Pastor, don’t lose your head (or anything else for that matter)! Part 2

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 

In Part 1 we talked about the first of four important pieces of advice that Paul gave Timothy in this verse – to be sober in his thinking and not freak out when things get weird in his ministry. He knew for sure that things would get that way, and warned his protégé to keep his head together. He also knew things would get hard, that difficulty was inevitable for the one living a life of service, so he encouraged him to endure whatever came his way.

“Don’t be afraid to suffer for the Lord” (Don’t give up when it gets hard)

Not to play the Greek card in order to make me look like an expert, but I noticed that this phrase (which is a translation of just one original word) literally means to “suffer evil.” I think Paul was encouraging his young disciple to refuse to quit when being a spiritual leader seemed unbearable. It reminds me of the time when I asked the Lord what I was to do about all the loss I was experiencing at the time (divorce, broken neck, cancer). The words that ricocheted around in my thinker were “Suffer well!” (Not exactly what I was hoping for at the time! “Get well… Be well” even “Well, well…” would have sounded a lot better to me. But oh well!)

Repeatedly throughout the letter, Paul warns his disciple about the inevitability of difficulty in his life of service:  “Join with me in suffering… that is why I am suffering as I am… endure hardship with us like a good soldier… this is my gospel for which I am suffering… I endure everything for the sake of the elect…” When I searched the Bible for a more solid framework about suffering I kept running into “evil” as a primary contributing factor. I know from experience that God uses suffering to refine us and that he sovereignly takes our broken pieces and makes something more picturesque than was before. I didn’t just read that in a book, but I’m pretty familiar with this first hand. But essentially, it’s evil and its insidious instigator that imported suffering to the planet, and it’s the “free will experiment” that gives suffering its opportunity to touch us. There’s a day coming when Sin, Satan, and the System (the world, flesh, and devil) will be – in all senses of the word – fired!  But until that day, we should expect the devil to act like the devil, and evil to take its swings. At the same time, we can take heart that if we embrace it our Father will make us better through the battles.

In addition to my personal encounters with evil, and the suffering that accompanied it, as a pastor I routinely experienced it secondhand in the lives and choices of other people, both inside and outside the church. When the demonized growler kicked my car door (the story’s in Part 1) and several other bizarre incidents occurred in a whirlwind period of time, I felt as though God was pulling back the curtain that obscures the world of dark spiritual powers so that I could see what was going on behind the scenes. I started to realize how much the darkest of spirits hates us and how much he fears the people of God gathered for community!

I’m not implying that all the bad stuff that happens in the world is attributable to the devil or his demons (at least not directly). “Evil” doesn’t always require a “D” in the front – its genesis (pun intended), is not always in hell but may also derive itself in our wicked hearts. It does seem to me though that our poor choices often (if not always) get a little help and encouragement from the dark and dreary place. OK, enough of the philosophical and on to the practical…

To me, “Why?” is not the operative question when I suffer. I’m learning to be more apt to inquire about the “What?”  “What should I do now? What am I supposed do in spite of this pain?” What does ‘suffering well’ look like?” If I get any sort of call back on this, the voice mail usually sounds something looks “Staying the course, don’t quit when things get squirrely in the church.”

Several years ago I had a conversation my missionary friend, Mitch, about one of the most painful situations I’d ever experienced as a pastor. A church member had molested a young daughter of another member and the tsunami that followed nearly drowned the victim, her family, the perpetrator and his family, the church’s leadership team, the whole church, and me personally. It was absolutely awful! I told Mitch that I didn’t sign up for this kind of hell and that I just couldn’t deal with it! I was probably hoping for sympathy, but sympathy was not what my wise friend offered. “This is part of what you signed up for,” he said, “and you can deal with it in God’s strength and wisdom!” Evil and its excrement was smeared all over the place and none of us could take a step in any direction without stepping in it! Eventually hell’s gates didn’t prevail, the Wonderful Counselor inserted himself into all of our lives and grace abounded. (By the way, in spite of this horrific incident in her life, the victim is, by God’s healing grace, becoming a vibrant young woman of God!)

