for accomplishing God’s work, these ministries become the black hole we must maintain at all costs. Instead of being ministries that serve, they chew God’s families up. Why? In part because we’ve lost the simplicity of Christ and of Him crucified.

15. Don’t take it personally (even when it was meant to be personal!).

Over the years, I’ve gotten a few “nasty grams.” Usually when I get a note, it’s a word of thanks or encouragement. But now and then, I get correspondence that was written in fleshly anger. My personal policy is that after two or three sentences into the note, I look to make sure it has a name on it. If there’s no name, I immediately throw the note in the trash and refuse to read it. That cuts about two-thirds of my nasty grams. My thinking is that if someone is sinful in writing a note like that, I will not aid that person in his sin by reading it! Of the third left, I try to deal with them in a biblical way. Usually, even when the person offering the critique is motivated by less than a biblical heart, God wants to show me something about my spirit or my leadership I either haven’t been able to see or haven’t wanted to see. I rarely show these notes to my wife; she has enough discouragements in life and ministry without my adding to her burden. I usually take these notes to the elders and ask them for their evaluation. Often the conclusion is that the person who wrote the note is seeing only one side of reality. Sometimes the men determine that the author has a hard heart and is demonstrating rebellion. Sometimes the letter uncovers a failure on my part or on the part of the team. The point to remember is that there is no way we can minister and not have someone upset with us at one time or another. We cannot allow this factor to impede our direction of ministry. The moment we give in is the moment we become men-pleasers instead of God-pleasers. There’s a word for that. Idolatry.

16. Share the credit, not the blame.

This point seems to be a consistent application of humble leadership as demonstrated by Christ in Matthew 20:20-28. Willingness to take the burden of failure also seems to be a practical application of Luke 9:23-25. I’m not suggesting that we take the blame when there was no failure on our part. I would personally be concerned if I had a leader who was never wrong or who never or seldom publicly admitted to failures in judgment and execution. Often when a leader working beside us fails, the failure is in part due to our lack of communication or to our inadequate preparation for the ministry task in question. In a case like that, it is appropriate for us to simply admit that we failed and that we will attempt to do better. Too often is the case when ministry leaders make a helper the newest “scapegoat.” Additionally, an important aspect of leadership is privately and publicly noting those who are doing a faithful job in ministry. Throughout his epistle, Paul frequently praised others.

I love Ronald Reagan; this greater leader was one of my earthly heroes, and I hope to see him in heaven someday. I’ve visited his museum in Simi Valley on several occasions. One of his famous quotes says something like this: “You can get a lot accomplished if you don’t mind who gets the credit.”

17. Be clear on expectations.

This final point will be a short one. I like short. We must make sure the expectations we allow ministries to place on us is fair. We also need to make sure the expectations we place on ourselves and on others are fair. If you have a ministry that simply will not allow you to have a reasonable set of expectations, for the sake of obedience to Scripture and for the sake of faithfulness to your family, something needs to change.

Conclusion

Here are 17 simple thoughts on a practical theology of ministry survival. Of course, much more ought to be said. Seventeen has always been my favorite number; it’s a good place to stop. In summary, let me say that we will all experience seasons when our lives and ministries will be without balance for a short time. In other words, God will often call us to spend more time in one area than is typical. Sometimes God asks believers to lay their health, priorities, and desires on the altar of love and service for Christ! It’s at those times that we experience a small portion of the death of Christ. It is also at those times that we experience a taste of God’s resurrection power and enabling as we come to the end of ourselves and experience what it is to minister by His grace and through His power. Epaphroditus comes to mind from Philippians 2. His portion for a time required ministry that took him to the brink of his health, yet God showed mercy.

Oh, one more note. I am an expert at how to fail at every one of these 17 points. That’s why I have enough authority to write on them. Straight ahead, friends!

joel_07.jpgDr. Joel Tetreau is senior pastor at Southeast Valley Baptist Church (Gilbert, AZ). He is on the adjunct faculty at International Baptist College and serves as co-director of SW Romania Missions Project.
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