Archives For Church

In their blog this week The Gospel Coalition commemorated John Piper’s famous 2000 Passion Conference message “Don’t Waste Your Life” (aka, the “seashells” talk). It not only fixed Piper’s influence in the hearts of the 40,000 twenty-somethings gathered in Memphis on that afternoon in May but also became, as the blog notes, “formative for a generation.” For many, Dr. Piper’s words were prophetic, arresting, and spoke to them in the deepest of ways. I call that kind of a message a life message. It’s the kind of message that ruins you for all the right reasons and boldly changes the trajectory of your life.

It got me thinking about my own life message. I heard a talk (also a conference message) that spoke to me in the deepest of ways. It was one of those rare moments when you read or hear something by someone who puts into words what you believed but couldn’t put into words yourself. You just can’t quite formulate it yet. It was like an essential code in the back of your mind (and the middle of your heart) always frustratingly suspended on the verge of being broken. But the second someone finally deciphered it and you beheld its long-awaited clarity in all its glory, it became the Aha! moment where you shouted, “That’s what I believe!”

My “seashells” message was given by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. This was before he had written his bestselling books or attained national notoriety. It was 2007. A friend of mine in NYC encouraged me to listen to “this Tim Keller guy” whenever I had the chance, so when I came across a video of his address to the newly minted Gospel Coalition in May of that same year with a message entitled, “Gospel-Centered Ministry,” I thought it something I needed to hear. I settled into my office, closed the door, and watched his 55-minute address.

I was spellbound almost from the word ‘go.’ Dr. Keller’s struggles in church paralleled mine. Yet his answer to those struggles was exactly what I’d thought but couldn’t put into words: a theology of gospel-centrality. My growing angst in ministry had finally found the answer. Indeed, as I heard him eloquently speak about not only what the gospel is but how it should intersect all ministry, especially the pulpit (as he also was a preaching pastor), I kept saying aloud, “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.” Although his address wasn’t significantly animated or charismatic like John Piper’s message, I was continuously moved to tears throughout it.

Finally, I had the clarity I was looking for. The code was deciphered in my head and heart. It was such a “moment” for me I watched it again. Another 55 minutes of me nodding my head, dabbing tears from eyes, and saying in my heart, “This is what I believe!” In author Jared Wilson’s parlance, I was experiencing a gospel awakening.1

The grace in it all was Keller’s ability to not only put into words what I couldn’t about gospel-centered ministry but to provide a framework and paradigm for it as well. Now that I had it (or better yet, it had me), I was dangerous because I knew what this meant. I knew this would define me, my ministry, and the local church I served. There was no turning back. I wanted to know everything I could from those who sought to keep the gospel central to ministry. In short, I was ruined.

I read a lot, studied a ton, and even chose my doctoral work based on a seminary that would deepen me in gospel-centered ministry. I began to dialogue with those who were way ahead of me. I couldn’t get enough! I even called up Redeemer and asked for their discipleship materials, and our executive staff spent weeks working through them.2 Needless to say, gospel-centrality would be a defining mark of CCCC. Indeed, ten years later, it has. In a survey a few years ago of our staff and small group leadership, when asked what makes CCCC “CCCC,” at the very top of the list was our commitment to the centrality of the gospel in all things.

So, for all my Passion friends who were marked by God through Piper’s words, Keller’s did the same for me with this message3:

New church plants aside, it’s very easy to make the church all about the pastor by making everything revolve around his leadership.

  • He authorizes every check.
  • He oversees every ministry.
  • He makes every weighty decision.

But that’s not wanting to be a pastor. That’s wanting to be a pope. If the lead pastor gets hit by an asteroid on Monday and the church boards its doors on Sunday, the head honcho has failed. Unfortunately, many leaders who initially aim to lead gospel-centered churches often, years after planting, still find themselves a pastor-centered church.

For example, a pastor-centered church is one where you never really pass the ball of leadership to others. You make all the final calls, remind everyone the buck stops with you, and spend more time making decisions instead of developing decision-makers. You’re always working in the ministry than on the ministry. Again, it’s one thing to endure this type of pastor-centeredness when you are starting a church. Honestly, it’s likely necessary for more reasons than this post will allow. But if, over time, you’re not willing to expand the circle of leadership responsibilities to include others (and yes, this includes preaching), you may be succumbing to the temptation of indispensability.

