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pastoral ministry

~Thou are only a Man~

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“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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The early civilizations were well aware of the danger of pride and power and knew that this could destroy kings and empires if not held in check. And thus a philosophy was developed by the very wise Greco-Roman philosophers (lovers of truth) in order to help their rulers and themselves to be vigilant about their behavior, lest they destroy themselves by pride. And thus when any great general (be it an emperor-to-be, a war general, or any victor of a great battle) was honored by a great manifestation such as a triumphal entry into his city-state, a slave (a lowly of lowlies) would ride in the chariot with him and whisper in his ear that he should remember that he is not a god, but a mortal human being.

I think a better source than wiki might be a scholarly treatise aboutRoman triumphal marches by the historian Robert Payne in the book “Rome Triumphant: How the Empire Celebrated its Victories” Robert Payne, 1962, Barnes & Noble Books 1993. In the closing remarks of the book (pg 251), Payne remarks “…it was the anonymous slave standing behind the triumphator, whispering in his ear about the vanity of honours, who represents the greater triumph. The voice of the slave was the voice of humanity,never so desperate as when it passed unheard.– We do not know when the slave first rode in the triumphal chariot and held the golden crown over the conqueror’s head, or when he stepped down for the last time. We do not know whether the triumphator ever spoke to him in reply,or even glanced at him. He appears only briefly in the history of the triumph, and only once do we see him plain –on the Boscoreale cup,where he is depicted as a youth who seems to be filled with a sense of compassionate duty.”

You should be aware that this type of reminder of vigilance is still very meaningful and applied in many ways in modern life as a philosophical heir to the ancient traditition. The warning against pride and care to remember that life is a fleeting gift and should not be squandered on empty vanities that are really meaningless when considering the totality of life’s journey (the human actions of craving for power, riches, adulation, popularity) is just as important today as it was 2500 years ago. Instead of wasting time thinking that you are “God’s gift to humanity”, the reminder states, “try to live life as a good and simple, honest, kind and noble person (like the beautiful shaker hymn: “Tis a gift to be simple…”)

You might be aware of the yearly Christian tradition of Ash Wednesday in the beginning of the Lenten journey when people receive blessed ashes on their foreheads with the words “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return”. This is done not to depress people, but to remind them that true happiness of this life is totally dependant upon our own human goodness to be fantastically good people instead of selfish jerks.

Whenever a bishop (or cardinal) is elected to be a pope (a really tremendous honor in the Catholic Church), before the pope steps out into the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica to greet the City and the World and to be hailed as the new pontiff (Viva el Papa !) something really cool is done that is centuries old. A simple poor franciscan friar stands before the pope with a broom-like staff made with a pile of dry straw. The straw is lit and for a few seconds a huge flame bursts out, but is gone in a mere minute (a straw fire means an empty fleeting fanfare). (This is done three times) Each time the friar utters the words to the pope “sic transit gloria mundi) meaning “and thus passes the glory of this world”. This is of course a reminder that the great Roman pontiff (like the Roman generals and emperors) should remember that he is nothing more than a lowly servant and all the glory and power and wealth of this world is meaningless when compared to the true meaning of life : just be a very very good and kind and honest person – at the end of your life this will be the only measure of true meaning of the nobility and richness of one’s life.

Is it not cool how all of this applies to our lives today ?

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Introduction

Is good enough, good enough? Consider, if you will, that if 99.9 percent were good enough then

  • 2 million documents would be lost by the IRS this year.
  • 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next 60 minutes.
  • 1,314 telephone calls will be misdirected by telecommunications companies every minute.
  • 2,488 books will be shipped with the wrong covers on them each day.
  • Over 5.5 million cases of soft drinks in the next year will be flat.
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written each year.
  • 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.

Obviously, being good enough is not good enough for life in modern society. So why do we think that being good enough is good enough to get us into heaven? You’ve heard people ask, “If I try my best won’t God let me into heaven?” or “Doesn’t God just require me to be better than the average human?” or “Don’t I have to just live a good life to be a Christian?” or “How could a loving God send good people to hell?”

Martin Luther, the reformer, wrote, “The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has every plagued the mind of man is the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.” A Bible teacher used to say, “Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation.”

Let’s examine what the Bible has to say about being good enough.

I. God’s standard is perfection

In one sense, one can be good enough to get to heaven, but they would have to be perfect. God’s standard for entrance into heaven is perfection. On one occasion Jesus identified the two most outwardly religious groups of people in his day the Pharisees and the scribes and told his listening audience, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). On another occasion Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

God’s standard never falls short of complete righteousness and holiness. Anything less than perfection is sin. Think about heaven for a moment. Heaven is a place of the “no more’s” – no more tears, no more sadness, no more pain, no more sickness, no more death. All of those things are caused by sin. The “no more’s” don’t exist in heaven because sin does not exist in heaven. Heaven will be wonderful, not only because of what is present – God, but also because of what is absent – sin.

God’s standard of perfection is not arbitrary. God does not grade on the curve. He does not say, “Oh, you are close enough” or “You have tried really hard to live a good life.” God does not compare. “Well, Bill you are better than John so you are in and John is out, Betty, you are better than Sue, so come right on in.” That would be like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. So what if your jump thirty feet and set an Olympic record, you still splatter.

Now don’t get me wrong, for the most part we are all pretty good. I don’t suppose there are any rapists or murderers among us. If we were grading ourselves on goodness we would rank right up there pretty high on the scale. Let’s call ourselves Danny or Debbie Decent. From our perspective, we do everything right. We pay our taxes, pay our bills, pay attention to our family, and pay respect to our superiors. We are good people.

But God sees us differently. God sees what Danny and Debbie Decent choose to overlook. For as decent as we are walking through life, we make mistakes. For example, we stretch the truth. We might fudge, ever so slightly, on our expense report. We gossip about the new employee. From our perspective, these aren’t big deals. But our perspective does not matter. God’s does. And what God sees is a person wrapped in mistakes.

So let me ask you, is there any sin in your life? If so you are not perfect. You have not met God’s standard of perfection.

