Accomplish more and attempt less

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Photo credit:  DesiringGod.org

I want to share a quote from a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon in 1871. Is it a coincidence that if you flip 71 it becomes 17, as in 2017?? Yes, it is. Nothing supernatural there.

Charles Spurgeon has been dubbed the Prince of Preachers. (If you’re interested in his writings or life, Midwestern Seminary has done a service to us all here.) Being the Prince of Preachers means Spurgeon brought the Word of God to life in a way you and I, well, don’t. Not because we aren’t filled with the same Spirit, but because God uses different people in different ways. You’re not the next Spurgeon any more than I am the next anyone else. You’re you. I’m me.

If you aren’t a pastor, preacher, teacher but happen to read this, the point is just as applicable. It holds true for moms who find food in the strangest of places and executives who are prepping that $300,000,000 deal. There’s no difference in God’s eyes, by the way. Don’t be fooled on either side, whether rolling in dollars or diapers.

Preaching on prayer, Spurgeon made the audacious claim that

The more we do, the more we should pray…it should be the life-blood of every action, and saturate our entire life…I fear that some of us would do far more if we attempted less and prayed more about it.

  • What if, as pastors, we devoted less time to strategic planning and more to praying strategically?
  • What if, as teachers, we thought less about making points and more about pointing to the Maker?
  • What if, as parents, we resolved to be less busied with activity and more active in the business of prayer?

Is it possible that we would accomplish far more if we attempted far less but saturated all that we did do in prayer?

 

The inevitable loneliness of leadership

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The really hard thing

Sorry, let me start again…

One of the really hard things about being in Christian leadership (and maybe any leadership) is the unspoken expectation that you have it figured out.

As someone serving on two sides of the aisle in Christian ministry, both in education and the church, the following are representative of the unspoken–

  • You believe all the right things about all the right things, especially those things that other people really hang their theological (or ideological) hats on
  • You uphold tradition because tradition is, well, tradition, and to question it means you’re a troublemaker
  • And you don’t change things, at least not too quickly, because someone might be offended. Someone’s feelings could possibly, perhaps at some time, be hurt…in fact, please don’t change things

It’s a lonely place.

For those in leadership, being in process on matters remains private, just like your obsession with CrossFit should be kept to yourself. I can’t even tell you what I mean…that’s how private it has to be, because to raise a question in voice or print is to signal to the congregation or constituency it’s open season on you.

What’s the point?

When dealing with educators, administrators, elders, pastors, and other Christian leaders, bear in mind that it can be/is lonely, more lonely than you realize.

  • Words are scrutinized and decisions are scandalized…

Usually in the most passive aggressive manner possible, though sometimes by a boisterous, victimized minority. And in the south it’s even portrayed politely at times, which just means the knife is pushed in at a slower rate.

I get it. I’ve played armchair preacher critic, teacher critic, and so on. But how much more do these folks–me, folks–need your prayers and grace?

We need a lot. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll have regrets–so many regrets. We’ll be judged by God more harshly for how we have stewarded these opportunities. We really don’t need other gods.

We need grace-filled, prayer-saturated, meal-sharing, cheer-leading men and women who will help us finish well.

Does that mean never ask questions? Of course not. But what are the motives? Speech should be seasoned with salt that it might give grace to the hearer…that’s how the apostle Paul put it.

I’m working on all of this myself. I’m extending more grace towards leaders. I’m slashing my suspicion quotient and choosing to trust.

That’s hard.

 

God forbid you catch the rabbit

Image result for greyhound chasing rabbit track

Idealism and life don’t mesh very well. Not because you can’t have a great life, but because that target of greatness, when idealized or idolized, turns you into the greyhound chasing the rabbit around the track.

I’ve heard if a dog ever catches the rabbit they won’t race again because apparently the psychological ramifications of such an experience are insurmountable–dog days, right?

This makes me wonder, though, how many pastors, professionals, parents, and other p-words are on their fourth lap around the track thinking the next season or service or strategy or selfie is FINALLY going to satisfy.

Pretty much every one of our endeavors has a rabbit of its own.

For tennis players the ultimate rabbit is Wimbledon. Kids imagine diving across the All England sod and hitting a winning volley before raising the cup overhead and winking at the queen.

Boris Becker did that. I don’t know about the winking part, but the other stuff. Yet with two Wimbledon championships to his name, he was popping pills, throwing whiskey down into his belly, and contemplating how he would kill himself.

That’s why I said, God forbid you catch the rabbit and find out it’s a stupid stuffed animal that was never meant to fulfill you.

See, the target always changes.

The rabbit is often an ideal in our minds.

