A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: For heaven’s sake, confer!


Pastor Anonymous Dec 2014

Church leaders conferring at 2014 FIEC Leaders’ Conference

Pastors must go to conferences.

Pastors need days away from the pressures of ministry in the churches they lead. We need each other, new scenery, good friends, encouragement, r&r, and the whole host of other things which conferences give us. Residential conferences in the course of ministry are a gift from heaven to the church’s leaders.

Extra support

Not all church leaders can get away, of course. Bi-vocational ministries, home-life demands and other factors mean that leaders sometimes just cannot get away. These men deserve our extra support. They should be the exception, though. Most pastors should be getting away.

We must stop seeing conferences as… (to read more click here)

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the December 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Slow grace?


Slow Grace?I met Neil seven years ago.

He came to our church, smiley, friendly, and obviously nervous. He knew that he was coming into a network of friendships, and we could see that he felt daunted about it. We knew that we needed to give Neil a lot of space to get comfortable amongst us, and that included all the hospitality and friendship that he wanted.

Given to us

Neil was approaching middle-age, single, and a bit of a mystery. We knew that he was very grateful for his church upbringing in another part of the country, and his commitment to his elderly mum often took him back there. We didn’t know who his friends were, and very little about his work. But that’s fine. The Lord had given him to us as someone we were charged to (to read more click here)

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the November 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Deep rest for deep ministry


Constant Gardener Trowel

(view original article here)

No pastor wants to ask for a sabbatical.

Sabbaticals are seen by too many as the refuge of the lazy, the weak and the workshy.

If a Christian minister is to leave his post for a period of time, he may think it confirms his church’s suspicions that he’s a sponger, exploiting his congregation’s goodwill.

I for one know very few lazy evangelical pastors. I know dozens who are worn-out, overwhelmed and therefore ineffective in their calling.

These men need a sabbatical, and they and their churches need to understand what that involves, and why it can be such a blessing.

Pastors need sabbaticals

Ministry is exhausting. If you are properly preparing and declaring God’s Word week in week out, it will exhaust you. If you are caring for people, really bearing their burdens, weeping with them as they weep, it will take its toll. If you are making yourself the servant of peoples’ deepest spiritual needs, you will pay the price. Sabbaticals are not luxuries; for most proper ministries they are essentials if the worker and the work will flourish long-term.

What is a sabbatical?

I see it as an extended time of paid leave, when the pastor has no responsibilities in the church he is serving. A month is a minimum, six months is certainly a long time in UK circles, three months is a good length. Ideally, the pastor (and his family) should aim to be away from the home and church for at least some of that agreed-upon time.

What should you do on one?

The answer is, whatever you need in order to get refreshed. Lie on a beach, if that’s your thing; do a course of study, whether that’s your own planned reading, or a seminary module; write an article, or a book; learn an instrument; go and be part of and study another congregation or ministry. Just work out what will refresh and encourage you for the next leg of ministry, and make your arrangements.

Arrangements are complicated.

If you are married, or have school-age kids, then you must think and talk these things through. How will your wife and the children benefit? Three months being dragged off after husband’s / dad’s pet ambitions is a recipe for family strain.

Talk, plan, pray, prepare. And don’t attempt too much. This is to be a rest, after all. The last thing you need on sabbatical is to feel frustrated at how little you accomplish – you’ve got ministry for that! Set realistic goals which don’t over-exert.

Arrangements for the church need time to put in place. The church needs to understand what the sabbatical is, why you’re seeking one, and what the implications are for the church’s life. This needs a series of leadership-level conversations held a minimum of six months before the proposed sabbatical. Pastors, expect the church to be surprised at the request and probably daunted by the implications. Take time to answer all questions from your fellow leaders and church members. At the end of the day your sabbatical must be something they’re enthusiastic about, too.

Never apologise for seeking a sabbatical, if you’re convinced you need one. And remember, it’s common in the secular workplace for employees to have courses, opportunities for exploring other work-experiences, or managed career-breaks. Asking for a relatively modest time away from the burden of ministry is not an outrageous request. It can also do the world of good to a church. The pastor is not the church’s Saviour, simply his servant. It can – and should – do without its Undershepherd for a season every now and then.

Policy in place?

Does your church have a policy of sabbaticals for your pastor? Have you discussed a sabbatical with him? And if not, why not? You and he could be missing out on a highly enriching experience.

 

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Get out of town!


 

Constant Gardener Trowel(view original article here)

Pastors are a strange breed.

We’ve established that. But they’re exactly like anyone else, and no less so than when it comes to holidays. Pastors need to rest, but find it very hard to rest well. Now we’re into holiday season, here are a few thoughts and pointers on taking time out in the summer.