Indispensability whispers to us that things won’t get done without our involvement. It betrays us into thinking that if we’re not in the middle of everything then somehow we’re not being a good pastor. It hamstrings our ability to entrust things to others for collective good of the church. It plays on our insecurities grinding down the health our leadership. Frankly, the feeling of indispensability bloats the ministry of a pastor to a size of idolatrous proportions. It can also alienate you from your family and your marriage.

Brave pastors fight the temptation of indispensability. They do it by investing in other leaders, giving away ministry, and realizing the church doesn’t belong to them but belongs to Jesus. Brave pastors fight indispensability by confessing their limitations to God and others. They make it clear that leading the church is a team effort. Brave pastors learn to not only endure but appreciate the fact that church ministries may be a bit different than they would personally do it because they’ve let trustworthy, gospel-centered leaders actually lead. Brave pastors fight the temptation of indispensability by reminding themselves of passages like,

Eph. 4:11-13, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”

2 Tim. 2:1-2, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

which remind them that pastoral ministry is measured just as much by what you pass down to others as what you keep for yourself.

That’s one reason why my church has spent countless hours and tons of resources putting together a Leadership Development Program that keeps us in a healthy rhythm of pouring into leaders “for the work of ministry.” It’s why we make the pulpit a team endeavor, eschew personality-centered communications, and structure leadership in such a way that distributes many responsibilities of the lead pastor while still having a very real (and very fine) lead pastor.

Know this, the temptation of indispensability is very real pitfall for the heart of a pastor.

Brave ones fight against it.

 

 

Leading the church is a demanding task. There will be times when you come home late because of the work pastoring demands. The problem is when those seasons become the norm instead of the exception, and we spend more time investing in our churches than in our families.

This temptation is easier to succumb to if we don’t center our identity in the gospel but instead in being a pastor. Now the success of our church – in its ministries, numbers, or simply how we want our congregants to view us – becomes the thing for which we live and, consequently, that which we give the bulk of our time.

It’s no secret many churches both big and small are led by unhealthy pastors who’ve made their local church a priority over and above their marriages and families. This can be especially true of church planters who work feverishly to get their local church off the ground.

But a brave pastor invests in his family. He pours into his wife, his kids. A brave pastor knows his home is the first church he pastors. That’s why one of the elder qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:4 is that “he must manage his own household well.” A healthy pastor must lead the little church (family) before he leads the big church. A brave pastor consistently fights the pull of ministry, the ache that things need to be done (by only him), and the siren’s call that tells him his identity is anchored to the “success” of his church.

Conversely, unhealthy pastors make excuses for their inattentiveness at home. They can easily guilt their spouses saying the church must have this or that from their leadership in order for things to work. They can also drop the God bomb on them: “Listen honey, this is why I’m the pastor God called to this church!” Well, who’s to argue with him when it’s put that way? To call his judgment into question is equated to lack of faith, spiritual immaturity, or flat out rebellion against God. However, let the record show this type of reasoning isn’t the sign of his spiritual greatness but his weakness, manipulation, and cowardice.

Listen men, the local church can get another pastor, but your wife has only one husband, your kids only one father.  If you’re going to cheat on someone, cheat on the idea that you have to be doing ministry/church 24/7. You don’t. Cheat on “the ministry” so you won’t cheat on your family. Make your home a priority in your schedule. Continue to date your wife. Make memories with your kids. Don’t play quality time over quantity time. Do both well. Lead your family at home so they won’t resent ministry but see it all as a blessing from God. It bears repeating. Lead your little church (family) in order to better lead your big church.

If your spouse ever says, “How come the church gets the best of you – your energy, your creativity, and your attention – but at home we get the crumbs?” You might want to consider cheating on the ministry so you can give your family what they deserve. I should know. This is what my wife said to me. And she was right. I was cheating on the wrong group.

I’ll give you one more reason not to cheat on your spouse with the church. The church is already Someone else’s Bride. That seat is filled by the Lord Christ himself (cf., Rev. 19:7-10, 2 Cor. 11:2). You play your role as pastor not Savior. Remember, your legacy as a pastor is just as defined by the family you love as the church you lead.

Brave pastors invest in their family.