Thanks for the cross and resurrection, but do you think I could have a little more?

Chapter 4-The Confident Pastor

the pastors justificationI have a love/hate relationship with Jesus’ disciples. I love ’em because they’re just like me. I hate ’em because they’re just like me. All along they’re wanting the Romans physically overthrown and Jesus on a literal throne in Jerusalem, and all along Jesus is consistently telling them the kingdom of God isn’t like that. No swords or horses. Palm branches and donkeys. No ear chopping. Foot washing.

So he goes all the way to the cross, dies, and is buried. He resurrects three days later. And as he’s ascending into heaven, they’re asking, “So, um, do we get that kingdom of Israel now?” This is me. This is you.

“Gee, thanks for the cross and resurrection, Jesus, but do you think I could have a little more? Something for me?” p. 80-81

I believe that when life is going well we are not truly aware of how disconnected/independent we are from Jesus. We are doing fine on our own and Jesus is a nice add on to our life. But when trials come, and come they will, then our idols are exposed. How do we react when we lose a job? A friend? When things don’t go our way? In those hard moments we may find that Jesus has not been what we have been living for after all. We respond like the disciples , “thanks Jesus for the cross, but just so you know,  in order for me to be joyful I’m going to need a good paying job.” Does this make the trials and difficulties we experience a severe mercy? I’m thinking yes.

The Pastor’s Justification (The Confident Pastor)

the pastors justificationThis chapter is so good I am going to break it into sections…

The Confident Pastor (Chapter 4)

“One thing pastoral ministry is very good for is stripping a man of all his confidence.” (p. 77)

At the beginning of chapter four Wilson explains how frustrating ministry can be. The married couple that refuses to embrace the gospel and the result is that their family life is in constant turmoil. Problems, issues, complaints, selfishness, a lack of missional focus. It feels like we are on a treadmill and it can be hard to see the progress at times.

As I have said previously, Wilson is not allowing pastors to have a pity party because of the challenges of ministry. I love this quote…

“Perhaps this is what pastoral ministry is supposed to look like? Maybe applying the gospel to those in the holes they keep falling into IS THE MISSION (emphasis added). Or part of it, anyway. Jesus says, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), so we should expect that every day feels like death and be shocked if and when we experience a day that doesn’t. But Evangelicals have so effectively promoted the idol of success that it is rare to find a pastor who understands that starting over each day is ministry.” (p. 78)

The temptation is to see all the messiness as a barrier to where we want to go as a visionary leader. Instead, the mess is the mission. The broken marriage, the broken lives, the frustrations are waiting for us to apply the truths of the gospel each and every day. We won’t wake up one morning and realize we have arrived. As Eugene Peterson likes to say, pastoral ministry (discipleship for that matter) is a “long obedience in the same direction.”

The Pastor’s Justification (Pastoral Swagger)

“The Pastor’s Justification”. Chapter 3-The Humble Pastor

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to your elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. (1 Pet.5:5-6)

John Stott writes this about pride and the pastor

Pride is without doubt the chief occupational hazard of the preacher. It has ruined many, and deprived their ministry of power…In some it is blatantly obvious. They are exhibitionists by temperament and use the pulpit as a stage on which they show off…Other preachers are not like Nebuchadnezzars, however, for their pride does not take the form of blatant boastfulness. It is more subtle, more insidious, and even more perverse. For it is possible to adopt an outward demeanor of great meekness, while inside our appetite for applause is insatiable. 

As you can see from the above tweet, I fully recognize what Stott is saying about the more subtle form of pride. It is alive and well in me!

Wilson goes on to write about four ways that pastors can be humbled (willingly or unwillingly)

  1. Humbled in suffering. It is sometimes easy to pick out the pastor who has never gone through any serious affliction. He has a swagger. It is not always the case that the proud pastor has never suffered anything, but we are then left to wonder what his suffering taught him and if he is even a Christian at all.
  2. Humbled in messy ministry. For a pastor to become a man who seeks humility, he will need to stay on the front lines of messy ministry. He will continually seek to get in over his head with people in need. Humility will be hard for the pastor who locks himself away in his office and does not get involved in the daily affairs of his people.
  3. Humbled in prayer. When we cease praying for ourselves, it is because we think we are the captians of our destinies. When we cease praying for our church, it is because we think we can manage it quite well. When we cease praying in our sermon preparation, it is because we think our words are the power of salvation to all who believe.
  4. Humbled in the Word. Do we know the Bible or have we been captured by it? John Piper writes, In essence it happened like this: I was 33 years old. I had two children and a third on the way. As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said in effect, “I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My soveriegnty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded. It is not the grist for the mill of controversy, it is the gospel for sinners who know that their only hope is the sovereign triumph of God’s grace over their rebellious will.” This is when Bethlehem contacted me near the end of 1979. And I do not hesitate to say that because of Romans 9 I left teaching and became a pastor.