And what ends up happening–that is, what happened to me–is your vision of the perfect ministry (or life) becomes the enemy of your present one. What you’ve imagined in your mind can never measure up to reality.

Life has a way about sorting through our bogus visions and plans. If you’re chasing rabbits, hit the brakes and ask, “What if I catch it?”

  • What if my kids stay healthy and get into the best college? So what?
  • What if my church grows past 200, 400, 4000….so what? What then?
  • What if my business hits the $1 million mark? Woohoo! More taxes. Then what?
  • What if my boss recognizes my brilliance and gives me the promotion? What’s next?

You get the rabbit. Then what?

It’s a question worth asking. Maybe there’s a better goal, vision, or target. Maybe not. You may be exactly on the path you need to be on. But it’s still healthy to turn a few rocks over every now and then.

 

Here’s what may be sabotaging your satisfaction

Don’t worry, I’m a pastor.

That’s my new line for ensuring anyone and everyone that I’m trustworthy, and also poorer than them.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about your dissatisfaction with life!

  • Your job isn’t fulfilling.
  • Getting that degree was supposed to make all the difference.
  • This relationship should’ve been the one.
  • The new car smell wore off, but the payment continues on.

I can speak to this phenomenon of dissatisfaction from any number of angles, both anecdotally and personally. I’m an expert.

I’m especially qualified to speak as a pastor and parent, and a little less so as an educator. But when have qualifications ever stopped anyone? Look at the presidential race. (Too soon?)

Here’s a little nugget from a pastor for pastors by a guy who’s no stranger to the blog, pastor Eugene Peterson:

“Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you…”

I imagine when Eugene typed that one out for his memoir (required reading for pastors) he did so with a curled upper lip…veiled ever so slightly by his bearded awesomeness.

Here is my shot at boiling this whole thing down to a single phrase: Expectations affect the way we evaluate our experiences.

For instance, if I expect parenting to allow the same time and energy to do everything I did prior to having children, then I would be frustrated with my situation constantly, not to mention bitter towards my children upon realizing how misguided my expectations were.

  • When they interrupt Downtown Abbey or New Girl for the umpteenth time or 
  • color in my books or
  • dip their fingers in their milk or
  • “help” wash the side of the car with tire cleaner that I’m pretty sure is also used to clean oil vats        

What right do I have to be frustrated towards toddlers acting like toddlers? Every right if I expect them to act otherwise.

In a similar way, If I expect pastoring to be what I think it’s going to be based on minimal experience and an ill-informed 24 or 25-year-old mind, then my conflicting experiences will inevitably leave me bitter, cynical, critical, and looking for the greener grass. And would you guess what happened? No really, guess………Yep. I became bitter, cynical, critical, and looked for greener grass.

Turns out my unrealistic expectations are akin to Round Up. I can kill whatever grass I find, no matter what kind of grass it is or what season it is.

My expectations have been the problem, regardless of the job. Changing expectations is one of the quickest and most effective means for enjoying experiences.

I’m not great at it yet, but I’m better than I was.

A Plea on Behalf of Pastors

I’ve met some–happy pastors that is. But if you spend enough time with enough pastors, you find that the bulk of them (us) are discouraged, depressed, or dreaming of some escape from the madness otherwise known as ministry.

Ministry’s tough. It’s especially tough because most people think they have a right to tell you how to do your job. I imagine it’s a lot like being President, without the personal helicopter. Everyone knows better than you–you just make an easy target.

I started preaching through the book of Philippians a couple of weeks ago and spent week 1 reveling over the ridiculous affection Paul had for these people. He was a happy pastor…at least with this crew.wve-white-flag-260

Depending on what source you check out, statistics show that pastors generally have a shelf life of 2-5 years. That’s not per church…that’s per career. By that standard I would have already been done and moved into another sector.

And I was close.

I was going to pursue teaching or modeling, but most likely teaching since “pasty and pudgy” isn’t a high-grossing category. But I was done. Yet here’s Paul, most likely writing from prison in Rome, brimming over with joy because of his relationship with the Philippian Christians.

So what’s the difference between Paul’s experience and that of so many pastors out there? Well let’s consider why Paul’s affections were raised so highly.

Philippians 1:3-5 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy (Okay we get it, Paul. You’re happy and joyful and sing-talking as you write this, but why?)…verse 5 because of your PARTNERSHIP in the gospel from the first day until now.

You catch that? The Philippians were partners in ministry. They didn’t just pay a pastor to do ministry; they joined alongside and took responsibility. They bore one another’s burdens. They served and gave and sacrificed and prayed.

When I preached this sermon I dared to draw a distinction between partners and parasites. It seemed harsh to me at first, but I felt the Spirit saying, do it. Plus, if I tell people the Spirit made me do it, how can they be mad at me? Win-Win.

