Ministering through the Muck

A pastor’s job is not one that would generally make anyone’s list of most difficult professions (unless the person making the list were a pastor or a pastor’s wife). We’ve all heard the dismissive comments about how nice it must be to only have to work one hour each week. And, if we’re being frank, more pastors fit this sad perception than we’d like to admit.

It’s not that we only work one hour per week—me genoito! (there’s a super-nerdy Greek joke for you)—but if the ministry survival rate means anything, at the very least it means that there are many who understand the pastorate in such a way as to believe that anyone could do it, only to then discover the foolishness of such thinking. For too many, the pastorate is seen as a introvert’s dream career—a quiet, secluded, air-conditioned desk job that requires very little heavy lifting apart from old, dusty books in order to prepare a thirty-minute lecture each week about how everyone else is wrong.

But that make-believe world gets shattered into pieces once ministry begins. Ministry is messy. Even the best weeks require hard work and grit and discipline. Even the best weeks demand that we say “No” to certain opportunities in order to maximize our time and fulfill our vocation. But during those weeks, we get to see lives changed by the very gospel we preach, we get to hear stories of our church members leading others to Christ, we get to experience the Body of Christ caring for one another.

Other weeks—tough weeks—we experience the muck. That family that you thought was rock solid and you were planning to invite them to lead a small group? It turns out that they’re on the brink of divorce. That person that you’ve been counseling each week, patiently removing barrier after barrier between them and Christ, learns of the hatred of some other believers and decides that the way of Christ isn’t the path he desires. That new Christian stumbles . . . in a massive way. Your family needs more of your attention than usual. And to top it all off, you have no idea what to preach on Sunday and your prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling.

What then?

How do you minister through the muck?

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23–24


Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord.
Ephesians 6:5–8

Whatever is happening down in the muddy trenches of ministry, it is imperative that we remember that we are not serving ourselves, nor are we merely serving our church members; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And every activity we undertake, every ounce of effort we apply, has a singular telos—the glory of God. And in my experience, when the muck seems the deepest and the work seems the hardest, it comes as the result of my believing that the results of my efforts—and not the efforts themselves—are that which bring him glory. I mistakenly believe that I have to get it done to honor Christ.

And that simply isn’t true.

The results of our efforts rest in his hands. Why else would we ask him to bless our efforts? Why else do we come to him in prayer, asking that he give us success? Is it not because we know that, ultimately, the results are his arena?

So how do we minister through the muck?

We work to the glory of God and trust him with the results.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

In the Meantime

This one goes out to all my brother-pastors who find yourselves, for whatever reason, searching for your next ministry assignment. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the author of this post finds himself right there with you. I trust we are good company for one another.

Regardless of where you are in your search (and depending on the circumstances that led to your search), you have likely experienced the full range of emotions, from excited anticipation about what’s next to a gripping fear that you’ll never get there. Personally, these days I’m especially grateful that the Lord gave us the Psalms through which I can share the Psalmist’s praises and his confidence in the Lord, but also in his lament and verbalized uncertainties.

To be caught between what was and what will be grates against our sensibilities, in part because our pride demands that every step of our journey be accompanied by great clarity and confidence. But this is not the way of faith; no, the way of faith brings us low, not necessarily granting us eyes to see what’s around the corner, but to see the One from whom nothing is hidden.

So as you and I wait, what ought we do in the meantime?

Be Patient

Waiting can leave you feeling a bit like a fool—out on a limb, hoping for rescue before the splintering starts. Each time your phone vibrates or a call comes from an unknown number, immediately you wonder if it might be the contact you’ve been waiting for. It leaves you a bit like Charlie Bucket opening up that next Wonka bar in hopes of finding a golden ticket, only to realize the email was just another LinkedIn update. Disappointment and discouragement set in.

Will it ever happen? Is something wrong with me? Did I miss the Lord’s will somewhere along the way? The questions rush in and patience grows thin. Still, be patient; the Lord will not withhold the good He has planned for his children. As Romans 8:32 tells us, “He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” Rest patiently in his good promises.

Be Faithful

Where are you now? I mean, physically, where are you now? Where do you live? What church are you serving—either as a pastor or member? Wherever that is, be faithful there while you wait. In Acts 17, Paul referred to the Lord’s providential work in placing each of us exactly where we are, even at this very moment. “From one man,” Paul preached, “he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.” In other words, the Lord knew you would be right where you are and how long you are to be there.