II. God’s solution is a pardon

Fortunately, there is good news. There is a solution, a remedy to our imperfection. God’s solution is a pardon found in Jesus Christ. Here’s how is works: “Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! . . . It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. . . . Our sins are taken care of for good” (Heb. 10:12-18 MSG). The apostle Paul described it this way: “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Jesus Christ, God’s Son, went to the cross he took our sins, our mistakes, our evil, and our unrighteousness. He was the ultimate sacrifice.

R.G. Lee, former pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was visiting Gordon’s Calvary at Jerusalem, possibly the site where Jesus was crucified. Lee told the Arab guide he wanted to walk to the top of the hill. At first the guide tried to discourage him, but when he saw that Lee was determined to go, he went along. Once on the crest, Lee removed his hat and stood with bowed head, greatly moved. “Sir,” asked the guide, “have you been here before?”

“Yes,” replied Lee, “2,000 years ago.”

And so have we. We were there because our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Now we must go there to find redemption, to find our pardon for our sin.

So, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to going to heaven, whether we are more like Hitler with our evil or more like Mother Teresa with our purity, our sins are no longer the issue. The issue is what we do about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s solution to our not measuring up to his standard. Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. Jesus now offers us a pardon, a release from our sin.

Think about it this way: if a criminal was handed a pardon that would release him from prison, the issue is no longer the crime but rather what he will do about the pardon. If he refuses he will remain in prison. The questions, why he is in prison?, and why is he not out of prison? have two different answers. He is in prison because he is convicted criminal. He is not out of prison because he refuse the pardon. Likewise, the answer to the question, why will a person be in hell? Is because he is a sinner, but the answer to the question, why will he not be in heaven? Is because he did not accept the pardon offered in Christ.

Let me see if a story will not help clarify this issue. Many years ago a young boy shot and killed a man while gambling. In those days, murderers were sentenced to hang. But the townspeople were so concerned for the young lad that they gathered a petition asking the judge to pardon the boy. Finally, the judge agreed but only on one condition. The judge would wear a clergyman’s robe and collar and carry the pardon between the pages of the Bible.

As the judge approached the boy’s cell, he could hear the young man cursing and swearing at him. “Get out of here, preacher, I don’t want what you have to offer.”

“But, son,” the judge replied, “You don’t understand.”

“I understand fine,” said the boy. “I don’t want what you have to offer.”

The dejected judge left the jail. Later the guard told the boy that it was the judge who was dressed like a minister. Between the pages of the Bible was an authorized, sealed pardon for his release.

When the day of execution arrived, just before they put a black sack over the boy’s head, they asked if he had anything to say.

He replied, “I am not dying because I killed a man. I am dying because I rejected the pardon.”

You see the issue is not your sin. The issue is what you will do with Jesus Christ. Our fault before God is not necessarily our sin – He made a remedy for that. Our fault before God is rejecting the pardon.

“Yea, but,” I can hear some people say. And then the question: How could a loving God send good people to hell? The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions. First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice, as when the judge honored the choice of the condemned boy who rejected the pardon. Hell is the ultimate expression of God’s highest regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell. As C. S. Lewis stated: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it.”

No, God does not “send” people to hell. Nor does he send “people” to hell any more than the judge sent the boy to be hung. That is the second misconception.

The word people is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. The ones who reject God’s pardon do.

So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn’t. He simply honors the choice of sinners.

III. God’s salvation is through personal faith

So what must we do? We must, by faith, accept Jesus’ finished work on the cross as God’s only accepted way to enter heaven. God’s salvation is through personal faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in what he has done for us.

Ten of the eleven world religions teach a salvation by good deeds. Christianity stands alone with its emphasis on faith rather than works for salvation. The Scriptures say, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift – we don’t work for it, we don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it. We simply trust God for what he has done through his son, Jesus Christ.

It is like a medicine. You can believe a certain medicine will help you, but until you trust it enough to take it, it won’t do anything for you. Faith is more than believing in God. It is trusting in him to the point of receiving Christ into your life.

Conclusion

Was there a time when you honestly realized that you were a sinner and admitted that to God? Do you truly understand that Christ took your place on the cross? Do you understand that the real issue is not your sin, but what you will do with Jesus Christ? Have you received Christ alone for your salvation?

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~Family, Friends, Coworkers, Neighbors, How Do You Love Them In Difficult times?~

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Someone has defined friendship as “knowing the heart of another and sharing one’s heart with another.” We share our hearts with those we trust, and trust those who care about us. We confide in our friends because we have confidence that they will use the information to help us, not harm us. They in turn confide in us for the same reason. This week the winds of adversity have blown strong with deceit, arrogance, and piety from family and friends alike. I found myself troubled beyond measure today because of all the mess in the world that is more important than some of the family issues and church issues I have had to deal with.

We often refer to Jesus as our friend because we know that He wants what is best for us. We confide in Him because we trust Him. But have you ever considered that Jesus confides in His people?

Jesus began calling His disciples friends rather than servants because He had entrusted them with everything He had heard from His Father (John 15:15). Jesus trusted the disciples to use the information for the good of His Father’s kingdom.

Although we know that Jesus is our friend, can we say that we are His friends? Do we listen to Him? Or do we only want Him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on His heart? Or do we only want to tell Him what’s on ours? To be a friend of Jesus, we need to listen to what He wants us to know and then use the information to bring others into friendship with Him.

 Sweet thought! We have a Friend above, Our weary, faltering steps to guide, Who follows with His eye of love The precious child for whom He died.

One of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry is dealing with difficult people. These are people who need help but seem to challenge you at every turn as you try to provide that help. How should the church respond and minister in these situations? Everyone has to relate to difficult people—and most of us have been difficult people ourselves at one time or another! Therefore, every Christian should know how the gospel guides us in these relationships.

Two passages that guide me in this are 1 Peter 4:8 and Ephesians 3:14-19. In the 1 Peter passage, we are called to “love one another deeply.” The word translated deeply can also mean “constant”. “Keep love constant” would be a good translation. The word describes something that is stretched or extended. The love of the saints keeps stretching, in both depth and endurance. This connects nicely with Ephesians 3 where Paul prays that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Persevering love grows out of the gospel. You must start here if you are going to find the strength and incentive to go the distance with people.

With these scriptures as guidance, I offer a list of ten pastoral skills that I learned as I discipled one individual who came with many difficult problems.

I will call her Tonya. She is in her 40’s and seems to be a sincere believer in Christ. She is in a bad marriage. She is someone who would classically be labeled bipolar or manic-depressive. She has successfully isolated herself from people in her church because once they get to know her, they become overwhelmed by her. Here is the challenge: How do I love Tonya well? What will it look like to be useful to her in her growth in grace? These lessons have taken me many years to learn—and I am still learning with other “Tonya’s” that God graciously and wisely places in my life. I will speak directly to you, the reader, about the difficult people God calls you to serve. Sometimes I will refer to Tonya  in particular and sometimes to difficult people as a whole.

Lesson 1. Pay Attention to the Heart (Yours and Theirs)

The category of the heart must be kept on the radar at all times.

  • Yours—God has ordained that this person be in your life. The first pastoral exercise is to pay attention to the common temptations to sin that different kinds of difficult people pose to you. Manipulative “borderline personality”? Angry and oblivious? Addicted and deceitful? Unstable “bipolar”? You may be tempted to overpower, or to appease, or to avoid such people. You will likely move typically in one of these directions or bounce back and forth between them in an effort to get some relief. You end up, if you are not carefully attending to your own heart, sinfully responding to the challenges that the difficult person is bringing into your life. If you do this, how then can you call this person to respond to life in godly ways when you aren’t even responding in godly ways? This, by the way, is true of any relationship.
  • Theirs—As you get to know difficult people, you begin to see the particular types of suffering that each person has experienced. You begin to see typical ways that the person tends to respond. With people who evidence what may be a more physiological component, keep that in mind as you seek to pastor them well. With someone who is manic-depressive, don’t let behavior on either extreme of the continuum fool you. Don’t get hijacked by the momentary emotional state. With Nancy, many elements were at work at any given moment when I would talk with her: a bad day with her husband, children, person in the church, no sleep, fear of the future… or a good day with her husband, children, person in the church, and lots of sleep. Each person is responding in either a godly or ungodly way to events. What patterns do you see as you get to know them and move towards them? What are their typical ungodly ways of dealing with life and what tends to drive those behaviors? There will be opportunities to help a person see these things. Find simple Scripture passages that will provide guidance during these times, and experience the joys of biblical repentance in the midst of the difficulty.

Lesson 2. Clearly Define Who Sets the Agenda

The common language that is often used here is the language of “boundaries”. I think that can be helpful but it does not go deep enough. Who sets the agenda in any relationship? God does. The only difference is what the agenda will be not who sets it. God sets the agenda in all of our relationships and He does here as well. Recognizing this, reminds you that you—the helper—are also under the gaze of God. The language of “boundaries” typically gives the impression that as the helper, you must set boundaries in order to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. If we think of this in terms of God setting the agenda, the end result will be you loving the person well rather than just protecting yourself.

With Nancy, because God set the agenda, there were times when I made sacrifices that were appropriate. Some of these decisions affected my family and lifestyle: the phone call at home late at night, or the sudden appearance at my house or office. Then there were other times that I told her I could not speak with her at that moment but would be willing to talk to her at some later time that we both agreed would work. There were times though, that I was tempted to agree to speak to her immediately because I did not want her to dislike me, or I was fearful that she would tell someone in the church that I had not cared for her like a good pastor should. Saying no at these times was an expression of godliness and love for Nancy. There were instances that I told her to go home and get some sleep and then call me that afternoon at the office. Grace-driven acceptance of a person does not mean open-ended availability.

It is important that you take the initiative to communicate some guidelines for the relationship and to alert the person that there will be many times when you will not be available. Be clear about when and where you may be contacted. Do this with love and then have godly courage to say no a few times early on when you think the person has moved beyond what is appropriate for the moment. If you are too available, it will likely lead to anger in you, because you assume that the person should respect boundaries like other people do. Don’t make that assumption. Another reason to set limits for people is because otherwise it may be too easy for them to go to you before they cry out to God. You, in effect, could be the very person who is making it too easy for them to avoid dealing directly with and depending upon Christ.

Lesson 3. Have Biblically Realistic/Optimistic Goals

Here is a place where your theology of the Christian life means everything. The doctrine of sanctification sees the Christian life through the biblical lens of slow, steady, back and forth progress. It’s realistic: change is incremental. It’s also optimistic: there is progress. For me, as I got a handle on the practical pastoral implications of this biblical understanding of the Christian life, it made all the difference in the world.

When Nancy was really depressed, I was thankful that she was still coming to church and seeking help. When she was particularly upbeat and euphoric, I would avoid being duped and then let down when she was depressed again. Without this leveling view of the Christian life, you will be a manic-depressive enabler!

Lesson 4. Redefine Love

If you do not re-define love biblically, you will be very disappointed if you are called to help other people— especially difficult people. A succinct definition of love is found in I John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” That’s it. Love means death. Let me nuance that some. Loving people well is the most inefficient thing you could ever do, but according to Jesus, it is the godliest thing you can ever do. I John 3:16 goes on to say, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Another way of thinking about this is exchanging the word “servant hood” in place of the word “success.” We are not called to fix people; we are called to serve them. The sooner we lay hold of this biblical priority, the sooner we will not be undone when someone does not “get better” right away or remains in our lives for a long time. Imagine in John 13, when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet—if he thought in terms of success—he would have kicked the bucket over, screamed at the disciples and stomped out. When you look at the characters in the room that night, success would not have been a word that would come to mind. And yet Jesus served. Paul Miller makes this wonderful observation in his book Love Walked Among Us, “Jesus’ tenderness with people suggested to me a new, less “efficient,” way of relating. Love, I realized, is not efficient.”1

It was through the “Tonya’s” in my life that I realized what it was like to work with people. It’s messy and inefficient and I don’t like that. And yet, it was just where God wanted me. I needed Nancy as much— if not more— than she needed me. I needed her in the sense that I needed to be more like Christ. I needed to see how much I wasn’t like him. I needed to see how desperately selfish I was and that if I did not redefine love along biblical lines, I would continue to be a selfish person who only met with people because I had to.

Lesson 5. Give the Person Hope

For someone like Tonya, change doesn’t seem to be something that is very visible or tangible. There were times when she was so discouraged that she thought suicide was a possible option. One of the practical ways to help someone like Nancy have hope is by clearly defining some things that can reasonably be accomplished and stating these in simple measurable ways.

Ask the person, “What do you want to see God do in your life over the next week?” You will be amazed how this reframes the person’s view of the future. This question encourages them to think about the possibilities of being different and of living differently in the coming week. Maybe their circumstances will not change, but maybethey can change instead. The simpler the goals are— the better. Do this within the context of the gospel and Christ’s covenant love for them.

Lesson 6. Call the Person to Serve

Another critical place a difficult person often needs to grow is in the area of loving others. The Bible says that everyone has been given gifts and can encourage, bear burdens, and be used in the lives of other people. As you attend to the heart issues in a person’s life and as you frame the relationship to serve the sanctifying purposes of God, a hopeful call to loving others is only appropriate.

Nancy had a husband and two children whom she could love and serve. She was surrounded by other wives who were struggling in their marriages. It is not good for difficult people to simply “take” from their families and friends. This is destructive behavior that is not pleasing to God and it is driven by a host of attitudes that God will not bless. Calling people to serve others will move them towards people and outside of themselves. It will help them see that they are valuable members of the body of Christ,and are not the only people who struggle.

Lesson 7. Connect the Person with the Body of Christ

This is important for two reasons. First, it is only within the context of others that difficult people are going to die to themselves. Secondly, it is only within the context of other people that you can adequately help the person. My experience is that difficult people need a host of helpers that are all doing basically the same thing in concert with one another.

I always encouraged Tonya to stay connected. I knew that I was not sufficient for her growth. But that is nothing new, is it? We all need many people around us speaking into and acting in our lives and on our behalf. I would structure contexts for discipleship for her. Thankfully, she would do a lot of this on her own, too. Though sometimes her involvement with others was selfishly motivated, thankfully it was with wise women who knew how to love her well. She was also connected to a small group Bible study where she was surrounded by a group of people who would keep up with her.

Your failure to do this reveals as much about your heart as it does the heart of the difficult person. When people are overly needy, and we do not share the load, it reveals that we may be overly needy of their need of us!

Lesson 8. Work Wisely with Other Helpers

It is inevitable as you work with difficult people that you will be criticized by them. Sometimes they will do this to your face, but most of the time they will do it with others who are reaching out to them. The illustration that I think works here is the illustration of a child. If the child does not get what is wanted from one parent, the child will complain to other parent in an effort to get it. If you are helping a difficult person, chances are you are not the only person in their lives. They are amazingly connected! If you know this from the outset, you can begin to find out who else they depend on. With that information, you can wisely seek appropriate ways to make sure that the various helpers do not get caught between the complaints of the difficult person. When a difficult person complains to you about someone who has not helped them, use this as an opportunity to remind the difficult person that the person they are speaking about does care for them. Encourage the others to do this as well.

There were occasions with Nancy where I would have to remind her of how much God had been good to her by giving her the friends she had. It was also an opportunity to challenge her to learn to love even when she was not getting what she wanted from others.

Lesson 9. Connect the Person to Christ Himself

What could be more obvious and yet what could be least obvious. People need something and someone more than you. They need Christ. If you are not careful, you may be the one person that keeps them from him if you love yourself more than you love the difficult person. One of the temptations in pastoral ministry is to forget who the Chief Shepherd of the sheep is. A gentle reminder: it is not you. I remember being in the midst of a broader family crisis with Nancy. The weight of it all was coming down on me. Sometime that week a friend called me and sensed the weight in my voice. He spoke gently and lovingly to me when he said, “Tim, remember, you are not the ultimate shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is.” His words cut and healed at the same time. They called me to repent of my people, control, and success idolatries. At the same time, they reminded me that Jesus was more concerned for and able to help this person than 1000 pastors working at once. We need to connect people to Christ to remind them as well as ourselves that we are not the Chief Shepherd of the sheep.

Lesson 10. Remember: We are All Difficult People

Finally, a helpful reminder that is always appropriate to remember as we serve difficult people. From God’s point of view, aren’t we all difficult people? Romans 5:8 sums it up nicely when it says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Verse 10 goes on to say, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.”

Conclusion

These 10 lessons are practical ways that I have grown in wisdom within the context of pastoral ministry. Helping difficult people is challenging but if you see it as extension of the gospel into the everyday lives of God’s people, your path will be clearer and your love more “constant” because it depends less on you and more on the God who calls you to do it.

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Being Created In Jesus Likeness Through Challenging People

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One of the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry is dealing with difficult people. These are people who need help but seem to challenge you at every turn as you try to provide that help.

In my quest to become more like Christ and humble in remaining teachable this morning I ran to the scriptures to find the answers I need to fuel my soul to yield to the challenges God has put into my life by way of difficult people and trials of life. I thank God for the many blessings of yielded vessels He has put in my life that allows me ears and hearts to bounce difficult question off and be rendered an array of insights to glean from. This being a sensitive issue, I had to seek many tried men who have experienced the intricate struggle of loving in-spite of being disrespected and targeted for hatred.

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How should the church respond and minister in these situations? Everyone has to relate to difficult people—and most of us have been difficult people ourselves at one time or another! Therefore, every Christian should know how the gospel guides us in these relationships.

Two passages that guide me in this are 1 Peter 4:8 and Ephesians 3:14-19. In the 1 Peter passage, we are called to “love one another deeply.” The word translated deeply can also mean “constant”. “Keep love constant” would be a good translation. The word describes something that is stretched or extended. The love of the saints keeps stretching, in both depth and endurance. This connects nicely with Ephesians 3 where Paul prays that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Persevering love grows out of the gospel. You must start here if you are going to find the strength and incentive to go the distance with people.

With these scriptures as guidance, I offer a list of ten ministerial skills that I learned as I discipled one individual who came with many difficult problems.

I will call her “Nancy”. She is in her 40’s and seems to be a sincere believer in Christ. She is in a bad marriage. She is someone who would classically be labeled bipolar or manic-depressive. She has successfully isolated herself from people in her church because once they get to know her, they become overwhelmed by her. Here is the challenge: How do I love Nancy well? What will it look like to be useful to her in her growth in grace? These lessons have taken me many years to learn—and I am still learning with other “Nancys” that God graciously and wisely places in my life. I will speak directly to you, the reader, about the difficult people God calls you to serve. Sometimes I will refer to Nancy in particular and sometimes to difficult people as a whole.

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Lesson 1. Pay Attention to the Heart (Yours and Theirs)

The category of the heart must be kept on the radar at all times.

Yours—God has ordained that this person be in your life. The first pastoral exercise is to pay attention to the common temptations to sin that different kinds of difficult people pose to you. Manipulative “borderline personality”? Angry and oblivious? Addicted and deceitful? Unstable “bipolar”? You may be tempted to overpower, or to appease, or to avoid such people. You will likely move typically in one of these directions or bounce back and forth between them in an effort to get some relief. You end up, if you are not carefully attending to your own heart, sinfully responding to the challenges that the difficult person is bringing into your life. If you do this, how then can you call this person to respond to life in godly ways when you aren’t even responding in godly ways? This, by the way, is true of any relationship.

Theirs—As you get to know difficult people, you begin to see the particular types of suffering that each person has experienced. You begin to see typical ways that the person tends to respond. With people who evidence what may be a more physiological component, keep that in mind as you seek to pastor them well. With someone who is manic-depressive, don’t let behavior on either extreme of the continuum fool you. Don’t get hijacked by the momentary emotional state. With Nancy, many elements were at work at any given moment when I would talk with her: a bad day with her husband, children, person in the church, no sleep, fear of the future… or a good day with her husband, children, person in the church, and lots of sleep. Each person is responding in either a godly or ungodly way to events. What patterns do you see as you get to know them and move towards them? What are their typical ungodly ways of dealing with life and what tends to drive those behaviors? There will be opportunities to help a person see these things. Find simple Scripture passages that will provide guidance during these times, and experience the joys of biblical repentance in the midst of the difficulty.

Lesson 2. Clearly Define Who Sets the Agenda

The common language that is often used here is the language of “boundaries”. I think that can be helpful but it does not go deep enough. Who sets the agenda in any relationship? God does. The only difference is what the agenda will be not who sets it. God sets the agenda in all of our relationships and He does here as well. Recognizing this, reminds you that you—the helper—are also under the gaze of God. The language of “boundaries” typically gives the impression that as the helper, you must set boundaries in order to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. If we think of this in terms of God setting the agenda, the end result will be you loving the person well rather than just protecting yourself.

With Nancy, because God set the agenda, there were times when I made sacrifices that were appropriate. Some of these decisions affected my family and lifestyle: the phone call at home late at night, or the sudden appearance at my house or office. Then there were other times that I told her I could not speak with her at that moment but would be willing to talk to her at some later time that we both agreed would work. There were times though, that I was tempted to agree to speak to her immediately because I did not want her to dislike me, or I was fearful that she would tell someone in the church that I had not cared for her like a good pastor should. Saying no at these times was an expression of godliness and love for Nancy. There were instances that I told her to go home and get some sleep and then call me that afternoon at the office. Grace-driven acceptance of a person does not mean open-ended availability.

It is important that you take the initiative to communicate some guidelines for the relationship and to alert the person that there will be many times when you will not be available. Be clear about when and where you may be contacted. Do this with love and then have godly courage to say no a few times early on when you think the person has moved beyond what is appropriate for the moment. If you are too available, it will likely lead to anger in you, because you assume that the person should respect boundaries like other people do. Don’t make that assumption. Another reason to set limits for people is because otherwise it may be too easy for them to go to you before they cry out to God. You, in effect, could be the very person who is making it too easy for them to avoid dealing directly with and depending upon Christ.

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Lesson 3. Have Biblically Realistic/Optimistic Goals

Here is a place where your theology of the Christian life means everything. The doctrine of sanctification sees the Christian life through the biblical lens of slow, steady, back and forth progress. It’s realistic: change is incremental. It’s also optimistic: there is progress. For me, as I got a handle on the practical pastoral implications of this biblical understanding of the Christian life, it made all the difference in the world.

When Nancy was really depressed, I was thankful that she was still coming to church and seeking help. When she was particularly upbeat and euphoric, I would avoid being duped and then let down when she was depressed again. Without this leveling view of the Christian life, you will be a manic-depressive enabler!

Lesson 4. Redefine Love

If you do not re-define love biblically, you will be very disappointed if you are called to help other people— especially difficult people. A succinct definition of love is found in I John 3:16, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” That’s it. Love means death. Let me nuance that some. Loving people well is the most inefficient thing you could ever do, but according to Jesus, it is the godliest thing you can ever do. I John 3:16 goes on to say, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Another way of thinking about this is exchanging the word “servant hood” in place of the word “success.” We are not called to fix people; we are called to serve them. The sooner we lay hold of this biblical priority, the sooner we will not be undone when someone does not “get better” right away or remains in our lives for a long time. Imagine in John 13, when Jesus washes his disciple’s feet—if he thought in terms of success—he would have kicked the bucket over, screamed at the disciples and stomped out. When you look at the characters in the room that night, success would not have been a word that would come to mind. And yet Jesus served. Paul Miller makes this wonderful observation in his book Love Walked Among Us, “Jesus’ tenderness with people suggested to me a new, less “efficient,” way of relating. Love, I realized, is not efficient.”1

It was through the “Nancys” in my life that I realized what it was like to work with people. It’s messy and inefficient and I don’t like that. And yet, it was just where God wanted me. I needed Nancy as much— if not more— than she needed me. I needed her in the sense that I needed to be more like Christ. I needed to see how much I wasn’t like him. I needed to see how desperately selfish I was and that if I did not redefine love along biblical lines, I would continue to be a selfish person who only met with people because I had to.