Not taking full holiday

Many pastors (I include myself) don’t usually take the full allocation of their holidays. This is true. They are usually conscientious, we love the job, and sometimes we are just not organised enough to take off necessary and entitled rest. If you’re a Christian leader and this is your habit, then you need to address this fast. Don’t listen to that nonsense which says, ‘I’ll take a holiday when the Devil takes one’. And don’t think your skimping on rest tells everyone that you’re tough and godly. You may be tough and godly at the moment; the chances are that you’ll join the casualty list of the fallen if you don’t take proper holidays. It’s an overtired, joyless vulnerable you who will be your church’s next disaster. Get out of town!

Tips for the pastor on holiday

Pastors often have the grumps on holidays. Ministerial exhaustion seeps out and colours everything. Sometimes, very sadly, it spoils everything. I almost always collapse in tears at least once on our holidays over something (usually trivial). I discover that all my mental and spiritual energy has been used up in ministry. I need to watch out for all sorts of emotions. Be aware, and remember that forewarned is forearmed.

Holidays aren’t heaven. How often are our holidays spoilt by silly expectations? Holidays can be about sinners attempting to gain the world. That will fail. We Christians are people seeking a bit of R&R on our way to the real rest of heaven. If you expect that a holiday will meet all of your needs, you’ll be disappointed. Relax – it’s only a holiday.

The holiday is for you. Pastor, you are exhausted, you need to rest. Holidays are for going slowly. They are for sleep, and unhurried meals. If you really need to go white-water rafting after a ten mile pre-breakfast jog, then do it. Probably, you don’t, and shouldn’t. Don’t flog yourself to try to give your family a week or two of unforgettable thrills. They need you to be refreshed for the long-term, even if you’re not the 24-7 action dad on holiday.

That said, the holiday is for your family. Enjoy yourself, and do the things you love to do. Don’t feel guilty about the odd morning on your own, if that recharges you. But be as generous as you’re able to be in giving yourself to your family. Don’t resent or get out of family time. Your family goes without you a lot through the course of your ministry year. Holidays are pay-back! Serve them by being all-in on your holiday.

Remember your soul. Plan to feed yourself spiritually. Choose your books carefully before you go. Take something which stretches you spiritually, something which warms and reassures, something you would never normally read, and a novel or something else totally removed from work. Know what you want to read in your Bible, and stick to it. Load your iPod with sermons. And don’t try to read or to listen to everything, it just won’t happen! Go where your mood takes you. Also, aim to get an extended time of prayer, away from everyone else, in the first day or two of the holiday. That has a wonderful way of putting things back into focus before the Lord, so that you begin to rest properly as the holiday unfolds.

Tips for church members

Lastly, two pointers for those who love their pastors:

Insist that your pastor takes his full holiday allowance each year. He will be better for it, and so will his ministry. Elders need to make him accountable to rest just as much as they should encourage him in the work. Does your church have that one covered?

Then finally, how about paying for, or making a contribution towards, your pastor and family going away? And not to a wind-battered static caravan somewhere you got dirt cheap but wouldn’t dream of going to yourself. Give generously, and invest in their rest and together-times, as an act of love. That might be better done anonymously, as a pastor’s job is often harder when he’s aware of particular gifts within the church. However you do it, make him sure that he’s taking a break with your love and full support.

Holidays and rest are a big subject. Over the next three columns we’ll think about burnout, and the place of sabbaticals. For now, remember, you need to go away. And enjoy it, for Jesus’s sake.

 

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Neither a shouter nor a whisperer be


 

Constant Gardener Trowel(view original article here)

Preachers communicate. No, change that. Preachers are called to be, and must learn to be, communicators.

Often, though, we preachers make rather a bad job of it. We want our words to give a particular message, but our faces, voices and bodies are actually giving a very different one. It’s communication, alright, but it’s totally confused, and confusing.

So what are two of the preacher’s biggest communication problems? For my money, it’s shouting and whispering. Many a good ministry has been spoilt by these tendencies. Preachers need to own up to them if found guilty – and learn to change!

Givin’ it large!

By shouting, I mean that tendency in the pulpit to preach at 100 decibels when it’s really not needed. That could mean actual shouting, belting it out as the noise bounces off the walls. It certainly means that strained, overly-intense delivery which assaults the mind, rather than feeds it. The listeners probably won’t be listening, though they’ll be putting up an attempt to fake it. Shouters are exhausting. They exhaust themselves, and those they’re called to communicate to. The sermon is delivered with such volume that they’ve long since stopped communicating.

I was listening to a Reverend Shouter last year. He said very little that was new, and nothing stimulating. Yet he worked himself into a frenzy of exhaustion, straining and sweating himself into a torrent of unedifying verbiage. All fireworks, but no fire. And no edification. Let’s be clear: preaching is an urgent business. It’s a living word from the living God. But heaven give us the wit to see when it’s the preacher who’s set himself on fire and not the Spirit of God. Shouting may impress, but it is not gospel communication.

