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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why do pastors leave the ministry?

   There is a web site here that talks about pastor burn out.  Some of the statistics are very hard to read.  It shows a picture that as much as the average person in pew is hurting, so also are American pastors.  Many report feeling unable to live up to others expectations, loneliness and burn out.  Did you know that 1,500 minister leave the ministry each month due to burn out, moral failure or conflict.  Many new pastors never reach their 5th year in ministry.  I can tell you why I left just short of 5 years of ministry in the church.

   I can tell you that my expectations of working in the church were idealistic and complete fantasy land.  I didn't realize how much other people put expectation on the pastor that are unrealistic and harsh.  They seem to want someone who talks about family, but neglects his own, works as hard as a 20 year old, has the steadiness of a 40 year old and wisdom of a 60 year old.  A pastor is never allowed to have a truly bad day and always must be present for each and every illness and sickness in the hospital, regardless of whether or not he or she is told about it.  If you want to be in the ministry, start working on your mind reading skills because people won't always tell you what they want or need, but you will be expected to know.

   The inability to be human.  When I was a pastor in West Virginia, my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 5 years old.  He spent two days in the hospital.  His blood sugar was around 500 when he was admitted.  Guess how many people came to see him in the hospital?  Nobody.  One of the worst experiences of my life and nobody was there except my wife and God to help guide me through it.  When he acted out during the children's sermon, I was told I should remove him to a side room of the sanctuary and spank him.   The lack of compassion was amazing.  The hypocrisy was amazing and eventually it wears on you.  You realize that some of the best people you know are not church members and don't go to church.  Worse, you realize that you don't want to go to church.

     I can tell you that I found I was okay with resigning when there was no longer any joy about speaking a message that I felt came directly from God.  Because working in the church is more than a job.  It is also the pastor and his families place of worship.  When you can no longer do that with any joy then it is significant that you have reached the place of burn out.  I heard a pastor talk about Jeremiah one time.  Known as the weeping prophet, he came out of his ministry of 40 years having only one sidekick named Baruch who stood by him and the clothing on his back.  From a earthly point of view his ministry was a complete failure.  The pastor I heard mention that said God only called one Jeremiah and I don't want to be another one.   I thought to myself that life is too short to be this miserable and left.  Quite frankly, when I did leave it took me a while to realize how angry I was and how closed off I was to befriending other christian people.  It is now 7 years since that happened and only now do I feel more open and less critical, but I still have a ways to go.

    But, it was not a total defeat in terms of ministry.  When God closed that door, he also opened another one.  I found I do my best work in the community when I am with other hurting people.  I got involved in the chaplaincy and then in mental health work.  I found out that there are a lot, a whole lot of people who are hurting out there that will never darken the doors of a church.  And I found that God uses all the dark places, all the hurt, struggle, tears and joys in my life to help minister to other people.  Because the church might reject you, but the calling of God is irrevocable in a person's life.  And if your open to it, God will use you in some way.  Though it make take a while to find your path.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Testimony