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Lesson 5. Give the Person Hope

For someone like Nancy, change doesn’t seem to be something that is very visible or tangible. There were times when she was so discouraged that she thought suicide was a possible option. One of the practical ways to help someone like Nancy have hope is by clearly defining some things that can reasonably be accomplished and stating these in simple measurable ways.

Ask the person, “What do you want to see God do in your life over the next week?” You will be amazed how this re-frames the person’s view of the future. This question encourages them to think about the possibilities of being different and of living differently in the coming week. Maybe their circumstances will not change, but maybe they can change instead. The simpler the goals are— the better. Do this within the context of the gospel and Christ’s covenant love for them.

Lesson 6. Call the Person to Serve

Another critical place a difficult person often needs to grow is in the area of loving others. The Bible says that everyone has been given gifts and can encourage, bear burdens, and be used in the lives of other people. As you attend to the heart issues in a person’s life and as you frame the relationship to serve the sanctifying purposes of God, a hopeful call to loving others is only appropriate.

Nancy had a husband and two children whom she could love and serve. She was surrounded by other wives who were struggling in their marriages. It is not good for difficult people to simply “take” from their families and friends. This is destructive behavior that is not pleasing to God and it is driven by a host of attitudes that God will not bless. Calling people to serve others will move them towards people and outside of themselves. It will help them see that they are valuable members of the body of Christ, and are not the only people who struggle.

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Lesson 7. Connect the Person with the Body of Christ

This is important for two reasons. First, it is only within the context of others that difficult people are going to die to themselves. Secondly, it is only within the context of other people that you can adequately help the person. My experience is that difficult people need a host of helpers that are all doing basically the same thing in concert with one another.

I always encouraged Nancy to stay connected. I knew that I was not sufficient for her growth. But that is nothing new, is it? We all need many people around us speaking into and acting in our lives and on our behalf. I would structure contexts for discipleship for her. Thankfully, she would do a lot of this on her own, too. Though sometimes her involvement with others was selfishly motivated, thankfully it was with wise women who knew how to love her well. She was also connected to a small group Bible study where she was surrounded by a group of people who would keep up with her.

Your failure to do this reveals as much about your heart as it does the heart of the difficult person. When people are overly needy, and we do not share the load, it reveals that we may be overly needy of their need of us!

Lesson 8. Work Wisely with Other Helpers

It is inevitable as you work with difficult people that you will be criticized by them. Sometimes they will do this to your face, but most of the time they will do it with others who are reaching out to them. The illustration that I think works here is the illustration of a child. If the child does not get what is wanted from one parent, the child will complain to other parent in an effort to get it. If you are helping a difficult person, chances are you are not the only person in their lives. They are amazingly connected! If you know this from the outset, you can begin to find out who else they depend on. With that information, you can wisely seek appropriate ways to make sure that the various helpers do not get caught between the complaints of the difficult person. When a difficult person complains to you about someone who has not helped them, use this as an opportunity to remind the difficult person that the person they are speaking about does care for them. Encourage the others to do this as well.

There were occasions with Nancy where I would have to remind her of how much God had been good to her by giving her the friends she had. It was also an opportunity to challenge her to learn to love even when she was not getting what she wanted from others.

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Lesson 9. Connect the Person to Christ Himself

What could be more obvious and yet what could be least obvious. People need something and someone more than you. They need Christ. If you are not careful, you may be the one person that keeps them from him if you love yourself more than you love the difficult person. One of the temptations in pastoral ministry is to forget who the Chief Shepherd of the sheep is. A gentle reminder: it is not you. I remember being in the midst of a broader family crisis with Nancy. The weight of it all was coming down on me. Sometime that week a friend called me and sensed the weight in my voice. He spoke gently and lovingly to me when he said, “Tim, remember, you are not the ultimate shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is.” His words cut and healed at the same time. They called me to repent of my people, control, and success idolatries. At the same time, they reminded me that Jesus was more concerned for and able to help this person than 1000 pastors working at once. We need to connect people to Christ to remind them as well as ourselves that we are not the Chief Shepherd of the sheep.

Lesson 10. Remember: We are All Difficult People

Finally, a helpful reminder that is always appropriate to remember as we serve difficult people. From God’s point of view, aren’t we all difficult people? Romans 5:8 sums it up nicely when it says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Verse 10 goes on to say, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.”

Conclusion

These 10 lessons are ministerial ways that I have grown in wisdom within the context of ministerial ministry. Helping difficult people is challenging but if you see it as a extension of the gospel into the everyday lives of God’s people, your path will be clearer and your love more “constant” because it depends less on you and more on the God who calls you to do it. My pastor and other ministers and brother of the faith have made me see my errors in dealing with difficult people by looking at my struggles first. I have great men of God surrounding me and keeping me accountable to Christ and ministry. I am struggling with being faithful to my calling due to the discomfort surrounding serving God in a time when dogma’s and tradition supersede the simplicity of Jesus Christ gospel, but Jesus sat down and had dinner with these same struggles and brought about the New Testament of Righteousness by Faith. Let us work while it is still day.

Have “You” Confirmed “Your” Calling?

