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Tag: pastoral ministry

When the Floor Falls In

We were living in my uncle’s rental house that he was so graciously allowing us to use rent free for a time.  Things at the church I had been pastoring hadn’t ended well, and my wife and I found ourselves in the most difficult spiritual and financial season of our marriage.  In hope of sparing both the church and my family as much pain as possible, I chose to resign my position in June 2010 after the Deacon Board gave me the ultimatum, resign or be voted out by the church.

Two years later in September 2012 right before we moved out of the rental house, something seemingly symbolic happened.  We were packing up boxes one evening when three-quarters of our bedroom floor fell in!  It was an old farmhouse, and the termites finally got the best of the floor joists.  I couldn’t help but think of how the “floors” of my ministry had “fallen in” just two years prior.

Resigning from a church you shepherd because of schism is one of the most painful experiences of ministry.  I have known several pastor friends and read about many more who have gone through it, and now I had experienced myself.  But I can say, God uses such pain for glorious things.  Most of these come from my personal experience, but the principles apply to many circumstances.

     1.  Personal Sanctification: At that time, I feared man more than God to the point that I sometimes worried about getting “fired” or having to resign if I were to speak out on all my convictions.  Now, I’m a bolder and better pastor, a better husband, and a better father because of God’s sanctifying grace.  Now my theology of the Church (ecclesiology) is more sound and clear.

     2.  Repentance:  A part of my personal sanctification is repentance.  I don’t write this article out of bitterness but out of the realization that I could have been a more personable and loving pastor to that local church of God.

     3.  Wisdom for Others:  I have a story to share that can be of encouragement and help to other pastors who are in calloused or otherwise difficult churches.  For example, I learned that just because a small group of influential people says the majority of the church wants you gone, it’s not necessarily true.  Since 2010, I have heard from other pastors that experienced this same thing.

Add to this, I have a story to share with churches as to how to go about addressing major differences they have with a pastor.  I actually agree with the deacons of the church I was pastoring that it was probably best that I leave.  That’s a big part of why I resigned.  The issue was the way they went about the process.  (To be clear, the schism was over particular theological points and not any unrepentant or disqualifying sin on my part).

Here are a few words of wisdom for a church having issues with her pastor:

     1.  Be sure to address disagreements, sins, or perceived sins privately.  Jesus commands us in Matthew 18 to address one another privately before getting multiple people involved.  Give the pastor the respect of a proper hearing in private.  This will help clear up any misunderstandings that might be leading you toward the wrong conclusion.  When you give that hearing, be clear about the perceived problem.

2.  Be sure to involve all witnesses that are accusing a pastor of sin.  Beware of entertaining “hearsay” or “secondhand” accusations.  Don’t pass along accusations from others by saying things like, “There’s a family in the Church that said that you said. . . ”  Instead, simply say something like, “There’s a family in the Church that believes you have said . . .  I suggested that they talk to you about it.  Perhaps you should go ahead and reach out to them.”  This is approach is a much better way to guard against gossip, slander, and miscommunication.

     3.  Be sure there are no “secret” meetings of select leaders.  Whether an Elder Board or a Deacon Board, there should never be secret meetings held for the purpose of amassing “evidence” against any leader in the Church.

     4.  Be sure to follow the guidelines outlined in your church’s by-laws.  Some churches fail to realize that the by-laws are a legally binding document.

     5.  Don’t use threats to intimidate a pastor.   Avoid threats like “resign or we’ll vote you out” or declarations like “everybody wants you to leave”.

     6.  Realize it usually takes many months for a pastor to move into a new pastorate.  It took 18 months in my case.  In the meantime, your pastor will likely loose his family’s health insurance, and because church’s don’t pay into the unemployment system, there are no unemployment benefits to lean on.

In the end, resigning or being fired from a church as a pastor because of schism is bitter-sweet.  It’s bitter knowing I could have been a better pastor to that flock.  It’s bitter knowing that the church could have done a better job of handling the situation.  It’s bitter being separated from people with whom you had grown close.

But, it’s sweet to know God gave me an opportunity to repent and grow in spiritual maturity.  It’s sweet knowing my intentions to preach the gospel, see people saved, and disciple men were true, though I fell way short of what I could have been.  My intention in pastoring that flock was true.  It’s also sweet to know that the church I pastored has the opportunity for repentance and growing in spiritual maturity too.  And this is a cause of praising God for His patience and grace demonstrated in His glorious providence!

