Who ministers to the ministers?


Chances are, your minster won’t tell you what I’m about to.  In no particular order, eventually, I want to share some insights with you into the inner world of being in ministry.  

Before I get started, let me say, I’ve been preaching for over 25 years and I love the church and I enjoy the role I have in ministering.  I can’t think of anything more rewarding than ministry. The road I’m on has been bumpy at times, smooth and extremely blessed at other times.  I have no axe to grind here, but I do want raise your awareness on some areas we usually remain silent on.

Why do I want to articulate this?  Congregations all across the nation are faltering, but one key component to a healthy church is stable leadership.  The longer most preachers remain in a congregation, the greater their influence in the community can be. I simply want to help out here, and help you know what goes on in the mind of the minister so that maybe you can understand us a little better, and maybe something good can come from these points.  

This is not a rant, I’m not angry, and I do not think negatively of the church. I simply hope to help you minister to your minster more effectively than perhaps you have in the past.

“But, aren’t we all ministers, aren’t we a priesthood of believers?”  If this is really your first question, I hope you’ll keep reading. When I write “minister” I’m referring to someone who has dedicated their time and energy to full-time church work and occupationally they earn their bread from ministering in a local congregation.

Here are some insights into the mind of the minister for your consideration:

We are more introverted than you assume.  It’s hard to imagine how a life of study and hours of reading wouldn’t attract introverted individuals.  Yet, many members are surprised when we confess our introverted leanings — but since there’s a stigma attached to being introverted, we mainly keep quiet about it.  We aren’t shy. It’s not that we don’t love people, and we aren’t hermits, it’s just that an overexposure to people leaves us sapped and drains our emotions and our ability to be creative.  We are recharged and energized when experience the blessings of solitude. We relish the time we have to study quietly. I wish I could’ve been like Marvin Phillips, but that’s not how I’m built and more than likely, neither is your minister.  

Often, we feel alienated and misunderstood.  When we went to Bible college and Seminary, we were surrounded with “like minded” people who deeply shared our passion and our goals.  Serving in a congregation, we are surrounded by people who have full time obligations like raising kids, working jobs, and commitments that stretch beyond the church.  We don’t always make the transition into the local church without carrying this tension of being between two worlds as well as we should, and sometimes this keeps us from forming deeper personal relationships with you.  

We frequently worry about how ministry impacts our family.  There’s a memorable song from another generation that goes something like, “The only one who could ever reach me, was the son of a preacher man…” Worry about the stresses and strains of vocational ministry and its impact on your home go far beyond being concerned “will our children rebel?”  The “fish bowl” analogy is real but it pales to the notion that the church expects far more from the minister’s family than it does most of the rest of her families. What we’d like to say is, “You ‘hired’ me, not my family,” but we don’t want to rock the boat too much. We need help guarding our family at home more than we let on.  

We aren’t experts, but we have special skills you should utilize.  It can be awkward having a room full of volunteers deciding your next pay raise, but it’s extremely frustrating when your ideas are neglected on a whim because someone doesn’t like to change.  Forget that you’ve had a few courses on the subject and the time to study it out, and the good fortune to meet with other church leaders who’ve implemented the idea. Hear us out, we only want what’s best for the Kingdom.

We have real financial needs.  Sadly, the average preacher spends more time in school than in the pulpit.  The last statistic I read concerning this said preachers quit ministry before their fourth year.  Yet, many of us rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to get the training we need to serve.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the saying, “We keep’m poor to keep’m humble,” but still many ministers languish with lower than usual salaries.  Ministers would like to be ample providers for their families too. No, we don’t go into ministry to get rich, but we don’t pursue the ministry to struggle either.

We are workaholics.  Unfortunately, we suffer from burnout long before anyone notices.  We need, not want, but need sabbaticals. When the average person goes home from work, they leave their responsibilities at the office.  Not us. We are on call 24/7, we “work” most holidays, and even when we are not in person-present serving, our minds never shut down. Every four or five years, beyond our vacation time, bless us with a month or two off to recuperate, the dividends that would pay are immeasurable.  

