The 5 most frustrating things pastors do

I believe in pastors. That does not however mean I endorse everything every pastor does.

They’re human.

They tell us the typical pastor in our denomination serves a church with 100 or fewer in attendance, which probably means the offerings are inadequate to provide much of a living for him. In some cases he holds down a second job or his wife works. Or both. Or, most amazing of all, he manages to live on what they pay him.

I believe in these guys. They are my brothers and my admiration of them knows no bounds.

Most of them.

But at times ministers will do the most self-defeating things. Not all of them, thankfully. But enough to warrant our addressing the issue as a caution to the rest of the Lord’s shepherds.

Here is my personal list of the 5 most frustrating things pastors do.

FIRST: It’s frustrating to see preachers cut corners on sermon preparation.

The bizarre thing is that to the congregation the Sunday sermon is 50 percent of his job.

In the more liturgical churches that may not be so, with the ministers’ homilies often appearing as 5 minute reflections thrown together just prior to entering the sanctuary.

But in the world I live in, the only time 90 percent of the congregation sees the pastor is on Sunday morning. If he does poorly there, he has just about sealed his fate with the membership as a whole.

And yet.

From the scant attention given the Sunday sermon by some pastors, from the small study time allotted to its preparation, and from the haphazard delivery of this message during the morning worship service, one would think neither the members nor the minister value the sermon.

Preaching the Word is surely the most valuable part of the pastor’s job.  Plainly, if he wants to go on receiving a paycheck to provide for his family, he will give great prominence in his schedule to planning that message. That fact alone should drive him to work at it.

SECOND: It’s frustrating when preachers miss the entire point of what a sermon should be.

A pastor has found a fascinating scripture story.  He studies it all week and then shares his thoughts on Sunday.  That is his sermon.  He’s missed the point.

A pastor comes across a great sermon in a magazine or podcast.  It blessed him, he gave it some thought, and built a message for his people to be delivered Sunday.  But he has missed the point.

A sermon is none of these things. The sermon is God’s message to these people for this moment in time. Period. His question should always be: “Father, what do you want to say to them? Show me, please.”

God said of the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day: If they had stood in my council, then they would have announced my words to my people, and would have turned them back from their evil way (Jer. 23:22).

This is his sermon: the message of God, received by a servant of the Lord who has made the effort to “stand in His council,” and is willing to deliver it faithfully and courageously.

The wise minister will tell himself, “The Lord has a message for these people. He alone knows who will be present to hear it, and what each one is struggling with. I will go to Him in prayer and ask what He would have me preach.”

As he prays, the minister reads the Word, listening for God’s voice. He waits and he reads and thinks about what he has received. Then, in God’s own time–either at that moment or hours or even days later–he knows, “This is what the Lord wants preached. This is His message.”

It’s a great feeling.

THIRD: It’s frustrating to see pastors preach their cute little stories in which they draw lessons in place of declaring the counsel of God.

After I left the pastorate, my next five years of leading the SBC churches of metro New Orleans were followed by almost fifteen years of retirement.  I have visited a lot of churches and heard sermons of every kind, on every topic imaginable.  I’m convinced most pastors made a sincere effort to be true to the Word and to minister to their people.

But some must have forgotten what God’s call was for.  A pastor of a mega-church told story after story about himself and his family.  The name of Christ was literally not mentioned until the last five minutes.  At one point following another of his stories, the minister exclaimed, “Oh God! I’m making myself look so bad!”  I thought, “How about making Jesus look good, friend?”

One pastor built the sermon around his child playing Little League ball.  I have long since forgotten his points, but cannot forget the title of the sermon: The Gospel according to Jason (not the child’s name).

You wonder if these preachers interpreted God’s call as being to a ministry of entertainment.  If so–and I have known two or three friends who say their call was just that–they should not disguise themselves as pastors of the flock of God.  Let the minister feed the flock with God’s message.  Let him make much of Jesus and call men and women to righteousness.

FOURTH: It’s frustrating to see ministers grade themselves on how effective they were after the sermon.

Typically, when he gets a good response to the public invitation, a pastor feels affirmed in his ministry. But when he doesn’t, when the congregation stands there like department store mannequins, he may feel he has failed them or God.

Often the pastor who considers his work a failure will adopt one of two extreme measures: he will either throw in the towel, give up and quit, or he will employ manipulative tactics to get people down the aisle one way or the other.

Neither is wise. Both are self-defeating and unworthy.

One could wish every minister knew several critical things about the preaching of the Word:

–often, it’s more planting and cultivating than harvesting. Be wise.

–just because people do not make a commitment to Christ at the end of your sermon does not mean the message did not do its powerful work or that you did poorly. Be patient.

–people are complex beings, and build mighty defenses against the work of the Holy Spirit. Destroying those barriers–which the Spirit of God alone can accomplish–takes time and repeated assaults. Be faithful.

–you are not the judge of your own effectiveness, not now and not ever. Be trusting.

–and finally, since the Holy Spirit does not manipulate people into decision-making but allows each one to “choose this day whom you will serve,” neither should you.

FIFTH: It’s frustrating to see ministers ignore the great sermon-building resources the Lord has put all around them.

Often when I’m with a pastor in the middle of the week, I’ll say, “So, what are you preaching Sunday?” He tells me the text or the subject, and then I might say, “May I give you a thought on that?” He says yes and I’m off.

What I’m doing is what I wish someone had done for me as a young pastor: prod my thinking, stir my juices, tell me something on a text I hadn’t thought of, pass along a great story on that subject I might be able to use.

All around the minister are other pastors. Each one is a mother lode of information and insights, experiences and concerns. Tapping into that resource is as simple as making a phone call: “Bob, do you have a few minutes to meet me for coffee?” And then, in your office or the coffee shop or the fast food restaurant or down at the service station, after you’ve exchanged pleasantries, you say, “Can I pick your brain? I’m preaching Sunday on Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’ Talk to me about that verse. Anything at all that comes to mind.’”

Have something to write with. Jot down what he says. Take the conversation wherever it goes. Then, at the end, whether that’s 2 minutes or 20, thank him and end that portion of the discussion. If you or he need to leave, do so.

Repeat as often as needed. He’s not the only pastor in your town.

Oh, and one more thing: do not limit yourself to ministers of your denomination. Some of the best insights you’ll ever get will come from men of God who did not attend your seminary or any seminary for that matter, but who have devoted themselves to the Word and the ministry.

Ministers tend to be loners. How self-defeating this is. You will not find a pattern for going it alone in the Scriptures. We do see a few men who tried it, but rarely with positive results.

So, take that courageous step, pastor. Free yourself of the frustrations that hound you when you know more than you are doing, from spinning your wheels as a result of busy work someone else could be doing to free you up for more profitable ministry.

I have a strong feeling that if we are frustrated at our ineffectiveness, the Lord is moreso. He wants us to bear fruit (see John 15:8). In fact, He may be the One who sent us the frustration in the hope that we would take drastic action to rearrange matters in our lives.

No one lacking courage need apply for this work.

You can do this, pastor. Stand strong. Trust God. Do right.

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