Yes, this may be a season of transition; but honor the Lord by remaining faithful where you are for as long as he would have you wait. Don’t shortchange the people near you by constantly looking over or around them for the next thing.

Be Prayerful

Prayer is an excellent calibrator. In seasons of waiting, we have a tendency to be sillier than usual. Like Abram and Sarai (Gen 16), we attempt to concoct our own solutions in order to help out the Creator of the heavens and earth with his plans. Because He surely needs it, right?

The very nature of prayer focuses our attention upon who we are and who God is. Each prayer serves as a confession that we don’t know all there is to know, can’t do all there is to do, and that we are not in control; our knowledge and power are woefully insufficient. Simultaneously, in prayer we recognize that God does not suffer such limitations. His knowledge and power are inexhaustible, as are his other attributes; and he is faithful and true. Prayer recalibrates and stabilizes us by reminding us that we are the needy dependents, and He is the great Provider.

Be Courageous

A season of waiting can be fertile soil for fear and uncertainty. When there’s no end in sight, doubt creeps in, you grow weary of waiting, and (to borrow a line from King David), you ask, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

But let us not forget the oft-repeated command of Scripture during this time: Don’t be afraid. Oh, how easy it is to look at our seemingly impossible situation and devolve into fear and trepidation. But how gracious our Lord is to us, who “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, CSB), and, coupled with the command not to be afraid, he has promised to be with us and never forsake us. May we never believe his apparent silence or assumed inactivity means His absence. He is with us and he is working all things to the pleasure of his good will, so be of good courage.

Conclusion

As much as we might hate it, waiting is good for us. It takes us by the hand and walks us into deeper dependence on and satisfaction in our Lord. The ministry the Lord has next for us is a gracious gift, yet even it cannot satisfy our deepest need. So remember, even now—in the middle, while we wait—you and I have all we need in our Savior, and we will be better pastors for the waiting.

Husband, father, missionary, preacher, coffee drinker.

@SWBTS grad.

Shooting for a PhD in Apologetics at @MBTSDoctoral.

Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

Let’s Talk about Anxiety and Depression in the Pastorate

The news of a California pastor’s suicide sent shockwaves through the internet this week and rightly so. That news should stop each of us engaged in pastoral responsibilities in our tracks and drive us to our knees on behalf of his family and his church. Every day this week my Facebook feed has been filled with articles about his story and other posts about depression and learning to pastor through it. All this means that the rampant struggles of depression and anxiety are not restricted to any one person, but have become more and more of a common experience.

In that case, it seems right to stop for a moment and offer a few suggestions for any among us who may be attempting to pastor through anxiety and depression.

Get Honest

You’ve felt it. I know you have. You’ve experienced shame even asking the questions. “Am I depressed?” “Could I have anxiety?” The answer may very-well be in the affirmative and that’s okay. Too often, those of us who break open the Bread of Life on Sunday believe ourselves to be in less need of its nourishment somehow. We believe ourselves to be above the struggle and pain that every person in this fallen world experiences. Or, at the very least, we believe that we should be.

The first step to dealing with anxiety and depression is simply an acknowledgment of its presence in your life. We have to be honest with ourselves and we have to be honest with God. And every single one of us, if asked by a member of our church, would offer her hope in the knowledge that God is not surprised or offended by her struggles. God is not ashamed of his children mired in depression or anxiety. He is good and loving and gracious and offers us hope and healing. But we must first be honest with our need and we must be honest with our struggles. We must be willing to acknowledge our pain and take it to him in prayer.

Get Outside and Offline

Now this point is more anecdotal, but indulge me if you will. The present generation is wrestling with a lack of contentment and a lack of happiness despite innumerable advances in medicine and technology. No generation has ever been as connected or medicated as our own. And yet, the statistics reveal an increasing unhappiness. We are depressed. We lack contentment with our lives.

And I wonder how much of this can be attributed to our use of Instagram and Facebook. Now, before you write me off as a simple Luddite, I have profiles on both of these platforms. But, in doing so, I can absolutely see and recognize the temptation to compare my day with their day. Their day is picture-perfect, framed in just the right light, and presented in all its glory on my feed. My day is messy, hectic, and scrambled. And I have to force everything into just the right package to snap a quick selfie to look like I have it all pulled together.

I think the official word for most of what we see online is hooey.

Perhaps, then, one of the most important things we can do when things begin to turn sour is to reject the temptation to seek escape by scrolling through the perfect pictures in our feeds and to go outside and look at the horizon. Take a walk through the woods or in the park. Just let the sun do its thing and rain down that Vitamin D. If you feel extra-motivated, step the walk up to a run. Release some endorphins. Getting outside and offline prevents you from withdrawing from your life by escaping into the feeds of various social media, but instead places you in a specific moment in time and position in space. Be present and not distant.

