Feed My Sheep

heart of a servant leaderEarly in ministry I heard a well-respected pastor say, “If you’re going to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” Often times pastors struggle to know exactly what their sheep (church members) need. We want to obey God in leading and teaching exactly what He has commanded, but at the same time we can’t help but wonder if we’re meeting the needs of those entrusted to our care.

The good shepherd knows his sheep. He doesn’t just recognize them as a group of people who are members of the congregation; but instead, he knows them personally. He spends time with them, listens to them, strives to meet their needs. He is a shepherd who confidently walks out in front of the sheep and leads them to still waters and green pastures. He is not a sheep dog that tries to frighten the sheep into going a certain direction. He is the shepherd who calls his sheep unto himself and they follow him because they know him and his love for them.

In his article “9 Heartfelt Things Church Members Would Like to Say to their Pastors,” Dr. Thom Rainer helps clarify how we pastors can better lead, feed, and know our sheep.

Dr. Rainer writes:

I am among the most blessed men in the world. God has graciously saved me and sustained me. I have an incredible family. The place and ministry where I serve vocationally is a gift from God.

And then, as if I should be blessed even more, God has allowed me to serve and hear from church leaders across the world. In this article, I share some insights I heard from church members via social media, emails, blog comments, and personal conversations.

The following nine statements are heart matters for many church members. For the most part, these members are not the perpetual critics and the business meeting naysayers. These are men and women who truly love their pastors. But many of them do have some words from the heart they would like to share with their pastors. But many are reticent to do so, because they know their pastors often receive criticisms and inordinate demands for attention.

So, hear these heartfelt words from church members who love their pastors, from men and women who truly desire the best for them.

  1. “Let me know you really care for me.” That does not mean you call me regularly or that you visit me on demand. It is more of a disposition, or maybe words from the pulpit that demonstrate your love for the members. We can tell if you really care for us and love us.
  2. “Teach me the Bible.” I know you are inundated with requests, and the expectations for your time are often unreasonable. But please do not let those people distract you from your time in the Word. I am hungry for biblical teaching and preaching. Please spend time studying the Word so you can teach us well.
  3. “Help me deal with change.” This world and culture are changing so fast that I find myself dealing with fear and uncertainly. Help me understand the steadfastness of God in a turbulent world. And understand that my fear of change in the church is often related to my fear of change in the world. So lead me gently as you lead change in the church.
  4. “Don’t lead too far ahead.” I do want you to lead us. But don’t get so far ahead of us that we mistake you for the enemy and shoot you in the rear. I know change is necessary, but learn the pace of change that is best for our church.
  5. “Help me deal with family issues.” Some of us are in struggling marriages. Some of us are lonely whether we are single or married. Some of us have problems with our children. Some of us are dealing with aging parents. We hurt deeply when we have hurts about our families. Show us biblical truths about these issues. And show us your pastoral heart and concern for these issues.
  6. “Be transparent.” We know you are imperfect, but the critics sometimes cause you to hide your faults. For sure, we don’t want every nitty gritty personal detail about you and your family. But we do want to know that you have some of the same struggles we do. It helps us to identify with you better. It helps us to pray for you more.
  7. “Don’t get defensive when I offer constructive criticism.” I know that this one is tough. You get so many criticisms already; many of them are petty and self-serving. But there are many of us who love you and will, on rare occasions, offer some words that we think are best for you. Hear us without being defensive. Pray that God’s Spirit will help you discern when you should listen and when you should ignore.
  8. “Pray for me.” Please let me know that you love your church members so much that you pray for us regularly. Let us know that you consider prayer for the members to be one of your highest priorities.
  9. “Give me hope.” This world confuses me. This degenerating culture scares me. Show me how God has dealt with such hopeless times in the past that they may be times of hope for me today. Show me Christ’s possibilities, His hope, and His encouragement in difficult days.

Pastors, your task is not easy. Indeed, it is impossible without Christ’s strength. You have many church members who love you. They are often the silent members and, thus, the disregarded members. Hear these words from healthy church members that you might be even a better pastor to them.

What would you add, church member? What would you add, pastor or staff? How do these nine sentences resonate with you?

My blog post this coming Saturday: “Nine Heartfelt Things Pastors Would Like to Say to Their Church Members.”

