What Is That to You?

Jesus showed Peter that he was going to die for Him. Peter then noticed John and asked Jesus about him. Peter was implying, “What is your plan for John? Will he die for you too?” Jesus responded by saying, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

That is a word I need to remember and keep remembering.

I have a problem with comparing my calling and ministry with other pastors. It’s the old story of the grass appearing greener on the other side of the fence. I’ve asked the Lord before, “What about ______? Why is their ministry/church different than the one you’ve entrusted to me?”

The Lord’s word to Peter is a word to me: “What is that to you? You follow me!”

The Same But Different

Following Jesus is the same for everyone in some ways. We all walk by faith. We’re all called to die to ourselves. But each of our paths are also uniquely crafted by the Lord for us. He crafts the obstacles for me. They’re perfectly shaped to hit me at the right time and in the right place in order to knock off my rough edges. If another were walking my path, it wouldn’t hit them in the right way. You might say my path is customized for me.

Knowing that gives me freedom to walk my path toward Jesus and not worry about someone else’s path. The Lord is customizing my brother’s path too. That path is not mine to walk. My path is here in Michigan, with my wife, my children, this church, this community, this denomination.

Jesus is not telling me to be apathetic to the path of my brother and ignore him when he needs help. He’s telling me to focus on what He’s called me to do and not be distracted by what He’s called others to do.

“Lord, what about my brother? Have you called him to go through the same struggle you’ve called me?” Well, that’s not a question Jesus cares to answer. He’s called me to follow Him. And it will help me to focus on that.

Yes, I Do Take It Personally

First Thessalonians 2:8 says:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Sometimes people tell pastors, “Don’t take this personally, but we’re leaving.”

I used to think no one would leave the church I’m pastoring. Ha! How naive!

Now that I’ve experienced it, I can say with absolute certainty, I do take it personally when people leave our church for another. And if I didn’t take it personally, I’m not sure I would want to be a pastor.

Being a pastor is not a job. It is a ministry and calling. I moved my family 500+ miles away from our home, heritage, and families to pastor this church. We left everything we know to be here. We are literally investing our lives for the sake of this church. Don’t take it personal? I would rather you leave without saying anything.

The verse I mentioned from Thessalonians says the apostles shared their very lives with those they were ministering to. I’m not just trying to preach and teach the Bible. I’m trying to share my heart–my life with this church. I’m putting my soul into this ministry–into YOU, church member. I pray for you. I study God’s Word very hard for you. I endure frustration, discouragement, anger, loneliness, fear, and anxiety for you. 

It is personal.

Not the Only One

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. The rest of the body feels this way too, and they should. A local church is compared to a body in Scripture, and every person is a member of that body. How much would you want to punch someone after having an arm severed and then have them tell you: “Don’t take it personally.”

When someone leaves a church for unbiblical reasons (there are biblical reasons, mind you), something breaks or tears in the body, and it hurts. It’s personal. The people of the church have invested their lives into that member. They’ve paid their water bill, babysat their kids, driven them to the doctor, cried with them, prayed for them, and many times for years.

It. Is. Personal.

Leave if you must, but please stop saying that.

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! 🙂 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.