Parasites take, consume, and contribute little to nothing to their host. In this case, the host is the church body. The parasites are people who do very little to help the church be the church. They may be faithful attenders, but as far as being contributors, not so much. They’ll point out when their preferences aren’t met and when someone else messes up.

I wonder if it’s such people who end up causing pastors to wave the white flag? Sure, there are other factors that contribute to pastors jumping ship, but it’s not like they go to other churches. They just leave ministry.

So let me encourage you, church member/attender, partner with your pastor(s) in ministry. Fulfill the commands of Hebrews 13:17 andObey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with JOY and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

You don’t want a grumpy pastor; so don’t be grumpy, greedy people. Beyond that, if the love of God has been poured into your being, how are you showing that in your local church?

What does being a Pastor have to do with the Disabled?

I’ve thrown the names of Stanley Hauerwas and Eugene Peterson around quite a bit of late, but now I bring them together into one post. It’s lengthy, so I understand if you abandon ship now. But if you take the time to stick with it, contribute to the conversation when finished.

I attended a lecture by theologian and professor Stanley Hauerwas a couple of nights ago in which he spoke on the topic of disability. His paper was entitled, “Disability: An Attempt to Think With.” The with of the title is the key word because it stands up against the notion to think about the disabled. In the former, the disabled are no different than those who are not, whereas in the latter the disabled are something other than those not disabled.

Is it a minor detail, simple word play, insignificant minutiae? I don’t believe it is minor or insignificant. Theologians can, at times, delve into a world of intricacies and details that have no apparent value, or better, contribution to ‘everyday life.’ This distinction, however, is critical in understanding ourselves, disabled or not, as no better than another. Talking with the disabled requires an interconnectedness of love and union. There were plenty of things Hauerwas said that flew well above my comprehension, but his point was made nonetheless.

His conclusion was that the disabled do not have a ‘problem,’ which is the category of which we prefer to speak because problems have solutions. To speak ‘about’ the disabled means to speak of a solution. To speak ‘with’ the disabled means admitting and acknowledging our commonalities and, more specifically, naming them as persons rather than problems.

So in a sense, being with the disabled seems somewhat hopeless because there’s not a problem to be fixed. As I listened to Stanley speak I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarity between what he was saying about our disabled brothers and sisters and what Eugene Peterson says about the body of Christ.

Part of what has been a staple of Hauerwas’ writings is the theme of story. We’re a part of a story, THE story of God. Being named and loved draws us into the story together. This is the same point Peterson makes in his memoir in regards to the congregation. Peterson writes of helping people understand the story into which they’ve been written and are participating, but to do so requires talking with people, rather than about or at them.

As Peterson matured in his pastorate, he recognized his tendency towards treating people as problems to be fixed. After all, if there’s a solution, there is something measurable. “I did it. I fixed it. I fixed him/her/them.” To have no solution is a helpless, sometimes hopeless feeling. Such is being a pastor. Such is being with the disabled.

Peterson confesses that by “reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor” (The Pastor, 140). The congregation is not a gathering of people over whom the pastor is charged with helping fix their problems (You may want to read as follows: MY pastor is not charged by God to fix my problems). That is a market-driven way to see this messy, unkempt vocation into which many are called.

Problems have solutions. People have souls. Solutions are tidy. People are not.  According to Peterson and Hauerwas, then, what’s frustrating about being a pastor is the same thing that’s frustrating about being with the disabled, namely, there are no solutions but souls. Will we, as pastors and as people of God, commit to being with and speaking with one another for the long haul?

1 Corinthians 12:21-25 “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable pars do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division (no speaking about) in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

Stanley closed by pointing out that to give greater honor to those parts we think less honorable will mean we don’t get as much stuff done in the process. It takes time to be with, rather than to talk about and figure out solutions. Will you join me in committing to get less done for the sake of being with?  

 

What if Pastoring Looked Like This?

The following are quotes from page 278 in Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. It is everything I’ve thought but never said, including much that I didn’t know how to put in words. After 50 years in ministry I guess one finds the words. This is Eugene responding to his elders’ question, “So what do you want to do?” Eugene had walked into the elders’ meeting that night to resign after 3 years in ministry. He felt it necessary because he had been in meeting upon meeting and didn’t feel like he had time to read a story to his daughter. “So what do you want to do?”

“I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your [the elders and congregation’s] presence…I can’t do that on the run…I feel too crowded.”

“I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods…It demands some detachment and perspective.”

“I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ—your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights. I can’t do that when I am running scared.”

“I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson.”

“I want to have the time to read a story to Karen [daughter].”

“I want to be an unbusy pastor.”

That’s what I want.