Every morning, I go to my computer to check email. Some days, the messages are in the hundreds, and today is not exception. Today was a little different, for I noticed a pattern in my inbox that I have not really paid attention to before. No, not the amount of spam, in reality the junk filter in my Apple mail program catches most of that, so I am not reading daily about special offers for everything from ‘As seen on TV’ to medications that I dont need or desire. But today I noticed a different pattern.
Now you would think someone with a law enforcement background and a trained accountant would have picked up on this trend sooner, after all, much of the work in both of those sciences requires careful examination of ledgers and cancelled checks or long nights of surveillance, always ready to act the moment something incorrect is discovered.
Today, it was the plethora of articles from online Christian magazines, bloggers and forwards from my friends. Most of them had one thing in common, they were all “trendy” and filled with postmodern philosophy. These articles and blog posts all came from writers who identified themselves as “experts” on ministry and the life of Christian leaders. I noticed something else…in all of them, the man or woman in ministry is pretty much a victim. A victim of angry congregations, overbearing denominational leaders and local church boards with no spiritual vision.
Just like a good investigator or auditor would do, I began to dig a little deeper into the credentials and resume’s of the writers. I found that most of these “church consultants” had good educations, some from highly regarded colleges and universities, but they had very little, if any actual ministry experience. Reading further, you would find that a lot of the references and stories they share are second-hand and often unverifiable.
Next I paid closer attention to the content. The headlines of the articles are catchy, after all, you need a good “hook” to grab peoples attention, a technique learned from the marketing world. Yet, it is after the hook that you begin to understand. By the time you are finished, you might notice the article is written in a style that I call “ice-cream sandwich.” You start with a funny story or a good thought, then you move into the body of the story and then end with an often upbeat ending that appeals more to emotion than it does to spiritual growth. I don’t guess there is anything inherently evil with that style, especially if the “good stuff” is in the middle, but that is not always the case.
What I continue to find is that pastors and other ministers are painted as victims. They are painted as a group of people who live their lives hurting, lonely, uncared for and pawns at the hands of other Christians. Are there ministers who are hurting, lonely and lacking pastoral care? Of course there are, but I cannot honestly say that most ministers I know personally are like that. They are not angry, hurting, lonely and tired. In fact, most have victory in their lives and they are seeing spiritual growth in their congregations and around their ministries.
Do they have hard times? Absolutely! Are they at times mistreated? You better believe it! Do some quit? Yes, but more stay in there and keep believing the Lord for changed lives, healed marriages, emotional bondage lifted as they focus on the end of the race, not just the race itself.
I often hear the stories of young ministers who don’t want to enter the ministry because of all the horror stories they hear. In some way, I can’t help but believe that God will hold people accountable for giving such a negative picture of ministry for the sake of subscriptions sales, advertising dollars and a paycheck at the end of the week. There is more to ministry than the picture they often paint.
So, what are the conclusions of my thoughts on this? First of all, there is no conclusion to it, it is a sad part of the human nature that we focus more on failure than success, more on loss than gain, and more on this life than the eternal one we have gained.
In the past week I have attended or participated in some way in the funerals of three saints of God. All of them who have “ran their race and finished their course and kept the faith.”(2 Timothy 4:7) No, they may not have been wealthy or well-known in the current world, but you can be assured they enter heaven with victory, applauded by that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1-2)
So, the next time you find yourself reading ministry tips from these “alleged” experts, remember there is a more realistic, eternal source you can turn to for advice on how to pastor a church, lead a ministry or fulfill your obligation to be salt and light in this present world. (Matthew 5:13) It’s called the “Bible.” (Hebrews 4:12) If you read it daily, if you walk the road it points you to, you will not find life easy, but you will have eternal hope, and a sense of victory in your life.
Instead of believing the prevailing philosophy that you are a failure if there are not large numbers in your ministry or the church you pastor, think about the man who was walking along the seashore. He was throwing starfish back into the ocean one at a time. A casual observer watched this man throw the starfish back into the ocean, and continued his actions although the beach was littered with thousands of them. The observer said to the rescuer of the starfish, “what are you doing, can’t you see you aren’t making a difference?” As he threw yet another starfish into the ocean, the rescuer held it up and said, “I am making a difference to THIS ONE.”
Stop wallowing in sorrow. Pick yourself up preacher…dust yourself off Christian…get up out of your pity party, you ARE making a difference. Set your heart and affections on the things on high (Colossians 3:2) and watch as God brings peace and victory, and one day you will hear Him say, “well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)
YOU CAN DO IT!