Pastor, don’t lose your head (or anything else for that matter)! Part 1

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you.  2 Timothy 4:5 NLT

Admittedly, my principle aspiration here is to address my fellow spiritual influencers (otherwise known as Christian leaders). Everyone is supposed to influence others, make disciples, and teach the truth to people around them. But then there are those whom God has asked (well, not really asked, more like ordered!) to lead groups of people in one form or another – as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers. If you’re one of those, you certainly have my admiration. I was a pastor for over thirty years, and I know it’s hard work! My deal with God these days is that if I help/support/pray for pastors he won’t make me be one! I don’t know that he totally signed off on it, but so far so good. So, if you’re not one of those, my guess is that you’ll get something out of this (at least you’ll be entertained by the story I tell about the demon-possessed guy a couple of paragraphs from now), but you might be inclined to browse these posts and then pass them on to a pastor or other leader that you care about.

I’ve been memorizing and meditating on 2 Timothy lately. I’ve always wanted to, but never quite found the time and mental space. I do have the time now, and since, in my old age, I’ve got plenty of space after forgetting most of what I used to have stored up there, I’m having a good time savoring Paul’s mentor-to-mentee counsel to Timothy. While the whole letter is an gigantic inspiration to me, this one verse has been a sturdy scaffold of encouragement for many years.

I had a bizarre experience involving this verse in about 2004. I was on my way home for dinner with the family when I pulled off the road so I could look it up in order to meditate on it. I had been conversing with the Lord about some challenge in the church that I was serving in Santa Cruz when this verse came to mind and I couldn’t precisely recall a couple of the four things that Paul told Timothy to be sure to do as a leader. So I pulled over to find it in my Bible, in order to meditate on it during my 10-minute drive home. I was driving up Ocean Street and was just about to get on the highway to go up to our home in Scotts Valley when I came to a stop on the side of the road, kept the car running, and reached for my Bible that was in my briefcase on the seat next to me. I found the passage and began reading it out loud when movement right next to my driver’s side window startled me. Like that heart-stopping alarm that happens when you’re watching a horror movie and the serial killer jumps out of nowhere to attack his unsuspecting victim, my heart skipped a beat when my eyes focused on an enraged guy standing a foot away from my window with a menacing stare. His dark eyes, underneath black and bushy eyebrows, appeared furious. His hair was disheveled and his sweatshirt and jeans soiled. Then without provocation or warning he lifted his arms above his head like a bear about to attack, like an infuriated grizzly he growled, leaned back, lifted his right leg, and gave my car door a violent kick! Shocked, my first thought was get out of the car to check for dents and confront my demented assailant, when thankfully my own sanity (as adrenalized as it was) returned and I put the car in gear and sped away instead. I drove only a block away and got out to assess the damage and observe his next move. There was no dent (not even a footprint) on the door and the man ambled off down the street into the twilight.

Bizarre, huh? Well, I actually had several similar encounters in the subsequent few months, none of which left me with any injuries or property damage. But the accumulation of them led me to believe that the Lord was allowing the dark powers to rear their ugly heads so that I could see the spiritual battle I was in, and have an ominous heads-up about what was around the corner for me. It was shortly after this that all hell broke loose in our church, then in my family, and in my own life. As I see it, God was warning me to prepare for a ruthless enemy attack.

Ironic, don’t you think, that when this happened, the passage on which I was meditating begins with “keep a clear mind in every situation and don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord!” Anyway, let me unpack what I see in this verse in relation to living a life of spiritual service. This four-legged scaffold has helped me a lot over the years as I have tried to serve God and people (as well as resisting the taunts of the dark powers) in the most effective way possible.

“Keep a clear mind in every situation” (Don’t freak out when things get weird)

A lot of things during my pastoring days required a “clear mind.” I dealt with criticisms of church members, disunity among the leadership team, challenges of finding the right worship leader or Sunday School director, how to deal with the leader that was cheating on his wife – you name it. And then there were outside-the-box church problems, like the time when “Tim” said to me, “Isn’t it weird about ‘Frank’?”

“What’s weird about Frank?” I asked.

He replied, “You know – that he used to be a Francine.”

“Excuse me?” I said (it came out more like, “Excuuuuuse”) “Are we talking about a sex change?”

“Yeah, you didn’t know?” Tim was genuinely surprised.

“Not really, no, since he’s teaching the 2nd grade Sunday School class!” I said, sounding a little ticked.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering, this was before the days of the intense background checks that we require in our churches today. But even if it weren’t, I don’t recall a question on the form that asked the prospective children’s worker about previous sex changes!)

I could go on and on about the worship team member who I caught smoking pot or the wife-beater who threatened to beat me up or the child molester or when the woman walked over to see what was happening at our beach baptism – topless! Yeah, stuff happens, and you have to keep a “clear head.”

Pastor, when things get hectic among the people you’re leading – and believe me when I tell you, they will get that way sometimes – don’t freak out; don’t lose your bearings! It might not be as overt as a growling demonized guy kicking your car or a transsexual teaching in your Sunday School; but my experience is that the church isn’t exempt from the “trouble” that Jesus promised us in the world. When people say they wish they could live in the times of the earliest church, I usually reply with something along the lines of, “Yeah, but have you read any of the epistles? Those churches had their own insanity, thus the need for those letters to straighten them out in the first place!” Don’t forget that Jesus also said something about hell’s “gates” that wouldn’t withstand the strong advance of his kingdom. You won’t win every battle, but the war is in hand (it’s the only war in history, that while it’s still raging, the outcome can be positively predicted)!

I’m no aspiring amateur Bible translator or Greek scholar wannabe, but a simple Vines and Interlinear perusal will show what these terms mean. The “clear mind” he’s talking about here is usually translated in other passages as – “be sober.”  While it’s a good idea for a spiritual leader to avoid all alcohol-induced inebriation, it’s not just that kind of “sober” that he’s talking about here. It’s a sober minded person that has the best chance of leading people well. As a spiritual coach, keep your wits about you – make sure you’re thinking straight. If you’re not sober (in either sense of the word), you shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car or behind the pulpit of a church – you might just drive them and yourself off a cliff! You need all your faculties to lead others spiritually. When you encounter tough things in the ministry to which God called you, you’ve got to be able to think straight – keep your head together!

[In the next post or two we’ll unpack the remaining three prescriptions… In the meantime, as my dad used to say, “Don’t be a ‘Numb skull!’”]

PS If you’re interested in more input on spiritual leadership, you might be inclined to check out a more  extensive paper called “Leadership Lessons in 2 Corinthians.”

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