Source: www.thomrainer.com

Every Pastor’s Job Description

Pastors Job DescriptionI absolutely love being a pastor and getting to studying God’s Word in preparation to share it with my church family each Sunday. There is a satisfaction beyond description from seeing someone move from casual attender, to consistent attender, to serving, to leading, and finally becoming a disciple-maker. Watching members grow in their faith and service often brings me to tears. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and long to be around my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I once heard a wise statement about being a great pastor, “If you’re going to be a shepherd, you have to smell like the sheep.” A shepherd lived with, protected, fed, and led the sheep. They knew him, trusted him, and followed him without reservation. The pastor’s first responsibility is to be a shepherd to the people. Shepherding should be a task the pastor loves. If a pastor doesn’t like being with the people then you have to ask why is he a pastor to begin with.

This morning I read a great post by John MacArthur on “Every Pastor’s Job Description.” It was refreshing to hear such a great leader of a mega-church describe a pastor’s greatest responsibility.

MacArthur writes:

Many of my favorite people are pastors. I grew up the son of a pastor and the grandson of a pastor. And after more than four decades of my own pastoral ministry, and many years of training young men for their own, I think I have a good understanding of a pastor’s heart—both his joys and his struggles.

These days, my heart aches for pastors.

It aches because today their job is as difficult as it has ever been. We live in an anti-authority culture—one that has lost all respect for people in positions of authority and influence. The modern mindset is to tear down everybody and everything. It’s a destructive culture, driven by fierce pride and runaway self-esteem. It seems very few pastors are run out of their churches over bad sermons or ineffective ministry—usually, they’re run out by a person or a group contending for power and authority.

That difficulty is compounded by the intimidation of massive media ministries and celebrity preachers on TV, the Internet, and in flat-screen churches all over the country. Pastors today are told they need to embody an entrepreneurial spirit—that they need to grow their churches the way you would grow a business. They hear a lot about needing to impact the culture and engage the community, and they get all kinds of pragmatic advice on how to accomplish that. They’re told they need to reach beyond the church and revolutionize society. In fact, it seems much of the modern pastor’s work is supposed to take place outside the church.

That’s a discouraging, disheartening message for men who love the church and have given their lives in service to God’s people. It’s also unbiblical. Pastors have one job. They’re not called to be cultural evangelists, entrepreneurs, or revolutionaries. They’re called to faithfully feed the flock of God. They’re called to be shepherds.

Consider the apostle Peter’s instruction to church leaders in 1 Peter 5:1-2.

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.

The solemn duty of every pastor is to feed God’s sheep. And as a pastor, the day you let your eyes move beyond the people sitting in your church is the day you’ve lost your purpose.

The focus of pastoral ministry is not the people outside the church, and it’s not drawing unbelievers to the church. The focus is on the people inside the church—the flock the Lord has sovereignly drawn together and entrusted into the care of a shepherd. The pastor has been set apart, as the apostle Paul put it, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).

Pastors are not called to the culture, and we’re not called to the unconverted. We have been mandated to feed our flocks so they can grow spiritually. We’re called to serve the redeemed people of God as an agent of sanctification and protection. The measure of a man’s effectiveness in ministry is not the number of people in his congregation every week—it’s the Christlikeness of his congregation.

Source: Every Pastor’s Job Description

Insecurity–The Church Killer

challenged church, the_t_nvJesus said, “…everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12.48b). Those who find themselves in a position of leadership have been given a great responsibility. We are to lead those entrusted to us toward attaining “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13).

Our calling requires us to keep our heart and mind focused on Christ’s leadership. Being a leader is never easy; however, when we are rightly focused the burden of leadership seems light. Dealing with those who are argumentative, stubborn, or people who just don’t like us can be difficult. Yet, they are not the greatest hinderance to leadership success. When we allow our insecurities to start controlling us we put ourselves and the church we lead in dire circumstances.

In Ronnie Floyd’s post “Pastors and Church Leaders: Will Your Insecurity Problem Hurt Your Church” we are given a few signs of insecurity, the solution for each, as well as the ultimate reason for not being insecure.

Floyd writes:

One of the major challenges that prevent many churches from being focused on their mission can be summarized in one word: insecurity. It eliminates opportunities for evangelism, planting churches, ministry expansion, and making disciples because it creates conflict in the church. I have even seen insecurity ruin ministries.

A Testimony: I will never forget talking with a leader who served with his Pastor for decades in one of the strongest ministries in America. I asked him about the challenges of adjusting from leading church staff leaders from people in the world. He remarked, “I have found that ministers are the most insecure people I have ever met in my life.”

Since insecurity can hurt ministers, churches, and ministries, we need to consider ways to overcome this problem. Here are some helpful tips for identifying the signs of and solutions to insecurity.

Signs of Insecurity

  • Competitiveness – One of the biggest problems insecurity carries with it is overt competition. Churches try to “out-do” one another. Pastors find themselves competing with other pastors. This competitiveness results occurs because of insecurity and further results in jealousy and a critical spirit.
    • Solution: Remember that as a Christ-follower your only competition is the world, the flesh, and the devil; not other pastors or churches. Remember who you are in Christ and abide in this spiritual reality.
  • Combativeness – I have seen many pastors or other church leaders ruin their ministry by the incessant need to have their way all the time. God has not called ministers to always “be right”, but to “be godly.” In my book, “Ten Things Every Minister Needs to Know” I talk about this issue in detail. I am convinced we can do the right thing in the wrong way. We need to operate with the Spirit of Christ at all times.
    • Solution: Recognize that not every hill is worth dying on. Sometimes the best, most Christ-like way is to humble yourself and see that the best idea is not always your own. Listen to others. Learn from others. Learn from your own mistakes. Do not let a word, a sentence, or a spirit take away from your main message. Your goal is always be like Christ, not to always be right in the eyes of others or even in your own eyes. 
  • Complaining – Some of the whiniest people I know are ministers. It also happens that pastors are some of the most insecure people I know. The two often go together. Complaining is a serious obstacle for many ministers of the Gospel. How can we expect others to be attracted to our message and our leadership if we are complainers? This does not magnetize people to the message but it distracts them from the message.
    • Solution: Return to the reason you are in ministry. Church leadership roles are often very hard. When all the bad stuff starts coming your way instead of complaining about it keep your heart in the Word of God and keep your eyes on Jesus and the lost-ness of the world. Most of all, return to your call from God to go into the ministry . . . this is why you are doing what you are doing.

What We Do Not Have Time For

We don’t have time to play games and be insecure. We are not competing against the pastor across town. We are not competing against a church across America. While every church is called to make disciples of all the nations, we have to carry out this commission in the different contexts God has called us to serve. We are not entitled to getting everything our way because we’re in a church leadership role.

Insecure Pastors and Churches

Insecure pastors create insecure churches. Insecure churches are ineffective churches. Competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining do not have a place in the church of Jesus Christ, especially in the life of a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So let’s set aside the competitiveness, combativeness, and complaining and focus on taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and making disciples of all nations.

Why There Is No Need To Be Insecure

Our Lord’s command to go and make disciples is prefaced by the statement, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and is followed by “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18, 20). Because we live in and with the authority of the Great Commission there is no need for insecurity. This is why there is no need to be insecure . . . The Lord is with you always!

Daily, I pray for the authority of the Great Commission to operate within and through my life as a leader. Knowing that the One who has all authority is with us, we can face anything in life and ministry.

If you suffer from various forms of insecurity, I would encourage you to pick up Timothy Keller’s book “The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy.”

A Pastor’s Dirty Little Secret

Have you ever wondered what it is like being a pastor of a church? have you ever imagined what it is like to be the leader in charge? Have you ever thought how wonderful it would be to serve the Lord in vocational service? Philip Wagner uses stats from several reputable sources to help us understand some of unique situations pastors face in ministry.

Wagner writes:

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are:

  • The President of the United States
  • A university president
  • A CEO of a hospital and
  • A pastor

Is that true? Pastors love God and love people. They get to pray for people, lead people to a faith in Jesus Christ, and teach the Word about God.

That’s the dream job. You can read the Bible all day, pray, play a little golf, and preach. I want to do that!

Here is the secret. Being a pastor is hard work. It’s not for wimps.

This is the reality—the job of a pastor can be 24/7 and carry unique challenges.

Some pastors wear themselves out trying to help people. Some wound their family because they are so involved in ministry. Others flourish in their ministry and personal life.

Approximately 85% of churches in America have less than 200 people. Sixty percent of churches are under 100 people. The average size congregation in the U.S. is 89 people, according to The Barna Group. Staffs are small, and needs are great. In many situations, the pastor needs to be a Bible teacher, accountant, strategist, visionary, computer tech, counselor, public speaker, worship director, prayer warrior, mentor, leadership trainer, and fundraiser.

Who can be all of that?

  • 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they
    thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.

Personally, I love being a pastor. I have a great staff. We have great people in our church; I am content whether going through good times or difficult seasons. Of course, it’s a lot easier to be “content” when things are good. I have great friends who are pastors. My marriage is strong. I am a better man because of my time in ministry.

Some of the unique problems that pastors’ face are:

1. Criticism

Pastors can be criticized by a lot of people for a multitude of things.

“Music is too loud. Worship is not long enough. It’s too long.”
“Sermon is not deep enough. It’s too long.”
“Pastor thinks he’s too important. It took me 3 weeks to get an appointment.”
“You talk too much about money.”

“…can I talk to you for a minute, Pastor?” This simple question can cause a pastor to think: “Oy vey. Now what?”

We pastors need to find a way to not take criticism so personally and learn from truths that could be hidden in the criticism.

2. Rejection

Members leave, leaders leave, and pastors’ friends leave. The reality is—people leave.

The smaller the church, the more obvious it is when people leave. Some leave for reasonable decisions; many leave ‘ungracefully.’ They leave the big churches, too—by the thousands.

People leave TD Jakes’ church, and they leave Andy Stanley’s church.

When our church had about 150 people and some would leave, it was so disappointing. I tried to console myself by thinking, “They may be leaving by the dozens here at Oasis, but thousands have left Jack Hayford’s church, and he’s a great pastor.”…That only helped for a minute.

“I’m leaving.”

“We want something deeper.”

“My needs aren’t getting met.”

These comments can feel like a personal rejection.

Every pastor has heard, “I’m not getting fed here.” Bill Hybels has heard it. Wayne Cordero, Dino Rizzo, Ed Young, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick, and Matthew Barnett have heard it.

Really? Not getting fed? In those churches? How is that possible?

One of the most difficult conditions to achieve is to have a “tough skin and a soft heart.” Love people, hold them lightly, and don’t take it personally.

“…uhhh, OK. Lord, help us.”

3. Betrayal

Trusting church members with personal burdens can backfire. They may end up telling the pastor’s personal issues to others. Staff leaders can take church members away. The pastor trusts a person with the platform or title, and that person uses the influence given to them to take people away. The Judas kiss.

Church staff causing problems is a betrayal. Pastors rightfully think, “I’m paying you to solve problems. I can get new problems for free. I don’t need to pay someone a salary to create them.”

  • 40% report a conflict with a church member at least once a month.
  • 85% of pastors said their greatest problem is they are tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors.
  • The #1 reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction, but the people are not willing to follow or change.
  • 40% of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.

We pastors have to find a way, with God’s grace, to love people as if we have never been hurt before.

4. Loneliness

Who’s my friend? Who can I trust? If I tell another pastor my problems, will he criticize me, tell others, or just treat me differently?

  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.

Are my friends really my friends or a church member who is a temporary friend who may leave any day now?

Healthy friendships are crucial to a fulfilling life, especially to the well-being of a pastor. Put special effort in this area.

5. Weariness

  • 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
  • 70% felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 50% still felt called.

Keeping personally refreshed is an art and a science…and extremely important.

When fatigue comes in, you not only look ½ empty, but also dirty, contaminated, and undrinkable.

6. Frustrations & Disappointments

Disappointments come in many ways.

Because of smaller congregations, the average compensation package for pastors is between $35,000 – $40,000. There are many things pastors in this salary range are not able to do for their family that other people around them can do.

There are many areas of ministry that judging “success” is difficult. Pastors can be hard on themselves. We work in an area that good work and good effort does not always guarantee success.

Many pastors work hard but are missing some kind of “X-factor.” They are good people, sincere believers, love God, know the Word, have great content in their sermons, but somehow it’s not clicking. It’s frustrating.

It’s like a worship leader who loves Jesus and has a great singing voice but somehow cannot lead people in an effective worship experience.

Some days, leaders feel like they can’t seem to do anything right. The ministry finally gets momentum, and then a leader in the church falls. Things are going well, and then a couple of your biggest givers leave.

The church needs money, but the pastor doesn’t want to put too much focus on money. It’s not about the money—but it becomes about the money.

All of this can be overwhelming.

  • 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
  • Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if
    they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 45.5 % of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.

This is not the case for all pastors. In fact, many that I know have managed to handle these issues well.

How Christians and church members can help.

  • Pray for your pastor
    Pray for guidance, protection, healthy friends, their marriage, and      family.
    Pray for inspiration, anointing, the leadership team, unity, and clarity.
  • Protect your pastor
    As best as you can, don’t allow or participate in gossip and criticism.
    How can you serve and problem solve to prevent overload?
  • Encourage your pastor
    Thank him for his or her work and ministry. Thank them for their      sacrifice.
    Tell them a specific time in which you or someone you know experienced a life change in their church.
    Honor them to others. Let your pastors know you are praying for them.

According to the Barna report—the profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman.”

To Pastors

Don’t give up, pastor!

Persistence is powerful.

Keep on. Really! Your work, your labor of love, and your sacrifice matters.

I realize the last thing a pastor needs is another sermon. But these verses have helped me. Hold on to God’s Word with your life.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Gal. 6:9 NLT

Be careful of the comparison trap.

Looking at other ministries can be inspiring. Comparing yourself to other churches can be destructive and discouraging.

Make new pastor friends. Expose yourself to new influences, new leaders, churches, or ministries that are doing some things differently.

Discover to some fresh views and ideas. Sometimes, it just takes one or two new ideas that can change momentum around.

Pastors that are struggling or are no longer in ministry may have unresolved hurts. I encourage you to find healing. Seek counseling; find a local Celebrate Recovery group; equip yourself with resources on healing (some examples are Safe People or Boundaries) and share your secrets with safe people. Remember you’re only as sick as your secrets. Pastors—I love you!

 *The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc. provide the statistics I have used in this blog.

Source: Churchleaders.com

A Day In The Life Of A Pastor

At the end of his post Dr. Thom Rainer extends a challenge to pray for your pastor five minutes a day. If you will commit to this challenge or believe that it is a much-needed ministry, will you please share this on your Facebook page, email the link to all your friends, or have  your church send this to their members. Once you have done these things then pray! Pray for wisdom, discernment, holiness, purity, compassion, vision, and most of all for a Spirit-filled life. You will never know this side of heaven the difference you are making for the kingdom of God.

I hope “A Day In The Life Of A Pastor” by Thom Rainer encourages you to pray for your pastor.

Rainer writes:

It’s Thursday morning. Pastor Doug has a clear calendar, an aberration in his busy schedule. Actually, the calendar is not really clear; he has set aside time to finish his sermon for Sunday. His Bible is open; study aids are nearby. He begins to study.

Then the phone rings.

His assistant tells him about a car accident involving a family in the church. The ambulances are already on the way to the hospital. Doug leaves all of his study material on his desk and jumps into the car.

On the way to the hospital, his assistant calls him again. The entire Godsey family of five was in the car. None are seriously [hurt] except Gary, the father and husband of the family. His condition is grave.

Pastor Doug walks into the emergency waiting room. The family has just been told that their husband and father did not make it. They see their pastor and run to him sobbing, in total shock. Doug is there for them. He stays with the entire family for three hours until he is certain that enough people are around to care for them.

The Afternoon

He stops by his home to see his wife and grab a quick sandwich. It is now afternoon. He’s not sure if he can return to his sermon preparation, but he knows he must. He must fight the emotional exhaustion of the morning, and finish the message. But as he walks back to the church, his assistant apologetically tells him that two people need to speak with him. They consider it urgent.

Doug meets with the two men. One of them is the worship leader of the church. He is struggling with his ministry and is considering giving up. For two hours, Doug listens, consoles, and attempts to encourage the staff member.

The next visitor then catches Doug off guard. George is one of the key lay leaders in the church. Doug considers him a friend and an incredibly vital person in the overall leadership of the congregation. George struggles to speak: “My wife is having an affair . . . “  There are no more words for 15 minutes. Just tears and sobs.

Doug stays with George for over two hours. They pray together and talk about next steps.

