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.

Thanks!

It is hard for me to believe that we are starting a new year. It was just seven, short, years ago today that I preached my first message as Senior Pastor of Living Oaks Baptist Church. There have been many challenges during that time; however, the joy of seeing many come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ has been well worth every one. During the last seven years, we have grown from a pastor and his congregation into one great big family.

We have had members of our LOBC family move away, while others have graduated to glory. We have seen our young adults become great leaders by following the examples set by many of our senior adults. We have watched as the first group of infants began to crawl, then walk, and now they are all in second grade, and many of those have become Christians.

Over the last few years, we have moved away from many programs that were focused on our entertainment in order to reach those outside our family. We shared our food, clothes, smiles, and hugs with those who were in need. We have purchased chicks; ducks; goats; and fresh, well water for those in other countries. We have adopted an elementary school and provided them with back-packs, school supplies, and fed them for “Meet the Teacher” night.

Over the last seven years, we have been compelled by love to share with others that love which we received from Christ Jesus Himself. Because of this, I want to say “Thank You!” to my church family. I love you and look forward to all God has for us in 2012!

Once again, THANKS!

10 Secrets of Many Senior Pastors

One of my greatest joys in life is being a pastor. I absolutely love serving, teaching, and leading those whom God has placed in my care. When you add in the wonderful friendships that come with a loving church family, I can’t imagine there being a better calling in the world (of course I am biased).  In spite of the wonderful blessing pastor’s receive from God’s family, being a pastor is not always an easy calling.  There are many circumstances that can weigh a pastor down and over time steal his joy for ministry.

Ron Edmondson gives us a glimpse into some of the struggles of many pastors in “10 Secrets of Many Senior Pastors.”  I hope Ron’s article gives some insight on how to better pray for your pastor.

I get to hang out and know many senior pastors. I have a great heart for them and understand, firsthand, some of the pressures, frustrations and joys, which are unique to the role of a senior pastor. In my recent blog survey, over half my readers are in ministry and half that number are senior leaders.

I previously shared this post over a year ago after sharing these points at a conference for executive pastors. I was asked to give my perspective as a senior pastor, since each of them report to one. I have revised some of them again and added a couple, so I decided to share it again.

Here are 10 “secrets” about many senior pastors:

  • Leading from this position is overwhelming at times. We know Christ is ultimately in charge, but we also know it often seems everyone looks to us to have all the answers.
  • People tell the senior pastor all kinds of things about what is happening in their life or in the lives of others…many we would rather not know sometimes…and sometimes the weight of others problems we carry is enormous.
  • Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty, which keeps us in prayer, but also makes us question our abilities at times. It makes depression common for many senior pastors. (Need a Biblical example…see 1 Kings 19)
  • Many senior pastors fear the possibility of failing in their role, so they thrive on the encouragement and prayers of others.
  • Sometimes we allow insecurity to cause us to become overprotective of our reputation and our position.
  • We face the same temptations and occasional spiritual dryness as everyone else. This means we need accountability, but are often afraid to seek it.
  • Our spouse is sometimes the loneliest person in the church and often feels extreme pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations.
  • Loneliness can exist for all leaders and many pastors suffer from it.
  • We seldom know who we can trust, which is why we become guarded and appear hard to get to know. Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted.
  • We suspect the staff , church leaders and congregation sometimes talks about us behind our back.

Granted, not every pastor faces each of these, (that’s why I said “many”) and I happen to be in an extremely healthy church, but even still, some of these are real for me at times. Other pastors, for reasons on this post, will not want you assuming these things about them. In talking with dozens of senior pastors each year, I know this is a representative list for “many”.

Senior pastors find joy in our work and, thankfully, most of us know we are in the center of God’s will vocationally. I don’t intend to take anything away from that in this post. We serve in a called position, so we are doing what we have been asked of God to do. When I share any post like this, however, I have come to expect a lecture on the need to depend on Christ for these issues, which only further demonstrates my points.

Senior pastors are to fully rely on Christ’s strength, as is every other believer. This is just a reminder that we happen to also be like Elijah…”a man just like us”. (James 5:17)

Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart

“Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God has done…” Every Thanksgiving I think about this wonderful old hymn and try to think specifically about the blessings from God.  With that in mind let me share a few of the blessings that have meant the most to me this year.

First off, I am so thankful for my church family.  On more than one occasion this year I have watched as they demonstrated the love of Christ to others in need. They have taken meals to someone who was recovering from surgery or to a family who had just lost a loved one. They have helped some of the senior adults by mowing their lawns, cutting wood, and repairing things around the house.  We’ve even had a couple of members give a car to someone in need.

They also reached out to our community to make a difference. For example, they adopted an elementary school here in town and provided school supplies for all the teachers; cooked hot dogs for the parents, students, and teachers during the “Meet the Teacher” night; as well as giving each child a back-pack.  When the movie “Courageous” came out, they raised money to rent out two theaters and gave away over 400 tickets so people could enjoy the movie for free.

They also focused on people outside our community. They collected items for newborns and donated them to the Hope Pregnancy Center.  They blessed the Owasso Home for Children with money to buy back-to-school clothing. They sent money to Samaritan’s Purse to provide goats, chickens, and even dig a well in a poor community overseas.

There are way too many things this loving family has done this year for me to mention them all; however, let me tell about my favorite. Each year, we have a church Thanksgiving meal the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  We invite the community to come and celebrate the holiday with us.  Afterward, we give needy families a basket with everything they will need for a decent Thanksgiving meal.  It is always heart warming to see our church family sitting with and getting to know the many visitors we have in attendance.  It is equally special to see the gratitude on the faces of those who bless us by receiving a basket.

Living Oaks Baptist Church is filled with kind people who just want to make a difference.  They want people to experience first-hand the love of Christ Jesus.  They want them to know that once you enter into a relationship with Him your life will never be the same. They love because Jesus first loved them!

In just a few weeks I will be celebrating seven years as the pastor of this wonderful church.  It is privilege to be a part of such a wonderful family.  I can not begin to tell you of all the ways they have blessed me.  They have been there during terrible losses, great pain and suffering, discouragement, as well as the times of celebration.  They have shown over and over again that they are Jesus’ disciples by the way they love one another and by the way they love me!

So, the first blessing for which I am thankful that I want to share with you is the people who make up Living Oaks Baptist Church.  Thank you LOBC!  I love you and I am eternally grateful that you allow me to be your pastor, brother in Christ, and your friend!