When I started this series, my intention was to frame it like the old preacher's joke: "3 points and a pome" (poem to you literate folks). The first two posts took forever and intervening posts have come and gone; frankly, I've lost momentum on this train of thought.
Except for the "pome" The poem was the dramatic conclusion to the sermon, the moment of pathos where all the intellectual brilliance and spiritual power of the 3 points landed with a thud in the hearers' hearts, breaking those hearts and driving the hordes to the altar of repentance, rededication, and reconciliation.
So I've been haranguing pastors for haranguing their congregations, demanding obeisance and other forms of blind following; exhorting the sheep to fill the coffers so the $25 million dollar pile of bricks can be properly maintained and the million dollar payroll continued without interruption.
Now I want to shine the spotlight on myself for a few words. I was a pastor once. November 2009 will mark the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the Gospel ministry. At that time, I was serving as interim pastor for a little country congregation who had, in their deranged state of mind, decided to call me as their pastor.
I was painfully reminded of that experience a month ago when I met a pastor-friend not quite my age but who started younger and probably has about as much time in ministry as I have....30 years or so. After a handshake, the first communication from him was: "I'm really disgusted with my congregation. I don't know if half of them are even saved." (as an aside: I feel that way about most congregations.....the number of church members who are really saved has to be low)
But, I didn't say anything, just let him rave on for a few minutes about how his congregation did this and didn't do that, and now it was summer and attendance was down from 100 to 50-60, etc, etc, etc. What I was tempted to ask him was this:
How much time do you spend praying for those people?
Have you ever, I mean ever, wept over them, their apparent coldness, their lack of spiritual growth?
See, he sounded just exactly like I sounded, and acted, 30 years ago. I went into that little country church and told them "what for". The next week, I raked them over the coals because they had not changed......."What is the problem? I told you a week ago how you should live, and still you are unchanged!"
I rode my hobby horses all over their turf. I had come out of the independent Baptist world into this Southern Baptist association and I spent half my time condemning the SBC and urging this congregation to leave the association and go independent. I had 5 deacons, one of whom showed up for the services faithfully. Three others were there most Sunday mornings but never at night or on Wednesday. One showed up for Easter or something like that. One day I had them all in a Sunday a.m. service and called them to the front of the congregation and gave them "down the road" Now, every one of these men was older than I, and had grown up in that church. But I told them to either "deac" or hit the door!
I am sickened by my past behavior and attitude. I'm grateful to God that His longsuffering permitted me to even live through that kind of behavior, let alone continue in ministry to this point where, finally, I have some sense. So, it was really disturbing to hear this "senior pastor" talking just like I used to be 30 years back.
I doubt God will ever put me back into a pastorate. In many ways, I consider myself a "pastor" to my inmates but it's not quite the same since I am restricted by rules and regulations about exactly what I can and cannot do regarding their families and so forth. I know that my heart is more of a "pastor's heart" today than ever before.
If I were a pastor, and I say this to those who do serve as pastors, two things: If you don't have a heart which is broken over the souls of the folks who face you every Sunday, get out! They do not need you to lecture them, harangue them, scold them, or fleece them. Secondly, if you do have that heart, you will do this without me telling you--just preach the Word faithfully and trust God to do His work in their heart. If He does it instantly, praise the Lord; if you preach there 20 years before you see change, praise the Lord. During those 20 years you'll have spent most of your time on your face before God praying that He move upon those folks because you 1.) love Him and want to see Him glorified in their lives, and 2.) because you love them and want to see them transformed into the image of His son.
Anything else that happens is secondary at best, probably less important........new buildings, new carpeting, doubled membership, all the stuff the world uses as a measuring stick. The greatest joy a pastor can have is seeing his folks changed by the power of God.....I wouldn't trade that for 3 twenty-five million dollar buildings and a television ministry.