It’s nearly five o’clock in the afternoon. Doug is too drained to attempt to get back to his sermon. Instead he begins to look at his crowded email inbox. He cringes when he sees one of the senders of an email. But he cannot stop himself from opening the message. It’s from one of Doug’s most frequent critics in the church. She has two complaints. The first irritation was something he said in last Sunday’s sermon. The second complaint addressed Doug’s failure to visit her sister-in-law who had minor outpatient surgery yesterday. The sister-in-law is not a member of the church. And Doug knew nothing about the surgery.

And Now Evening

Pastor Doug shuts the laptop cover and moves to his car slowly. He’ll stop by the house to grab a quick bite to eat. He needs to check on the Godsey family. He will stay with them for a while, but he must leave prior to 7:30, when he is to give the invocation for a local high school basketball game.

Several people get his attention at the game, so he doesn’t get home until after nine o’clock. He goes to his small study in his home, shuts the door, and begins to cry.

Gary Godsey, the father and husband who was killed in the car accident, was Doug’s best friend.

This was the first chance Doug had to grieve.

A Call to Pray for Pastors

The story is true. Only the names have been changed.

In a few weeks, I will be initiating a call for church members to pray five minutes a day for their pastors. Will you make a commitment today, even before the initiative? Will you commit just five minutes a day to pray for your pastor? Will you ask others in your church to do so? Will you pray for their strength, protection, wisdom, and families?

Will you pray for just five minutes?

Hypocritical Leadership

The vast majority of what a pastor does on a weekly basis is not measurable.  Because he cannot see immediately how a sermon has affected those listening, there is always the added challenge of being content with preaching the Word in complete obedience to Jesus. When there is numerical growth or obvious spiritual maturity taking place it is easy to assume your efforts are being blessed by God. However, when these measurable marks are not seen a pastor’s resolve is tested as to whether he will find the same joy in obedience, or if frustration will set in for a lack of perceptible success.

Timothy Keller clarifies the struggle pastors face in a world where numbers are everything in his article, “Hypocritical Leadership.”

Keller writes:

Perhaps the greatest dilemma of the pastor – or any Christian leader – is the danger of hypocrisy. By this I mean that, unlike other professionals, we as ministers are expected to proclaim God’s goodness and to provide encouragement at all times. We are always pointing people toward God in one way or another, in order to show them his worth and beauty. That’s the essence of our ministry. But seldom will our hearts be in a condition to say such a thing with complete integrity, since our own hearts are often in need of encouragement, gospel centeredness, and genuine gladness. Thus, we have two choices: either we have to guard our hearts continually in order to practice what we are preaching, or we live bifurcated lives of outward ministry and inward gloominess.

In this way, the ministry will make you a far better or a far worse Christian than you would have been otherwise. But it will not leave you where you were! And it will put enormous pressure on your integrity and character. The key problem will be preaching the gospel while not believing the gospel. As ministers, we must be willing to admit that ministerial success often becomes the real basis for our joy and significance, much more so than the love and acceptance we have in Jesus Christ. Ministry success often becomes what we look to in order to measure our worth to others and our confidence before God. In other words, we look to ministry success to be for us what only Christ can be. All ministers who know themselves will be fighting this all their lives. It is the reason for jealousy, for comparing ourselves to other ministers, for needing to control people and programs in the church, and for feeling defensive toward criticism. At one level we believe the gospel that we are saved by grace not works, but at a deeper level we don’t believe it much at all. We are still trying to create our own righteousness through spiritual performance, albeit one that is sanctioned by our call to ministry.

How To Measure a Pastor

How do you measure the success of a pastor? Should a pastor be measured by buildings, budgets, or backsides? Should his pedigree or accomplishments be the yardstick for his worth? How do you determine if a pastor is successful?

You can find the answer to these questions in Paul Tripp’s post “The Recipe for a Successful Pastor.” Pastors may accomplish great measurable feats; however, if they do not proceed from a heart of brokenness, love, and the pursuit of holiness then they are nothing more than worldly accomplishments.

Tripp writes:

I am convinced that many of the problems in pastoral culture result from an unbiblical definition of the essential ingredients of ministry success. Sure, most candidate profiles expect a “vibrant walk with the Lord,” but these words are often weakened by a process that asks few questions in this area and makes grand assumptions. We’re really interested in knowledge (right theology), skill (good preacher), ministry philosophy (will build the church), and experience (isn’t cutting his pastoral teeth in this new place of ministry). I have heard church leaders, in moments of pastoral crisis, say many times, “We didn’t know the man we hired.”