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

A few months ago I read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry, which was written by John Piper and published by Broadman & Holman.  As to be expected, Piper has produced yet another God-glorifying text on a most important issue in the American church.  In the opening chapter, he highlights what the pastor ought to be and then questions how closely evangelicals are adhering to this biblical standard:

“I think God has exhibited us preachers as last of all in the world.  We are fools for Christ’s sake, but professionals are wise.  We are weak, but professionals are strong.  Professionals are held in honor; we are in disrepute.  We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.  When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:9-13).  Or have we?”  (p.2).

The book contains thirty chapters, mostly short, in which Piper exhorts American pastors strengthen areas of pastoral minsitry that he believes have languished in recent years.  Because of the lengthiness of any attempt to addres every chapter, I am going to choose my favorite quotes from various portions of the book and simply quote them.  In doing this, I hope to unobscure Piper’s own words and allow him to speak on his own behalf.

  1. Chapter 1: Brothers, God Loves His Glory–“Why is it important to be stunned by the God-centeredness of God?  Because many people are willing to be God-centered as long as they feel that God is man-centered.  It is a subtle danger.  We may think that we are centering our lives on God, when we are really making Him a means to self-esteem.  Over against this danger I urge you to ponder the implications, brothers, that God loves His glory more than He loves us and that this is the foundation of His love for us. . . .  God’s ultimate commitment is to Himself and not to us.” (pp.6-7)
  2. Chapter 4: Brothers, Live and Preach Justification by Faith–“If you work for your justification, what you are doing is trying to put God in your debt.  And if you succeed in getting God to owe you something, then you can boast before men and God.  If you worked for justifcation and you succeeded, you would not get grace, but a wage.  God would owe it to you.  And when you got it, you would be able to say, ‘I deserve this.’  And that, Paul says, is not what Abraham did.” (p.25)
  3. Chapter 6: Brothers, Tell Them Not to Serve God–“What is God looking for in the world?  Assistants?  No.  The gospel is not a help-wanted ad.  It is a help-available ad.  God is not looking for people to work for Him but people who let Him work mightily in and through them.” (p.40)
  4. Chapter 7: Brothers, Consider Christian Hedonism–“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” (p.45)
  5. Chapter 8: Brothers, Let Us Pray–“Oh, how we need to wake up to how much ‘nothing’ we spend our time doing.  Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to ‘nothing.’   For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer.” (p.55)
  6. Chapter 12: Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker–“Where pastors can no longer articulate and defend doctrine by a reasonable and careful appeal to the original meaning of Biblical texts, they will tend to become close-minded traditionalists who clutch their inherited ideas, or open-ended pluralists who don’t put much stock in doctrinal formulations.  In both cases the succeeding generations will be theologically impoverished and susceptible to error.” (p.84)
  7. Chapter 16: Brothers, We Must Feel the Truth of Hell–“When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news.” (p.116)
  8. Chapter 19: Brothers, Our Affliction Is for Their Comfort–“When Paul says to the Corinthians that his afflictions are for their comfort and salvation, he implies that there is a design and purpose in his sufferings.  But whose design?  Whose purpose?  He does not design and plan his own afflictions.  And Satan surely does not design them to comfort and save the church.  Therefore, Paul must mean that God designs and purposes his pastoral afflictions for the good of the church.” (pp.139-140)
  9. Chapter 21:  Brothers, Don’t Fight Flesh Tanks with Peashooter Regulations–“Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one.  Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world.  Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.  Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength.  Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in the church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in the church.” (p.155)
  10. Chapter 23: Brothers, Tell Them Copper Will Do–“The person who thinks the money he makes is meant to mainly to increase his comforts on earth is a fool, Jesus says.  Wise people know that all their money belongs to God and should be used to show that God, and not money, is their treasure, their comfort, their oy, and their security.” (p.168)
  11. Chapter 28: Brothers, Focus on the Essence of Worship, Not the Form–“It will transform your pastoral leadership in worship if you teach your people that the basic attitude of worship on Sunday morning is not to come with your hands full to give to God but with your hands empty to receive from God.  And what you receive in worship is God, not entertainment.” (pp.238-239)
  12. Chapter 29: Brothers, Love Your Wives–“Loving our wives is essential for our ministry.  It is ministry.” (p.246)

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta