The pastor’s heart: Reservoir or cesspool?

“Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).  “Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). 

This is one of those lessons almost no pastor learns except by personal experience.

Someone told you a joke years ago.  In my case, it was an older cousin and I was a young teen.  The joke was dirty by any measurement and some would say it was funny.  But it was filthy and has stayed with me all these years.  The joke is still in my mind and I am unable to get rid of it.

I wish I’d known.

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“Two questions that bug me about pastors”

“But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of some pastors, when I saw the success of those less gifted  than me….  Their strength is firm; they are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men.  Therefore pride serves as their necklace…. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than their heart could wish….” (Psalm 73…sort of…  With apologies to the Psalmist.) 

A pastor friend who has seen his share of troubles during his pastorates which total perhaps 25 years shared his questions with me.

One.  Some pastors live their entire lives without problems, serving church after church with a string of unbroken successes.  What sets these pastors apart?

Two.  And yet other pastors seem to know setback after setback in their ministries.  Are they to blame for this?  What are the characteristics that lead some pastors to go from trouble to trouble in churches?

After posing the questions–good ones, I think most will agree–he said, “I expect there are so many reasons for this,” and he named a few.  “God’s sovereignty, the pastor’s ability to deal with church politics, and temperament/personality.”

I promised him I would give this some thought and put the questions out here for our friends to comment on.  (Consider this your invitation.)

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The “poor me” pastor with the inferiority complex

“Why is everybody always picking on me?”  –1950s song by The Coasters

The biggest egotist in the room may be the wallflower who sits alone, absorbed in killer thoughts about his isolation.  “Why does no one talk to me?”  “They’re all snobs.”  “Why did I bother coming to this thing anyway?” I, I, I, me, me, my, my.

Over the years I’ve met quite a few pastors who were being victimized and brutalized by their own low self-esteem and their inferiority complex.  It’s tempting to say here that “it’s not a complex if you’re really inferior,” but that would be cruel.  This person afflicts enough mental cruelty upon himself/herself without outside aid.

The poor-me pastor is usually in one of three situations…

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What the lonely pastor should do

“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). 

When you are hurting, you need a friend.

Even our Lord did.

At a denominational meeting, a man approached and introduced himself. It turns out he reads this blog and is acquainted with my cartoons. And he said something that lingers with me to this day.

“Sometimes I think about calling you.  It gets so lonely where I’m working and I just need someone to talk to.”

As I recall, he is not a pastor of a congregation but works with pastors and other ministers.  Therefore, he has no regular constituency.  And often, that means no one is looking after him.  He is bearing this burden alone.

I tore off a piece of paper and wrote my phone number.  “Call me,” I told him.  “Please!”

That is one courageous man.

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Things I wish I’d said (and done) differently

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves….” I John 1:8

Looking back.

I do a lot of that these days.  I suppose it’s human, seeing as how I’m about to hit birthday number 79 in a few days. There are a lot of days back there to look at! I’m so grateful to be active and energetic and still in the Lord’s field working alongside younger men and women called to His work.

The days behind me far outnumber those in front.

I do not sit around wallowing in regrets, let me make plain.  But sometimes before rising in the morning, I lie there reflecting on times gone by, experiences in churches I served, remembering when my family was young, calling to mind conversations and decisions.

I have many a regret.

I wish I’d said ‘no’ to a lot of requests.  As a young husband and father and ambitious pastor, I accepted many an invitation to speak or travel or serve on a board because it felt like the very opportunity for which the Lord had called me and for which I’d been prepared.  But it took me away from my young children and my over-wrought wife.

Did I really need to serve as a trustee of that denominational board? It required me to travel out of state a half dozen times a year, two or three days at a whack.  Over a four-year term, that adds up to a lot of time away.

I think about the two weeks I spent in Singapore helping the missionaries conceive an evangelistic comic book at the time my three children were 10, 13, and 16.  Such critical ages, so formative, so needy of their father to be hands-on.  Poor Margaret, looking after them, doing all the things a faithful mother does, chauffeuring them to everything, and all the while working on her degree from the local university.  What was I thinking?

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“There are those who say…” but God says otherwise

(15th article on the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor” — Revelation 2-3)

Let’s consider the Lord’s response to some of the more foolish statements heard around church from time to time.

There are those who say….

One.  “Love does not matter.  Obedience is everything.  Love is syrupy and weakness.  Sentimentality! Show me your deeds.”

The letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) proves them wrong.  Without love, no amount of good works is enough.  Reference the opening of I Corinthians 13.

“Love one another,” says our Lord to the Ephesian church, “or I will pull the plug on you.  Cut off your life support.  Cancel your franchise.”  Remove the lampstand.

God is love.

Two.  There are those who say “God will not let His faithful ones suffer.  If there is pain or suffering, someone is being disobedient.”

The letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) proves them wrong. He knows, He sees, He cares–and still He allows it.  God has His purposes.

Trust Him.

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