Tools of the Trade – September 23, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources Especially for Pastors

On occasion we read about the negative impact of the internet, and justly so considering some of the content. But it is also a huge help to busy pastors and their congregations – if we are paying attention to the good stuff. Such as:

I enjoyed a brief email exchange with Peter Mead, who blogs at BiblicalPreaching.net. Peter saw the focus group this blog aims at and suggests three articles that might be helpful. I would agree. Thanks, Peter!!

This article by Sinclair Ferguson on God being for us is worth printing and giving to your people – after you read it for yourself.

Here’s a teenager appealing to other teenagers to study their Bibles. Pass it on to your youth leaders!

Last week’s blog posts focused on preaching, and this article guides pastors to evaluate whether we are preaching the entirety of God’s word.

Tim Challies (who you probably read if you’re reading this blog) has some good suggestions about what to avoid saying at the beginning of a worship service.

It’s likely that more of our people have heard (or read) The Shack than they have the Nicean Creed. That is probably our fault for not exposing them to the great people and documents of church history.

Colin Adams illustrates how not to do Bible application.

I have never read the Canons of Dort, but this important doctrinal statement is having a 400th birthday, and it’s probably about time I read it. This month’s Credo Magazine tells us about it.

Paul Tripp has wise words for those in leadership.

Some people love listening to the news. Others, like me, can only take it in small doses. We’re not seeing a lot of good news out there, folks. What do you do when the news we hear about our world is just a bit worse than we feel we can handle?

7 Invisible Weapons for Effective Ministry. That’s the title of this solid article.

The folks at 9Marks review John Macarthur’s Remaining Faithful in Ministry.

What informs your choice of church music? Andrew Croft has some serious appeals for deciding what we sing.

This past week’s blog series attempted to make a case for expository preaching. Here’s an article that reinforces the reason why expository preaching is so important.

Have a great week! See you on Wednesday.

Planning Your Preaching, Part 3

So how do you go about planning your preaching? What are you going to preach next and what do you preach after that?

I want to finish up this short series with some suggestions on choosing preaching content. I’ll assume that I am writing to guys who are relatively new to ministry, though I know that several of you who read this blog have ministered for awhile.

Start first by praying. That’s the obvious thing, but easily bypassed when we start to think too hard. Prayer submits our minds to God, and while I don’t believe that God speaks to us verbally, I do believe he guides our thoughts.

The second major factor to consider is your congregation. How familiar are they with the Bible? How well have they been taught? How much Bible exposition have they had as opposed to the kind of life enrichment topical series I wrote about on Wednesday? If they have had a background in exposition, what books have they recently studied? You don’t want to repeat something they just heard a year or two ago.

I found that if I began there, God would guide my thinking so that my mind was drawn toward a particular book of the Bible. That does not mean that my choice was inspired or the result of revelation. Far from it. But if I prayed for God to feed his sheep through me, I believe he guided my thinking through whatever means he chose to use.

Some recommend that you alternate between the Old and New Testaments. There’s a case to be made for that, though preaching Old Testament books can be challenging for a younger preacher. If I was asked by a younger preacher who was either just starting out or who was switching to Bible exposition, I’d suggest the following: Preach two or three series from shorter New Testament letters. The first book I preached through was Ephesians. James and Peter’s letters also are good places to start.

Then I might suggest a series on the Psalms. With 150 Psalms, you could choose 7 or 8 from the first third of the Psalms, come back in a year and do another series from the 2nd third, and then a year or two later do a series from the last third of the Psalms.

After that you might consider preaching through the Gospel of Mark. It’s the shortest Gospel and probably the easiest one to preach through.

Preach through Judges. Do a series on the life of Abraham from Genesis, or the life of David. I’d avoid anything remotely resembling apocalyptic literature for the first five years of your preaching, though Revelation 1-3 makes a great series. Whatever you preach, arm yourselves with good commentaries.

Periodically during your ministry check your preaching record to make sure that you’ve given your people a balanced spiritual diet. You might want to avoid long series (more than 12-15 weeks) until you have a bit of experience. Then tackle books like Acts, Romans, Daniel, or a series on the Minor Prophets.

There is no one better than you and your leaders to analyze your church and determine what it needs. Know the books of the Bible well enough that you have an idea of the major themes of each so that you can choose what is most appropriate.

If you are reading about preaching (which you should), glean recommendations from people a whole lot smarter than me. Talk to experienced pastors and ask them how they chose their preaching material. Try to plan out a year of preaching, taking Christmas, Easter, and perhaps the summer into consideration.

And trust God! He will guide you as you prayerfully consider the needs of your people.

I trust God will give you a great day of ministry on Sunday!

Planning Your Preaching, Part 2

Laptop, WordPress, WordPress Design, Smartphone

Most pastors are able to create their own schedules, and that may lead some to feel that they need to be visible around the office as much as possible. After all, we don’t want to give the impression that we’re not working. 

While we want to be responsible with our time and available to our people, time to be alone is vital. As I noted on Friday, I often went off site to work on my sermon. Those hours were part of the “regular office hours” I put in. I just moved my office to another location. You should feel free to do the same. Last Friday’s post was intended to give some examples.  

Today I want to encourage those of you who are just finding your way as preachers to carefully consider the shape your preaching will take. I would like to commend the expository method of preaching that takes a book of the Bible and teaches it over an appropriate number of weeks as opposed to preaching a series of topical messages. 

Preaching should primarily focus on teaching people about God and our relationship to him. If we don’t have that as our primary aim, our focus will be on teaching people about us and how we relate to God. I believe there is a difference not only in how we approach the Bible, but in where we end up in our thinking about God.

When you take a book of the Bible and preach through it, you are exposing your people to the Bible as it was written. God did not give us the Bible in an encyclopedia format. Remember that our preaching shows our people how to read the Bible. If all they hear are series of sermons about them, they’ll be approaching Scripture that way. As a result the are likely to miss developing a deeper understanding of God and the Gospel along the way. 

There are exceptions, but a topical series is often going to apply to only a segment of your congregation. But if you preach through Philippians, there’s not a person in your auditorium who will be neglected in your sermons. I’ll even say that expository preaching – done right – is more practical and relevant than preaching topic after topic of our own choosing.

A series on raising kids or discovering your life purpose may appear more relevant and sound more appealing than a series on “Colossians.” But I’m concerned that a lack of systematic preaching will leave us with churches and Christians who cannot navigate an increasingly hostile culture. Just my two cents, but give it some thought.

Preaching through Bible books also helps your people to get a balanced diet. It lets God set the agenda for your preaching and frees you from having to come up with the next exciting topic. When people used to ask me when I would be speaking on a specific topic, I explained that I would do that when it came up in the text. If you are properly preaching through both Old Testament and New Testament books, history and letters, poetry and prophecy, eventually you cover a multitude of subjects that you might not even come close to if you major on topical preaching. 

The Bible doesn’t tell us how to choose our approach to preaching. But doesn’t it make sense to present it to our people the way it has been presented to us? Don’t neglect the occasional topical series or sermon. But let your choice of what to preach be shaped primarily by a desire to encounter God and what he has done for us, and then by how it “applies.”

For further reading, let me recommend Mark Dever’s book Preach.

Tools of the Trade for September 16, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources Especially for Pastors

Chris Scotti is the VP and Publisher of 316 Publishing, which features a number of New American Standard Bible Resources. One of their resources is a great NASB app with Greek and Hebrew lexicon. I’d been using it on occasion before getting an email from Chris and recommend it for its ease of use. You can see the various resources available at 316publishing.com.

Here’s a short piece by Peter Mead on approaching the text we preach with the right goal in mind.

Tim Challies, who contributes so much to the Christian community, writes about how to frame our preaching for maximum benefit to our audience.

The folks at 9Marks.org always produce good stuff for us. Here’s an article by Jeff Mooney on dealing with those times when we feel spiritually dry.

Nothing controversial here. 🙂 “I’d Probably Still Cancel Your Short-Term Missions Trip.” You may not agree, but Carlson raises some issues worth considering.

Here’s encouragement to prepare our people to suffer.

John Piper talks about God’s sovereignty and our unproductive days.

Here’s a good article to share with parents and those who work with kids.

Have a great week of ministry!!!

Planning Your Preaching

Harvey Cedars, New Jersey

For several decades my family spent a week in late August at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference at the New Jersey shore. My wife’s father had been a speaker there almost every summer, and Laura spent several summers there working on staff.

The Bible Conference provided a low-stress schedule, and afternoons were reserved for the beach, which was just a short walk across the street. My family loved the beach. On the other hand, I hate the beach. I have never enjoyed the combination of the sun, sand, lotions, and heat. So I’d stay back in our room and often I would work on my preaching plan for the year.

I know, I know. You’re not supposed to work on your vacation. But those few hours of peace and quiet each day gave me the opportunity to at least draft a preaching plan through the early winter and sometimes longer.

Hagerstown, Maryland

Sometimes I had a special preaching project that I wanted to work on, so on several occasions after my kids were grown I left home on Sunday night, drove three hours to a motel in Hagerstown, and returned home on Thursday. I had three days to focus, generally without interruption.

Other than the fact that it was only three hours away and it had plenty of places to eat, decent prices for hotel rooms, and a small mall to walk through when I wanted a break, there was nothing special about Hagerstown. But I look back on the two or three times I had a personal “retreat” there with appreciation for what I was able to accomplish.

The Italian Restaurant Across the Street

In a typical week, portions of Tuesday and Wednesday would be given to studying the passage I was preaching on Sunday. Thursday was sermon-writing day.

There were times when I did my sermon-writing in my office. But more often than not, Thursday would find me in a corner booth of the Italian restaurant across from our church. Sal, the owner, would drop off a Diet Coke, and he graciously allowed me to work there as long as I wanted. It was pretty quiet at lunch, and there was something about getting out of the office that turned on the creative juices in my mind. I could often accomplish more in two or three hours out of the office if I tried to tough it out in my office. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve heard other pastors say the same thing.

My Office

The product of my restaurant writing was by no means the finished product. I would go back to my office and spent the rest of the afternoon on Thursdays writing the first main draft of the sermon. I’d finish that draft, review it as time permitted, and then put it away until Saturday morning. As I’ve said elsewhere, Friday was my day off. While I was doing other things on Friday, the sermon was fresh enough in my mind that often thoughts would come that I’d jot down and integrate into the final draft on Saturday. That final draft occupied my attention for the bulk of the day on Saturday. Then on Sunday morning I would give it one more review, revise what needed to be revised, and then off we would go.

Obviously the final product was more than just a matter of where I studied. It was the result of prayer, study, talking to others, pacing and thinking, reading, more pacing and thinking, and writing. But getting away from my normal working environment was a huge help in the process.


I want to write a couple of posts on sermon planning, and the point of this little field trip is that sometimes, like real estate, your best sermon writing depends on location, location, and location.

I’ll write next week about the specific planning process for both long-term and short-term sermon planning. You can keep up to date with what’s happening on this blog by either subscribing to receive an email of each post or when there is a new post. But in the meantime let me ask you a few questions for your own thought, though feel free to share your answers in the comments section.

  1. What part of sermon preparation is the most difficult for you? Why do you think that is true?
  2. What impact do you think it would have on your study if you could get out of the office at least once a week?
  3. Where could you could go to maximize your ability to focus?

May God bless your ministry this weekend! Thanks for reading, and please feel free to email me or leave a comment!

