Thursday, October 14, 2010

Message to tired pastors everywhere, and yes to their people, too

I run a small blog, and don't get tons of visitors.  That's okay, because what I post here I do for the sake of myself and those few but faithful readers who value what God might have to speak to them through my meager words.  But I do keep track of how people arrive at here on these pages, and month in and month out there is one consistent search phrase that has led pastors to my site:

"I'm tired of being a pastor"

I know why that search lands pastors here.  I wrote a blog post about that very topic a while ago, detailing my struggles with disappointment, with burnout, with striving to find the energy to continue on preaching Christ's precious Gospel.  And how that desire which we feel should be a burning flame sometimes sputters to a cold ember.

Pastors, I know what you're going through.  I know the depth of pain that prompts you to publicly cry out in anguish and the pressure that only allows you to say it via Google.  I've felt the desire to find someone to share my burdens, and I've turned to the anonymity of the internet to do so.  You're tired, you're despondent, you despair of the uncertainty of God's calling and even of God's gifting.  You're fighting an uphill battle, and you wonder if you will ever, EVER, be given the blessing of seeing fruit produced from your work in the vineyard.

Pastor, take it from one who's been there and will no doubt be there again:  You are burned out.  For too long you've been operating under your own strength.  Your great love for God and your life's sole desire to see people impacted by the same Gospel that has saved you has resulted in your tireless, constant work.  But it's work that has changed from when you began.  It's now work that the Enemy of the church has very carefully, very subtly shifted off your true focus.

You used to work because Christ called you.  You used to preach Christ because you could not keep quiet.  Now you work because you want to see fruit.

Not that spiritual fruit is bad . . . it's not.  Not in the least.  It's what we celebrate.  It adds a savor to the work we do that encourages us to keep on keeping on.  But it's not your job to produce it.  And if you are deep enough in despair to proclaim your weariness to a search engine, I will be you dollars to donuts that your despair is because you so badly want to see fruit that you've forgotten that God--and not you--is the only One who can cause a planted seed to grow and ripen into fruit ripe for harvest.

You've looked with longing for fruit and believed Satan's lie that if it's not growing, you're not faithful.  That your Kingdom contributions are worthless.  That God can't use you any longer, and that He hasn't been using you for a long, long time.

You've been lied to, and you have believed the lie.

Pastor, my heart breaks for you.  Right now I'm choking back tears as I think of you and your dashed dreams and shattered hopes.  I know that statistically many of you will continue on working, hoping to work your way out of burnout.  I know that out of those who dig deep for the strength to go on another day, many will eventually turn to sexual sin, sabotaging their own ministry just to be shed of the burden.  Many others will resign in discouragement.  A few will continue to serve behind the facade of a smile, but inside will be dry as dust, faith shriveling day by day under a spiritual drought from which they will never recover.  None--let that word soak in--NONE will get through burnout through their own efforts.

Pastor, let me say this to you: I appreciate what you do.  You are operating in areas of God's Kingdom that I could never reach, understand, or see.  You are sowing Gospel seeds into fields that I will never visit.  You are making my precious Christ known to a generation that I will never meet.  I place an incredibly high value on you, on your work, upon God's call on your life.  I applaud you, and in my prayers I thank God for you.

I appreciate your work, I affirm God's calling on your life, and I am still telling you to STOP.  Stop now before it gets too late.  Drop the facade, do whatever you have to do, and stop.  Rest.  Get away from the office and from the demands and from the pressure, take your Bible, go to a secret, quiet place, and get to know Jesus Christ once again.  Refresh your heart in Him.  Remember the passion you once felt and confess all the reasons and sins that have kept you from serving with zeal.

For God's sake, man . . . take a Sabbath.

For your sake, pastor.

For the sake of your family.

For the sake of your church.

Start today, right now.  Walk out of the office and get alone with God, even if it's just for the afternoon.  Tell someone what you're going to do and then drop off the face of the earth.  God needs this time with you alone, free from all the distractions of ministry, to water your soul.

Take a Sabbath, cry out to God, get honest with Him, and you will find that He will get honest with you.  I promise that all the cares and concerns will still be there when you get back.  But I also promise that when you are done speaking to God, He will speak to you.  And if you listen to His voice, if you do not turn away, if you allow Him to be God and renounce your attempts to take His job, He will refresh you.

He will water your dry soul.

He will lift your discouraged spirit.

He will repair your shattered faith.

He will be your God, and you will be His servant.

God bless you, pastor . . . may you find in Him the rest you need.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable

I have a new-found appreciation for being uncomfortable.

