Through the ministry of Heal Your Servant, we have four scheduled weekly conference calls. Every call is unique, and most are filled with surprises. Sometimes we will have one person on a call, and other times we have several callers.
On a recent phone conversation, I had one individual call in. I introduced myself. He then gave me his name. As is customary, I began a short prayer, asking God for His wisdom.
I concluded, and instead of hearing the words, “Amen,” I heard, “Why do you do this?”
It was as if the Lord had been preparing me for this question.
The youth ministry I grew up in was amazing. I was offered so much activity and was infused with so much passion that I was always serving somewhere.
Each week started with Sunday school, followed by Sunday service and a meal out with fellow youth groupies. Sundays ended with the evening service. On Monday nights, we went street witnessing, on Wednesdays we had youth group (all of the “mature” students served in multiple capacities), and on Friday nights we did ministry at the nursing homes.
My spiritual life was packed with social activities and service opportunities, and I owned my kingdom responsibility. I wanted to make a difference, and I wanted to win the world.
I have been doing some form of pastoring for almost 30 years, and I have certainly been a sucky pastor on many occasions. So, I hope you can learn from my failures and use them too. Here are seven ways I've been a sucky pastor at some point or another.
1. I was a sucky pastor when I allowed myself to get burned out. I forgot a very simple fact: If you don’t take care of yourself, you will not be able to care for others! A burned-out leader is a dangerous leader. Please care for yourself emotionally, and make sure to do whatever it takes to fill yourself up on a regular basis.
John, a leader in a church I assisted as a consultant, admitted to me what I’d heard before from seminary students and church leaders alike: “Dr. Lawless, I don’t always pray like I should. I know better, but prayer isn’t easy.”
I’ve heard something similar so many times that I’ve begun asking for more details. These findings are anecdotal, but here are my general conclusions about why church leaders struggle with prayer.
Once in a while, a pastor has to make a tough call.
Do you speak out on a controversial issue or not?
Yes, you could come down hard on the latest political correctness issue dividing the country and enraging both halves.
You could address the racial matter driving the liberals crazy and inflaming the conservatives to near-incineration.
You could take a public stand on what your community is experiencing, knowing that many on both sides of the issue are upset with the others.
Some will insist you should take a stand.
For I know where I came from and where I am going . . . I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. — John 8:14, 16
There is nothing more attractive than a confident leader. "I know who I am, I know where I'm going, and I know how to get there," are statements that exude certainty and vision. But the most critical issue for confident leaders is whether or not they have the right to be confident. Do they have credibility? Credibility is related not to the amount of confidence one exudes but to one's past résumé of achievements. Credibility answers the question, "What is the caliber of the people who have already placed their trust in you?"
By the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus had fed thousands, healed multitudes, taught the scholars, and forgiven sinners. Still the Pharisees were compelled to challenge the credibility of Jesus. Fully aware of the agenda of the lawyers he was facing, Jesus nevertheless stated that he was sent by the Father and that the Father stood with him in his claims. He used language that forced them to make a choice about him.
The words Jesus spoke resonated with some and offended others. But they all understood him. Jesus knew that regardless of his resume, regardless of his Father's support, some would be dead set on opposing him.
Interestingly, Jesus did not focus long on those who rejected his call to redemption. Instead, he turned to those who did believe and encouraged them: "Jesus said to the people who believed in him, 'You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'" (v. 31).
Jesus' dialogue with the Pharisees served not simply to defend his credibility, though he was impressively successful in doing so. His statements primarily called some to saving faith. He then encouraged them to press on toward the freedom that comes from being pulled out from under the condemnation of the law that they knew so well. Jesus never allowed personal pride to interfere with the redemption of one heart. He never allowed the defense of his reputation to take precedence over his overall purpose: to bring sinners home.
Confidence and credibility are useful tools to have in carrying out leadership functions. They certainly affect our effectiveness in guiding people to Jesus. But they must be driven by a passion for others to experience spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ. Jesus calls us to be completely available for his service in this grand purpose.