Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Is a Successful Pastor? Part 2

This blog is the second in a series on what success means for a pastor.

Christians in general and pastors, specifically, must be something before they can do something. If you reflect on John's Gospel, you will notice that Jesus identified Himself with seven "I Am" declarations. He starts with "I am the bread of life" (6:35) and concludes with "I am the true vine" (15:1). In the heart of His unfolding self-revelation, Jesus asserts, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am" (8:58). In each of these pronouncements, Jesus is communicating Who He is. 

Woven into John's Gospel is a complementary set of "signs" which John describes as "the manifestation of His glory" (2:11). These are things Jesus did. They began with Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11) and concluded with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (11-45). I notice that even the chief priests and Pharisees acknowledged that "this man is performing many signs" (11-47). Jesus' activities and signs were a display of His glory. He was doing something. My point? Just like Jesus, we must be something before we can do something. This principle applies especially to the successful pastor. So, what more can be said about who he is?

1. A successful pastor is loyal. He is loyal to his Lord who called him, to his calling, to his family, and to his work as a shepherd of God's people. The word "pastor" actually means "shepherd." What the shepherd is to his flock, the pastor is to his congregation.
Recall Jesus' commentary distinguishing between a shepherd and a hireling. One is loyal to his charge and the other is loyal only to himself, in it for what he can get out of it (10:10-13). A successful pastor's loyalty in the right place should be unquestionable.

2. The successful pastor is open. By this I mean open to God's leading. He is not satisfied with maintaining the status quo or simply occupying a position. He is sensitive to God's leading and will move at God's direction. Moses wanted God to send someone else to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from slavery. God had to persuade Moses to obey. Initially, Moses was not open, eventually he was. He moved from obstinate to open. Contrast that episode to Isaiah's calling, "Here am I, Lord, send me" (6:8). Successful pastors are open to God's leading, they simply obey His voice.

3. A successful pastor is approachable and resistant. What do I mean by this? James tells us (3:17), the wise person is "easy to be entreated." They are approachable. They listen. Yet, they are not necessarily persuaded. God's leaders are working off an agenda not their own. Recall when Nehemiah was approached by Sanballat and the other enemies. They said, "Come, let us meet together....", Nehemiah responded, "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you" (6:2-4)? If you are working off God's agenda, be reluctant to get side tracked. Listen and then decide.

4. A successful pastor is authentic. He is not trying to be someone or something he is not. In the words of the old army slogan, he wants to be the best that he can be. I like what May Sarton wrote: "We must dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be." Dr. Seuss put it this way, "Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one else who is you-er than you." Each person is created with a different set of gifts, abilities, temperaments, and passions. No two people have the same experiences. All of this combines to make the pastor, as well as the person, unique. The pastor is most successful when he is himself.

5 A successful pastor is humble. Humility is the quality which is opposite of pride. Pride is self-sufficient. Humility is God-sufficient. Scripture says that  "God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). Humility is displayed in two ways. First, God-dependence is seen in the pastor's prayer life. Prayer says, "God, I am depending on you." Second, it is seen as the pastor has an accurate understanding of who he is, who God made him to be. Consider Paul's admonition: "For through the grace of God given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3). Humility says "I think of myself accurately."

6. A successful pastor is loving. He has a genuine love not only for God but also people. Recall Jesus' words to His disciples, "By this shall all men know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). The greatest demonstration of that love is to give oneself to and for those he loves. The pastor's call is to love his flock because he loves his Lord. Recall Jesus words to Peter. "If you love Me, feed My sheep, tend my sheep" (John 21:15-17). The same is true for the pastor.

7. A successful pastor is holy. He is not perfect. Holiness means "set aside for God." It is a growing hatred of sin and a desire to live clean lives. Jerry Bridges put it nicely: "Offer yourself to God, and in so doing that commit yourselves to the pursuit of holiness in order to please Him." The mark of holiness is a passion to pursue a growing relationship with God.

8. Finally, a successful pastor is prepared. Only seldom has a pastor been effective apart from a solid education. In today's world, a seminary degree or its equivalent is seen as optional by many. Those, however, who escape that preparation find themselves shortchanged. Those who are called and surrendered to the ministry for the long haul should pay the price in time and effort to gain a biblical, theological, philosophical, historical, and practical foundation. Historically, God always prepares a person before He uses him. The successful pastor is prepared.

These are my thoughts. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What is a Successful Pastor? Part I

Image Courtesy of Flickr User DrGBB
In John 9:5 Jesus stated, "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." This was a follow up to John 8:12 where Jesus identified Himself in the second of 7 "I am" statements: "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life." This sheds insight into Jesus' Sermon on the Mount declaration to His followers: "You are the light of the world....Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:14a,16). I want to draw your attention to the Matthew statements. 

First you must be something before you can do something. 

In the language of Bible scholars, the indicative precedes the imperative. In that line of thought, a pastor must "be" something before he can "do" something. So what must a successful pastor be before he can do? 

