A Pastor Looks at 40

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
(Psalm 90:12)

I turn 40 on Sunday, and I’m dreading it for some reason.  Maybe it’s because I gave a couple of friends such grief when they turned 40 that I know there will be some payback.  It could be because I’m starting to feel the age set in a bit.  When I was a kid, I always looked and acted older than my age, in my thirties, I always looked and acted a little younger – sort of the ageless male… (ha).  But now that I’m hitting 40, there are a few more grey hairs, aches and pains in places I didn’t know I had, and all of a sudden 10:00 seems like a reasonable bed-time.

When I turned 30 it was just another birthday; it didn’t mean much at all.  Ten years later, I guess I’m a bit more contemplative; this milestone’s made me stop and think.  I thought I’d share some reflections on what I’ve learned over these 40 years.

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. 

Growing up, my Father was a teacher.  His parents were teachers.  I swore I’d never be a teacher.  Teachers are underpaid, overworked, and every parent whose little Johnny or Jane does excel is quick to point out the inadequacies of their teacher.

So what did I do, I became a Pastor.  I am a pastor whose passion lies in teaching and preaching the Word of God.  I love sharing the wisdom of Scripture and helping people apply it to their lives.  I never could have imagined the joy and honor that comes from being a Teaching Elder.  God had this in mind for me all along, I’m so glad He didn’t let me have things my way.

Man’s natural inclination is toward passivity, but God calls us to more.

I’ve picked up on this thread through authors such as Dennis Rainey, Robert Lewis, and John Elderidge, but I’ve also seen it confirmed in my own life.  The natural inclination of man is toward passivity.  Consider Adam in the Garden: where was he when Satan tempted Eve? Not off plowing the south 40, he was standing right beside her, saying nothing as his wife was led into sin, saying nothing as she tempted him as well, pointing the finger at everyone else when God asked him what had happened.

Man’s natural inclination is toward passivity, looking for the easy way out, the short cut, “working smarter not harder.”  Great advancements in the world have come because men want things to be easier – and that’s not all bad – think about this the next time you get in your car, turn on the AC, run the dishwasher (you get the idea).

Too often, however, our passivity gets the best of us.  We’d rather sit back and let things happen that stand up and take the lead.  We watch the world fall apart, our communities fall apart, our relationships fall apart, and we tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do.  We wonder, “What’s wrong with the world today?” when the answer is staring back at us in the mirror.

Our natural inclination is toward passivity, but God calls us to something greater.  God calls us to a passionate desire for His supremacy in our lives, that we would love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, that we would love our neighbors as ourselves.  Christ calls us, and his love compels us, to take up our cross daily, actively, and follow him.  Our love for our wives, which can only truly be established first in our love of God, should lead us to lay down our lives for her, just as Christ laid down his life for the church.

Men, how often do we just sit back and say, well I see the need, but someone else can handle that?  Here is something Robert Lewis called his North Star for men, “A real man rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and expects God’s greater reward.”

On a similar note:

A godly man accepts responsibility, admits his brokenness, seeks forgiveness, and works for reconciliation

When you reject passivity and step up to the call of God, you must also take responsibility.  Own up to your failures, admit your brokenness.  So many pastors, myself included, work frantically to try to hide the fact that they themselves are broken and in desperate need of the same grace they so boldly proclaim from the pulpit every Sunday.  “Never let them see you sweat.  Give the appearance that you have arrived at the destination, and are setting the example for all to follow.  No weakness, no fear.”  No thanks!

There is only one who has gone before that is worthy of anyone following, I merely walk with you saying “Keep your eyes on Jesus.”  If I set any example, may it only be in my brokenness, my daily desire to forgive and be forgiven, and in the manifest joy that comes from knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

I am insufficient for the task at hand

I am daily reminded of my insufficiencies for the ministry.  I like to think that I am a pretty solid preacher, but I know there are better.  I know that there are pastors who are better at finding the balance of pastoral care, planning, administration, study, and family.  I care deeply for my congregation, but I often have a hard time communicating that love.  After 12 years of ministry, 7 years here in Cherokee, I’ve learned and grown in many ways; but I still have a lot to learn.

Still, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians –

2 Cor 3:5-6 “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.”

2 Cor 12:9-10 “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Good friendships are rare, but they are wonderful

Proverbs 18:24 teaches, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Over 40 years there have been a lot of friends who have come and gone, and with Facebook, it’s great to reconnect with many of them.  But there are those special friends who will always hold a place in your heart.  They call for no other reason than just to talk.  They are always ready to listen and encourage (and sometimes admonish).