Get in Community

Remember the last time your small group got real and the entire group began to open up about the very deep struggles everyone is facing? All it took was one person breaking through the niceties that keep everyone at a safe distance. One family’s children seemed to abandoning everything that they’ve been taught now that they’re grown. Another family was wrestling with the failing health of a child or a parent. One marriage that looked downright ideal on the outside was close to calling it quits. And that one family—maybe even the host family—with the nice house in the nice neighborhood is drowning in debt and doesn’t see any way out. And in that moment, when all pretense was stripped away, your small group began caring for one another, praying for one another, and helping one another.

That’s what real community can do.

But it takes gut-wrenching and terrifying honesty.

Get Help

When you begin wrestling with anxiety and depression, the first impulse is to withdraw—withdraw from your relationships, from your schedule, from your life. And everything in you resists getting help. You become ashamed that you, O Man of God, need help from someone else. You feel the guilt of not being able to pray yourself through it. You feel the weight of knowing that you’ve been tasked with the care of souls and yet you cannot even care for your own.

Get help anyway.

Reach out to someone. I know how difficult it is to even consider. Get help anyway. Find a fellow-pastor and share your struggles. Find a solid, biblical counselor and schedule a time to sit down and get help. Recently, it struck me that even my family-members who are medical doctors go to a doctor when they become ill. They recognize their limited ability to self-diagnose—and as anyone who has ever visited WebMD should know, self-diagnoses are never good.

Break the Cycle

The story repeats itself over and over. Someone begins to wrestle with anxiety and depression and, in his struggle, denies the scope of his pain and tries to white-knuckle through a solution, keeping his pain to himself. As it festers and grows, he becomes ashamed that he can’t shake it and rather than telling someone, he hides it behind a pastoral mask and refuses to let anyone see how much he hurts until it overwhelms him and he only sees one means of escape.

Get help.

Call someone.

You are not alone.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Five Reasons Short-Term Missions Helps Church Revitalization

When I first became a Christian I had a great misunderstanding. I believed that short-term mission trips were just vacations for Christians. I pictured how my fellow church members would go to other countries to see the sights and live the life. I even thought my pastor would plan these trips to places that he wanted to go and see for his pleasure.

Man! Was I mistaken! I didn’t understand what role the short-term mission trip played in the life of the church. Short-term mission trips are vital for Christians and the Church.

Here are five reasons to get involved with short-term missions at your church.

Short-Term Missions Enlarges the Pastor’s Vision

Short-term mission trips allow me to unplug from the usual hustle of being around the church. They put me back into a focus on His mission. Furthermore, mission trips have provided some of the greatest mountaintop experiences with God that I have ever had.

Church revitalization is hard work and the process can be stressful for pastors. Short-term missions are essential for pastors in the midst of revitalization because they can help pastors be revived in their view of God’s greater Kingdom work.

Short-Term Missions Empowers the People

Short-term mission trips call people out of their comfort zones to serve the Lord. Each time I have taken my congregation on a mission trip, I have seen people use their gifts and step into the role that God has given them.

Church revitalization cannot be accomplished by the pastor alone. Pastors need their people to come alongside them to do the work of the ministry. Short-term missions have always accomplished this for our church. When we return home, those who went on the trip are revived and ready to do missions at home.

Short-Term Missions Engages the Church with God’s Greater Mission

Short-term mission trips help people get out of their bubble. One of the best things about church mission trips is that it gets people to look outside of their usual context. We can get so wrapped up in our schedule, our work, our hobbies, our church that we miss what God is doing to glorify himself among the nations.

Understanding that God desires to glorify himself is paramount for church revitalization. Church revitalization is not about updating a facility or improving a worship experience. Church revitalization is about bringing a church to a healthy place where it can glorify God in all the church says and does.

Short-Term Missions Encourages Momentum

Let’s face it. Churches love tradition. If a church has no tradition, it will make a tradition. In the process of church revitalization, churches will have to sacrifice tradition.

Short-term mission trips show people that ministry can be done another way. As people work with and see God move in other ministries, they realize that God is not tied to a tradition or single way of doing things.

Who knows? You may find yourself implementing methods in your church that your people learned on the mission field.