The Pastor’s Justification (2-The Holy Pastor)

“Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1 Pet 5:3)

Holiness is much more than not drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco. In 1 Peter 5 we learn that the elder is not to be domineering. The exhortation for pastors/elders not to be domineering is rooted in the nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus humbled himself and became man in order to bring about redemption to all creation. As pastors/leaders we must take the same posture of Jesus to those we serve in the local church.

I have been under leadership before that was domineering and it slowly poisons the entire church family.  I like lists and in this chapter Wilson gives us “Five Signs You’ve Moved from Shepherding to Domineering”

1. You insulate yourself from criticism and/or interpret any criticism as attacks or insubordination…Pastor, make sure you have honest friends around you, not sycophants. Stay in the company of truth-tellers and do not punish people for sharing with you inconvenient truths. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, ” but “profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov.27:6).

2. You have a paranoia about who is and who isn’t in line…If a leader is constantly worried about who’s on his side and who’s not, who’s saying or thinking about him behind his back, who can be trusted and who can’t, who are allies and who are obstacles, he is entering a world of insecurity that is hostile to the confidence of Christ’s righteousness.

3. You have a need to micromanage or hold others back from leadership opportunities or other responsibilities…Pastor, you can’t and shouldn’t do it all yourself. It’s not healthy for you, and it’s not good leadership of your church to attempt shepherding it as a one-man show. Nobody wins in that situation…

4. You have an impulse to hoard credit or shift blame...Leaders who claim all the credit and clout successes and deny any responsibility for failures aren’t leaders but self-righteous glory hogs.

5. Your progression has regressed to reaction…you talk more about what you are against then what you are for. Criticize and debate more than is needed.

-Taken from chapter two, The Holy Pastor

The Pastor’s Justification (1-The Free Pastor)

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. (1 Pet. 5:2)

the pastors justificationCHAPTER 1-THE FREE PASTOR

Becoming a pastor is not real hard. It’s being a pastor that is hard

“Becoming a minister is easy. At the very most, you will need multiple years of theological training at great financial, mental and emotional expense to you and your family, an official approval from your denomination’s ordination committee or assessment council, and a divine call from God. Piece of cake. It’s being a pastor that is harder than all get out.” (p. 24)

“Pastoral ministry is a trove of glories and deaths. It is the kind of cross taking nothing can prepare you for except just doing it. “(p.24)

I remember John Piper speaking during chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He said something to the effect, “If you have thin skin, don’t go into the ministry.” I was young, I was idealistic, and  I had no real idea what he meant. (You would think I would know what it is truly like after growing up as a PK.) After 12 years of ‘full-time’ ministry I get it. This calling is simultaneously amazing and painful… “a trove of glories and deaths” is a good description.

Self-pity is not the answer

“And yet, let’s not overthink it, brothers. Let us not think more highly of ourselves that we ought. Oh, we poor pitiful pastors, we sorry lot, we put-on unprevailers! We special class, whatever will we do with ourselves? We can nail self-pity to the cross, first off.” (p.25)

Self-pity is a subtle form of pride. I don’t deserve this. All I do is serve others. Self-pity is just thinking more highly of ourselves than we should and freakin out that others don’t see us for who we are. I have dabbled in self-pity a time or two. I know what it is like.

Enter the leadership cult

So what are we pastors going to do about it? Ministry is not easy, then again it was never portrayed as easy in the pages of scripture.

“Enter the leadership cult. What we need is know-how, the publishing Powers-That-Be reason. We lack skills, practical helps, and insider tips, and they’ve got just the evangelical gurus to deliver the goods. Don’t you want to leverage your synergy and catalyze your visioneering? Don’t you want to know the seven highly effective and irrefutable laws of unlocking the mystery of who moved your cheese’s parachute? Are you a starfish or a spider? This is all the key to revealing the quality ministry hidden inside of you and to taking your church to a whole ‘nother level. Whatever that means.” (p. 27)

My interpretation of what Wilson is saying? Much of what is written today about church leadership is good for kindling; that’s about it. As leaders we do need to have a vision for the church we lead. But the vision, at the end of the day, is not too terribly complicated. Immerse everything you do in the gospel, live in deep community and commit to the mission of making disciples. If the leadership book is not pointing me deeper into the truths of the gospel I’m not interested.

Shepherd the flock that is among you

OK. So let’s say that things at the church where you pastor are not…ideal. You want to move in a missional (think Acts) direction but your church has lost sight of what it means to truly be a gospel movement. What do you do?