1. A successful pastor is saved. At a point in his life, he heard the Gospel that God loves him, hates his sin, sent Jesus to take the punishment for his sin; and by faith he turned from his sin and placed his faith in Jesus Christ to be his Savior and Lord. In John's terminology, he both received Jesus and believed in Him. That pastor was born into the family of God. No one can be a successful pastor who is not saved. Someone might go through the motions of ministry, but will not make a spiritual impact.

2. A successful pastor is maturing, not necessarily mature. I learned a long time ago that maturity in its essence is a process and a journey, not a destination. The key is that the pastor is on the journey and is increasingly becoming like Jesus Christ. I would note that Paul cautions that a pastor not be a "novice."

3. A successful pastor is called. He has an understanding that God called him to a life-long vocational ministry. He understands that this is the call of God upon his life and that he cannot do anything else. Many times the only reason I, personally, stayed in a difficult situation was because I knew that God had called me and I could not do anything else. 

4. A successful pastor is surrendered. When God called him, he surrendered to that call. Years ago, I heard the testimony of a pastor who endured the persecution by Communists in Romania. In his message, he distinguished between commitment and surrender. He pointed out that if I commit myself to some endeavor, I can always back out because it is dependent upon me. If I surrender, however, the act is final. I surrendered. This was reflected in Jesus' words at Gethsemane: "not My will, but Yours be done." "I surrender all” is more than simply the words to a familiar song.

5. A successful pastor is disciplined. He has the ability to obey Christ's and his own commands. His flesh is daily crucified and his will is daily surrendered. He is in a constant process of renewing his mind so that he will be conformed to the image of Christ. He emulates Jesus as well as the great saints whose lives are recorded for us in Scripture.

6. A successful pastor is focused. He knows the call of God and with it the commensurate priorities, and gives himself to those things. He understands that there is a cost to becoming the pastor God intends for him to be....and he is willing to pay that price.

7. A successful pastor is a dreamer. His goal is not to get a paycheck or look good in the eyes of an adoring congregation. He longs for himself and his church to become everything God intended. He holds tenaciously to Paul's promise in Ephesians 3:20-21, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to ALL generations forever and ever." Like Noah of old, he wants to hear the inaudible, see the invisible, and accomplish the impossible.

8. A successful pastor is thick-skinned. He has a predisposition to be insensitive to criticism. Not that he refuses to assess whether criticism is valid, but he is unwilling to be stopped by critics and carnal people whose agendas are not godly. In Spurgeon's words, every good pastor has one blind eye and one deaf ear. He is unwilling to be crippled by Satan's fiery darts and those who fling them.

These are some characteristics I have observed in successful pastors. I will continue these thoughts in next week's blog. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these observations. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What Every Pastor Needs From His Flock

Image Courtesy of Flickr User Mr. T in DC
I have often heard what churches need from their pastor. Usually the expectations are set extremely high. Today, I would like to reverse the equation and provide a glimpse of what a pastor needs from his flock. 

1. He needs for you to embrace a biblical understanding of his role and responsibility. God has called him to shepherd the flock of which you are a part. God holds him accountable to lead, feed, and intercede. That comes from Acts 6 where deacons are appointed to assist the pastors with the work of the ministry. You must understand that for your pastor, it is not just a job. It is a calling from God.

2. He needs your prayers. In Ephesians, Paul asked the congregation to pray for him. During the crisis time leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus told Peter that Satan had requested to "sift you like wheat." Then Jesus states, "but I have prayed for you." If Paul and Peter needed prayer on their behalf, certainly your pastor does as well. Every pastor trying to accomplish God's work faces tremendous opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Please pray for him. You have no idea what he is dealing with on a daily basis and it is difficult to understand the burden he carries as God's shepherd of your flock.

3. He needs your loyalty. By this, I mean loyalty to the Lord, to him, and to your local church family. When you become a member of a congregation, certain obligations come and one of those is your support. If you cannot be supportive of your pastor, that may well be an indicator that you need to be in another church. 

4. He needs your commitment to a biblical vision. This means that you embrace the biblical mandates that the church exists to fulfill the Great Commission, to impact your community and the world with the Gospel, and to equip believers to accomplish the work of the ministry. Way too many churches seem to have lost that biblical vision of why they exist. Some even go so far as to question whether or not a church which has become completely inward focused instead of outward focused is even a church in the biblical sense. Perhaps that needs to be studied further.

5. He needs for you to give him the benefit of the doubt. Every pastor is human and makes mistakes. I challenge you to give him the benefit of the doubt that his heart is in the right place. It amazes me how many church members are quick to be critical and quick to speak. Perhaps we need to be reminded of James' words that we are to be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Before you make a snap judgment or listen to gossip, it would be wise to exercise caution. Way too many pastors have been hurt by carnal gossip, and unquestioned and distorted perceptions of reality. If there is a problem, talk to him not about him.

6. He needs for you to be present and participating. No one can be present every time the church doors are open, but every member of a church family should be present on a consistent basis. Does not the Scripture admonish us "not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together?"

7. He needs for you to love him and his family. This includes encouragement, making sure he is provided for, that he has adequate time off, and that he has the tools he needs. He needs books, resources, time to learn and appropriate help.

As a member of the flock, you can help your Pastor be the man God has called him to be.