This last week, I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with a good pastor friend and go to a leadership conference by Jim Cymbala. We were both greatly encouraged by the challenge from the founding pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle and we left determined to deepen our relationship with Christ and lean more heavily on the Spirit’s work in changing lives.
This is a great challenge for Pastors, especially when they feel they are up against lethargy and apathy. My friend wants to stoke the fire and get people to pray. He’s found his efforts to be rather fruitless in getting people out to his Church on a Wednesday night, and he’s at his last straw.
Sometimes we feel we’ve got to light a fire underneath their posterior in order to get them to move. As a fellow pastor at heart, I know the struggle of trying to motivate a congregation. I also know the defeat when all your efforts fall flat and no one is moved by how clever or verbose your sermons are. There’s really no way to strike fear in the ignorant and passion in the dormant. If people don’t have the glimmer in their eye, there’s really not much you can do about it. They either get it or they don’t.
So what then is the role of a pastor in all of this?
Often times, pastor types tend to over-emphasize things. We see a congregation struggling and we want to take control in order to make things better. We water down the truth to make it more palatable, hoping that some truth would get through to their hardened hearts. What usually happens, though, is that the problems get worse, the people become dependent, and legalism takes root. What do you get when you take a corrupt Christian and give them shortcuts to spirituality? Corrupted shortcuts. For every tradition or rule we make, manipulations ensue. This is why churches which have been doing the same thing for decades tend to lack any fresh fruit and they are still wrestling with the same besetting sins from the start.
Another thing pastors do is look to others who have been successful and imitate them. Some pastors are remarkable leaders and could build a mega church on a deserted island with Robinson Curuso, Jack Sparrow, Tom Hanks, and the cast of Giligan’s Island. So they take all the programs that worked, write them down in a book, and pawn them off to unsuspecting pastors treading water in shark infested waters with some clever title like, “Find an Island.” This is usually useless information in staying afloat among the waves, but when people are drowning, sales for survival guides skyrocket.
Then there are the firefighting pastors. They spend their whole ministry dealing with the few bad eggs which could spoil the whole bunch if they aren’t handled delicately. Oddly enough, these are usually the people in the highest levels of leadership of the Church. They are the big financiers of the ministry which pays the pastor’s salary. When they make threats, everyone listens, because everyone else just wants to keep the peace.
Some pastors are watering down the message, others are drowning in the ocean, and still others are dowsing the flames. Herein we find our problem – we’re working with water when we should be working with fire.
When you look deep into the research which provides all the statistics, you’ll find that there are really only 10% of the average evangelicals who really get it. I realized this early on in my ministry while still in Bible college, trying to convince college students to make it to Sunday morning services when they were in school studying pastoral ministries. I spent a lot of time hitting my head against the wall, dealing with people who just didn’t get it. In the end, I rarely saw those with the glimmer in their eye when talking about Christ. A.W. Tozer called these Christians the children of the burning heart. Only they understood what it meant to love God, “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love.”
I often think of the lesson God was teaching Gideon before battle. Though it doesn’t make specific application to this point, Gideon only ended up with 10% of the army he started out with. Or I think of Moses, who constantly had to discipline the people of God for crafting idols, complaining about provisions, and fearing the promised land. Only two of the twelve spies lived to enter into the kingdom. So who am I to think that my efforts would be a bed of roses without the stems and the thorns?
Just because someone ‘get’s it’ doesn’t mean they know what to do next. I’ve found in ministry that there are a lot of people who mean well, but they don’t even know where to begin. They want to read their Bibles, but they can’t make sense of Leviticus (Read my article from last week). They love God, but they don’t know how to utilize their giftedness. This is where the pastor’s time is best spent – dealing with the people who want to learn. A pastor can spend all of his time doing back flips and clever tricks to keep people interested, or they can focus on the few who understand and train an army he can go to battle with. This is why discipleship is in the great commission and not preaching. Just saying.
As I talk to many pastors, I’ve learned that there are actually very few they would trust to go side by side into the battle for men’s souls. Perhaps it’s the pastor’s who have failed by having their focus on the wrong goals. We could learn a lot by cultivating a spirit of devotion in our own life and depending more heavily on the Spirit’s direction in the lives of others.