What does knowing the man entail? It means knowing the true condition of his heart—as far as such is possible. What does he really love, and what does he despise? What are his hopes, dreams, and fears? What are the deep desires that fuel and shape the way he does ministry? What anxieties have the potential to derail or paralyze him? How accurate is his view of himself? How open is he to confrontation, critique, and encouragement? How committed is he to his own sanctification?

How open is he about his own temptations, weaknesses, and failures? How ready is he to listen to and defer to the wisdom of others? Is pastoral ministry a community project to him? Does he have a tender, nurturing heart? Is he warm and hospitable, a shepherd and champion to those who are suffering? What character qualities would his wife and children use to describe him? Does he sit under his own preaching? Is his heart broken and his conscience regularly grieved as he looks at himself in the mirror of the Word? How robust, consistent, joyful, and vibrant is his devotional life?

Does his ministry to others flow out of the vibrancy of his devotional communion with the Lord? Does he hold himself to high standards, or does he settle for mediocrity? Is he sensitive to the experience and needs of those who minister alongside him? Does he embody the love and grace of the Redeemer? Does he overlook minor offenses? Is he ready and willing to forgive? Is he critical and judgmental? How does the public pastor differ from the private husband and dad? Does he take care of his physical self? Does he numb himself with too much social media or television? How would he fill in this blank: “If only I had ________”? How successful has he been in pastoring the congregation that is his family?

True Condition of the Pastor’s Heart

A pastor’s ministry is never just shaped by his experience, knowledge, and skill. It is also always shaped by the true condition of his heart. In fact, if his heart is not in the right place, knowledge and skill can make him dangerous.

Pastors often struggle to find living, humble, needy, celebratory, worshipful, meditative communion with Christ. It is as if Jesus has left the building. There is all kinds of ministry knowledge and skill, but it seems divorced from a living communion with a living and ever-present Christ. All this activity, knowledge, and skill seems to be fueled by something else. Ministry becomes shockingly impersonal. Then it’s about theological content, exegetical rightness, ecclesiastical commitments, and institutional advancement. It’s about preparing for the next sermon, getting the next meeting agenda straight, and filling the requisite leadership openings. It’s about budgets, strategic plans, and ministry partnerships.

None of these things is wrong in itself. Many of them are essential. But they must never be ends in themselves. They must never be the engine that propels the vehicle. They must all express something deeper in the pastor’s heart.

The pastor must be enthralled by, in awe of, and in love with his Redeemer so that everything he thinks, desires, chooses, decides, says, and does is propelled by love for Christ and the security of rest in the love of Christ. He must be regularly exposed by, humbled by, assured by, and given rest by the grace of his Redeemer. His heart needs to be tenderized day after day by his communion with Christ so that he becomes a loving, patient, forgiving, encouraging, and giving servant-leader. His meditation on Christ, his presence, his promises, and his provisions must not be overwhelmed by his meditation on how to make his ministry work.

Protection Against All Other Loves

Only love for Christ can defend the heart of the pastor against all other loves that have the potential to kidnap his ministry. Only worship of Christ has the power to protect him from all the seductive idols of ministry that will whisper in his ear. Only the glory of the risen Christ will guard him against the self-glory that tempts all and destroys the ministry of so many.

Only Christ can turn an arrogant, “bring on the world” seminary graduate into a patient, humble giver of grace. Only deep gratitude for a suffering Savior can make a man willing to suffer in ministry. Only in brokenness before your own sin can you give grace to fellow rebels among whom God has called you to minister. Only when your identity is firmly rooted in Christ will you find freedom from seeking to get your identity out of your ministry.

We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity. Maturity is a vertical thing that will have a wide variety of horizontal expressions. Maturity is about relationship to God that results in wise and humble living. Maturity of love for Christ expresses itself in love for other.

Thankfulness for the grace of Christ expresses itself in grace to others. Gratitude for the patience and forgiveness of Christ enables you to be patient and forgiving of others. Your daily experience of the rescue of the gospel gives you a passion for people experiencing the same rescue. This is the soil in which true ministry success grows.