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. (1 Pet. 5:2) “And let’s not miss the importance of the seemingly obvious phrase ‘that is among you’. We frequently find ourselves trying to shepherd the flock of God that we want, the one we imagine them to be, the one we want them to be. But God through Peter commands us to shepherd the church we’ve actually got. Pastor, the people you currently have in your congregation are those whom God in his wisdom has dispensed to you. They might not be the people you’d handpick if you had your druthers, but be measured by the fact that God handpicked you to be a citizen of his kingdom. What on earth was he thinking?” (p. 30)

It is natural and good for leaders in the church to desire and work towards change. In fact, many churches today do need to grow from a Sunday morning event to a gospel movement seven days a week. Change is needed. The problem is when people don’t change as fast as the leaders think they should. Imagine how frustrated we would have been leading the twelve disciples? I would have killed Peter.  Jesus was incredibly patient and loved them right where they were at. Great challenge for pastors today.

Don’t settle for successful ministry

I have agonized, literally, over what it means to be successful in ministry. I have blogged about it, discussed it with the elders in my church and with other pastors. Successful ministry can quickly become an idol that we are bowing down to if we are not careful.

“Don’t settle for the false heaven of a ‘successful ministry.’ Because real success is faithfulness. Big church or small church, growing church or declining church, well-known church or obscure church-all churches are epic successes full of eternal, invincible quality of the kingdom of God when they treasure Jesus’ gospel and follow him. Jesus did not give the keys of the kingdom with the ability to bind and loose on both sides of the veil only to those who reached a certain attendance benchmark. So do well, pursue excellence, and stay faithful. God will give you what you ought to have according to his wisdom and riches.” (p. 37-38)

What makes a pastor truly free?

This part, I believe, is the heart of the book. Where do pastor’s go to get a sense of approval in the work that they are doing? I usually go to all the wrong places.

“Pastor, will we seek justification in our reputations? In our church’s numbers and figures? In our retweets and links? In our podcast downloads? In a book deal or speaking engagement? In our own sense in a job well done? This is sand. Or will we look up and out, away from ourselves, away from the fickle fellowship, away from Satan’s accusations and insinuations, up to the right hand of the Father, where our righteousness sits, firmly fixed eternal? There is your justification, pastor, perfect and big, bigger than you and better than you but bled and bought for you and birthed in you, yours irrevocably, sealed and guaranteed through both your successes and your failures, through the pats on your back or the knives in your back. There is your justification, there in Christ, and because in him there is no shadow of turning, you are utterly, totally, undeniably justified. Brother, you are free.” (p. 39)

I really need to start EVERYDAY reciting these gospel truths! I usually live and act as if the success of the church is riding on me. How prideful. Besides that the weight is unbearable. All too often I am looking for approval from people and outward signs of success and I forget that in Christ I am perfectly approved and loved.

“The Pastor’s Justification: Applying The Work Of Christ In Your Life And Ministry” (INTRODUCTION)

the pastors justification

My plan is to blog and discuss each chapter of Jared Wilson’s new book, “The Pastor’s Justification.” The reason that I am taking the time to do this is because it will help me to process the message of the book (a message I desperately need) and I hope it will spur you on to think about the many ways you need to apply the gospel to your own life. I am not going to attempt to outline each chapter. Instead, I am going to cherry pick the parts that stood out to me and add some color commentary to it.

INTRODUCTION (Pages 15-19)

Pastors And Insecurity

“The pastoral fraternity is an interesting one. We are a motley bunch of fools. Different personalities and tribes, different methodologies and styles, not to mention denominations and traditions and, of course, theologies. But there is something both lay elders and career elders have in common, something I’ve seen in the the thirty-year senior pastor of a southern megachurch as well as the bivocational shepherd of a little, rural parish, the laid-back fauxhawked church planter and the fancy mousse-haired charismatic, and in nearly every pastor in between: a profound sense of insecurity for which the gospel is the only antidote.” (p. 17)

I knew after reading this section that I would like the book and was going to be deeply challenged by it. I have spent many hours talking with other pastors and insecurity is definitely something we all deal with. Culture is changing so fast, conferences and books are nonstop, fewer and fewer people are interested in organized religion, seminary did not equip us like we thought it would, and the list goes on and on. There are many days we just don’t feel up to the challenge. So what do I need?

“The right response…of this wearying battlefield is not timidity or a pity party, but clinging more desperately to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The justification for the sin-prone pastor-by which I mean simply the pastor-is the same it is for every sinner. There is no Justification 2.0 for ministers of the gospel. There is only the gospel itself-the life, death, resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fusing this reality-the reality of eternal life-to the ordinary life of pastoral ministry is what this book is all about.” (p. 19)

Next up is Part 1-The Pastor’s Heart and Chapter 1, The Free Pastor.