Thank God for Philip

Philip had been following Jesus for nearly three years by the time Jesus asked him what might have been the most gut-wrenching question he had ever heard. Jesus had found him on His way to Galilee and simply said, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and took him to Jesus (John 1:43-46). He spent time with Jesus every day: following Him around, eating with Him, talking with Him, learning from Him.

He had heard Jesus talk about His Father countless times. Jesus did His Father’s will. He came from His Father and was sent by His Father. He was given authority by His Father. Jesus said “If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19). He even claimed to be God on several occasions, using the famous phrase, “I AM,” when talking to the Jews (John 9:58). Philip heard these things.

But when Jesus said something similar in John 14:7 (“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also”), Philip replied by asking Jesus to show them the Father. That’s when the gut shot came:

“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:9a).

A Lot Like Me

I feel like that at times. I’ve been following Jesus since I was seven years old. That makes 23 years. And sometimes I feel like I barely know Him. I ask Him questions I should know the answer to. I express frustration about things I should be having faith through.

But here’s the thing: Jesus still didn’t reject Philip. 

The question probably stung–as discipline does–but it didn’t destroy him. None of the wounds Christ gives His true disciples destroy. They only push us closer to the Lord. It’s a loving correction that we need.

A Lot Like All of Us

Philip is like all of the disciples. In that moment at the beginning of the upper room discourse, many of the disciples were confused and asking Jesus questions. He was about to die, rise again, and then leave them for a time. They thought His kingdom would be consummated directly after the resurrection. Jesus was telling them that He was doing something they didn’t expect, and it scared them. That’s why Jesus said on multiple times in chapter 14 of John, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Philip wasn’t the only one having trouble processing what was happening.

But that didn’t mean Philip wasn’t following Jesus.

Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean having a perfect understanding of how God is working in all of life’s events. It means seeking to follow Jesus in the midst of those events. Sometimes we’ll ask Him questions we should already know the answer to. And there may be a small, healing wound as a result. The important thing is not whether or not we have questions. The important thing is this: who do we bring our questions to? 

True disciples bring their questions to Jesus. That’s why I thank God for Philip.

 

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.