A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Hearts break

Constant Gardener Trowel

People are fragile.

Illness, depression, family tragedies, sexual temptation and sin, terminal diagnoses, adultery, mental health crises, redundancy and unemployment stalk everyone, and Christians aren’t immune from any of them.

For every ten happy faces you see on a Sunday morning, ten others come bearing the marks of stress and anxiety. Look closely enough, and at least a couple of those smiling faces are actually etched with tension. We are a great mix and all of us, at different times, feel overwhelmed or even crushed by life’s problems. Then church must stop being a club or a nice place to spend time in, and become a community where there is real care. That’s where pastors come in.

Deepest needs

Being a pastor means trying to help people in their deepest needs We deal with people when life collapses in on them. Here are some reflections on pastoral care for strugglers.

1. Pastors must be at the forefront of care. The study is not a place to hide out in while members of the body are in pain. Our sermons must have hands and feet – and at times of suffering, they’re our hands and feet!

2. Pastors mustn’t suppose that they are to give all the care. There may be others better qualified to help, in the church family or beyond it. We mustn’t be so foolish as to think that it’s all down to us.

3. Caring usually goes beyond prayer, but never goes without prayer. Pastors need to schedule extended times of prayer for people who are really going through it. As well as praying for their strengthening by God’s grace, we pray for insight into how we and the church body can care for them.

4. Pastors are often very unsure how to help, and sometimes hesitate in helping others for that reason. We’re so concerned to look as if we have all the answers and gifts, that we shy away from sufferers out of fear that we’ll look clumsy. That is sinful pride, and must be repented of and overcome.

5. Pastors have no magic wands, and no magic promises. How many Christian people have been damaged long-term by easy-breezy spiritual assurances given in the face of horror by their so-called shepherds? Sometimes suffering sticks for years and years. Hearts go on breaking. People need us not to make shallow, unbiblical promises.

6. Pastors are fellow strugglers, not action-heroes. Pastors should beware of the temptation to feel indispensable when sufferers need their care. There is only one Special One (that is Jesus, not José Mourinho!).

7. Pastors and those who try to help sufferers are fragile, too. If pastors are in a long-term and costly form of care-giving, they should make sure that others are looking out for their welfare. Churches by and large need to work a lot harder at supporting and encouraging their main care-givers.

8. Jesus wept. That means that we’re allowed to. Sometimes, that’s the very thing we should do.

9. Pastors must plan not to forget people’s suffering. We need to write down significant dates somewhere. Anniversaries of losses and tragedies stab at the heart and tear at faith. We need to reassure our people when those times come around each year that God is always good, and that his grace is sufficient.

10. Some problems never get solved. Ministry is not the inside track on miraculous grace. It is, though, God’s way of bringing strengthening grace to his people in their trials. Our willingness to visit, encourage and support those who suffer through months and years speaks volumes about the Lord’s commitment to his own, even if he doesn’t remove all their pain in this life.

11. Talk about heaven often with those who suffer. This is not a cop-out, it is indispensable to true Christian hope and present discipleship. Always, always, always encourage strugglers with the certainty of their future home.

12. One of the best snippets of wisdom I ever heard when it comes to caring for others is this: ‘walk towards the pain’. In other words, make people’s problems your priorities. Pastors, refuse to be indifferent, and refuse to be a coward. And church members – love your pastors.

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

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit our website 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.


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.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Man of mystery?

Constant Gardener Trowel

Here are 20 things your pastor wished you knew about him.

1. He knows and feels that ministry is a wonderful privilege (despite appearances which suggest otherwise, sometimes).

2. He is sometimes overwhelmed by a sense of failure in his ministry to you.

3. He’s not always sure if you know how much he loves and respects you.

4. He wishes you would open up to him more. He’s not a mind-reader, and he sometimes feels that you are content to keep him at arm’s length. Are you?

5. There are times when all he wants to hear from you is ‘thank you.’

6. He’s been sure that he should leave your church a few times already. He’s slogged through times of almost overwhelming darkness, as well as invitations to look at other churches. He’s stayed because he loves you.

7. He longs that you would say something (anything!) to him about the sermon on Sunday, or what you’re learning in the Bible.

8. He goes home from Sunday services thinking about you. Sometimes he even dreams about you. You are on his heart and mind far more than you realise.

9. He actually doesn’t care if you or anyone else in the church forgets him when he’s retired or gone to glory. As long as you’re safe in heaven, he’ll be more than happy.

10. He (mostly) loves preaching. He would hate you to think that it’s a burden to him.

11. He knows that no one in the church, not even his Elders, knows how difficult it is to preach, week in, week out.

12. Even when you’re at your most spiritually cold and fault-finding, he genuinely longs for a deepening spiritual friendship with you.

13. He puzzles over how much you think about your salary, but never think about how much your church salaries him.

14. He prays for you regularly. This is a heart, will and time commitment.

15. He needs your prayers and your encouragements. Pastors are in the devil’s firing-line.

16. Nothing thrills him more than finding out that you’ve been busy in gospel work, without advertising your work to others.

17. He loves being a part of the church family, as a regular member, as well as the pastor. He loves eating, laughing and sharing life with his Christian family.

18. He deeply respects your complicated,busy life. When he’s calling for commitment to the church, he’s not forgotten all that you’re already juggling.

19. He remembers your acts of kindness to him, probably long after you’ve forgotten them.

20. He loves Jesus. Even when he gets it wrong as he pastors you, he’s trying to work out his love for the Lord to you.

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

This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Ministering to the moaners

Constant Gardener Trowel

They never set out to be grumblers.