A younger man desires popularity and a wide circle of friends – it’s nice to be liked.  Now, with a couple of good friends who know my heart and stand beside me, I am content.

SDG

“Cat-Herding” & “Whack-A-Mole” Ministry

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season… do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
(2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV))

There are a lot of ways to describe pastoral ministry.  Even the Presbyterian Church has spilled a lot of ink to describe this job.  we are “teaching elders” as opposed to “ruling elders.”  The Book of Order for the Presbyterian Church, restoring the language of the 1789 Presbyterian Government, described the role of minister in its various capacities saying:

As he or she has the oversight of the flock of Christ, he or she is termed bishop. As he or she feeds them with spiritual food, he or she is termed pastor.  As a servant of Christ in the Church, the term minister is given. As it is his or her duty to be grave and prudent, and an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and Kingdom of Christ, he or she is termed presbyter or elder.  As he or she is sent to declare the will of God to sinners, and to beseech them to be reconciled to God, through Christ, he or she is termed ambassador.  And as he or she dispenses the manifold grace of God and the ordinances instituted by Christ, he or she is termed steward of the mysteries of God.

Beautiful, right?!

I, in my 10 years of ministry experience, have come up with two more analogies that I think are helpful in getting sharing the idea of what it’s like be a pastor:

As he is called to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching, he is called “Cat-herder.”  As he is called to confront heresy, he is called “Whack-A-Moler.” (I’m sure these were also considered back in 1789, but accidentally omitted in the final record.)

The greatest exercise in futility is the attempt to train a cat.  People don’t own cats, they share houses with them, they are tolerated by them, they may even call their cats cute names, but they certainly don’t own them.  So the idea of actually training a cat to do anything that it didn’t already want to do is ridiculous. 

Are we the same way with church?  Please know, I do not have the church I’m currently serving in mind, but I think we all have this attitude toward the church now and then.  We come to church with our established ideas about what church should be, what God expects of us, and how long the service should last.  The pastor shares the church, and may even be tolerated for a while, but watch out if he should try to lead in a direction that we don’t already want to go.  The pastor may exhort and encourage in the life of discipleship, but only if we are already inclined to go down that path.

As the pastor is called to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), he is called the “whack-a-moler.”  You know the game; there you stand, soft mallet in hand, beating down the moles as they keep popping up all over the board.

For a pastor, this seems to be a daily routine.  I have to admit, there are times when you wish the office of minister came with a padded mallet for moments of gentle rebuke and correction – but alas – it’s not to be.  But the moles are definitely there.  One heresy rears its ugly head and you smack it back down, only to have two more spring up elsewhere.  Either it’s a theologically vapid book that captures the attention of your congregation, undoing 5 years of preaching in 2 days reading, or it’s the pastor of the church your congregation member has attended who taught on Sunday that it really doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus as long as you have a relationship with him. 

Sigh.  There are days when truck driving school seems really enticing.  Then we come across Paul’s encouragement to Timothy.  This is Paul and Timothy here.  These were the All-Stars of Pastoral Ministry, the trailblazers who set the standard; and Paul says, “Listen, Tim, you’ve got to just keep on preaching on.  People aren’t going to listen to you, just like they wouldn’t listen to me, just like they wouldn’t listen to our Lord.  They will keep looking around until they find someone who teaches them what they already know, who says what they like to hear.  You can’t help that.  But you can keep preaching.  Keep teaching.  Keep doing the work that God has called you to, keep doing what the Spirit has given you.”

I don’t know, I guess it’s kind of encouraging.  This struggle against stiff necks and recalcitrant hearts has been going on for a while now.  There are no new heresies under the sun, just a repackaging of the same old stuff.  If Paul and Timothy, Peter and James, and all the rest had to struggle against these things, I’m not alone in the fight.  Even the sin I struggle against in my own life, that old creeper who keeps dragging me down, isn’t that what Romans 7 is all about? 

I don’t have to wage the good warfare or stand firm in my own strength, neither do you.  Rather, we can rest in the power of God’s Spirit, rely on His truth to prevail.  And so we do not lose heart (2 Cor 4:1).  It may be that you’ve begged your husband to come to worship with you, and he just won’t budge; keep praying, be encouraged, stand firm.  It may be that you’ve wrestled with that sin before, and it’s frustrating that it keeps coming back to haunt you; keep praying, be encouraged, stand firm.  It may be that you’re tired of teaching again and again about how freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin and you want to throw in the towel; keep praying, be encouraged, stand firm.

In the famous words of uncle Mordecai, “who knows, but that you were born for such a time as this.”  This is your calling, fulfill your ministry. 

The Lord be with your spirit.  Grace be with you.