Surrendering to the Head

Recently I was struck by two pictures. Both were of churches in prayer, a model for all of us, to be prayerfully embraced with one another petitioning the Lord together. Beautiful. But the position of the pastors was different in the two pictures. In one, the pastor was one the floor with the church, close to them and occupying the same space – in it together. The second pastor wasn’t close to the congregation. He was pictured high above the church as they huddled, he hovered as if looking over his domain.

Now just because these tow pictures have different pastoral postures means nothing about the reality in each church, and we can’t conclude anything about the pastors by the pictures. But the difference forced me to contemplate my own posture toward those I shepherd along with our team of elders. Then Jack Miller gave word to the reality in too many churches.

“It’s almost as though I try to act as the head of the church. I know that may sound silly. Who after all is so stupid as to think he can replace Christ as Lord over the church and its mission? Still, the history of the church has very few pages that are not blotted by the megalomania of church leaders. It is simply that we are prone to fall in love with our own authority as official leaders and unconsciously distance ourselves from Christ as the real Head of the church. We begin to try to control the church or the members of the team and end up in personality conflicts with brothers and sisters who either dislike our control or want to impose their own control on us. When this happens, we are inwardly swept by anxieties. For the irony of it all is that the more we try to control the work in our own name, the more the work and its problems control us. We begin by trying to own the work of God and end up with the ministry owning us. Perfecting the work becomes our bondage, and the bondage manifests itself by our losing the capacity to patiently listen to others and to be corrected by them.”

“Indeed when we get into this perfectionist frame, we can fall into some very nasty bondages in our leadership. We hate criticism; we get preoccupied with trivia and are willing to fight major battles over minor issues. We feel threatened when anyone disagrees with us or introduces an idea that is unfamiliar. I once knew of a church situation where a pastor and his associate gradually developed such a rotten relationship that more than once they beat on each other with their fists!”

“So I want you to join me in confessing our human depravity as leaders. Do not be surprised to find your corruption expressing itself in perfectionist self-will in your own leadership style. Expect to encounter in yourself defensiveness, dominance, and poor listening practices. But I also urge you to have much greater confidence in Christ’s capacity to release you from such bondages. He is the crucified Head of the church, the only One who knows how to perfect it! Just to know that fact, to rest upon it, and to build upon it, is to be released from the bondages which duty imposes upon out spirits. You find His liberating grace through honest confession of sin and fresh release by surrendering the government of the church to its Head.” – Jack Miller, The Heart of a Servant Leader.

May we surrender…

The Pastor’s Prayer

Ever climbing. Ever strategizing. Ever studying. Ever worried about outcomes and growth and finances and hurting people. This is the life of a pastor. It is a good life. Rich with joy and the glory of the gospel. But this life is not about how well I can climb or what solutions I can devise. This is in fact God’s cause. And I rejoice to be in it.

Today I am thankful for the reminder from this prayer from the Valley of Vision.

“Sovereign God,

Thy cause, not my own, engages my heart, and I appeal to thee with greatest freedom to set up thy kingdom in every place where Satan reigns; Glorify thyself and I shall rejoice, for to bring honour to thy name is my sole desire.

I adore thee that thou are God, and long that others should know it, feel it, and rejoice in it. O that all men might love and praise thee, that thou mightest have all glory from the intelligent world!

Let sinners be brought to thee for thy dear name!

To the eye of reason everything respecting the conversion of others is as dark as midnight, But thou canst accomplish great things; the cause is thine, and it is to thy glory that men should be saved.

Lord, use me as thou wilt, do with me what thou wilt; but, O, promote thy cause, let thy kingdom come, let thy blessed interest be advanced in this world!

O do thou bring in great numbers to Jesus! Let me see that glorious day, and give me to grasp for multitudes of souls; let me be willing to die to that end; and while I live let me labour for thee to the utmost of my strength, spending time profitably in this work, both in health and in weakness.

It is thy cause and kingdom I long for, not my own. O, answer thou my request!”

Proclamation and Presence

What is the role of a pastor? I often wonder how I should answer this question for myself doing ministry and for those thinking of being vocationally involved in the church. While I might be called a “director” the reality is that I do pastoral ministry so I must fully contemplate what that means so I can venture to do it better. In my short time in ministry I am learning that pastoral ministry has two key functions: Proclamation and Presence.

First proclamation. This word pretty clearly is defined by “preaching” and teaching. But I want to suggest that it is vitally important what we preach and anything less than the gospel of Jesus is in fact not proclamation and instead entertainment, condemnation or simply empty rhetoric. Those we are called to shepard are in need of the proclaimed truth of who Jesus is and what that means for our lives. The world around them declares plenty of platitudes and tells plenty of silly jokes. Pastor, you are called to proclaim the truth of Christ’s finished work on the cross and our life in response to and because of that. You should really have just one sermon – preached through every text of the Bible week after week.

Without proclamation our people have no rudder and no hope. Without proclamation we usually end up with a bunch of guilt ridden overworked disciples or those that think the world is their oyster and nothing can hold them back. Neither reflect the gospel. Be about proclamation.

The second piece of the pastoral calling as I see it is presence. Be with those you pastor. There have been a couple of moments already this week that I realized the people I am leading just need me to be with them as they pursue Jesus and face the difficulties of life. This one that lots of time and availability but it is worth it. You can show them the truth of Christ being with them as you are with them. In our culture of “balance” and “clocking in” diminishes the presence piece of ministry and if you are more worried about your office hours I wonder how badly your church is in need of your presence. Being present is not clean and orderly. It might mean longer hours, it might mean emotional exhaustion, it might mean a lack of “balance” but it is what we must be about. We pursue our savior and ensure we are refreshed in Him and then we pour ourselves out for those we pastor.

With these two parts of pastoral ministry handled I think you will be in a pretty good spot. What are things we could add to the list? Should we add anything?