3 Lessons for Dark Times in Ministry

There have been some pretty dark days in ministry over the years. Some of the darkest times stem directly from sin. It could be my own sin or the sin of others that pushes the darkness, but I have learned that there are 3 things a pastor ought to remember in these times.

There have been some pretty dark days in ministry over the years. Some of the darkest times stem directly from sin. It could be my own sin or the sin of others that pushes the darkness, but I have learned that there are 3 things a pastor ought to remember in these times. (yeah I am sure there are like 50 other things. But I find that these things are the ones that I need to remember the most)

First, you are not God

I am not God. I don’t have power. I can’t persuade hearts. I can’t move mountains. I can’t affect change. I can’t sooth hurts, calm nerves, enlighten eyes, thrill hearts, or illuminate minds. I can’t even do these things to myself. When I read the Scriptures, ultimately I can’t understand them without the Holy Spirit.

All I can do are two simple things. First, try to be as clear as I can when I am sharing the Word of God. Whether I am preaching, teaching, witnessing, encouraging, leading, persuading, or sharing, the best I can do, the MOST I can do is try to be as clear as I possibly can. And then get out of the way.

The other simple thing I can do is pray. Prayer is powerful because God is powerful. As God governs and guides his world, to his ends, for his purposes, with his aims, he has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching and praying. Prayer can do whatever it is God wants it to do.

So remembering that we are NOT God should help us clear out the cache of tasks that we really have no business worrying about. Then we can focus, as pastors that is, on the two things God has given to us: Ministry of the Word and Prayer.

Second, you are not indispensable

Even if we stay in the same church for decades, we are only one blip on the radar for the growth of these people. Their families, other pastors, friends, books, internet preachers, are all blips in their lives.

And God many times uses others when we can’t be used at the moment. Or let’s put it another way, God cares more for our church’s spiritual growth than you or I ever will. He will complete what he started in them, even if he does it without us.

There are even times we are simply useless. Our sin runs amok, and our zeal is lagging. Yet, God’s people are still making progress in spite of us. Why? Because God is not limited to one single man in the lives of hundreds of people. God has great means at his disposal.

So we are not necessary, but we are wanted. God wants to use us in the lives of the church we serve; the people want us to use our gifts to serve them and help them. But in the end, God can get someone else to replace us, and there are more people serving your congregants than just you.

Third, you are not alone

I think this might be the hardest part for most of us as pastors. We can spend hours with people in meetings, appointments, worship services, and even service projects, and we can still feel totally alone.

No one seems to understand the burden we bear. God has charged us with the spiritual oversight of a group of souls, and we will give an account of how we have shepherded these people. Then there are the daily pressures of preparing sermons and being clear, counseling and giving people advice that we hope is right, and leading and modeling how Christians ought to live.

So at times it feels that no one else is doing what we are doing. It feels no one cares what it is we are doing. But we are not alone.

God has promised to be our God and for us to be his people. The writer to the Hebrews reminds them that God will never leave them nor forsake them. It’s a New Testament way of saying, ” I will be your God.” Because of that, we are never alone. We have with us the Triune God in his oath swearing self. And so we are not alone. We can walk through these dark days; we can face the hard times. We don’t have to go it alone. If we feel alone, it is because we are failing to believe what God has said.

But I think we need to also say, usually the people in our churches are with us. They might not understand all the pressures we face, but they are there. They might not grasp what they could do for us, but they haven’t left. They might not be very vocal, but they are just a phone call away. They might even be ugly to us and expect of us beyond what they should, but they are still there. And we are not alone. God by his grace, through these people that seem to not be growing and learning or loving Christ, are actually the ones God will often use to bring his grace, mercy,and compassion to us. Because if they treated us as we have treated them(except those times when someone who is really evil towards us), we would suffer greatly. I think we find that these people we believed so immature, are actually many times more mature than we ourselves, because rather than throw their hands up and walk away from the church and from us. Quietly wait for us to get ourselves together, praying for us, and longing for us to realize we are not alone.

 

God’s Good Plans

Don’t you love to know that God has great plans for you?

Do you want God to be for you?

What I mean is this: Don’t you love to know that God has great plans for you?

I supposed many people do because we love to quote Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Recently I heard a sermon on this passage that basically said:

God always have great plans for us, and his plans are for our welfare and good. He wants us to live in hope.

But is this verse about what most people are being lead to believe? Is this verse about the unassailable, infallible plans for good things in your life?

I think it is not for two reasons.

Who was Jeremiah Talking to?

If you simply turn to the first verse of chapter 29 you read this:

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

Jeremiah was talking to the exiles in Babylon. Now why were God’s people in exile? Because as a people they had sinned against God by worshiping and serving idols instead of the one true God. As punishment or consequences, they were to go into exile for 70 years.