    I want to share with you my story about how I came to really know the Lord.  My parents have always taken me and my sister Cindy to church.  Having said that, most of the time I didn't like it.  I went because I had no choice but to go.  But, for the most part i was not involved in the youth group until about my junior year in high school.
     I remember being a very quiet, introverted kid growing up.  I chose my friends carefully and always tried to think out what I was going to say before I did.  You could have grown up on the same street as me and not even know I was there.  The truth of the matter is that I had absolutely no self-confidence and really didn't like myself much.  I had long given up on the youth group at church, so it was a shock to everyone when I said I was going to a mystery retreat the youth had in April of 1983.
     The first few hours of the trip I was really questioning why I said I wanted to go.  I thought the kids in the group were a little strange (because they were) and loud.  I remember us doing some skits that night and then they had a time of devotion before lights out.  We stayed at a little church in Huntsville, Texas sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags.  I remember watching the kids who came to the altar that night praying thinking to myself that I didn't really have a relationship with God and then seemed to.  The seed had been planted.
     The second day we really didn't do much the whole morning.  There was a stray cat that we all spent time petting and we just hung out on the church steps waiting for the adults to tell us where we were going next.  Turns out, we went to Lake Livingstone at a little campsite that was hosting a car show.  I remember it was a beautiful day walking around on the shore of the lake and looking at cars.  One other thing I remember also that the kids didn't seem so wierd that day.  They seemed to accept me as a part of the group.  That's critical because I was open to the Lord at that point.  If they had not been friendly to me it would have ruined everything.  Someone told me years later, "People don't care what you know until they know how much you care."  I think that is really true.  I saw that the group really cared about me.
      After the retreat, I was watching television one night and a lady shared how to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior.  She said Jesus doesn't force himself into our hearts.  He waits for us to open ourselves up to Him and ask Him to be our Lord and to accept His death on the cross.  She said we have to repent of our sins and turn to Him.  Repent simply means to turn and go in a different direction.  Jesus stands at the door and knocks.  I thought about it for a few days and then prayed the prayer that she mentioned.  A week or two later I did it again because the devil was already working on me trying to tell me I didn't deserve it.  Which if we are going to be truthful, he is right I don't deserve it.  God didn't save me because I deserved it.
     This happened around the time I was 16.  I had been battling some feelings of depression during this time.  One big thing that I realized at this point is that Jesus loves me just the way I am.  Since he is my creator and Lord then there is no ones opinion that matters more.  I felt that if my creator accepted me and loves me then I should accept myself.  Some chains felt like they broke and fell off me when I realized that.  I became to accept myself and all my nerdiness (if that's a word).  I began to realize I didn't have to try to please everyone else to accept myself.  Some people, even believers, never get there.  You don't have to be a people pleaser.  You don't have to constantly worry about what people think of you.
         I heard a saying one time that said that if God has a refrigerator, your picture is on it.  I like that, but it is rather simplistic.  The fact is, that you and I were created by God, for God and he holds all the atoms in your soul and body together.  Whether or not you acknowledge Him or honor Him.  You belong to Him now.  As Paul said, you were bought with a price.  We are never far from the heart and mind of God.  There aren't enough refrigerators, in all the galaxy, to hold all the thoughts that God has about you.   We have no single idea or thought about the magnitude of how much God loves each of us.  That is why it is horribly offensive to God when we hurt each other.  Because you are hurting an object of God's love.  Think about that.
        This idea is one of the motivators for me as i have sought to serve the Lord as a counselor, pastor, chaplain and in volunteering.  God seems to always send me to the "least of these".  I find myself in nursing homes, hospitals, parts of the community you don't want to go to at night.   I go there because this is where Jesus would go.  Because even those people who literally don't have an sense of who he is, don't have any thoughts of him, have no gratitude about him, have no nickels to rub together to give to Him are desperately loved by Him.  And it seems these are just the people who normally end up accepting Him.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

let's talk about prophecy

    One of the most difficult subjects to teach on in the Bible is that of eschatology or the study of the last days.  That is because in order to be able to do so effectively you need to have a good working knowledge of most of the Bible including the minor prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and the gospel, as well as, the book of Revelations.  It seems that either teachers avoid the subject entirely or they major on it and rarely talk about anything else.  Worse than that, young believers sometimes get obsessed with it and avoid the more basic teaching that they need.  There is a great deal of debate on how things will occur and even great bible scholars disagree on the sequence of events at the end times.  So, I thought I would just make a list of what we know for sure about what will happen.
     We know that in the last days there will be many false teachers.  Jesus said this in Matthew 24:24 when he said "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect."  Peter and Paul both also mention this in their writings (see 2 Peter 2:1-2).  There is going to come a day when people won't tolerate the truth, but gather for themselves teachers who will tell them what they want to hear.  This is happening today.  The gospel is being distorted by many from a Christ centered gospel to a man centered gospel. 
      We know that it will be sudden.  1 Thessalonians 5:2-3 says, "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, Peace and safety, then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child and they shall not escape."  Jesus says it this way, "For just as the lightning, when it flashes otu of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day."  The rest of that passage in Luke 17 make it clear that most people will be going about their daily routine verse 27 and then he will return suddenly.  That is why Jesus is so emphatic that as believers we are to be watchful and ready for his return.  There is not going to be time for a prayer meeting.  There isn't going to be time for much of anything.  The twinkling of an eye is about a short a period of time as I can imagine.   Jesus tells us that our responsibility is to be ready for his return, not necessarily to have the whole sequence figured out. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Trying to Manipulate God