There’s probably more I could add, but please think on this: Your minister needs to be ministered as much as anyone else in the congregation.  We are constantly trying to feed the flock, and sometimes we end up malnutritioned ourselves. No one wins when that happens. For the sake of the Kingdom, if you haven’t already I hope you’ll consider meeting the needs of those who minister to you and mutually blessing each other.  

The Rebellion of Father’s Day

Another Father’s Day is upon us and I can’t help but think of my dad and his rebellious lifestyle:

  • As a popular high-school football player he decided to spend his life telling others about Jesus.
  • As a young preacher he switched pulpits with one of his close friends, a young, African American preacher. In the early 1970s not many churches were doing that. I’ll never forget dad taking me to this congregation and finding a sweet, older lady for me to sit beside while he preached. I loved the joy and excitement that came from those faithful Christians. Dad taught me that it didn’t matter what color someone’s skin was. We were all family.
  • When faced with the news of having a terminal illness as a young twenty something, dad continued to preach the hope of Jesus even when he could no longer speak. He turned his diagnosis into a way to bless others.

I hope you had a rebellious father. One who looked at his world and refused to let the darkness win. One who knew Jesus and wasn’t afraid to practice what he preached.

I hope you are a rebellious father. I hope you will continue to love God and love others even in a world that doesn’t. I hope you ask God to stand guard over your mouth, your eyes, and your actions. I hope you tell your children in words and deeds that nothing matters more than following the Christ and encouraging his church. I hope you fiercefully love your wife and children and fight for them. And if you need to, I hope you will forgive your own dad for his faults.

Here’s to all the rebellious dads! Happy Father’s Day!

When you have a Love-Hate relationship with “The” church

It’s been nearly seven years since I’ve preached in a church of Christ.  And on certain nights I lose sleep, suffering through the nightmares that occasionally haunt me as scenes play out from old elder’s meetings, and the negativity cranky members spewed out.  So, I’m really not sure why I still engage in conversations surrounding the churches of Christ, in person or on social media.

While I was saved worshiping in a mainline church of Christ, and I preached for about 15 years in churches of Christ, presently I’m preaching in a “non denominational” congregation.  It seems weird, nearly sacrilegious, saying I have a love-hate relationship with the C of C, but that sums it up for me.  

I love many of the people and the core ideals that are foundational to the acappella branch of the Restoration Movement, but I’m emotionally exhausted and repulsed by the latent legalism and judgmentalism that is corroding her.  It seems like I can’t shake off my past completely, since apparently I still care.  

Someone recently asked me in a Facebook thread after I pointed out Paul’s practices, why the “brethren” in the C of C ignore Paul’s continued ties to his judaistic roots as Luke records in the book of Acts, and it struck me, if you pull one thread too much, the whole fabric unravels.  In other words, if we accept that Paul worshiped with instruments (thus offering an “example or inference” of New Testament believers worshiping with instrumental music), then maybe we are wrong about our acappella stance, and if we are wrong about that, what else might we have been mistaken about?  It’s too scary to even contemplate for some.  

No matter how firm the foundation is, a house of cards is doomed to failure.  The fragile-faith of many of the well-intending but ever so fearful members of the C of C is the crux of the issue.  If one gray area can hold complete sway over us, then we are in trouble.  There I go, using “we” when most of the folks I know wouldn’t consider me as part of the fold, based on my understanding of the non-essentials.  

It’s unhealthy to claim “who’s in and who’s out” because of doctrines that are argued mainly through the silence of the Bible on those topics.  To come back from the brink, it’s time to reassess how “we” will deal with gray issues.  Simply quoting, “In the essentials unity, the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love” isn’t enough and it has to become more than a platitude, if people are going to grow and mature.   

Jesus didn’t say all men would know we were His disciples, if only we would understood every doctrine correctly.  He said love was the ultimate testimony.  Therefore a good starting point in interpreting and applying the Bible would be to focus on developing love, instead of attempting to prove we are the only ones who are right.  Love is the only way to build on the firm foundation.  

Means of Grace in Acts 2:42

Harding Profile“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Acts 2:42, NRSV.

