Thank You For Listening to Preaching

Church family,

There are many, many people who are better preachers than me, yet many of you come every week to hear God’s Word from my mouth. This is just a short letter to say thank you.

Thank you for going to bed at a good time on Saturday night as I know many of you do so you can be refreshed and prepared to hear from God’s Word. I believe God honors that small act of faith.

Thank you for paying attention to what I’m saying. I can tell you do, and I can tell you take it seriously. I feel honored when you care to listen to what I’ve been preparing to share with you for 12-15 hours of the last week.

Thank you for not taking my word for it, but looking at God’s Word yourselves and considering whether what I’m saying is what God says. We both know that if any change will happen in our lives, it will be because God does it through His Word, and not my opinion, personality, or humor.

Thank you for forgiving me when I have said something in error or with the wrong spirit or tone. I have said things out of anger before, and it humbles me so much to know that you haven’t rejected me because of those sins.

Thank you for saying “Amen” when I ask you to during my sermons. I know it makes you uncomfortable to audibly respond during preaching, but sometimes hearing you say “Amen” helps me finish what God has put in my heart and mind. I need you during preaching just as much as you need me.

Thank you for listening well to guest preachers I sometimes invite to serve you. I often hear good remarks about your attentiveness and respect you give to them. (And thank you for still wanting me back after they’re done preaching.)

Thank you for following me well when I have few illustrations and stories. You can follow a deep theological point better than others I have preached to. It’s a sign of your maturity. (And I hope to be able to illustrate things better in the future.)

Thank you for loving me and my family outside of the pulpit. You always have. And I hope I can be better at doing the same.

Thank you again,
Pastor Jacob

 

Pastoring (and Disciple Making) Is Slow

There are countless things faster than helping people follow Jesus.

  • Watching paint dry
  • Waiting for water to boil
  • Christmas
  • Divorce

Since a pastor is a chief disciple-maker, we know firsthand how slow it is to help people follow Jesus.

It’s absolutely NOT like a business. The CEO of a business spends 40+ hours a week with employees of the company and has great authority to back up his goals and vision. A pastor spends approximately 1 hour per week with the flock, and with those that doze off during a particularly long hour, you can’t even count that one! ūüôā That doesn’t mention the reality that it is rare for a church member to actually attend Sunday services weekly.

Since the amount of time I have with people is so limited, I’m learning two things:

  1. Perseverance is one of the most important traits needed in helping people follow Jesus. Kevin DeYoung once called it faithful, consistent plodding. Another lesson to prepare. Another sermon to write. Another visit to make. Another idea to brainstorm. Another text to send. Another cup of coffee to drink. Another conversation to have. Another encouraging word to share. Keep going.
  2. Investing in and equipping leaders must be a priority.¬†There is only one of me (thank God). It is not my job to take care of the body of Christ. It’s the body’s job to take care of the body of Christ. What is my job? To help the body care for itself (and make disciples!). Ephesians 4:12 is what it’s about. Equipping the Saints to do the work of the ministry. I have some work to do in this area!

Every pastor knows we don’t do this for visible fruit in the moment. Sometimes what we think is fruit isn’t really fruit, and sometimes what we think is someone being angry at us during a sermon is someone God is dealing with in very deep ways. So join me persevering and investing in leaders. It is slow work, but it is eternal work. Remember the parable of the seed growing secretly. One day, when the Kingdom is fully revealed, everyone will see how all-encompassing the kingdom is that we are building with the Spirit’s help. Right now, it’s just under the soil. So we sweat and strain, and we plod.

Pastoring Is Lonely, But It Doesn’t Have to Be

Loneliness is real for many, but especially pastors. As I can see, there are a few contributing factors to this:

  1. We spend a lot of time alone.¬†Studying for a sermon takes time. (Or at least it should.) For me it takes 12-15 hours each week to prepare a sermon for Sunday. It takes another 5+ to prepare for my teaching on Wednesday, and another 1 to prepare for teaching Sunday school. That’s 20+ hours spent alone each week. That doesn’t mention time in prayer, planning, other reading, etc.
  2. Some of what we know cannot be shared.¬†Pastors are shepherds, and sometimes sheep share things with us that we can’t share with anyone else–not even our wives. This can be burdensome. It naturally makes us feel like no one can relate to what we’re doing–because not many people can.
  3. We have extra pressure to be holy.¬†We are to set examples for the flock. That is not easy–especially when your flock has been following Jesus longer than you have! We aren’t called to be the savior of the sheep. They already have one. But our Shepherd has saved us to be holy, and if we fall, we impact a lot more people than if a sheep falls into major sin. People are watching us and some even set their standards of behavior based off of how we live. “If the pastor does it, then I can too.”
  4. We are under focused spiritual attack.¬†Satan hates a lot of things: like babies, marriages, people who want to tell others about Jesus, and prayers. Pastors are involved in all four of those and have devoted their lives to playing a role in destroying the works of the devil. So we have targets on our backs. And some of the arrows heading our way have “hide,” or “no one will understand” etched into the shafts. So we keep things in.
  5. We sometimes make decisions not everyone likes.¬†You can’t please everyone–even among the saved. On top of that, sometimes there are messengers of Satan within the church who don’t like anything¬†you do. There’s just nothing to be done about this reality. This means people will naturally not feel as free to be themselves around us. It’s like being around the CEO of a company. It’s cool to be friendly or even to critique them, but it’s strange to be near to them in a relationship. Leadership is lonely. It’s part of the price we pay to have the influence God has given us.

Moving Past The Loneliness

There are two things to do if this is you (both of which I am currently seeking to do):

  1. Pray God¬†would give you a friend. Of course the Lord helps us in our weaknesses, but He also hears our prayers and gives us what we need. And many pastors just need friends. If you’re a sheep, pray God would give your pastor a friend. And if you’re a pastor, pray for the same thing.
  2. Open up. Tell someone what you’re feeling, not just thinking. I have found that when I do this, instead of condemning me, people actually open up to me and put their guard down. Suddenly I’m not in an ivory tower anymore and they realize it’s OK to admit weakness (which is necessary to be a Christian!).

We all realize as pastors that the spiritual health of those Jesus has entrusted to us depends in part on our spiritual health. Open up and find a friend. It won’t just be a balm for you, it will prepare you to serve others well too.

 

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

The pastor is the leader. I’m called an “overseer” and “shepherd” in Scripture. That means I’m supposed to know where and how to lead the sheep Jesus has entrusted to me.

But I confess, I often do not know how and where to lead the sheep.

What I Do Know

Of course I know I’m to lead the sheep to Jesus. That’s easy to understand. Of course I know the sheep need to be fed by God’s Word. The sheep need to be cared for, protected, have their wounds bound up. All of these happen through God’s Word.

I know of course I’m supposed to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.

I know our mission: to help people follow Jesus.

But¬†how to do those things? I’m still figuring that out. And I probably will be until I die.

Semitary For Leadership

Leadership is not taught well in seminary. Maybe not at all. There were no classes on how to run a business meeting, how to identify future leaders, how to train people to teach the Bible, how to resolve conflict, how to know when to change something, how to confront bullies, etc. I basically know two things from seminary: (1) theology and (2) how to study the Bible. Almost everything else I’m trying to figure out as I go.

I know I’m supposed to lead, but I don’t know how. For example:

  • We are called to help people follow Jesus in community. Should we start home groups? Should we push Sunday school more? Should we have more fellowship meals? What will be most beneficial in accomplishing that goal? I don’t know.
  • We are called to evangelize. But I’m not good at it myself! I can preach, but I’m not a walk-up-to-someone-on-the-street-and-lead-them-to-Jesus kind of guy. Do we need a program? Do we need an evangelistic course to invite people to? Do we need to make Sunday morning the mechanism for evangelism and focus everything around that? Do we need to go back to door to door? I don’t know.

I Need Help

I’m sorry if it makes you feel insecure to know that your pastor doesn’t know what he’s doing, but it’s often the truth. Remember, I’m not your lead pastor. The one who holds that responsibility is the fountain of wisdom.

Maybe there aren’t classes for leadership in seminary because you can’t really teach those things in a classroom. They require wisdom, and wisdom primarily comes from experience. Knowledge I have. Experience I do not have. Therefore wisdom is lacking. Therefore, more and more I am realizing my need to learn from the experience of others. Maybe if I’m still pastoring when I’m 85 I won’t need wisdom from others, but until then, if you have an insight, I need to hear it.

But I’m Still the Leader

Hebrews 13:17a says “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account . . .” I will be judged with stricter judgment as a teacher of God’s Word and an overseer of souls. I’m not here to make Christians happy. I’m here to make Jesus happy. After I receive counsel and wisdom, I still have to make decisions. By God’s grace, and unless I disqualify myself, I’m striving to shepherd and lead as well as I can.

I will make mistakes in leadership. I have already made many. When those errors come to my attention, I will do my best to make it right.

This is probably the biggest area in which I need prayer: leadership.