Re-post: Both Tender and Tough

Photo Credit: skedonk (via flickr.com)So, as we saw in my first post on this topic, the Apostle John knew how to address his people with tenderness at a time when heretical wolves were threatening the flock. Is that all? Does that mean that pastors’ main task today is to console their people like a nursemaid hovering over a sick child?

I note another characteristic of the Apostle in his first letter, one that I consider complementary to the first. Without this, in fact, he would not be John. On the one hand, when it came to caring for the flock and dealing directly with them, he was gentle. But, on the other hand, when it came to upholding sound doctrine and confronting the heresy threatening the integrity of the church, he was tough and unbending — a virtual warrior.

Here’s one of his strong declarations: “The man who says, ‘I know [Jesus Christ]’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (2:4). Here’s another, “No one who lives in [Jesus Christ] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (3:6). There’s no give there. His epistle is marked with such statements.

Here’s the hint we need: All of John’s applied doctrine — that is, doctrine that calls his people to a certain manner of life — arises from the conviction with which he begins his epistle: that God, in Christ, actually came into human flesh! We call it the Incarnation. John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, and our hands have touched — this we proclaim” (1 John 1: 1). At this point, John reflects no give. Primary doctrine is a life and death matter. Loving pastors stake their lives on it.

This was necessary because heresies were beginning to threaten the young church before the first century closed.

There was a heretic named Nicolas whose followers believed and taught that in moral matters, anything goes. Antinomianism is the word for this position. John could not countenance this, because he knew that such teaching could permeate the church like yeast in an unbaked loaf of bread.

There was also a heretic named Cerinthus, with whom John himself apparently had doctrinal run-ins. Cerinthus believed that matter was evil and so denied that Christ actually came in the flesh.

In addition, gnosticism — a heresy that threatened the church in the second and even third centuries — was beginning to sprout as an enemy of the gospel. The church was under attack.

Pastors need both virtues today — tenderness and toughness. The saints today need to know that they are under pastors who care for them with a tender love. At the same time, they should sense that they are being guided by pastors who have a clear sense of doctrinal integrity and who will lay down their lives to guard against the heresies of today that threaten the minds and hearts of God’s people.

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Re-post: Tenderness Plus

Photo Credit: the bpp (via flicker.com)I recently taught seven lessons from that little gem of truth tucked away toward the end of the Bible called First John. Seven lessons by no means exhaust the richness lodged in this epistle, but amidst all the riches, two things about pastoring stand out to me each time I read the letter through.

Today, I’ll write about one of them, tomorrow about the other. The first one is about the writer’s loving tenderness for his flock.

First, some background. Tradition says that the writer is John the Apostle, aged and living now in Ephesus. But, aged or not, he continues his pastoral work. Perhaps the letter is written to a special congregation in Ephesus. More likely it is to a string of churches that he is superintending in that region of Western Asia.

One thing is obvious — the young church is besieged by false teachers (1 John 2:18,19, 26; 4:1-3). It needs inspired pastoral protection and guidance. That is what John’s first letter is about, delineating the truth that separates true believers from heretics. And how does he go about this task?

In the midst of an heretical attack on the church, he shows his tenderness toward his flock as reflected in his repeated words of address: “My dear children” (2:1); “Dear friends” (earlier translated, “Beloved”) (2:7); “Dear children” (2:18); “My brothers” (3:13). And on and on throughout the epistle, at least 15 times. The believers he addresses must have already been torn by uncertainty over the teachings of the antichrists who had come among the flock. They needed to feel the regard of a tender and loving shepherd.

Is pastoral tenderness, whether expressed openly or covertly, needed by congregations today?

Toward the end of the twentieth century, reports began to surface of some pastors who were treating their parishioners very roughly. At that time some leaders on the seminar circuit were promoting the idea that pastors should function more like CEOs do in the industrial world. The irony is that good CEOs don’t mistreat their employees. Even so, some pastors tried.

For example, one parishioner went to her pastor to speak of a concern. To her shock he responded: “If you don’t like my leadership, go somewhere else.” That was not an isolated case. It is reported that another pastor told a faithful parishioner bluntly: “This church has a front door and a back door.” The implications were clear.