It seems like it's been years that we've been living in a state of permanent discomfort.  No, not because of our ratty old couch (which should be hitting the curb this week, yay!), but a more emotional discomfort caused by life's trials and tribulations.  Call it stress if you wish, but for me it's been something more like the result of a deliberate, Divine act of pulling me apart from the world.

Imagine a vine: Its tendrils are seated firmly and comfortably deep, deep into its surroundings.
The vine needs this for stability, for nourishment.  I suppose the vine has concluded that it would not be able to live without being firmly attached to where it lives.

Now consider a Christian: Like the vine, your typical Christian becomes very attached to where it lives.  Sinking down roots, the Christian lives and works in a community, doing so for God's glory and the salvation of man.  The Christian forms meaningful relationships with others that bring benefit both to himself as well as to them.  He thanks God for all that He has given, and praises God for the blessings of life and living.

But eventually, even the most devout Christian begins to believe that he can't live if his roots were pulled up.  That the emotional and financial nourishment that his perceived stability brings must remain intact in order for life to continue.  His sense of living is tied directly to his sense of comfort in knowing his surroundings well.

But the Christian forgets that he is not the vine . . . he is merely the branch.

I'm not the vine.  I'm not.  Christ is.  My job is not to draw my comfort from my surroundings, but rather receive nourishment from Christ.  And while all the things that make me comfortable are good and gratifying and God-given, they are not my source of life and living.

So in a bizarre twist, I'm trying to feel comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.  To wonder what happens next.  To feel displaced in the world.  Because when this happens, I am more likely to recognize that my true source of comfort is Christ.  The vine--and not my surroundings--gives me the nourishment I truly need.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Regarding my announcement in church yesterday: My season here appears to be drawing to a close

There are seasons in every aspect of life.  We all know this, and for the most part we accept it and often even embrace it.  After all, who doesn’t love to see the changing colors of the leaves as they herald the arrival of a new season of warm fires, comfortable sweaters, and quiet evenings with friends?  We’re grateful to God for giving us those kinds of pleasant seasons.  Even when they come to an end, we are grateful for the gifts He gave and the memories we have.

For some time now, the leaders of Our Saviour and I have been seeing signs that indicate God might be drawing my season as pastor here to a close.  First and foremost is the declining state of our church finances.  As a church, we have been anxious about it, we have been diligent about managing resources well, and we have been prayerful.  And yet finally, after many, many months of carefully observing financial trends, Chairman Mike Brinkman, Head Elder Mike McNamara, and I met and mutually agreed that it would be fairest to the church and fairest to my family and me if I were to very actively seek another call.

What you should know regarding that decision:
  • The decision was not made lightly, nor was there any pleasure in it.  It pained all of us, and we are very aware that it will pain you, as well.  We are sorry for that.
  • The council has agreed to maintain salary and benefits at current levels until December 31st, 2010.  This in and of itself is an indication that we are trusting God to provide what we ourselves cannot.
  • I have not resigned my call, nor has it been terminated.  I will remain your pastor until the Lord makes it clear that He has chosen me to serve elsewhere.  If that means even after December 31st with no visible means of support, so be it. 
  • The council and I are investigating the best possible way to have a pastor continue Word and Sacrament ministry at Our Saviour in the event God has prepared a call for me at another church.  I promise you will be cared for.
  • I do not currently have another call, and all reports indicate that calls are somewhat difficult to come by as of late in the LCMS.  I would appreciate it if you would join me in prayer that God would work in a timely fashion.

Though every one of us will almost certainly feel denial, sadness, and even anger over this situation, I encourage you to remember this:  I bear no ill will towards anyone regarding this decision, and neither should you.  We remain Christ's family.  Let us trust in God our Father to decide what is best for us, and let us have faith in His good and perfect will.  

It is true that the Lord does seem to be drawing my season here to a close.  And yes, it is true that this makes me . . . well, it makes me grieve like I have lost a family member to death.  But I encourage you to remember that where God is at work, He is working to bring good into our lives.  God has been at work among us.  He has made us His very dwelling place.  As long as His Word is preached and His Sacraments administered, you can be assured that He is here, in this church, working to bring His good into your lives and your lives into His good.

Finally, I encourage you to a season of prayer.  Chairman Mike Brinkman has felt the burden to begin a weekly prayer ministry that will not only offer prayers for the Lord’s will be done for myself and for Our Saviour, but for all who need His comfort, assurance, and healing.  From now to at least the beginning of Advent, he and I invite you to gather together as the family of Christ and pray.  7:00 p.m. Wednesday evenings, here at Our Saviour.