Short-Term Missions Exalts the Savior

Short-term mission trips exalt the Savior. God is glorified when his people get to the work of reaching the lost. When Christians are faithful in sharing the gospel of Jesus, God is exalted.

If church revitalization could be boiled down to a single purpose, it would be to exalt the Savior. When a church is improving ministries and sharing the gospel, the goal is to make much of Jesus. Mission trips help the people to see the end goal, that all Christians are here to exalt the Savior.

Conclusion

I used to think that short-term mission trips where extracurricular activities for the church. But the longer I have pastored, the more I realize that these trips are vital for Christians’ spiritual growth and the church’s health.

Pastor, evaluate the missions ministry of your church. Lead your people to get involved in reaching the nations for Christ. Missions with your people will benefit the Kingdom, grow your people, and bless your ministry.

I love to help pastors and churches in ministry. If you would like to read more about church revitalization or ministry in general, check out my website at AnthonySvajda.com

Christ Follower.
Husband.
Father.
Pastor @HarveyBaptist.
PhD Evangelism (ABD) @swbts.
Cyclist.

How do you pray for your church members?

I fell under a deep conviction in 2008. And beginning a ministerial career under God’s judgment wouldn’t be the best start. I acquired a nasty habit during my college years. I found myself often saying, “I’ll pray for you,” only to then forget completely. My neglect of others wasn’t intentional; I said, “I’ll pray for you,” fully-believing I would fulfill that commitment eventually. At best, this was unintentional hypocrisy and at worst, deception.

Below, I offer the system that I’ve put in place to fulfill my commitment. It grew out of extended reflection and asking God for his help in overcoming my inadequacy as a minister.

“How do you pray for your church members?”

I began by asking other ministers how they prayed for their people. Admittedly, most said they prayed for their congregation generally. Others prayed as specific requests arose. But I would then ask these pastors one final question: “Have you prayed for everyone in your congregation by name?” From congregations of 50 members to those of 500, the answer was “no.” Their answer echoed in my soul and I could not align that reality with what I believed to be a critical responsibility of a pastor.

So, in 2013 I decided the answer to my question needed to be “yes.” At the time, I was the youth pastor to a group of about 60 students in a church of over 500. I knew that if I waited for my students to come to me and ask for prayer, only a small percentage of them would receive prayer. I knew that if I would only pray for them generally, I would never actually pray for them specifically. Either option was unacceptable.

Establishing a Prayer System

My solution was to create a new and simple system. I bought cheap composition notebooks and put the name and picture of each family associated with our youth group in each notebook. Then I committed to take three of those books each week and write a specific prayer for that family in them. After praying for them, I wrote a note to them saying, “I’m praying for you this week. If there is anything you’d like me to pray for specifically, please let me know.”

As our youth group grew and the number of books increased, I began handing out books to other staff members—three books each week. I set the expectation that everyone who worked for me would pray for three church families each week. Within a year, each family had been prayed for at least three times and they had received three cards letting them know that they were being prayed for.

I have continued this process in my new role as Pastor of Summerville First Baptist. We have about 90 members and I have about 35 books. As I write this post, I have just picked up the remaining three books without at least one prayer written in them. In six months of pastoral ministry, every single family has been prayed for by name.

Divine Coincidences?

Now you might think, “I’m too busy for that.” The whole process takes less than an hour a week. Pastors, you can do this.

You may ask, “What’s the point?” Allow me to give you a few anecdotes.

When I began this system, a family came and told me they were thinking about getting a divorce and had been struggling with the issue. Getting a card in the mail after a particularly horrible fight one night was enough to prompt them to come and ask for help.

Just this past month I had a church member thank me for praying for her. She received the card that I was praying for her just before going into surgery. The catch? She didn’t tell anyone she was getting surgery. But knowing that I was praying for her made a world of difference.

Just this week, I prayed for a family only to find out afterward that the husband had just been in the ER. You can call these three stories coincidences. That’s fine. But I can tell you that I don’t have any divine coincidences when I don’t pray. But, when I do pray, the comfort and peace of Christ seems to settle on each member of my flock at the exact moment they need it most.

Brothers, if you’re at a small church, put a system in place to pray for your people. If you happen to be a church of over a thousand, commit your entire staff to praying for specific people. Require them to write out a prayer. Have them fill out a card. Make sure that the sands of time do not form prayerless mounds.

Many mickles make a muckle

There is an old Scottish proverb that makes me chuckle: “Many mickles make a muckle.” Simply, it means that the small things add up. Three families a week is not an unreasonable commitment. But three families each week becomes 156 in a year. In a decade, that’s 1,560 prayers for church members by name. And when we look back and ask ourselves, “Have I prayed for each of my sheep by name?,” we will be able to answer, “yes.”