It’s true that a church member may sometimes need to find a different place to fellowship. But in civility challenged times like ours, we could all stand to pray for the gift of gentle love such as the Apostle John displayed toward his flock as he taught them. Or that made Jesus be forever remembered as the “great shepherd of the sheep”
(Heb. 13:20).

But there’s a matching aspect to John’s leadership, and I’ll write about that in my next post.

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Grocery Shopping and the Pastoral Work Ethic

Since my retirement I do most of the grocery shopping at our house, and this is a big switch. Kathleen gives me a list and often says, “make sure you get exactly what I’ve written down.” She may underline this by saying, “If you can’t find exactly what’s on the list don’t bring anything.”

Then, every two or three weeks she goes with me on a special mission to stock up on items she wants to select herself. On those occasions she gives me a list of staples to gather up while she scouts the store.

She’s a better shopper than I because she’s been doing this for most of our 63 years of married life. I’m relatively new at this household chore because when I was serving as a pastor and later a bishop I made it a point to avoid grocery stores during daytime hours.

I said to myself: at three in the afternoon my parishioners aren’t free to slip away from their office or their construction job to pick up a dozen eggs and a bottle of milk; shouldn’t I be as diligent about my work as they are about theirs?

I would allow for exceptions if there were an emergency, as any other professional would. But Kathleen and I were in agreement about the important work I had been called to do and we would avoid breaks from the routines for what might seem to be unnecessary interruptions.

During those pastoral days Kathleen would occasionally say to me over lunch, “Rev. So-and-so was pushing a grocery cart in the store at ten this morning.” I would wonder to myself, what would people say if they had seen the CEO of the factory in our town shopping for groceries at that hour? Or the principal of the school our children attend? They’re expected to be at their jobs.

Later, in 1974 when we were assigned to move from the USA to Canada to give oversight to the church here, it was a new situation. The Board of Administration bought a house with two large finished basement rooms. This house was to be our home, and until more permanent office arrangements were made the basement would provide a room for a secretary and a larger area as my work space.

After a couple of weeks of miscellaneous chores — purchasing office furniture, arranging for telephone service, choosing paint colors, and otherwise settling both house and office — I gave full attention to my new assignment.

At first Kathleen would occasionally come to the head of the stairs and ask if I could come up and hang a picture or give my opinion on some wallpaper. I explained that I was now on the job and if my office were across town I would have to wait until evening to meet her requests.

We laugh even yet when we remember her unexpected response. The mental picture of my office being across town from our home registered. She was okay with it. So, usually at eight o’clock in the morning I would stand at the head of the stairs leading down to the work area and announce, “I’m going to work now.” She would come running from elsewhere and with mock seriousness kiss me goodbye — as if I were leaving for Alaska.

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This Week’s Visit to the Seminary

NortheasternKathleen and I are just back from a visit to Northeastern Seminary in North Chili, NY. We go there once a semester to meet with a four-hour evening class. The class has a collection of my materials on practical pastoral issues and from them Professor Gerhardt gives me freedom to deal with subjects of my choosing.

Northeastern seminary is on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College. From Brampton we travel westward around the western end of Lake Ontario, then east along its southern shore, crossing the Niagara River and driving 75 miles further east to the edge of Rochester, New York.

This semester the class was smaller than usual, but with a cross-section of Christian traditions – 12 students from Lutheran, Free Methodist, Pentecostal, nondenominational, Baptist and others. There were African Americans and Caucasians in almost equal numbers. But color or traditions were scarcely noticeable, veiled by the warm evangelical spirit that seemed to tie classmates together.

It was a mature group. There were ordained ministers, two or three already assigned to serve a congregation; others were on the way to ordination; yet others were lay church workers. One young woman introduced herself to me as a laid-off mechanical engineer who showed strong interest in the subject of the course.

First, we discussed the Christian funeral with its ramifications. I recalled that when I was in seminary more than fifty years ago the professor gave one lecture on the subject. That was valuable, but the first funeral after seminary can be daunting. Facing death with a family, empathizing with them, and then putting their loss into Christian perspective in a service of worship and consolation is a significant task.