Younger Pastors and Senior Adults

Seniors, Care For The Elderly, Protection, Protect

In late July, I turned 66. 

When I was a kid, being 66 was like having one foot in the grave. When I was in my 20s and 30s, being 66 made someone elderly. In my 40s and 50s, being 66 meant getting older. Now being 66 is, well, just being 66.

A couple of people asked me how it felt to be 66. To be honest, it doesn’t feel like anything. I’m in good health, I’m not drooling (that I know of), and despite a few aches and pains that I didn’t have 25 years ago, I feel good. My outlook is that when I’m 70 in four years, I’ll just be entering mid-life.

This all may sound like I’m in a bit of denial, and maybe I am. But the fact is that being 66 today is not what being 66 was like fifty years ago. People are living longer, and they are generally much more healthy and mobile. That has several implications for our society. But it also has implications for our churches.

I don’t know the particular demographics of your church, but unless you have “targeted” younger people (and I’ll ask you to rethink any strategy that emphasizes one age group over another), you probably have a good percentage of older people in your church. They may even be the dominant age group.

I work with older people now. I work for a large retirement community and I drive older people (and I mean older people – those in their 80s and 90s) to medical appointments. Some of them have substantial physical limitations, but many are still active and vibrant. Here are some characteristics of the older generation and what they mean for our churches.

Older people don’t have the same energy they did when they were younger, so consider that when you plan your worship service. Having people stand for four songs or having them stand up and sit down repeatedly is not always easy. While you may say “Stand if you are able,” some of our older saints don’t want to look like they’re being uncooperative. Or they’d rather endure the pain than look frail. If that last bit sounds weird to you, just wait. You’ll see. Someday.

Older people see a world that is changing fast, and their ability to grasp change is not what it was when they were young. As you plan changes in your church, make sure you take plenty of time to explain the purpose behind them. Give them time to think about what those changes mean to them. A few weeks ago, our church announced that they would be changing the times of the worship services and Sunday School – in December. Bravo! They are giving people four months to think through how they’ll need to adjust. 

Older people can easily feel left by the wayside as the church does new things. Older people spent decades coming to church in their “Sunday best,” singing a familiar set of songs from a hymnal. Those songs were accompanied by an organ and/or piano and led by a man who directed the congregation like a choir, often with great enthusiasm. Their worship services had soloists and choirs and periodic concerts on Sunday night. Their pastor wore a suit and tie and would never wear jeans. In fact, no one wore jeans.

Whether changes to our worship styles are for the better is not the point. What matters is that we’ve asked our older people to worship in a way that they are not used to, and it should be obvious that many have taken a long time to get used to it. They take longer to learn the songs and sometimes don’t like the volume of the instruments or the group leading the singing. Right or wrong, older people miss a style of worship was both familiar and very meaningful to them and as a result feel passed by as if they don’t matter. 

Let me suggest some ways that younger pastors can minister to older saints:

Remember that you’re young and they are older.

That’s kind of obvious, but it’s important. You may have seminary training, you may have read a lot of books, you may even have several years of experience. But you haven’t lived as long as they have. 

Youth is energetic, visionary, and moves fast. Youth wants to change the world now. That’s all cool. But older people have “done church” for decades, and their experience has to count for something. Some older people are definitely limping toward geezerhood. But many senior adults have a wealth of wisdom and experience, and it’s foolish to ignore them. Psalm 92:12-14 says, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (ESV). In other words, they’re not dead yet. 

Get to know them.

There was a group of widowed or single older ladies that met often in our church. I teased them mercilessly, even when I announced their activities, and they gave it right back. I loved that group and I know they loved me. When they met, I always stopped in to say hi. If your church has special programs or lunches for seniors, stop by and say hello.

Consider having programs geared to issues they face that may also serve as outreach opportunities to other seniors. 