Especially for pastors and all spiritual leaders, there’s something to be said for merely enduring. Don’t give up when it gets hard. “You have need of endurance…” Hebrews 10:36

“Work at bringing others to Christ” (Don’t forget those who are lost)

If you think about it, as a Jesus follower, no matter how tough your life gets, it’s never as tragic as the life of the person who chooses not to follow. You might be fighting a life-threatening disease, be in a horrible marriage, or lose your house and be on the street; but if you have a friendship with God and are headed toward your real home someday, you’re infinitely better off than the wealthiest, healthiest, and happiest lost person!

Church leaders have the hardest time spending time making friends with God (i.e. cultivating a close friendship with him and then going on the “friendship quest” with him to make other friends) because they’re so busy making church members happy. OK, that’s pretty severe, but, if you’re a pastor, you know what I’m talking about. In the present world of church (at least in the West), there are a hundred demands on the person we call “Pastor” that all come before making friends with God outside the church. The pastor’s job description may have ten or fifteen items on it (most having to do with the killer “B’s”: Buildings, Budgets, and Bureaucracies!) and have nothing at all to do with “doing the work of the evangelist.” I have a friend who was fired from a church staff because, according to the pastor, he spent too much of his time witnessing and not enough on the churchy tasks for which he was hired! (While there are “important” things to maintain in the program of the church, what could be more important than sharing Christ with lost people? Didn’t Jesus say something about the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine and finding the one lost sheep?)

Most versions translate this, “Do the work of an evangelist.” You might not be an evangelist, but you can do the work of one. Their work is to tell good news (the literal meaning of the term) to people engulfed in the bad news and to equip people in the church to do the same. Public evangelistic preaching is certainly part of the work of the evangelist, and I have always loved doing that. But as a responsible Jesus follower as well as a good model to the church we have to share Christ with people one-on-one.

My first beloved pastor (“Roy”) decided to put on an “Evangelism Seminar” in the church. When he announced that he would lead and teach it I felt a twinge in my stomach. (It’s questionable whether or not such seminars are advisable in the first place. It seems to me that people learn how to witness, get a certificate, go home to put it on their mantle, and never actually go on to share Christ with people! Like many of their neatly shelved seminar binders, the certificate provides a substitute satisfaction to doing what they were trained to do!) I knew my pastor well and loved him deeply, but I was also aware that he’d spent the majority of his 40-plus years of ministry hanging out with Christians. My fears were realized when during the daylong seminar Pastor Roy decided to do a role play. He called Bill up and told him to play the part of the unbelieving witness-ee, while he’d be the witness-er. Roy asked his victim if he had considered becoming a Christian, and Bill replied, “I don’t believe in God.”

The pastor quoted something out of the Bible, beginning with the famous Billy Graham mantra, “The Bible says…”

I don’t believe in the Bible,” said Bill.

That’s when the wheels fell off and I wanted to hide under my chair! Precious Pastor Roy hesitated and with a puzzled look, cleared his throat and awkwardly said, “You don’t? Well… you should!” (To salvage the moment I called for the lunch break!) But the fact was, that Brother Roy probably hadn’t shared the good news one-on-one with a pre-christian in a long, long time. Besides the periodic “altar call” at the end of his sermons, he hadn’t really done much of the “the work of an evangelist.” He’d worked hard at pastoring, administrating the church’s program, counseling, and overseeing the budget and the building projects, but hadn’t made time to share Jesus with people outside the sanctuary.

Sadly, I think this is more common than not. I know that though I love talking to people about Jesus myself, when pastoring it was terribly hard to carve out time for it with all the demands on me to take care of the church. There were sermons to prepare, meetings to chair, and people’s burdens to bear (what a silly sentence!). I reasoned that if I made good disciples who were passionate about bringing their friends and families to Jesus, I’d done my job; and there’s truth to be found in that. No doubt, part of the “work of the evangelist” is to disciple others to share the gospel. But I can only do that if I know the way, go the way, show the way, and get out of the way!

Now that I’m outside my former ecclesiastical role and – not to overstate it at all – I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in my life on my friendship quest with God! Admittedly, my time and schedule is infinitely freer to devote myself to the quest than when I was in the role of pastor, but I’m just saying that whether or not your primary assignment is to pastor people, you can (and should) do more of the “work of the evangelist.” Get out of your office once in a while and share Christ with people! Certainly they’ll benefit from it, you’ll be enriched, and the people you pastor will have a role model to follow.

[In the last post we’ll talk about Paul’s fourth charge to his young disciple in this verse:  “Complete the ministry God has given you.” Talk to you soon…]

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