Softly, softly

But what of the whisperer? I’m not thinking here of actual whispering. Of course, the preacher must be audible, and clear in his speech. A preacher who can’t fill the room with his voice needs urgent help. I’m thinking more of the man who preaches everything with a very English reserve, poise, and quietness. Nothing is urgent, nothing is pressed on the congregation. It’s a ministry full of propositions, even encouragements. But there are no ultimata, no clear ‘turn or burn’ challenges. The pulpit of the Reverend Whisperer never shocks, never shames, never argues, never rebukes, and never, never, raises its voice.

Imagine a preacher who preached hell with no obvious sense of dread and horror, and heaven with no brimming emotion? Instead, he just gave us ideas, factually accurate truth about them. How nice. But how awful. It should be unthinkable. Pulpit communication means handling each truth with the right emotion, to help the hearers feel the weight of the truths, and to give them the space in the sermon to process them. They need rousing, and stirring, and, on occasion, pulpit tears may be the Spirit’s gift to bring truth home. They also need compelling Bible logic, clearly delivered as they work out the Bible’s message for their lives.

Let me offend everybody!

I’ll stick my neck out, and tell you where you’re likely to find these preachers. The shouter’s a Baptist, more than likely (his Celtic cousins may be Presbyterian ministers). After all, Baptists have always been a largely uneducated lot, so they probably need a good shout (and might even enjoy it). The whisperer preaches to his Anglican parish, in moderate, dulcet tones. His people are educated, of course. They probably know their Bibles, so his business, he reasons, is to remind them, and invite them to believe what the Good Book says. Exceptions abound, but the rule, I think, applies.

So, sermon hearers, help your preacher. It’s not wrong to help him think about how he could communicate more effectively. Do it with care, and spoonfuls of tactful love, and you are doing him a great service

And, my dear brother preachers, look at yourselves. Better still, listen to yourselves. Go on, I dare you! Listen to a recording of yourself preaching, and identify how you could communicate God’s Word better. And please don’t think you’re safe because occasionally you ask a trusted congregant, ‘what did you think of the sermon?’. Instead, pluck up the courage to ask them, ‘how did I communicate in my sermon?’. Find out what your communication bad habits are. Learn to change, while you can.

 

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: We live to preach


 

Constant Gardener Trowel(view original article here)

I love preaching.

It is a great joy, as well as a daunting responsibility. I’ve been preaching now for about half my life. I can barely remember a Sunday before regular preaching duties. I don’t want to think of a retirement without preaching. Please don’t misunderstand me: preaching is not my self-justification. I happily listen to other preachers. I don’t ‘need’ to preach. It’s just that preaching is the consuming reality of my life.

The cost

It’s also the hardest thing I do in my week. Nothing gives me so many worries, frustrations, such a huge sense of disappointment in myself, and such a sense of inadequacy in front of my church. I would so often rather visit, administer, do leadership tasks, tidy my study, even do door-to-door evangelism! It’s honestly the hardest part of my ministry.

People in evangelical churches occasionally catch glimpses of the work and cost of preaching, and they’re almost always surprised and often shocked. ‘It takes you how long to prepare your sermons?’ Ask a promising younger man in church if he would consider preaching his first sermon, and his breezy confidence is soon exchanged for a careworn, weight-of-the-world expression as the appointed Sunday comes into view. There have been happier faces going to the guillotine. I know men who’ve worked in big business and who’ve had high pressure jobs who are now in full-time Word ministry. They tell me how the responsibilities of handling God’s Word brings a quite unique strain, week in, week out. Perhaps no-one else realises what a heavy responsibility the preacher’s task is except the man in the pulpit. I’m fine with that, but if you’re not a preacher, I think it helps you to be aware of it.

Disciplined preparation

I preach twice most Sundays. That means that sermon preparation dominates my week. And I’m a pastor who loves to be out, seeing people, training the gifted and evangelising unbelievers. I have to discipline myself to be in the Bible and in the books that will help me to preach accurately and thoughtfully. When I’m in the car or doing exercise I will try to listen to sermons on the passages I’m preaching. I’m always hunting out illustrations, scanning the news, mentally playing back conversations – anything which I can use to make my ministry fresh and helpful. I go to bed with sermon prep, and wake up with it. Preaching is consuming. I actually love it that way.

My Sundays now are fuelled by two things – grace and adrenalin (caffeine doesn’t count). I wake early on a Sunday with that churning, ‘why aren’t I a postman, or a marine biologist, or just about anything else?’ feeling. I get to my study early to pray and work through my notes. I preach at church just as well as I’m able, grace allowing. After I’ve preached again in the evening I frequently feel on a high, relieved at the close of another Lord’s Day, so grateful for the privilege, cheered by signs of engagement from my hearers, and eager to start the work of prep all over again for next week.

Blue Monday

Mondays are the pits. Ask any preacher. In the cold light of day we see just how far short we fell from what we wanted and hoped for. As we review our sermons (or get others to), we realise how much clearer, kinder, more interesting or accurate we should have been. We see the many ways our preaching failed – again. We ask the Lord for forgiveness (we sometimes feel like asking the congregation for theirs, though I don’t think that will help things). The best thing to do on a Monday is to believe the gospel, get humble again, and get into the study to start work on Sunday’s ministry.

There’s a famous old statement on preaching which we preachers love. The American pastor Phillips Brooks famously said, ‘If any man be called to preach, don’t stoop to be a king’. I love these words, because I know how they affirm the preacher’s task. I passionately believe that preaching is the highest and best calling this side of glory.

Two things to do

Two requests for church members: firstly, please, please encourage your preacher. He needs to know that you’re listening, taking in the Word, growing, and following the Saviour as the fruits of his ministry. Please don’t assume he knows you value his ministry. On his worst days he probably thinks you don’t at all, and can’t bring himself to ask you. Send him an email, buy him a book, find fresh ways to express your appreciation, beyond ‘thanks for that’ as you hurry out of church. Build him up, so that he can build you up, week in, week out.

Secondly, pray for your preachers. Pray for them as they prepare through the week, and as Sunday comes. Pray for them once they’ve discharged their duties. Preaching is, after all, hard work, and heavenly work. A church’s praying will be the power of the pastor’s preaching. Believe it, and expect it.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: They held hands


Constant Gardener Trowel

(view original article here)

We were chuffed that they’d chosen our church.

A couple with good jobs, and well-behaved children, and they wanted to be part of our church. Our church?! A lovely, eager, problem-free family, landing in our pews and our lives. We all looked forward to getting to know them and enjoying helping them get stuck into the church’s work. God is good.

He is good, and he was very good in bringing us this lovely couple and their kids. They did get stuck in. My family and theirs had meals at each others’ homes, and they were some of the most vocal encouragers I had. And even I, naïve and slightly optimistic younger Pastor as I was then, knew that smiling faces can easily hide crying hearts. After a couple of years I saw the husband’s tears when he opened up to me. It was the marriage.

Opening up about marriage

Middle-aged men don’t easily share their problems. Marriage problems are some of the most painful, and the hardest to share. But he opened up. One day he told me that the marriage was little more than a convenient partnership. Loveless, sexless, grey, sad, and even tragic. The kids knew the simmering anger between the parents, the separate lives they led, the enforced smiles when at church. The dad was terrified that this strain was starting to have its effect on the children. Divorce frightened him, too, but he knew it was an option. He knew he needed to get some help.

First step

We all know that finally owning up to problems is the first step to tackling them. I felt honoured that this dear friend told me just how bad things were. We know, too, that men are particularly guilty of not recognising problems, or explaining them away, or just plain ignoring them. I believe that it was a work of God’s Holy Spirit that this man said that he needed help. He and I sat down for a couple of long conversations. I knew that he and his wife would actually talk more freely to a Christian marriage counsellor than to me, and that in this situation that was the right recommendation to make. So they set their first date for an open discussion with the counsellor, and those meetings began.

Beautiful story

What happened next, and what’s happened over the ten or so years since that conversation, is a simple but very beautiful story of healing. Slow, obviously, with fits and starts, and some relapses into old attitudes and patterns of behaviour, but the solid rebuilding of trust and love, and establishing intimacy again. I remember how he shyly smiled as he proudly told me ‘we held hands last night. We just sat on the sofa and held hands.’ I was so thrilled for them both. Today they are still at our church, seeing their children grow towards adulthood. They’re just as committed to the gospel. And their lives show those marks of Christian authenticity. The Holy Spirit’s enabling, the grace of God, faith in his promises, obedience to his Word. It’s all there. And it’s beautiful.

Encouragement

Why tell you all this? To encourage you. God works in ordinary people, taking ordinary trials and tears, and bringing new strength, and real progress. If that couple had divorced, people would have grieved for them, but then moved on. God’s Spirit brought them both to long for change, then to seek help, and to work for change. And here they are today, as real, time-tested signs of the quiet power of God.

The church is a strange coming-together of weak, struggling people. Make sure appearances otherwise don’t deceive you. Treasure your church family, they are a most precious gift of God. Pray for each other, help each other. Be honest, and pursue openness. Believe in very every-day and yet wholly supernatural grace. Celebrate those who are still pressing on in the gospel.

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website or subscribe to en for monthly updates.