So what sort of good plans can those facing their deserved consequences expect?

That their punishment will not totally destroy them nor obliterate their people. So for this reason I don’t think we can use this verse at new years for good plans for us as Christians especially if we are not talking about living in our consequences.

What did Jeremiah tell them to do?

In chapter 29 verses 5-10 hear Jeremiah’s letter from God to the exiles:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD. 10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

Their false prophets were telling them don’t settle down in this place, because God is going to deliver us from this place that is not our home. God says, “Wrong.”

God expects his people to settle down and seek the welfare of their captors. Because only as they seek the welfare of their captors, will they experience welfare.

And they have to be there for 70 years and then God will restore them. For he knows his plans.

So that means that the plans that God has for his people are plans that center on restoring disobedience people, who have lived through their consequences and been obedient to God in the midst of consequences.

Conclusion

So how can we use this verse rightly? Let me suggest a couple of things:

  1. It shows us the character of God. He is holy and will punish sin, but he is compassionate and will not totally destroy his people.
  2. It shows us that God’s actions of punishment or discipline on us have a restorative purpose.
  3. It shows that God in his providence was pursuing the establishment of the Messiah and was unwilling to let his people’s sin cut off his divine plan of redemption for mankind.
  4. It shows God’s compassion on those who humble accept their consequences and live obediently before God.
  5. Finally, it shows how even in facing consequences, God’s people can be a blessing to those around them.

So next time a pastor preaches from this verse without referring to the whole chapter, just get up and leave. That kind of pulpit crime needs to be stopped.

 

The Photo about was from: This Artist and I have tried to follow the rules of the license.

The Bible and those who ought to know it.

A pastor who is using someone else’s book or sermon to preach his own sermons, he is like a restaurant buying meals from another restaurant.

What would you do, if you the restaurant you wanted to go to bought their meals from another restaurant down the road?

Or what would you do if the doctor you were seeing, took all your files to another doctor to find out what was wrong with you?

I would simply go to the other restaurant and the other doctor.

So what about a pastor who is not getting his sermons from the Scriptures themselves? What about a pastor who is preaching from someone else’s books, sermons, or studies?

Now I understand using someone’s book because you want to do a book study. No pastor can be the expert in every field.

But that is not what I am talking about. I believe that preaching of the Word is the central hub of church life. It is God speaking by his Spirit through his word about his Son.

So a pastor who is not seeking to understand what God has spoken in his word, cannot tell first hand what God says to his people today. I think this is a shame for two reasons:

He doesn’t know God

If he is not studying the Scriptures, then he doesn’t know God. If he is studying the Scriptures, then why is he preaching someone else’s sermons as though they are his own?

Jesus said that this is eternal life, “That they might know you, the only true God.”(John 17:3)

Christ Jesus wants us to know him, to know his Father. And a pastor is first and foremost a man of the study. He ought to be studying to know who God is. Yes he should be a reader, but his first reading should be of the Scriptures.

And if he is going to preach someone else’s book, then does he even know God at all?

He doesn’t know what God is really saying.

God speaks through his word. His word is alive and active and sharper than any two edged sword. God speaks in his word, and a pastor who does not read or study the scriptures themselves is not hearing God himself. He does not know what God is saying.

If he is reading someone else’s book, surely he will understand what that author thinks God says. But he will not know for himself what God says.

He cannot shepherd God’s people.

A pastor who is using someone else’s book or sermon to preach his own sermons, he is like a restaurant buying meals from another restaurant.

So this pastor is not shepherding the people before him, instead he is importing shepherds for God’s people who might not even believe like the pastor himself.

If you hear a pastor preaching a sermon from someone else, challenge him to give an account of his own study on the topic or passage. Seek pastors who are studying the Word for themselves. Don’t just sit there and take it. Hold these men accountable.

Failure in the Pulpit

Because the people will be able to place the Word of God into time and space in their minds and that helps them to put it into practice in their lives.

Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. (Psalm 54:4)

I worry about pastors who preach without admitting that God is their helper. I am often fearful when the pastor acts like he has it together. Even greatly humble men seem like they have it together because of the way they preach.

We can’t use the pulpit as self-therapy, but we must use it as a means of grace for ourselves first before the congregation uses it.

I am not in favor of bleeding hearts as we preaching.

I am not in favor of tons of stories about myself while I preach.

But I am in favor of admitting that we don’t have it together. I am in favor of preaching that if it does tell a story about the preacher it is often his sins and mistakes.

Why? Because the people will be able to place the Word of God into time and space in their minds and that helps them to put it into practice in their lives.

So pastors stop telling the people about the really cool thing you said to someone that put them in their place. Stop telling your mic drop moments, and start telling them your oh, crap moments, your I’m sorry moments, and your failure moments.

Because then your life will be a living example of the truth that God is my helper and the upholder of my life.