     One thing that I have noticed over the last 14 years of ministry and counseling work is that some people will use very rosy and intimate language about their relationship with God.  This language sometimes centers on verses and ideas about what God can give to us and his promises.  Not all of that is bad.  We do need to remember his promises and cling to them.  What concerns me is when these verses are mentioned, but the ones that mentions our response to Him, how we are to pick up our cross and follow Him, are neglected. 
      What this seems to come down to is that some people feel as though they can ask God anything, at any time and He is obligated to give to them.  Almost like a divine waiter who comes when the bell is rung or when you clap your hands.  It is a roll reversal that is really astonishing in its arrogance.  That isn't the way the writers of the Bible saw themselves.  You notice when Peter and Paul write of themselves, yes, they call themselves apostles, but also bondservants and slaves.  Positionally, they understood who was the servant and who was the authority. 
       Other people will do something that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross mentioned in her book "On Death and Dying" where she mentions one of the stages of grief as bargaining.  In other words, a person gets bad news such as a disease or problem and they begin to bargain with God to remove this problem and they will do certain things.  Maybe they promise if God saves their child they will go be a missionary in Africa or give some money to the poor or something like that.  Again, it is a form of trying to manipulate God to do something we want.
       Some people will do this through legalism.  I think the Pharisees in Jesus day were masters at this.  But, there are also a lot of modern day Pharisees.   I remember a church when I was in West Virginia down the road a few miles.  The congregation didn't do what some of the elders wanted.  So the elders locked the doors of the church and went home.  The church had at least one worship service in the parking lot because they couldn't get into their own building.  This small group of people were trying to control what went on in "their" church.  Some people take the attitude with God like that.  Like look at all the good things I have done.  Therefore, I deserve for you to bless me.
        It isn't as though God is stingy with what He wants to give us.  But, it is a matter of perspective.  God may very well give you something that you want.  Jesus asks the crowd that is following him one day if a son asks his father for a piece of bread will he give him a snake?  The crowd laughs and says "Of course not."  It was meant as a ironic joke.  Jesus knew the question was extreme.  Nobody is going to do that who is sane.  And then Jesus says that if you being evil know how to give good gifts, then how much more does your heavenly Father. 
        I think we have to be careful about acting as though we know better than God about what to give and how.  Sometimes people ask for prayers to be answered in certain ways.  I certainly don't think there is anything wrong with saying to God that this is what I would like to happen.  He already knows that anyway, so no point in lying about it.  But, I think we must be sincere in our statement that we cover that with by saying "Not my will, but yours be done."  Sometimes the truth is that this isn't sincere or true.  We don't want anything else but what we asked for and God knows that.  So, instead of lying, maybe a good way to end that is, "This is what I want, but help me Lord to be content with whatever it is your will is for me."  That sounds much more honest that denying our true feelings. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

How will this be?

     In church today, the pastor mentioned Gabriel's visit to Mary when he told her that she would bear a child and that would be Jesus.  One of the first things that Mary says is "How will this be" and then she goes on to say "since I am a virgin." Luke 1:34.   We usually only think of this question from Mary in terms of the physical possibility of her being pregnant, but the pastor mentioned that he thinks that she meant more than that.
      Mary is another example of how God's choices are not like ours.  Mary was not in a palace or famous.  She was not wealthy or in a position of influence.  She didn't have servants under her or a name that people would recognize.  She was a teenager, who was to be married to Joseph.  Not just a teenager, but a poor teenager, from a family from a back water town in Galilee, known by nobody, having no real influence with anyone of importance.  I doubt that most of us would have given a thought to giving Mary this responsibility.
      Yet, the Bible tells us that God does not judge people the way that we do.  He saw what was inside of Mary.  He saw that simple, childlike faith that she would need to parent and love his son and help him grow up.  Gabriel described it this way in verse 28 "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
      Mary is going to need that simple faith because Jesus isn't going by the script that the Pharisees laid out in synagogue.  He seemed to do things at times not just different from what she expected, but contrary.  He seemed to almost enjoy at times making the Pharisees mad.  He seemed to enjoy doing miracles on the Sabbath.  I think if the disciples were sometimes scratching their heads when they heard Jesus, Mary must have been thinking, "Welcome to my world. I've been listening to his since he could talk and I still don't always understand."   And if we are honest about it, that is the same world we are in sometimes too.  Because God still doesn't operate according to our script.  In fact, he seems to enjoy confusing us sometimes.  He seems to do things backwards.  It is hard to understand sometimes what God is up to.  If you've never thought that then your either not thinking very deeply about things or your not paying attention.
      What do you think Mary was thinking on those days that Jesus is told that his family is there to see him.  Walking in the middle of the crowd Mary hears the Pharisees saying that Jesus is filled with Satan or that he is crazy.  Then seeing Jesus be condemned and crucified?  Don't you think there was a moment when Mary thought to herself "It isn't suppose to go like this?"  "This isn't what the angel said would happen."
       Yes, God still goes off script.  Life is messy at times.   And we have to embrace that same kind of childlike faith that Mary had that God is still in control, even when it may appear that the war has been lost.