Tag Archives: pastor

A Pastor’s Job Description: Point Out What God Is Doing

All honorable work is God’s work, a calling, and anyone serious about doing a good job in his/her work derives priceless benefit from the example of respected mentors. Surely teachers and doctors, business folks and farmers, all need mentors to encourage them to “soldier on.”

One of my most influential mentors passed away almost a year ago, and I never met him. Eugene Peterson, best-known for his amazing paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, never wrote anything poorly, but his books written particularly for pastors have blessed me immensely.

I particularly love Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor. I think it should be required reading for would-be pastors, and I think “veteran” pastors probably should read it again once a year. Reflecting on fifty years of ministry, Peterson reminds those still on that journey that God does not call us to be religious CEOs but to love His sheep. Our calling is not to be little gods who think we can make the sun rise but simply to walk with our people through life each new day reminding them, and being reminded, that God is the One who bids it rise.

The job has never been easy, and it certainly is not now. The statistics are dismal and, as Peterson notes, pastoral “defections and dismissals have reached epidemic proportions in every branch and form of church.”

The pressure comes from all directions. Some groups, saying very truly that “every Christian is a minister,” draw some conclusions that are simply silly and demeaning and make as much practical sense as saying that everyone who has ever cut up a pork chop is a butcher. Of course, every Christian is called to the service of God, but our roles, functions, training, and gifts are, thank the Lord, all as different as they are all valuable and needed.

Our culture itself, and especially our “religious” culture, is toxic to real ministry; it devalues and demeans it. “The vocation of pastor,” writes Peterson, “has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” God is treated as a consumer “product to be marketed” and the marketers scramble to find the right “model” for “success” which is then “religiously” measured in our culture’s terms rather than Christ’s: if it’s big, if it’s quantifiable, if it’s impressive, it’s called success. Never mind that measured by such standards, Christ was remarkably unsuccessful as he loved the weak and little children, the powerless and the “foolish” of this world; he chose the cross instead of “success.”

Desperate for the latest program to “revitalize the church,” pastors often fall to the very temptations Satan offered in the wilderness and Christ resisted. When we do, we act as if the “fruit” we push the church to produce (and measure) is the only thing that validates its existence. Buying that lie, we devalue worship and prayer and become blind to the real fruit (much that is visible but much more that is “unseen”) that God produces. We proceed by displaying a profound disrespect and denial of God’s presence in the “ordinary.”

It’s good to have someone particularly ordinary particularly charged with pointing out what God is doing every day through His presence, forgiveness, and grace in our seemingly ordinary lives. It’s work worth doing.

 

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Real Ministry Centers on Relationship, Not Marketing

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Thirty years. Easter Sunday was for my wife and me our 30th anniversary.

“Interesting,” someone might say, “since three of your four sons are older than 30. Glad you got around to tying the knot.”

Now did I say it was a wedding anniversary? No, I did not.

But, though I couldn’t have known it fully at the time, Easter Sunday 1985, my first Sunday in the pulpit of the church I still serve, bore witness to a covenant much more akin to a marriage than to a business contract or a casual employment arrangement between preacher and church, each looking for a good deal.

I remember that some of my pastoral colleagues in the city from whence I moved were worried about me. They didn’t like the look of the marriage. I was headed to a smaller town and a small church. These were pastors in “connectional systems” who, if they did a good job, could pretty much count on at least some “upward mobility.”

I tried in vain to explain that seriously prestigious churches (which probably should be a contradiction in terms anyway) in our little group were rare to non-existent. Any preacher in my anti-denomination denomination wanting to climb a career “ladder” had better jump the fence and look for ladders elsewhere. Our little group of churches had plenty of problems of its own, but an over-abundance of “ladders” was not one of them.

Maybe in a sense my colleagues were right. Thirty years in a small church “marriage” may indeed spell death to a “career.” And in that may lie great blessing as both church and pastor learn some precious truths, and together they grow in ways that matter.

Real ministry is more than marketing; the real thing centers on relationship. It starts, of course, with loving the Lord first of all and then building on that divine love in human relationship. Building anything worthwhile takes time.

Relationships can be messy, and the best and the worst in life in a local church centers on the fact that the church is as human as it is heavenly. On any given day or any given moment, it can and does veer wildly off in either direction. And pastors face choices. To be law people or grace people. To be organization people or relationship people. To be bean counters or to be shepherds. Somewhere along the way (and this is true in other professions, too, by the way), they find out if their lives are about “calling” or “career.”

Pastor and author Eugene Peterson warns that in our market-driven consumer society, the last folks the church needs as pastors are religious entrepreneurs with business models who cut and run whenever the present church “marriage” loses its glitz: “The vocation of pastor has to do with living out the implications of the word of God in community, not sailing off into the exotic seas of religion in search of fame or fortune.”

Thirty years of laughter, love, and precious tears. I’m still very thankful indeed for the “marriage.” But if this is just a “career,” boy, do I need a ladder!

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


Christians Should Not Be Surprised by Faith Struggles

 

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I want, I strive, to be a person of faith.

Given that I’m a Christian pastor, you’d sort of hope so, right? I don’t expect any “attaboys” from the stands.

I know you know that having real faith implies an on-going struggle—whoever you are, whatever your vocation. Pastors are not exempt.

I well remember talking to a ministerial mentor about some hard “faith questions” I was struggling with, when he replied, “Where do you think many of my sermons come from? My own questions and struggles, exactly like the one you’ve just laid out. Why would you think having faith means not having deep questions?”

He’s right. The One who affirmed that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind” is not averse to our using our minds. We should apologize for not using them enough—as long as we don’t forget that, at the end of the inquiry, it’s childlike faith Christ values most.

Real faith is not unquestioning. By all means, use every tool available to hone your mind. Read. Study. Learn how to ask the right questions. But do so in the full realization that no bridge of logic will extend across the whole chasm. Eventually, everybody has to make a choice and take a leap of faith, even if it’s the negative faith that chooses to believe in unbelief. Choosing not to choose is its own poor choice. Instead of “minding the gap,” as the London Tube (subway) signs admonish, being careful when you cross the space between the platform and the subway car, choosing not to choose is trying to camp in the gap.

But even those who’ve made, I think, the best choice, agree that it’s not easy. C. S. Lewis, almost certainly the greatest defender and expositor of Christian belief in the past century, once said that no proposition of Christianity ever seemed less likely to be true to him than at the very moment he had just supposedly successfully “defended” it. That’s just the nature of the beast we call faith. Sometimes it purrs. Sometimes it growls.

Lewis also noted that believers should not be surprised if faith is at times difficult or fleeting. We are humans, after all, whose feelings are affected by everything from the weather to the state of our digestion. Refreshingly realistic, Lewis said that when he was an atheist, he had moments when he suspected that Christianity just might be true. Why should he be surprised to find that as a Christian, he had moments when he wondered if there was really anything to it? In such moments, it’s good to remember that, at a particular time, you’ve already, for good reasons, taken the leap, made the jump, sealed the promise, committed to the journey. Don’t navel-gaze too much in times when just hanging on to the precepts of faith seems difficult.

The good news is that those times pass. The bad news is that living out the faith is a lot harder than just holding to its central beliefs. The best news of all is that Christ understands our faith struggles and will buoy us up in the midst of them all.

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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