Monday, February 10, 2014

Words Of Advice To A New Minister

Very few things make me more excited than to see someone developing in their relationship with
Christ. Several times in my ministry I have had the opportunity to be a part of someone realizing a call into vocational ministry. That led me to thinking about what advice I would give a person who has accepted the calling to serve in vocational ministry. This article is in a personal letter format to the person who has been called to vocational ministry. What advice would you add or what was something that was told to you when you decided to become a vocational minister? As a lay person in the church what advice would you give?

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The call to the ministry is universal. All Christians have been set apart for some sort of ministry. However, occasionally God places a special calling on someone’s life. This special calling sets them apart to serve him vocationally.  It could be in a local church, as a missionary, at a non-profit, or one of the other great parachurch organizations.

God calling one into full time service is not a call to be taken lightly. The call to the ministry is one of humility and service. It is days that are filled with situations that will make you feel unable or unqualified to meet the needs of those who have been put under your care. People will come to you with their deepest burdens, place them at your feet, and seek your counsel. No matter how difficult the situation, your congregation will expect you to be the voice of reason that is grounded in biblical truth. Their trust brings with it incredible burden and liability.

Many people will expect you to be their rock and foundation. That is why it is of the utmost importance to be above reproach in all areas of your life. Vocational ministry brings with it a life that is lived in a glass bowl. Everything you and your family do will be seen and sometimes scrutinized. You cannot hide your personal activities so you need to be careful about the decisions you make. People need you to be that rock in all areas of your life and people will look for areas where you falter and may use those to discredit your calling. Never make a decision or participate in an activity that could even be perceived as questionable. Your calling holds you to a higher standard. We all know it is impossible to be perfect. However, when you mess up use the opportunity to show what it looks like to ask forgiveness in a way that honors God.

All this being said there are some important things that you must establish as early as possible in your ministry. These are critical and to waver on any of these will lead to a series of serious ramifications or the complete loss of your opportunity to minister vocationally. This higher standard of living is not only to protect you as a minister but also to protect others serving beside you. In the recent past, we have seen what happens when a minister falters. The Catholic Church has had to take serious measures to protect their churches because of clergy misconduct. This did not only hurt the Catholic Church but the church as a whole.  When one minister becomes a victim to ungodly desires, it affects all ministers and holds ministry back. Many churches today are victims of clergy misconduct and their misconduct has rippled into future generations at the church.

You must understand that you have a responsibility to keep yourself healthy as a minister. 1 Corinthians 6: 19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own." Healthy living is easy when you are young, but as you age, it becomes more of a burden. People look to you as a standard. Not just in religious matters but also in the way you take care of yourself and how your handle interpersonal relationships. It is also important that you keep yourself pure. Your stance on living a pure life reflects on your moral character. It is also essential that you always be working to make yourself a better minister. Make a commitment to always be a learner.

You have been called to lead your family. This becomes increasingly important when you have children. People will look to you as an expert in family matters. You will feel like you are failing more than succeeding but remember that the most important thing to do is parent in a way that is honoring to God. Deuteronomy 6:7, “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” Your family reflects you and you must ensure that you are leading it by example for others to imitate.  To be the best leader in your family make sure that God is the most important priority in every decision you make. When God is the priority in your home, it will be easier to lead your family as the spiritual leader.

You also have a responsibility to your church or wherever God calls you to minister. You must make sure that you lead in a way that honors God. He has set you apart for his service and you must be willing to commit to a continual spiritual development so you can lead in that way.  When you work, do so with diligence and professionalism. If you approach the ministry with passion and determination that flows from your relationship with God, people will want to follow your example. As you lead, be careful because power can bread sin. People will see you in a position of power and power attracts people. Do not be naive in your encounters with the opposite gender. Have someone you trust be accountable for you at all times.  Remember what is says in Proverbs 2:11, “Discretion will guard you, Understanding will watch over you.” Use discretion in all your opportunities of counseling and advice.

God’s calling is an incredible responsibility. You are God’s hand to a particular group of people. Lead those people with passion because passion is infectious. Lead them with a soft heart but speak truth with boldness. Grow thick skin and a tender heart. Remember that as God uses you, the devil will want to make you ineffective by clouding your judgment and perception.  You have been set apart for good work. This good work will bring with it many pains, tears, and frustrations. Just remember that God wants to use you and he will, if you seek his leadership.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How do you thrive in a multi-role staff position?

I was sitting in a seminary class with an adjunct professor. It was the first day of this class and I love classes with adjunct professor especially ones who are currently serving in a position at a church. Regardless of whether the instructor was and adjunct or a “bonafide” seminary professor the first day of every class was the same. The instructor would allow each of the students in the class to talk about who they were, about their family, and their current position at a church (if they were serving). In Matthew 23: 12 its says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (ESV). This passage of scripture seemed to be totally irrelevant during the time. Students would talk about their families and the amazing ministries they served at. I am naturally cynical and I fight hard to battle this weakness in my life but during this particular day I must have been weak. As I heard people describing their roles and their incredible ministries you would have thought that each of these students was serving at the height of their ministry. I became more and more annoyed at what seemed to become more of an ego trip than an opportunity for us to get to know each other.

Then it was my turn. Let me lay a foundation here. I love my church and I love the position I hold at my church. We average around 415 each Sunday which, as I see it, is a healthy size. The biggest issue we have is that our church struggles with giving.  Our giving is approximately half what most churches our size take in. As a result, we only have two full time pastoral staff positions, the senior pastor, and me. I hold the title of Families and Media Pastor, which basically means I am responsible for all age group ministries and a lot of the administrative needs of the church.

It was my turn, so I turned in my chair and addressed the class. Told them about my family and simply said my job title and where I served. Then the instructor said something sarcastic about my title and asked me to explain what I actually did at the church. Well I did, in great detail and without any semblance of humility. After what seemed like 5 minutes of explanation the instructor looked at me and said to the class, “This is a perfect example of someone whose ministry will never be successful because he is doing too much.” I turned around, did not refute him, and did whatever I could not to show how insulted I was.

The truth is we all wear lots of hats when serving on staff at a church. One moment we have our counseling hat on, then next we put on an I.T. hat as we fix the computer that handles our Sunday media, finally we put on our theologian hat as we prepare our messages and so much more. For pastors who serve bi-vocationally this reality is even more real. Our success in ministry has less to do with our titles and what hat we wear and more to do with how we are honoring God with our lives and are we putting up appropriate boundaries to make sure we are not being pulled to thin.

I am committed to becoming a minister that honors God with the way I serve my family, and my church. At the same time I don't want to neglect my own personal spiritual development. I constantly have to evaluate myself to make sure that the different hats I wear serving the church don't keep me from the most important hat, my relationship with God and my family.

So I guess the question is, what are you doing in your ministry to thrive despite how many hats are hanging on your wall?