When I say outreach, I don’t necessarily mean full-blown evangelistic programs (though of course that would be fine). Seniors want help understanding social security and retirement investments. They are easy victims of telephone or computer scams. Having experts speak on these subjects can be very helpful to your own people and a way of introducing others to your church.

Listen to them when they express discontent.

Their complaints may not always be packaged in the most appropriate ways, but maybe there are good (or at least understandable) reasons why they are resistant or feel unsettled. Many of our churches have asked our seniors to accept change for the sake of reaching younger people. But let’s remember that their acceptance of what’s new and different means that they are giving up much that they treasured, and sometimes they come to church and feel they are in a different country. Accept how they feel and show respect for their memories of the past.

Recruit them for ministry. 

Encourage them to be involved where they can. I used to remind our people that the opportunity and responsibility to serve God is present until God takes them home. Enlist them to pray. Enlist them to reach out to other seniors. Encourage them to welcome and get to know younger people in the church. Don’t plan too many activities that fragment the church family by age group. Take an older person with you when you visit one of their peers in the hospital. Many can still hold a baby and change a diaper in the church nursery. They are still useful, so find ways for them to be used.

Find a few trustworthy seniors and ask them to pray for you in particular.

If you are new in the church, you’ll have to learn who can (and can’t) keep a confidence. And even then, be careful what you share. But why not start by enlisting some of your seniors to pray for your sermon preparation during the week? I don’t have the stats to prove this, but I heard “I pray for you every day” more from seniors than any other group in the church. 

Remember that their worlds are changing and sorrows increase

As they get older, their spouses and friends die. Their adult children may or may not be attentive. Their “circle” shrinks. They can be depressed, lonely, and fearful. If you see a senior withdraw, reach out to them. Enlist your elders or deacons and their wives to help with this. If they need rides to church, find someone who will bring them and take them home again.

Keep them in the loop. 

Have church bulletins sent to those who are shut-ins. The senior population is becoming more and more computer literate. You might send a summary of your sermon to them to read, either by mail or email. But don’t forget them. And don’t send them a letter only when you’re talking about money! Some of your seniors have spent their whole lives as participants and members in your church, and it’s just not right to forget them.

Encourage them to keep growing spiritually.

We had a network of small groups in our church, and one day one of our leaders had an idea. He proposed that a small group for seniors – many of whom had a growing reluctance to drive at night – meet one morning a week at church. I thought it was brilliant! It became a meaningful way for our seniors to continue studying God’s word and be together.

Let’s face it, too often senior citizen ministry is a series of social activities. There’s nothing wrong with trips and special lunches. But our purpose as churches is not to entertain. What opportunities present themselves in your context for word-based ministry to seniors during the day?


You can’t do all of this by yourself. I hope you realize that. You may need a team of seniors to help you, you may assign senior care to specific church leaders, or you might even have younger moms plan an activity that includes women of all ages. But you have to set the pace.

Seniors can be a challenge. They can be grumpy, they can complain, they can fuss and fume over very insignificant things. But you know what? So can younger people. A younger pastor engages the older people in his congregation because they are part of his flock – and, more importantly, they belong to the Chief Shepherd.

Tools of the Trade for September 9, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources Especially for Pastors

We often struggle to be creative, yet not compromise the content of what we are trying to communicate. Matt Hedges, writing about Church Planting, tells us that Faithful Ministry is Savvy Too.

How would your small group respond if someone walked in with a handful of Bible Commentaries? These authors suggest that it ought to be met with appreciation. I agree.

Here’s a great interview with John Piper on “When Worship Lyrics Miss the Mark.” That happens? 🙂

How would you answer this question: “Is Your Church Frantic or Focused?”

Writer and Pastor Ray Fowler has a series on favorite productivity principles. Sometimes we can read so much about this subject that we don’t get things done. But this article has some great suggestions and resources.

Here’s an article on church planting and pastoral work in rural areas. I suspect that a lot of God’s work goes on in places that no one has ever heard of. Are you in one of those places?