But 40 years into their Christian lives this couple were known in the church above all as people who were never satisfied. Everyone knew them as trouble. People endured their moans, but no one ever challenged them, including the church leaders – and including their pastor. How did they let this couple harm so many others for so long, and maybe themselves, worst of all? Why do people moan and complain? Here are some ideas:

Because they may be in pain. Moaners are hurting people. They may well be hurting about something in church life. Often, it’s a pain in another area of life which finds its angry expression sometimes in the trivial details of church. If, for example, you’re being badly treated at work, chances are you might be taking your stress out at church. Sounds familiar?

Because they probably do care. However badly expressed, moaners are often those who really do care about the church. Just because they don’t express themselves helpfully, it doesn’t mean that they don’t see what needs fixing. I always try to think of my moaners as ‘critical friends’, however unfriendly they might be! Moaners could well be the church’s greatest asset, if challenged on how they behave, and then given the opportunity to express themselves better.

Because it’s empowering. When you moan, you’ve suddenly got people’s attention. You’ve grown in importance in their eyes, as they listen to you. Or so you think. I recall hearing of a number of people who went to their pastor with deep concern about their church’s complainer. They’d rumbled her for what she was, an insecure person who needed the power of Christ to renew her heart.

Because sin wants to master us. Sin is destructive, to ourselves and to others. In our sin we can love to take down those we don’t like. Some desires to complain are just destructive, and nothing else. Complainers always need to be challenged, tenderly, respectfully and firmly.

Because the devil is real. He wants to devour souls, pastors and churches. He wants to replace our praise with bitterness and sniping. He wants to bring the chaos of disunity through gripes and moans. Complaining is one of the weapons he uses against the Lord of the church.

So, what should we do when we feel the force of complaining?

A word to pastors

Two things for you to think about. Firstly, search your heart when you hear about complaints, or receive them personally. Don’t explode, and don’t collapse. It’s a fool or a coward (or probably both) who refuses to listen to unpleasant things. Seek to learn, grow and change. Secondly, take moaning seriously. It’s a great blight amongst God’s people. You must go to its source as soon as you can. Don’t put it off and hope it’ll go away, because it won’t. Your job is to love your people enough to speak into their problems, especially into their complaining.

A word to church members

The fruit of the Spirit includes love, peace and self-control, even as we deal with disappointment, in the church of Christ just as elsewhere. Make your pastor’s job a joy and not a burden, not by keeping your problems to yourself, but by seeking to express them with the care which honours the Holy Spirit and enables his work. Aim only to say what is helpful, for building others up. And pray for the courage to respond in a God-honouring way to those who want to get you onside with their complaints. Refuse to complain, and resolve to bring your problems with leaders and members alike to those they concern.

Let’s return to the couple I started with. A godly man sat down with these two people, and showed them the sin which had gripped their hearts through all those years. They were shocked, not at his courage in speaking the truth in love, but in seeing who they had become. As the difficult truth was ministered, this couple caught the first glimpse of the pit they had fallen into. They are making a steady and wonderful recovery. So how are you ministering to the moaning?


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

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Why this new column?

credit: iStock

credit: iStock

I don’t think that many EN readers are avid consumers of the Guardian newspaper.

Still, you may have heard of ‘The Secret Footballer’ column in that paper. For the last few seasons an anonymous Premiership footballer has chronicled the ups and downs of the professional game. For us readers, it’s the inside story on a world we might think we know. But as we read it, we discover that we’ve only been guessing all the while.

What’s it like to be a pastor?
In my experience, committed Christians have little understanding of what their pastor does. Sure, pastors preach, lead meetings, visit the sick, chase down the evidently lukewarm, do ‘ministry stuff’; but beyond that it’s all a bit of a mystery. No one ever dreams of asking us just what it was we did last week. Have you ever asked your pastor how he spends his time, and what it’s like doing his job? I thought not.

That’s why I’m writing this column. I’m a UK pastor and I love the work of the ministry. I’m working in a mixed congregation of ordinary people. By ‘ordinary’ I suppose I mean those who are loveable, and those who are, to me at least, less loveable. We’re not a huge church, and we’re not a handful. We’re not failing too awfully, and we’re not having an earth-shattering impact on our area. Not yet, anyway.

Beyond that, I won’t tell you who I am. That’s because I want to use the column to write about my ministry. A ministry that’s earthed in the real lives of people, and that’s shaped by God’s grace in my own situation. If you know me or my church, then it’s hard for me to write. Because you don’t know me (and I’ll be careful to cover my tracks), I can write with greater freedom, and so I can get to the heart of some of the issues in church life and ministry.

More than anything, I want to show you what it’s like being a pastor. I’m not writing with axes to grind, moans to indulge, or agendas to promote. I’ll be writing this column about pastoral ministry for two reasons:

A joyful life
First, I want you to see that my life as a pastor is a really joyful one. Despite appearances, we pastors are largely a very grateful and glad breed of men. Oh I know, pastors can be miserable and pastoral ministry brings miseries and agonies. I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll be there again. But the vast majority of pastors I know love their calling and those they serve. I want you to see why, for your encouragement. Ministry is the partnership of leaders and people. Who wants to be partnering with a professional misery? I want to show you where my joy is as a pastor.

A sacrificial life
Secondly, I want you to see that ministry is a deeply sacrificial work. If I’m doing it properly, my work is deeply costly to me. That’s true of almost any job of course, but ministry has particular demands. The man who stands up on Sunday may be ministering out of a heart filled with tears. You may be the cause of his tears. What does it mean to carry your cross as pastor? As we see the cost for our leaders, we can learn to support them.

Coming soon!
So, part diary, part musings, part confessional. I look forward to sharing some ministry inside out with you. Next month: church hand grenades and other terror tactics from the pews.

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

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057