Last night the subject of weddings and marriage raised interesting questions. One asked: Should a minister marry unbelievers? Answer: Marriage is an institution ordered by God for the blessing of all mankind, not merely a provision for Christians. We derive this viewpoint from the matchless story of Adam and Eve. The story is rooted in creation. Christians say marriage is the covenanted union of one man and one woman intended until death. But whether a man and woman present themselves as believers or nonbelievers, it is the duty of pastors to show due diligence in proceeding in accordance with the rules and regulations set down by the body whose ordination they hold.

The question whether a minister should marry a believer to an unbeliever was raised. The Scriptures clearly declare that Christians are to avoid the “unequal yoke” because, “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Cor. 6: 14-18). Pastors need to have this question resolved in their minds and to have reached a good understanding with their church board before the matter comes up.

We have visited Northeastern happily in this role for several years. Each time, the fact that Kathleen is with me seems to mean a lot to the class. It gives us both opportunity to share with an oncoming generation of pastors and other church workers some things we know about the pastoral life from long experience. Passing the torch like this also makes us feel like an ongoing part of the church of Jesus Christ, who himself was “that great shepherd (pastor) of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20). Of equal blessing to us is this: each time we visit, a sense of collegiality develops quickly and age differences don’t seem to matter.


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Both Tender and Tough

Photo Credit: skedonk (via flickr.com)So, as we saw in my first post on this topic, the Apostle John knew how to address his people with tenderness at a time when heretical wolves were threatening the flock. Is that all? Does that mean that pastors’ main task today is to console their people like a nursemaid hovering over a sick child?

I note another characteristic of the Apostle in his first letter, one that I consider complementary to the first. Without this, in fact, he would not be John. On the one hand, when it came to caring for the flock and dealing directly with them, he was gentle. But, on the other hand, when it came to upholding sound doctrine and confronting the heresy threatening the integrity of the church, he was tough and unbending — a virtual warrior.

Here’s one of his strong declarations: “The man who says, ‘I know [Jesus Christ]’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (2:4). Here’s another, “No one who lives in [Jesus Christ] keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (3:6). There’s no give there. His epistle is marked with such statements.

Here’s the hint we need: All of John’s applied doctrine — that is, doctrine that calls his people to a certain manner of life — arises from the conviction with which he begins his epistle: that God, in Christ, actually came into human flesh! We call it the Incarnation. John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at, and our hands have touched — this we proclaim” (1 John 1: 1). At this point, John reflects no give. Primary doctrine is a life and death matter. Loving pastors stake their lives on it.

This was necessary because heresies were beginning to threaten the young church before the first century closed.

There was a heretic named Nicolas whose followers believed and taught that in moral matters, anything goes. Antinomianism is the word for this position. John could not countenance this, because he knew that such teaching could permeate the church like yeast in an unbaked loaf of bread.

There was also a heretic named Cerinthus, with whom John himself apparently had doctrinal run-ins. Cerinthus believed that matter was evil and so denied that Christ actually came in the flesh.

In addition, gnosticism — a heresy that threatened the church in the second and even third centuries — was beginning to sprout as an enemy of the gospel. The church was under attack.

Pastors need both virtues today — tenderness and toughness. The saints today need to know that they are under pastors who care for them with a tender love. At the same time, they should sense that they are being guided by pastors who have a clear sense of doctrinal integrity and who will lay down their lives to guard against the heresies of today that threaten the minds and hearts of God’s people.

Bookmark and Share

Tenderness Plus

Photo Credit: the bpp (via flicker.com)I recently taught seven lessons from that little gem of truth tucked away toward the end of the Bible called First John. Seven lessons by no means exhaust the richness lodged in this epistle, but amidst all the riches, two things about pastoring stand out to me each time I read the letter through.

Today, I’ll write about one of them, tomorrow about the other. The first one is about the writer’s loving tenderness for his flock.

First, some background. Tradition says that the writer is John the Apostle, aged and living now in Ephesus. But, aged or not, he continues his pastoral work. Perhaps the letter is written to a special congregation in Ephesus. More likely it is to a string of churches that he is superintending in that region of Western Asia.

One thing is obvious — the young church is besieged by false teachers (1 John 2:18,19, 26; 4:1-3). It needs inspired pastoral protection and guidance. That is what John’s first letter is about, delineating the truth that separates true believers from heretics. And how does he go about this task?

