How can God Possibly use Brokenness in a Pastor’s Life?

Circumstances beyond our control (demographics or a location that hinders growth), an uncooperative board (they say no to an important initiative), or even family issues (a chronically ill child who requires an inordinate amount of energy) can hinder and dilute a pastor’s ministry efforts. These experiences can bring painful brokenness to our hearts. We seldom immediately see any benefit from our brokenness.

Brokenness has touched my life in the two places where it hurts the most: my family (one chronically sick child, one who rebelled for five years) and my ministry (many dreams yet unfulfilled). But Jesus said brokenness must precede fruit bearing.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.[1]

The nineteenth-century Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard captured the essence of this idea with this statement. “God creates everything out of nothing—and everything God is to use he first reduces to nothing.”[2]

When Ministry Knocks you Down, How to Get Back Up

discouraged pastorsIf you’re a pastor, a missionary, or serve in a church, you can’t avoid discouragement, disappointment, and hurt from ministry. The bible even uses the not-so-complimentary metaphor “sheep” to describe those we serve. And sheep get dirty and smelly and often kick and bite. Sometimes those sheep in the church do the same to their shepherds.

So when you  get kicked, forgotten, disrespected, ignored, mistreated, gossiped about, or misunderstood, how do you move forward?

The story recorded in 1 Samuel 30 gives great insight. David had just begun his career to fight the bad guys. Early on he faced a huge defeat. While he and his army were in battle far from home, the bad guys, the Amalekites, attacked the city where his family and the families of his army lived. They burned the city and kidnapped their wives and children. When David’s men discovered this, they considered removing him from his position, not by a vote of a board or a congregation, but with big rocks to the head by stoning.

The Scriptures then record one of the most beautiful verses every written. The old King James Version captures it well.

David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.  (1 Sam. 30.6)

It worked because his guys didn’t stone him but marshaled their energy and once again pursued the bad guys under his leadership.

As I’ve faced discouragement in ministry, these simple choices have helped me encourage myself in the Lord.

  1. Acknowledge your pain and emotion to the Lord but don’t wallow in it.
  2. Journal your thoughts. Writing them down helps me stop the tendency to incessantly mull over the hurtful situation.
  3. Read God’s word, especially those verses that speak of hope and victory.
  4. Do something pro-active. Take action to move forward. In David’s case he took specific action to resolve the problem. He rallied his troops to chase down the Amalekites.
  5. Stop condemning yourself and remind yourself that you are a child of God, loved by Him with great intrinsic value regardless of whether  your church is growing or whether people treat you with respect.
  6. Pray for those who have hurt you. I’m amazed how God defuses looming bitterness in my heart when I pray for the sheep that bite me.

How have you dealt with your ministry pain?

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Saving your Family without Killing Your Ministry

pastors balancing family life and ministryMy wife and I have 3 grown kids. One has survived a brain tumor, one was a straight arrow, and one was a challenge. My oldest daughter Heather (our challenge) even co-wrote a book with me about our experience called Daughters Gone Wild-Dads Gone Crazy.

I’ve excerpted 5 insights from our book about how to keep your family intact in the pressure-cooker of ministry.

1. resist turning words into weapons.

Heather got me so angry that at times I said some things I wish I had never said. I wish I could have taken back some of those angry words. Prov. 12.18 (NIV-G/K) Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. One psychologist suggested that we wait 30 seconds before responding in an angry situation.

2. stoke the relationship fire with your children to keep the relationship alive.

If you’ve ever gone camping, to keep the fire going you must stoke it, stir it. Often when I was hurt so much, I had to make a conscious choice to reach out to her in tangible ways to let her know that I loved her. Just small things like simple grace gifts kept the relationship alive. Although I stumbled often, Heather later wrote us a letter that really touched our hearts. Here’s what she said.

“Thank you for never closing your heart to me. I wouldn’t be what I am now if you had…I always felt the love of God from you…through your unrelenting pursuit of me in my times of darkness, through your never giving up on me, through everything you did for me in spite of how horrible I was..that’s how God loves us.”

3. No matter how much your children may hurt you, never close your heart to them. At times I felt like giving up on her. But by God’s grace, I kept my heart open to her. I’m glad I did because I got to experience the fruit of reconciliation later.

4. Keep a good sense of humor. Sometimes you simply must laugh between the tears. One night Heather showed up at 4 in the morning as we caught her climbing into the window on the biggest day of the year, Easter Sunday…I had to keep a sense of humor to keep from killing her.

5. Choose your battles carefully and lose some on purpose. Some battles with your children are not worth the fight. On biblical/moral/ethical values: stand your ground. On personal preferences: it’s worth losing some of those. Dress, a clean room, and some music choices are personal preferences. I love what one person said, “if you can cut it off, wash it out, or grow it out, don’t sweat it.

What have you learned that has helped you keep your family intact?

Related post: If you knew you’d never see someone again, what would your parting words be?

Is Skipping Church Good for your Soul?

Pastors Skipping Church to avoid Pastoral BurnoutI’m a pastor. Pastors are supposed to go to church. So I go to church, several times each week. I’ve done that for decades. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve missed church by choice. This past weekend I added to that handful of misses. I skipped church.

My daughter had come to visit us over the Labor Day weekend and I scheduled one of our other pastors to preach at the weekend services. We took a long weekend at a lake house about 50 miles from our home.

The last time we took a long weekend we all went to church, a very boring one. This time however, I simply decided I wouldn’t go. To be frank, I felt a tinge of guilt because my wife will tell you I’m always the one pushing us to go to church while on vacation.

But for some odd reason, I didn’t push us this time.

So what did I do that Sunday morning? I sat in a swing and read my bible. I cut some dead limbs off a tree. I chatted with a neighbor. I exercised on my treadmill. I practiced the art of ‘slowing.’ And I really liked it.

Although I’m deeply committed to the local church and won’t make skipping a habit, I leaned a few valuable lessons.

  1. Skipping Church reminded me that pastors’ schedules keep us from normal weekends that most families experience. Sundays (and Saturdays if you hold services) are our biggest work days. But, it’s not all about me and I will gladly stay faithful to God’s calling.
  2. Those not in pastoral leadership roles will never understand this sacrificial part of our profession because when they want to skip church, they easily do with no repercussions. And when they do, most don’t even think twice about skipping.
  3. An occasional ‘break from the Sunday routine’ can refresh a soul to avoid pastoral burnout.
  4. I now understand how hard it would be for someone who has seldom attended church to give up his Sunday mornings and start attending. I truly enjoyed having Sundays free.
  5. Number 3 above reminded me that we pastors must craft compelling, Spirit-led services if we are to entice the unchurched to attend and keep attending. What they experience at church must be worth the price of giving up their relaxing mornings at home, at the lake, or at the ballpark. We may only get one shot.
  6. Pastors need  a sabbath too. Since Sunday’s aren’t ours, we must prioritize another day for rest. I take Monday’s off and I was reminded that I must truly rest on that day.

If you’ve ever played hookey from church, I’d love to hear what you learned.

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