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

Minding the College Gap

All over the nation, students are heading to college. As difficult as this time can be for some parents, it is an important time for pastors as well. Just recently, I observed on Twitter a well-known pastor in one town placing a college-aged new believer under the care of another pastor in this new believer’s college town. I know both pastors and agree that the college-town pastor is the right man to shepherd this new believer. Their interchange demonstrated the beauty of cooperation and trust between Almighty God and these two Baptist pastors. Indeed, the entire interaction reminded me of another example of pastoral trust.

In a great biography titled Lee Rutland Scarborough: A Life of Service, the author, colleague, and friend of the subject, H. E. Dana records a similar transaction as a young seventeen-year-old Lee Scarborough travels by train from the West Texas frontiers to Baylor University in Waco, TX in January of 1888. George Scarborough, a Texas frontier preacher and Lee’s father, arranged for the young Scarborough to sit under the preaching and teaching of B. H. Carroll, who was the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church. The shared trust between both pastors shaped the life of young Scarborough who matured in the faith and would eventually surrender his life to the service of gospel ministry.

Two valuable principles in this example merit noting.

Parents, your parental responsibility does not end when they go to college

Local church attendance in college requires parental guidance and accountability. These days, an enormous gap exists for most first-time college students who leave home unprepared to find a local church home. According to 2016 research done by Barna Group, as much as 59% of young people from churchgoing homes walk away from the faith. Such a statistic proves that more than half of our young people are unequipped and unguided to think, identify, locate, and commit themselves to Christ and his Church during college. Continued collegiate discipleship begins long before your student leaves home for university. George Scarborough regarded Carroll to have been the finest preacher in Texas. He spoke often about Carroll’s preaching and the happenings in the First Baptist Church of Waco to his son, Lee. Young Scarborough left for college with an understanding that he was to include local church membership and regular attendance as a vital part of his educational experience. Scarborough’s parents taught him to value Christ Jesus and the importance of local church membership. All of this guidance began in the home.

Pastor, your pastoral responsibility does not end when they go to college

B. H. Carroll had a well-known reputation for faithfully preaching the Word of God. He was faithful to Southern Baptist polity and doctrines. Not only had George Scarborough kept informed with Southern Baptist life and its preachers, but he assisted Lee in making an informed crucial decision about college church membership and attendance. The First Baptist Church of Waco welcomed college members.  George Scarborough wrote a letter of introduction to Carroll personally on his son’s behalf. Scarborough entrusted Carroll with young Scarborough’s spiritual formation during his years in the university.

The reality: rearing godly college students begins years before these students ever step foot on college campuses. Children glean most of their values and many habits from watching and listening to their parents. Parents, pray for your students to walk-in their faith while in college, but before those days, give them instruction and make provisions for them to make spiritually-healthy decisions about local church membership and attendance. In short teach them to follow Jesus, even without your direct oversight.

College towns are usually filled with local churches and faithful pastors. Indeed, they have been given the task of shepherding tomorrow’s leaders. Pastor, when you step up to the sacred desk next Sunday, look out and make eye contact with your college students, you may very well be looking into the eyes of the next Lee Rutland Scarborough or Billy Graham.

Over the course of the next few articles, I am going to discuss the issue of discipleship and provide some ideas to both parents and local churches in the hopes of helping to close this discipleship gap found in too many local churches. We have a responsibility to the next generation before God to disciple them well.

Jesus Follower. Husband. Father. Evangelist. PhD Evangelism @SWBTS. Woodturner. Cyclist. Cast-Iron Culinarian.

Five Pastoral Reflections


I’ve only been a Senior Pastor for a total of six months. This means, of course, that I have no access to any grand wisdom. However, I wanted to offer up five reflections on my first six months as pastor.

1. Set Your Routine

Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Most people are well-intentioned pie eaters. Some just want to spend some time getting to know the new pastor, others have spiritual needs which they want addressed immediately. Every single church member will have some expectation concerning the pastor’s time. Without a set schedule, pastors will find it difficult to salvage even a sliver of time for biblical study.

I have a set routine. Certain times are available for meetings. Other times for biblical study. Keeping track of my own schedule helps ensure that no duties are neglected. As for myself, Saturdays are protected. I’m with my family all day. Emails, prayer meetings, and events always seem to popup on Saturdays, but unless it’s an emergency, I’m not available to anyone except my wife and children. A set routine assures family time.

2. Nail Down Haphazard Habits

By “haphard habits,” I mean those habits which have some fluidity to them. Any spiritual discipline that isn’t nailed down and engrained can be forgotten easily. I find these habits the hardest to maintain.

Recently, I asked in a Church Revitalization Facebook group which spiritual discipline is most-commonly neglected. Many pastors responded that fasting was the most neglected spiritual discipline. Fasting is one of those haphazard habits. Few Christians have a set time every week for fasting. I don’t let spiritual disciplines waste away. If a year passes without memorizing a new verse of Scripture, I’m in trouble. My way of nailing down scripture memory is to record when and what I memorize. Therefore, a spiritual journal is key to nailing down haphazard habits.

3. Prioritize your Marriage

We all have a number of ministerial spinning plates to keep in the air. Our spouse shouldn’t feel like one of them. We do not consider the qualifications of 1 Timothy to be suggestions—they are foundations. Much like pastoral integrity, the marriage covenant qualifies to even perform pastoral duties. Peter says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Since prayer is the power of pastoral ministry, let Peter’s warning concerning hindered prayer sink in deep.

4. Saying “No” is Easy

Since we moved to Georgia we’ve had the occasion for several long car trips to Texas and Michigan. Thank you Waze app! With a well planned route, staying on course is easy. The only issue is the still small voice in the back of the van, “Dad, can we stop at . . . ” Can you say, “recalculating?”

When the path is clear, saying “no” is easy. Have a clear, Christ-centered plan for leading the church. Set goals. Have a vision. There are hundreds of very good things the church could do; if any one of them doesn’t line up with the vision, say “no.” Saying “yes” to side attractions is a sure way to hear “recalculating”. Recalculating the vision every month is a sure way to never arrive at your destination.

5. Members are Just People

Even the best Christians are still sinners. Congregants will lift up and tear down in the same week. As such, church members cannot be the foundation of our ministries. The Church’s one foundation is not the church itself; only Christ is a solid enough foundation to rest our ministries on.

Numbers will go up and down. Sunday School will flourish and diminish. Sermons will be strong some weeks and weak on others. Christ alone is enough to stabilize the tumultuous nature of pastoral ministry.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

Mind Your Business, Short-Termers

I recently saw a young man post on The Baptist Review Facebook group requesting tips on how he might make the most of an upcoming short-term mission trip. His post got me thinking about what matters for short-termers, especially as it concerns the long-term effects of short-term trips. After reading through the comment thread (see it here: Mission Trip), I mentioned the need to follow the pattern of the missionaries already on the ground. In this post I want to follow up on that statement to explain why I believe  that to be important for short-term mission trips.

In season five of The Office, Dunder Mifflin has fallen on hard times, yet the Michael Scott-run Scranton branch continues (inexplicably) to turn a profit. To discover the secret of his success, Michael’s boss, David Wallace, invites him to a meeting at the corporate offices in New York City and rather sheepishly inquires of Michael, “What are you doing right?” The response is, of course, vintage Michael Scott:

David, here it is. My philosophy is basically this. And this is something that I live by. And I always have. And I always will. Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter . . . where. Or who, or who you are with, or, or where you are going, or . . . or where you’ve been . . . ever. For any reason, whatsoever.

Now let’s make some sense out of Michael Scott’s harebrained ramblings and hopefully apply some wisdom to our short-term mission trips. In boiling down his incoherence into a logical statement, Michael is saying: “Mind your business.” Short-termers, when we prepare for trips, it is essential to know what our business is—what we are doing when we go. I don’t mean the practical day-to-day functions in which you will participate, but the foundational reasons that undergird the daily activities. That being the case, one of the most important items of business each short-term missionary has is supplementing the work of the long-term missionaries with whom he/she will partner. To do this well and to maximize long-term impact, the short-term missionary needs to follow the established patterns of those already on the ground.

Here’s why.

They were there before you

Maybe you’ve taken courses or read books on missions, or about the people or place you are going, but I promise you (and I mean no offense here), the missionaries who have been on the ground know better than you the cultural nuances of the people and place. If they tell you not to do something, that restriction is not arbitrary; it has significance to the missionary and, just as importantly, significance to the people that missionary is seeking to reach. Perhaps that doesn’t correspond to something you read beforehand, but beware that books simply can’t provide an exhaustive—or readily updated—list of cultural dos and don’ts. Read the books, prepare as much as possible, but trust the missionaries who have worked tirelessly to learn the language and culture of the people with whom they live.