In the midst of an heretical attack on the church, he shows his tenderness toward his flock as reflected in his repeated words of address: “My dear children” (2:1); “Dear friends” (earlier translated, “Beloved”) (2:7); “Dear children” (2:18); “My brothers” (3:13). And on and on throughout the epistle, at least 15 times. The believers he addresses must have already been torn by uncertainty over the teachings of the antichrists who had come among the flock. They needed to feel the regard of a tender and loving shepherd.

Is pastoral tenderness, whether expressed openly or covertly, needed by congregations today?

Toward the end of the twentieth century, reports began to surface of some pastors who were treating their parishioners very roughly. At that time some leaders on the seminar circuit were promoting the idea that pastors should function more like CEOs do in the industrial world. The irony is that good CEOs don’t mistreat their employees. Even so, some pastors tried.

For example, one parishioner went to her pastor to speak of a concern. To her shock he responded: “If you don’t like my leadership, go somewhere else.” That was not an isolated case. It is reported that another pastor told a faithful parishioner bluntly: “This church has a front door and a back door.” The implications were clear.

It’s true that a church member may sometimes need to find a different place to fellowship. But in civility challenged times like ours, we could all stand to pray for the gift of gentle love such as the Apostle John displayed toward his flock as he taught them. Or that made Jesus be forever remembered as the “great shepherd of the sheep”
(Heb. 13:20).

But there’s a matching aspect to John’s leadership, and I’ll write about that in my next post.

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10 Tips for Young Pastors

Photo Credit: "Outside the camp" via flicker.comPastoral work is demanding. It has its peculiar stresses. But, it is also deeply satisfying when done with wisdom and care. Here are some suggestions gleaned from 22-years of pastoral ministry and another 19-years as a general church overseer.

1. Ground your ministry in daily Bible reading and prayer. Pray daily for your people. Pray often through the day. Consider that pastoral labors grounded in prayer are the “gold, silver and costly stones” the Apostle Paul speaks of as durable building materials used in pastoral labors (1Cor. 3:10-15).

2. If your study is at the church, be there at a set time each work day. I suggest 8 A.M. God honors a good work ethic.

3. Spend your mornings in sermon preparations, reading, and related study. Be diligent. If you have a secretary, have her guard these hours. Don’t allow legitimate resources to become time-wasters — the Internet, TV, video games, long telephone calls, news papers, news magazines, etc.

“If in the morning you throw moments away,
You’ll not catch them up in the course of the day.”

4. Get an exercise program and stick to it, whether it be jogging or swimming or walking or exercising to a DVD. If you have no better idea, consider, as one possibility, incorporating this routine into an extended noon hour. A jog, then a sandwich, an apple, and a beverage need take no more than an hour-and-a-quarter.

5. Do not have favorites. If your attachment to one person or couple or family becomes obvious — you meet regularly for meals together, even go camping together — this will make other members feel second rate. The pastor must be pastor to all the people all the time. If you need more intimate friendships, form them outside the congregation — with a neighboring minister, for example.

6. Never, discuss church problems in the presence of growing children.  They do not have the wisdom to handle adult problems.
Their trust may be damaged, and eventually their respect for Christ and his church.

7. If division develops over some issue (whether to launch a building program, add a staff member, change the music program, etc.) give leadership through proper channels. But don’t take sides by talking informally with one faction or the other. To do so will deepen the congregational rift and likely shorten your tenure.

8. Develop a clear understanding of your boundaries and observe them — with the opposite sex, the aged, children, young people, church officers, staff members, etc. Strive to keep all pastoral relationships above reproach.

9. However modest your income, set an example of responsible stewardship. Show leadership in tithing your income. If you have debts that are out of hand, seek professional counsel. Your care with money will increase the congregation’s trust in your leadership.

10. Never ask to borrow money from your parishioners. To do so puts parishioners at a disadvantage, may reduce their respect for you, and if not repaid as agreed may create a rift that puts your pastoral tenure at risk.

Pastoral ministry is built on the ability to preach and teach the Bible. But it is also grounded in genuine godliness, basic ethical competence, good interpersonal skills, and beyond these on common sense. These ten points do not tell the whole story but they offer some time-tested suggestions about how to avoid the traps that sometimes spring and limit or even shorten a minister’s usefulness to the Lord and a congregation.

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