How should we respond when ministry seems to fail? Josh Squires writes about making sense of ministry failure.

Here’s an interview to watch if you are in seminary or contemplating ministry.

Anything John Piper writes about preaching is worth reading. Preachers, Show Them in the Bible talks about why many sermons fall short.

Dr. Robert Godfrey talks about What Are We Missing if We Neglect the Psalms? There’s so much good preaching in the Psalms! Very much worth the listen.

Have a great week! See you on Wednesday!

When Ministry Hurts, Part 2

Wednesday’s blog post was the first of a two-part post about the pain we can experience in ministry. Usually this pain comes from people – people we love and care for. It takes many forms, varies in severity, but pain is still pain.

I was going to hold this until Friday, but out of a readership of just several dozen, five pastors wrote to say they were leaving ministry. I’m kidding but I felt that it was wrong to open a wound and not try to help heal it. So this is what I would have posted on Friday (tomorrow).

In this second part of the blog post I want to suggest some ways in which we can deal with the pain. I’d like to acknowledge that there aren’t any magic answers, and as I said in Wednesday’s post and in a previous post, sometimes our hurts linger. It’s not that we’re wallowing in our own misery, but words and actions can cut deeply.

I’ve talked with several ministry friends over the years about this subject, and while none of us would say we’ve responded perfectly every time we’ve been hurt, I think we would agree that there are ways in which we can deal with our pain without being immobilized. So let me offer some suggestions.

When you are hurt, don’t be surprised.

You will not please everyone. Get used to that quickly. People will have expectations about what you should do, how you should dress, what you should preach on, what issues you should champion, etc., etc. And when you don’t fulfill everyone’s expectations, there will be times when people say or do things that are very hurtful.

I was thinking about the number of leaders in the biblical story who dealt with people-grief. The Israelites made Moses crazy. David had serious opposition. Then, think of the different people and churches who made Paul’s life difficult. I will not pull a “at least you don’t have it as bad as so-and-so” on you, but take heart that when you’re hurt, you’re in good company. So don’t be surprised.

Be willing to examine the criticism.

Oh, is this hard to do! And especially if it comes wrapped in an angry package. But maybe there’s some truth in what that person said to you. Maybe someone has a legitimate gripe. Maybe there’s a side of an issue that you never considered and need to understand.

We’re near the end of what we termed the “worship wars.” I sense that churches have more or less settled into doing what they’re going to do. But I wonder if so much of the hurt over music style could have been avoided if we listened to older people who were losing songs that meant much to them.

To be fair, some songs in our hymnals needed to be set aside, but if we’re honest, some praise songs we were singing 15 to 20 years ago were just as objectionable as the shallow “gospel songs” they were replacing. Maybe the transition would have gone over better if we had listened and tried to understand.

When you are hurt, find one or two trusted companions to dump on.

Yeah, I mean dump on. Guys who are so closed-mouthed that you can pour your heart out and know that it will not be repeated. Guys who will help you gain a different perspective if a different perspective is needed. Guys who understand why you’re grieving and will give you the room to grieve without being critical that you don’t seem to have that “joy, joy, joy, joy down in your heart.”

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is found in 1 Samuel 23:15-18. David is on the run from Saul, who wants him killed. Jonathan, the rightful heir to the throne, finds David and “strengthened his hand in God” (v.17, ESV).

Do you have a Jonathan or two in your life? If not, ask God to provide one or two for you. (And to you guys reading this who have been my Jonathans—you know who you are—thank you!!)

When I first began writing in June, I wrote an article called “Companions for the Journey.” It talks about the need for having friends in ministry with whom we can walk together, helping each other when times are hard, and rejoicing together when times are good. It might be helpful to read that if you haven’t already.

Depending on the severity of the criticism and/or the level of disruption it brings, involve your elders.