They will be there after you

You will return home not long after you arrive—maybe a week later or maybe a few months later. You will be different, changed by what you’ve seen and done. You will want to talk about it and some people will want to hear about it. But while you’re doing that (and you should do that), remember that there are those who stayed behind and continue the work of serving and seeking to reach the lost. In preparation for a short-term trip, resolve in your heart not to do anything that could negatively impact the long-term efforts of those who remain after you return home. In other words, don’t be a rogue short-term missionary; follow the leadership of the long-termers who are investing their lives, families, and careers in the people and place you will visit.

Short-termers, our work is important and impactful. So let’s go, serve, and return in as positive a way as possible. We are servants and not celebrities, so let’s mind our business and submit to the leadership and patterns of those who have gone before us and who will remain after us, for the sake of the glorious gospel among the nations.

Husband, father, missionary, preacher, coffee drinker.

@SWBTS grad.

Shooting for a PhD in Apologetics at @MBTSDoctoral.

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Three Signs of Eroding Integrity

Integrity is not simply the password we use to gain access to ministry positions, it is the watchword of our lives. No minister ever sets out to be inconsistent in word or action. When erosion is slow, foundations crumble without notice. Thankfully, there are a few warning signs of eroding integrity:

Increasing Procrastination

The upkeep of integrity is easier when we keep up on our work. Procrastination decays our ministries. If we find ourselves putting off the Bible, prayer, or planning, then we will reap what we sow. Procrastination delays the planting of spiritual seeds. When harvest time arrives, reaping is sparse.

Don’t put off your relationship with God until the evening. As soon as you are able, spend time in God’s Word. When an event goes on the calendar, make a plan with steps to complete the project. When a parishioner asks for prayer, stop and pray for them. Remember, procrastination antagonizes commitments to honesty. Don’t be tempted to lie just because the sun came up on the due date.

Diminishing Honesty

In the 21st century the belt of truth from Ephesians 6 is less like the humble foundation on which all armor of God hangs and more like batman’s utility belt. We see truth not as the foundation of our integrity, but as an opportunity for something flashy and exciting—a truth bomb. We want to give people a dramatic truth they can retweet. One of John Wesley’s famous Holy Club questions was, “Am I honest in all of my words and actions, or do I exaggerate?”

Social media provides us ministers the perfect place to exaggerate. Everything from baptismal numbers to great events are all prone to exaggeration. However, integrity requires us to have a greater commitment to honesty than to exaggeration. The cynosure of truth is not in the size of its championship buckle, but in its modest ability to uphold the breastplate of righteousness in its proper place.

The Wandering Eye

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness” Matthew 6:22–24. We teach children to sing, “be careful little eyes what you see.” We ought to remember this song in our private times.

Let’s ask ourselves a sincere and honest question: are our eyes healthy? Pornography isn’t the only taint threatening our integrity. Few parishioners will ever know what we decide to watch on Netflix. If our eyes gape at boarders of the darkness, then they are not gazing at the light. Let us transfix our eyes upon Jesus, then our whole body will be healthy.

It is possible for us to fake our way through spirituality. We can make up fake Bible study times, false claims of hard work, or even fake a sermon. Please understand, small lapses in integrity follow us through our entire ministry and root themselves in our personal lives. Do not attempt to justify lapses in personal integrity. We won’t be any less busy, less tired, or less stressed in the coming days. If we excuse our integrity for busy days, it won’t show up on the hard ones. The Christ we serve is holy. Let his holiness reflect in all we do.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

What I Wish I Would Have Known When Looking For My First Pastorate

I guess you could say that my calling has been a little like Amos’s. The prophet Amos was not like the others. He was an ordinary shepherd. He did not come from a family of priests or prophets. He just did what God called him to do, and found himself doing the Lord’s work as a prophet.

Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14–15, ESV)

When I look at Amos, I can see that my calling is a little like Amos’s. I am not a pastor’s kid nor did I come from a lineage of pastors. I did not have a pastor take me under his wing to mentor me once I received a call to ministry. I did not have my name passed around in ministry circles while I was in seminary. I did not have a seasoned pastor to call on when I took my first pastorate.

Honestly, I was like Amos in the sense that there were times that I just knew what the Lord called me to do and I was merely committed to doing that. Because of all of this, over time I learned a great deal through experience. Granted, a lot of that experience was gained by learning what not to do. But experience nonetheless.