“Our greatest trouble now is, it seems to me, a vast unconverted membership. A very large percent of the church members among us seem to have very poor conception of what a Christian ought to be. They are brought into the church during these high-pressure protracted meetings, and they prove to be a curse instead of a blessing. They neglect prayer, the reading of the Bible, and the Lord’s day meetings, and, of course, they fail to do good day by day as they should. Twelve years of continuous travel among the churches have forced me to the sad conclusion that a very small number of the nominal Christians are worthy of the name.”

James A. Harding, Gospel Advocate (1887) [1]

As a summary of early Christian steadfastness, Acts 2:42 has served as a influential reference point in the Believer’s Church tradition, and it has been especially important to the Stone-Campbell Movement. As early as the 1830s some even regarded it as the biblical “order of worship.” Others simply emphasized its fundamental orientation. James A. Harding, co-founder of Lipscomb University and namesake of Harding University, called them “means of grace,” that is, four spiritual disciplines that form believers into the image of Christ.

Harding identified the four as (1) reading and studying the Bible, (2) ministering to others (especially the poor) as we share (“fellowship”) our resources, (3) participating in the Lord’s day meeting at the Lord’s table as a community, and (4) habitual prayer.[2] Sometimes Harding identifies these with the Lord’s Day assembly or communal gatherings but generally understood Bible study, missional engagement with the poor, and prayer as daily spiritual disciplines. According to Harding, believers should adopt a kind of rule of life which involves daily Bible reading, “doing good” daily as they have opportunity, and pray every morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.

But these are no mere duties. Rather, they are “four great means of grace—appointed means by which God dynamically acts among, in, and through the people of God.[3] They are not modes of human self-reliance but means of divine transformation by which God graciously sanctifies believers. They are spiritual disciplines through which God conforms believers to the image of Christ.

Harding stressed how “the life of a successful Christian is a continual growth in purity, a constant changing into a complete likeness to Christ.”[4] To “grow more and more into the likeness of Christ” should be the Christian’s “greatest” desire. [5] In other words, Harding believed discipleship was the central dimension of practicing the kingdom of God. Consequently, one of the dangers of revivalism (“protracted meetings”) was the immediate interest in a larger number of conversions where the main concern was “escaping hell and getting into heaven” as opposed to discipling people to lead “lives of absolute consecration to the Lord.” As a result, these “converts are much more anxious to be saved than they are to follow Christ.”[6]

Harding’s antidote recommended the “four habits” of Acts 2:42 as expressions of both communal and personal piety. Whoever neglects them will falter and their “falling away is sure.”[7] But if one will pursue these spiritual practices, “he will surely abide in Christ. These four are god’s means of grace to transform a poor, frail, sinful human being into the likeness of Christ.” Whoever “faithfully uses these means unto the end of life can not be lost.” Specifically, in response to the question, “Will God hold us responsible for little mistakes?” Harding answered: God “holds nothing against us” whether we sinned “in ignorance, weakness or willfulness” as long as we live in Christ as people who faithfully practice these spiritual disciplines with a heart that seeks God.[8]

God in Christ through the Spirit is graciously active through these communal and personal faith-practices. God actively transforms believers into God’s own image, and believers who pursue these gifts of grace will experience transformation by divine power rather than by human effort.

**This is adapted from John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine, Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding (Abilene: Leafwood Press, 2006), 75-77. One chapter is devoted to each of these means of grace.

[1]Harding, “Scraps,” Gospel Advocate 27 (9 February 1887), 88.

[2]Harding, “Questions Concerning the Way to Heaven,” The Way 4 (12 February 1903), 370.

[3]Harding, “Questions and Answers,” The Way 4 (17 July 1902), 123.

[4]Harding, “Scraps,” The Way 5 (23 July 1903), 735.

[5]Harding, “Scraps,” The Way 5 (15 October 1903), 945.

[6]Harding, “About Protracted Meetings,” Gospel Advocate 27 (14 September 1887), 588.

[7]Harding, “Ira C. Moore on the Validity of Baptism,” Christian Leader and the Way 23 (18 May 1909), 8.

[8]Harding, “Scraps,” The Way 4 (26 February 1903), 401-2.