You don’t want a reputation as a person who can’t be approached with a difference of opinion. But if a person becomes a troublemaker, you have a spiritual responsibility to deal with him or her before it taints the whole flock. Read Titus 3:9-11.

Seek out an older pastor and learn from his wisdom.

This assumes that you are on the younger side, though I’m finding people from all levels of experience are visiting this blog. But as a younger pastor, ask God to lead you to a veteran pastor who can talk some of this through with you.

Obviously, this needs to be a person able to keep confidences. Perhaps it is a pastor from a church in which you served previously. Maybe you can call a professor from Bible College or Seminary. Maybe it’s the Senior Pastor in your own church. Hey, shoot me an email if you have no one you can talk to. As I’ve said before, I don’t know everything, but I will try to be helpful. And what you write won’t appear in this blog.

Allow yourself to hurt and bring it to Jesus.

Don’t dress in sackcloth and ashes. Don’t act like walking death around the church and in the office. But don’t deny your hurt and don’t pretend that you are impervious to pain. Acknowledge it. Pray about it. Ask God for healing, and immerse yourself in the Psalms where David, often through his own pain, both calls out to God and finds strength from God. Look at Psalms 27, 31, 34, 42, 43, 46, 55, 56, 59. Read one of these a day. Read them all each day. Keep reading them and keep praying them back to God.

It is hard to minister when we’ve been bruised and treated poorly, when we wonder how many people “out there” feel the same way as the author of the anonymous letter a cowardly church member or attender sent you. But we continue to do what God has called us to do, trusting him to get us through, even when we feel we cannot.

Will the hurt go away? That’s a hard question to answer.

Some hurts pass by and others last longer. So I am not trying to give you a 6-Step Plan for Inner Peace. But God is merciful, and during our pain, discouragement, and disappointment he ministers to us through his Word and Spirit, and through others he sends our way.

When Ministry Hurts, Part 1

Note: This was going to be one article, but it got a bit long. So this is part one of a two part discussion of when ministry hurts.

Sometimes pastoral ministry is one of the most joy-filled experiences one can have. Seeing people come to Christ or grasp the implications of the Gospel more fully is a privilege. Watching them overcome sin and mature as believers is incredibly rewarding. When we see people grow and change we praise God, we feel encouraged; we feel that we’ve had the honor of partnering with God in his work. That’s why John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” 3 John 1:4 (ESV).

But there’s another side to pastoral experience: ministry can hurt. 

Perhaps you’re reading this and you’re hurting right now. Maybe something came up this past week, or maybe you’ve been the thick of a mess for months. You hurt. 

Maybe

  • Someone has sent you an anonymous letter, making false accusations about you or your motives.
  • An elder who was a supporter seems to have turned against you for reasons you don’t understand.
  • Your church seems stagnant. People seem disinterested.
  • There’s conflict between factions in the church. Or conflict between individuals that has spilled over to others in the congregation or threatens to spill over.
  • You’ve just finished preaching and on the way out of church someone criticizes something you said, the way you said it, or says something else that robs you of your joy.
  • Families who have made a commitment through membership to the church decide that they need “more” than your church can give. So they tell you they are leaving for greener pastures where there are more bells and whistles and zing and bling. 
  • There’s conflict among staff members in your church, and no matter what you try, it does not resolve the conflict.
  • Someone is critical of your wife, because “she’s not doing what the last pastor’s wife did.”
  • Giving is down and ministries need to be cut.
  • A family leaves because they claim that they are not getting anything from your sermons.
  • The program changes the Elders have settled on is met with resistance.
  • People tell you they are not giving because they don’t like the direction of the church (which being interpreted means that they’ll start giving again once you do things their way).
  • Your youth pastor has come under a lot of criticism because he wants to teach the kids and “our kids need to have fun in a positive environment.”
  • You inadvertently didn’t mention someone in the pastoral prayer so their family is offended and has stopped attending church.

