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?

 

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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?

A Most Extravagantly Unfair Gift

For the most part, pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA writes books on leadership and practical theology (e.g., exposing the evils of greed, hate, lust, envy…). If you’ve heard him preach there is no question he is a gifted communicator. He speaks often about the grace of God and finally, at the challenge of a publisher, has written a book called The Grace of God. The following is a review of his book for the booksneeze program.

The book is divided into two halves, the first of which is devoted to the story of grace in the Old Testament. Chapter by chapter, Andy takes an Old Testament figure or encounter and unwinds the threads of grace that are woven throughout. From Adam and Eve to Jonah, the reader discovers that “grace is more story than doctrine” (xiii). Such a statement can land a pastor in hot water, especially with the strong push for Gospel-centeredness today. But Andy doesn’t waver in his approach. He travels the span of the story of Israel and show that God’s grace is, in fact, the story of God’s people. The Old Testament portion is filled with rich one-liners, for which Andy is famous, that seer into one’s mind and cause a moment of pause to ponder their implications. For those who criticize Andy because he doesn’t spend enough time in the Scriptures, this book reveals how gifted an expositor Andy is, and not just an expositor, but a teacher who draws a straight line from head to heart to hands. In other words, one won’t wonder how to apply what Andy is communicating.

The second half of the book, after a brief selah in the middle, is devoted to the New Testament story of grace–which is really the continuation of the story of grace from the Old. The focus is on Jesus, his life, encounters, teachings and stories (parables). “The story of Jesus,” writes Andy, “is the story of God drawing near to those who had been pulled away by sin and were subsequently pushed away by the self-righteous” (134). What the reader will understand more clearly than ever before is that grace is “extravagantly unfair” (187). The very point of grace is that it is unfair. Mathematically it makes no sense. Andy concludes the book with a section that challenges local churches, though I do wish he had clarified between the church as an institution and the church as the people of God. The point remains, however, that “the church is most appealing when grace is most apparent” (193).

As an individual, as the Body of Christ, whether a pastor or a painter, this book cannot help but bring its reader into a posture of humility and gratitude for the extravagantly unfair gift that is the grace of God.

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.

The Card up Every Pastor’s Sleeve or Robe or Tunic or Suit

If you survey a wide enough spectrum of pastors and ask the question, “Why did you become a pastor?” I suspect the most common answer would be along the lines of, “I felt called by God to ministry.” After all, if I say I’m called by God to pastor, what are you going to say? “No you aren’t.” You see, when played, the calling card (pun) is unbeatable. It’s the Joker of ministry. This is where it all begins for so many men and women.

I remember my calling like it was yesterday. I was suited up on Sunday, literally wearing a suit and tie cause that’s how I used to roll. I was 15 at the time and had a love for the church. I also had a love for the ladies, but that didn’t feel as much like a call from God as becoming a pastor did. My pastor was making the traditional and somewhat predictable invitation following the sermon. “If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, come on down. If you want to join this church family, come on down.” I always wanted to shout, “BECAUSE YOU’RE THE NEXT CONTESTANT ON THE PRICE IS RIGHT!!!” But I didn’t.

On this particular Sunday morning, however, the pastor added a line I’d never heard before and wouldn’t have expected to hear in a thousand years, or as it’s known in the biz, ‘a millennia.’  He opened up invitation time to a third category of folks: “And if there is anyone here who is feeling the call to ministry and haven’t told someone about that, I’d like for you to come forward.” What! Ministry! Call! He’s talking to me. That’s what I thought. I felt my face get flush. When I’m nervous, angry, or socially uncomfortable my face turns red. Luck of the Irish I suppose.

I felt my heart beating faster and more heartily than ever before. This was it. The Lord had spoken. I was going to become a pastor. I thought I’d become a lawyer. I actually took the LSAT several years later when trying to run away from ministry. But I knew at 15 that I would become a pastor. I didn’t go forward though because someone might of thought I wasn’t saved the first time or that I had sinned since then. So instead I made an appointment to talk with the pastor.

From that moment on everything in life would be used to shape that calling. After all, every pastor has to have sermon illustrations, so even experiences that weren’t significantly formative could make for a good story. To this day though, if you ask me why I’m a pastor I’ll give you the answer, “Because I was called to be a pastor.” There are plenty of questions that I have about that calling. Is the calling permanent? Does the calling come with a contract? Is there free-agency? Do I really understand what being a pastor means? Was I called to be a different type of pastor than I’ve become?

I get the sense that my calling is ever evolving. In other words, I’m not sure a calling for everyone is a static thing, a once and done type of experience. What do you think about the calling card? Do you ever consider what God’s call on your life may be?