Looking back I wish someone would have told me a few things while I was looking for my first pastorate. Therefore, here are a few things that I wish I would have known when I was looking for my first church.

Don’t Get In A Rush

Let’s face it, churches do not move quickly. Many pastoral search teams consist of lay volunteers, working full-time jobs, and giving up the evenings to work for their church. In some seasons of the year, the church calendar can be so busy that it is difficult to schedule meetings, causing the pastoral search process to take months.

Understand this, don’t get in a rush to make things happen quickly. Patience is what we need here. Be patient with the church, be patient with the search teams, be patient in the Lord’s calling.

Don’t Get Frustrated

The process of finding your first position can be frustrating. Finding the right church for you is hard. Then add the fact that some churches will not respond to your applications, and others will call you in for an interview and then never call you back. The whole thing is difficult when you’re anxious to get on the field. You can get frustrated with this.

But don’t get frustrated. I understand that this is hard, but Christians are called to have peace. When you feel tempted to get frustrated, call on God for his peace. Peace is what we need in this process.

Don’t Forget To Pray . . . A Lot.

I know how it is looking for your first pastorate. You cruise all the job boards constantly, and you call associations to find open positions. The search takes a ton of time, and it can be consuming. Some will just apply for any place that is open. They tell themselves that they’re like Gideon laying out their fleece. When in reality, they’re just not praying it through as they should.

Guys, don’t forget to pray. There is a lot at stake here. Not only is this a transition for you and your family but this also a big jump for the church. Prayer is what we need, and we need a lot of it.

Don’t Forget To Look For Divine Appointments

We serve a sovereign God who cares much for his church and his pastors. Remember this truth when you are searching for your first pastorate. One of the ways that God shows me that He is in control is through divine appointments. I cannot even tell you all of the times that God has brought a person into my life for his purposes and in many cases, this has happened while I was being called to a new pastorate.

Therefore, look for the ways that God is leading you. Maybe he is opening a door for you through a previous relationship that was rekindled or perhaps he is bringing a new person into your life who will help link you to your new ministry. Honestly, I do not understand all the ways that God works in these matters. But I have experienced Him do amazing things when calling someone to a church.

Don’t Limit Your Ministry Field

I know the blessing of being close to your family or ministering to a city that you love. But do not limit your ministry field based on relationships or familiarity to a town. Do not be that guy that says to God, “I will serve you with all that I am for all of my life as long as I serve here.” I know that this is hard. To be sent to a place far from home and where you know no one can be terrifying.

My first ministry assignment was like this for my wife and I. We both grew up in the city, and I assumed that we would always minister in that city, close to our families. But when I received the call to go to a small, country town several hours away from our home, I knew that I had to go and see if that was where God was calling us. Let me tell you, the town was nothing like our hometown. The people were different, the culture was different, the amenities were different, and we knew no one. This was a scary process for us. But over the course of my time there we grew to love that town and all the people. God did an amazing work in that church and in us that I would not trade my time there for the world.

Sometimes we think we know what is best for our ministry and we want to tell God how to do things. But what I have found is that God desires to show us something greater. Open your ministry field. Let God show you the best place for you to serve.

Don’t Give Up On The Work

One of the weirdest things I have seen guys do while looking for a pastorate is stop working in their current ministry positions. They may be a student pastor or small group leader, and when they begin to search for their first pastorate, they quit the ministry they are working in.

This makes no sense. One of the first questions a pastoral search committee is going to ask you about serving in their church is, “What are you doing in ministry now?” and if your answer is, “well, nothing” then that is not going to be a good thing. Furthermore, what is that telling the church? Are you saying that you only want to serve the church if you are in the lead position? That is not the heart of a pastor.

Guys, don’t give up on the work. God’s calling requires you to pastor in whatever context you are living in. Just because you do not have a title at the moment doesn’t mean you can give up on the ministry.

Conclusion

There were so many things that I learned about myself, the church, and God in those seasons that I wish that I could share it with all of you. But that would be one crazy long post, and I have gone on long enough.

In closing I will say this, If you are in the season of looking for your first assignment, I hope and pray that these words will guide you and encourage you.

Remember that we serve a great God, and He is in control of ALL things. Do not let the process overwhelm you, keep your hand to the plow, and your eyes on Jesus. He will place you where He wants you.

Are you in the process of interviewing for a pastorate? You may be interested in these 30 Questions Every Pastor Should As A Search Committee.

Christ Follower.
Husband.
Father.
Pastor @HarveyBaptist.
PhD Evangelism (ABD) @swbts.
Cyclist.