I could go on, but I won’t. You can probably add to the list on your own.

I’ve experienced a few of these and know pastor friends who have experienced several. Going through these kinds of experiences is painful. They make us question our calling, our abilities, and our own integrity. They can be fodder for the enemy to use against us.

See, my dear brothers, church, for a pastor, is not always a safe place. 

Wow. Did I just say that? Yeah, I did. 

It’s not always that way, of course. Most of the time, people are great. And sometimes people are just goofy. 

Some years ago I missed several Sundays because I had leg surgery. I wasn’t able to shave for a few weeks, so my beard grew in. When the time came to get myself looking presentable, my wife and I thought the beard should stay. On my first Sunday back, an older lady in our church walked up to me, grabbed my face in her hand, turned my head both ways and said, “I don’t like it.”

Those are the kinds of things you laugh at, shake your head, and blow off. If you let little things like that get your undergarments in a wad, you probably shouldn’t work with people.

But sometimes what people say or do, in private or in public, really hurts. They make us wish we could be anywhere else. We leave our offices feeling defeated and deflated. It disrupts our sleep. Our sense of joy in serving the Lord seems to have disappeared. We have Sundays when we wish we could turn over and pull the covers over our heads.

Why, when church people behave badly, do pastors take it so hard? 

The answer is that we are human beings – human beings who carry with them the never-ending responsibility to act as a shepherd to people who need to be brought under and kept under the care of God. And unless we’re doing something wrong, we take that very seriously.

False accusations strike at our integrity. And let’s face it, without integrity, we’re of very little value.

Anger over decisions we make grieves us, not because we want everyone to line up like little ducklings and follow us (hopefully), but because we have worked hard along with other leaders for the best of our people. Apparently this giving grief to church leaders thing has been around for a while, else the writer of Hebrews would not have written: “Obey 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” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV).

Seeing members walk out the door for other churches with more options hurts because we’ve invested in them, cared for them, prayed for them, been there when they’ve needed our comfort and our counsel. But they quickly forget those things because the lights are brighter elsewhere. 

Now you’re probably not incredibly encouraged right now. To this point, what I’ve written has been pretty negative. I certainly don’t want anyone to think, “If this is what I have to look forward to in ministry, I’d be better off selling comic books in the mall.” Or you may be thinking (about me) “What happened to that guy.

Fear not I am fine. I’ve just seen a lot in my time.

Our churches have good people, and there will be good moments, good stretches of peace and spiritual prosperity. But we’re ministering to human beings with the same sinful tendencies we ourselves have, and there will be times when you will experience ministry pain.

So what do we do when those hurtful, disappointing, gut-wrenching, self-doubt causing times come? I’d like to respond to that on Friday.

In the meantime, you may know someone going through the fire right now. Let me encourage you to him and ask God to bring him some relief.

Tools of the Trade for September 2, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources Especially for Pastors

Christian Focus publishes in both the UK and US. They are having a sale on Mentor Commentaries as well as a number of other great books. The sale ends on September 6, so don’t wait too long!

Westminster Books is also having a sale, including small group and Sunday School resources. I’d recommend that you maintain a collection of small group guides.

I think one of the hardest decisions a pastor has to make is not only what current issues to talk about, but also what to say. This is a helpful article.

Parents, Teens, Phones. This is an article that you can copy and email to all your parents, your youth pastor, your own kids, their kids, the family pet, etc.

Here’s a self-checkup that may be uncomfortable, but is certainly necessary.

Christians are not marginalized like believers in other places, but we’re heading in that direction. Here’s a note of encouragement.

We’ve had two decades of discussion about worship – what it is and isn’t. JD Greear says “Worship is Not a Reflection of What You Feel.”

John Piper answers a question about whether children should sit through the main church service.

Here’s An Open Letter to Pastors About the Teens in Their Congregation.

That’s the best of the best I’ve found for this week. I hope you have something helpful!