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“I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven.”
― A.W. Tozer

“Rules for Self Discovery:
1. What we want most;
2. What we think about most;
3. How we use our money;
4. What we do with our leisure time;
5. The company we enjoy;
6. Who and what we admire;
7. What we laugh at.”
― A.W. Tozer
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“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”
― A.W. Tozer

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“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
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How does a person know if they are called to be a pastor? How does a person know what God is calling them to do? Below are some questions to consider for those who may be in the feeling stage of considering their call. Why is it important to consider carefully and prayerfully one’s call, especially a call to be a pastor? I am convinced that to enter pastoral ministry without God’s call is one of the greatest deceptions of the devil. This is so because the one who is deceived and drawn into pastoral ministry apart from God’s call, will suffer great personal loss if not shipwreck their lives and the lives of their loved ones. But worse, the one who ventures into ministry for the wrong reasons will be powerless to prevent the desecration of God’s holy name. The non-called pastor , the non-called person in any position, is one of Satan’s most effective weapons. (See 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3-4; 2 Peter 2; Jude; and Revelation 2-3).

Furthermore, there is another enemy in discerning the call to be a pastor, it is called self. There is something attractive to people about standing in front of a group and speaking. This is often at the root of a person’s interest in pastoral ministry. Because of this the person considering whether or not they are called to be a pastor needs to really reflect and prayerfully consider their motives. Is pride involved? Is this “calling” self-serving or self-crucifying? Really pray about your motives. Is this “call” from inside you or heavenly in origin? Satan will seek to sneak into a person’s life through their self and oftentimes snares them on the hooks of pride. He should know, he’s hooked himself (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:11-19).

Therefore, how does one cut through the fog of impression and feeling to discern in the Spirit whether or not they are called by God into pastoral ministry? Below are a few areas that are particularly important for discerning the one called to pastoral ministry. While I’m sure these questions are not exhaustive or all-inclusive of every individual situation, they are the product of prayer, Bible study, and experience and should be considered seriously and prayerfully. (This tool is focused on discerning the pastoral call, but many of the questions can be applied to various other aspects of ministry to which someone might feel God is calling them to.)

Discerning God’s Will –

What evidence is there that you are called to be a pastor? Do you have a plan to discern God’s will? Do you have a history of feeling called to do something only to leave the work unfinished? If so, what makes this “feeling” or sense of a call different? Have you truly put yourself on God’s altar and opened yourself to His will no matter what that might mean in regards to your own personal desires? (See Romans 12:1-2 as well as Joshua 1:8; Psalm 37:5; 119:168; 143:8; Proverbs 3:6; Hebrews 4:16).

Evidence of Pastoral Call –

Origin of Call – How was this “call” initiated, by you or someone else? Genuine calls are usually brought to light by others who see it in you before you “feel” it in you. If you had not felt the call and initiated it, would anyone else have seen it in you or brought it to your or someone else’s attention? If someone other than yourself has initiated recognition of your call, what is the basis of their observation? Are they simply confirming something that you have sent a message about in some way and therefore trying to affirm you and please you more than they are observing a work of God in you and through you? Jesus initiated the call in the lives of the disciples; they did not come to Him to initiate it. The call by Jesus is more of a follow Me than it is a let me follow You. (Matthew 4:18-22; 10:1-4)

Small Groups – Do you take an active role in small group activity? (e.g. Sunday School class; Home Bible Study) It is here where the fruit of a pastoral call is usually seen first. What fruit or evidence of a pastoral call is present in the small groups ministry? Do small group Bible studies “take off” or grow and bear lasting fruit as a result of God working through you? Or, do you find teaching in and leading a small group difficult, uncomfortable, and unfruitful?

Interpersonal Evidence – What evidence is there of being able to relate to people in a pastoral way? Do you tend to be frustrated with people or patient with people? Are you able to communicate with people by both listening and speaking to them? Is communication one way, your way? Are you gracious with people? Do you love people? (Galatians 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Teaching – Has the Lord opened a door of opportunity for you to teach? If not, why not? Lack of opportunity may indicate this spiritual gift is not present. If the opportunity has presented itself, what fruit of a spiritual gift of teaching was apparent? Pastors need to be able to teach (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 and 2 Timothy). What evidence is there in your life of an ability to teach? Is there evidence that you can effectively communicate God’s word in an edifying manner? If a person cannot excel in Biblical studies, if God’s anointing is not present in this area, are they called to pastoral ministry? (E.g. Calvary Chapel Bible College/ Extension courses or similar studies – Do you revel and thrive in the work and preparation? Or was the work a burden?)

Godly Counsel – What do others (Christians and Christian leaders) think about you being called to pastoral ministry? Do they see it in your life? Can they clearly see evidence of such a call? If so, why? If not, why not? Are you open to their godly opinion or is your mind made up? The counsel of others is important to decision making (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6)

Service – Do you have a servant’s heart? Are you willing to serve in obscurity? Have you ever done so? Are you willing to do whatever God wants whenever He wants it done? Even if that means you are not called to pastoral ministry? (Mark 10:45; Luke 9:23-26; John 13; Philippians 2:5-11).

Anointing – Last and most importantly, is there evidence of God’s anointing on you as a pastor? Is it clear or questionable? Can you go through the questions in this Are You Called To Be A Pastor? Study and confidently answer “yes” to these questions? If not, why not? What is the Lord saying to you? Are you rationalizing your responses to bend them in the way you would have them to go? Be honest.
Existing Ministry –
What area of ministry has God gifted you in? Would God have a person begin ministries only to leave them prematurely? Would God open doors to ministry and not have a person walk through them? If God has given you a gift to do a certain ministry, then that is probably where He is calling you to minister. As an unprofitable servant it would be inappropriate to rebel against and wiggle out of the way God wants to use you (Luke 17:10).

It would be best to test the waters in ministry locally to see where God’s gifting is in your life, rather than embark in life altering plans based on insufficient evidence or feeling. If God blesses and his call is sure, then proceed in that call, but if He does not bless, you will save yourself a lot of heartache and frustration by moving on and discovering where God really does want to use you. (See 1 Corinthians 7:17,24)

Gifting –
Some have mistakenly used Paul’s inspired words in 1 Corinthians 1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 as justifying the use of anybody, regardless of God’s gifting, to enter ministry. The foolish things God uses are foolish from the world’s perspective, not God’s perspective. The ones God chooses to minister are gifted by the Spirit to do the work He calls them to do (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Ephesians 4:11-12). Therefore, if God is calling a person to be a pastor-teacher, they will show evidence of spiritual gifting for such a calling. If God is calling a person to be a pastor then His power working in and through that called person will be evident in such an area. The gifting evidence accompanies the call. A “call” without evidence is suspect. Would God give a person gifts (e.g. Pastor-teaching, evangelism, musically for worship, etc.) that are blessed and spiritually powerful in ministry and then not call that person to that ministry? The calling usually is accompanied by gifts related to the ministry the Lord is calling a person to fulfill. Why would God gift and bless in an area of ministry, seemingly lead a person into an area of ministry, only to have the person “sense” a calling to another area of ministry? Does God give contrary evidence? If you look at the beginnings of the Calvary Chapel movement and the pastors God raised up, (E.g. Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Mike McIntosh, Jon Courson, et.al) they were not initially learned or schooled in seminaries or Bible schools, but they had been discipled under the teaching of Pastor Chuck Smith and when they took over situations such as small group Bible Studies, the fruit that followed made it very clear of the calling of God in their lives.

Pastoral Perspective –

Do you have a realistic view of pastoral ministry? Ministry is not only teaching, or being in view of a group of people, it is above all serving. It is administrating, shepherding, discipling. It is running to the hospital to be at the beside of the sick and doing so at any time of night or day. It’s uncomfortable situations galore when you are called upon by God to rebuke, exhort, correct and encourage. It’s disciplining those who do not see that ministry is service and not a bully pulpit for their own agenda. It is taking a stand against carnal folly and superficiality when those who indulge in such things often rally the unwitting crowd against you. It is speaking the truth in love, no matter what.

Pastoral ministry is serving the Lord and sacrificing time with your family. Your wife and children will miss you every time you step out to minister and you will constantly be reminded of the cost of such a venture. You will be convicted and torn, but you will continue on because God’s call is on your life and you trust the Lord and His grace to compensate for your failings.

Pastoral ministry is always subordinating your will to the will of God. It is never self-serving and always self-crucifying. It is a life of continual sacrifice. It is living in a fishbowl and being the brunt of accusations, insinuations and outright falsehoods made by people who are really not informed of the entire truth of the pastoral situation. Its receiving comments and criticisms offered in a good-natured way about your ministry and wondering if there is something more substantially meant beneath the surface. Pastoral ministry will drive you to paranoia if you are not called by God. Pastoral ministry is depending upon God to defend you in such situations rather than defending yourself (1 Peter 5:6). It is having people pick at your family, judge you, assess not only your pluses and minuses, but all your families’ as well. It’s not reacting to such “attacks” fueled by the enemy who seeks to get to the pastor through those closest to him.

Pastoral ministry is constantly relying on God and patiently working with people who are often transient, or sitting back, uncommitted, or simply infants in Christ. It is waiting on God in service. In it’s beginnings it is often working a full time job, heading up a family, and being used by God to serve in a work of His that may require you to remain in such a situation for years, with no guarantee that it will ever end, (a pastor may be bi-vocational for their entire ministry). The pastoral ministry is not a means of “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-10).

Pastoral ministry is serving in obscurity. It is living in a part of the world that only the pastor and God can fully comprehend, no one else, not a wife, not a friend, not even another pastor at times. It is often a humanly lonely calling solely between the pastor and God.

Even so, pastoral ministry is a joy to the called. It is the only option for the called pastor. If you can find happiness and satisfaction in anything else, you are not called to be a pastor. Pastoral ministry is not an alternative and last resort for someone who has failed in every other area of their life and figures, “Hmm, everything else has failed, why not give pastoring a try?” Beware; pastoral ministry is a frustrating hurricane that will blow down the presumptuous who are not called. Those who enter in with presumptuous perceptions of grandeur, of being golden-tongued orators in front of thousands, will soon learn that the weight of ministry will squash those who enter in by their own strength rather than the grace that comes with the call of God. Pastoral ministry is serving God with no other reward but to know that by relying totally on God, He will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We often casually read the description by Paul of his ministry, but as the pastor matures in their ministry they learn and see the truth of this description more and more. Read what Paul said about his ministry and what it means to have a pastor’s heart – 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; 4:2,8-11; 5:14-15; 11:16-23; 12:11-21. Truly a pastor’s call is expressed by the following words of Paul who wrote:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering,” – 2 Timothy 4:6a

If you are called to be a pastor, nothing else will satisfy or do for you, and though the road may be hard, God’s call and grace will sustain you. If you are not called, and you venture out haphazardly in your own strength, you are doomed to a life of frustration and folly and will have missed the work God would have blessed.

Conclusion

The words shared above are not to discourage the one who is called by God. In fact, the one called by God will find assurance of their call if they prayerfully apply these questions to their lives. The purpose of such a study is to spare people the frustration and failure that might come by entering into a holy calling presumptively apart from God’s actual call. It is also meant to spare the church any more scorn and poor witness that has come via those who are self-servingly involved in pastoral ministry. When Peter had denied the Lord, Jesus didn’t throw him on the scrap heap, He restored him. But Jesus restored Peter in a way that confirmed his calling and assured him of God’s will in his life. Jesus did this by asking him a few questions:

John 21:15-17 – “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.” 1

Now I do not quote this passage to get a rise of emotion out of the reader; I quote this to hopefully strike to the heart of the situation. Peter was asked repeatedly by Jesus, “Do you love me?” Love of Jesus is the center of our relationship with Him. All decisions should be based on that motivation, our love for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Now the point here is not that those who are actually called by God to be a pastor are more loving of Jesus; not at all. The point here is do you love Jesus enough to do whatever He wants you to do? Even if that means you are not to serve him as a pastor? That’s the point. If you love Jesus, you can serve Him joyfully from the heart whether He calls you to do so as a pastor or not. The answer to that question gets to the heart of the truth and the truth at heart, about your “call” to be a pastor; about your call to be anything God wants you to be. May God guide you and call you according to His will.

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