By Thom Rainer
Any pastor or other church staff member should be prepared in biblical truths. Theology is a key discipline as well. Indeed none of the classical disciplines should be forsaken, nor any of the practical disciplines, such as missions, evangelism, or church planting.
But the American culture has shifted dramatically in a relatively short period. The United States is becoming more like an international mission field. As a result, ministry training, whether formal or informal, should reflect this reality. Missionaries are typically required to receive intensive cultural and language training before they go overseas. Frankly, a similar need exists today for those in American congregations, or those planning to go to these churches.
So where are the greatest needs? My list is certainly not exhaustive, nor is it in any particular order. But I do see all of these areas as key to reaching our new and challenging culture.
- A new language. If a pastor or church staff member does not “speak” social media, he or she is neglecting one of the fastest growing trends in our nation, indeed in our world. It is no longer a fad; it is a primary means of communication.
- A non-Christian culture. Our nation is fast becoming a non-Christian nation. While we lament the relative decline in the numbers who follow Christ, we must also accept the reality that those in our community cannot be assumed to be like us, or to hold our values.
- The decline of cultural Christians in churches. The Pew Research project confirmed the dramatic increase in the numbers of people who have no religious affiliation. For our churches, this development means that most people do not feel cultural pressure to attend churches. More and more, those who are there are convicted Christians and not Christians in name only.
- A new work/life balance. Pastors and church staff members have always been on call 24/7. But now they are connected 24/7 as well with computers, smart phones, and other technological advances. For better or worse, the world of work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred.
- Unregenerate church members. Cultural Christians are those who really know they are not believers, but are affiliated with churches for cultural reasons. But another group includes those who may cognitively assert a belief in Christ, but have really not had a conversion. For certain, this development is not new. But we are seeing the cumulative cost of weak discipleship and false conversions in our churches. How will we respond to the issue of numbers of members who are not truly believers?
- The community as a mission field. Can we change our mindsets and be better prepared? Our communities are not just changing because there are fewer Christians. They are changing with an influx of new ethnic groups and people of other religious beliefs.
- Less automatic cultural respect of church leaders. In past years, those who held the title of “pastor” or some similar nomenclature were revered in the community just by the position they held. Such is not the case today. Respect must be earned one day at a time.
- A more critical world. Many pastors and church staff members do not deal well with the more transparent and critical world in which we live. Some retreat to a form of passivity or paths of least resistance. And some quit altogether.
- A greater need for leadership skills. The world in which we live is complex. We may long for simpler times, but that won’t change our realities. Church leaders must be better leaders in more challenging times.
- More churches in need of revitalization. This last item may be last on the list, but the need is huge. As many as nine out of ten of our churches are in need of some level of major revitalization. There are tens of thousands of these churches, and the implications for equipping leaders for them are vast.
This list may be discouraging to you as you read the cumulative implications. I see it, however, from a different perspective. I see this new reality and this new mission field as a great opportunity. No, it’s not your father or mother’s church. It’s a new and challenging reality requiring a missional mindset. It requires total dependence on the One who sends us to the mission field. And that is exactly where God wants us.
What do you think about this mission field called America?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 10, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Pastor Joe McKeever at www.joemckeever.com (used by permission)
“Therefore, we do not lose heart.” (II Corinthians 4:1,16)
From time to time I receive notes like this:
“I resigned my church tonight. Just couldn’t take it any more. The bullying from a few strong men (or one family in particular) finally wore me out. So, I got good and fed up, and tonight I tossed in the towel and told them I was through. It feels good to walk away and leave all this stress behind. But now, I will be needing a place to move to, a way to support my family, and when the Lord is ready, a new church to pastor. Please keep me in mind if you know of a church in need of my services.”
Nothing about that feels right. I want to call to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or or a moment of discouragement? You walked away from the place God sent you? You quit a well-paying job without knowing where you will move your family or how you will support them? Have you lost your everloving mind?!”
I guarantee you the pastor’s wife is thinking these thoughts, no matter how loyally she supports her man and aches to see him struggling under such a heavy load.
I would like to say to every minister I know that unless you are sure the Holy Spirit inside you is saying, “This is the time. Walk away now,” don’t do it. Do not resign abruptly or impulsively.
Here are 10 reasons not to quit and walk away even when to remain there is killing you….
1) God sent you. Stay until He says otherwise or until you are fired.
You may not be able to keep a church from firing you–some of the finest ministers on the planet have been terminated at one time or other–but if it’s up to you, stay until He tells you to leave.
So, pastor, you found the going to be tough, some of the leaders resistant, and a few members to be criminal in their behavior? You grew tired of fighting them and fed up with the way they treated you?
I have something to say to you, my friend.
No one said it was going to be easy, least of all the Lord who called you in the first place. Go back to Matthew 10 and read what He said to the early disciples, from verse 16 through the end of the chapter. Compare your situation with what they were facing, then apologize to Him for your belly-aching.
2) The church needs you to see them through this crisis.
There are good people in your congregation who need a shepherd. If you walk away, you are abandoning them to the bullies who have been making your life miserable and ruling that church with a heavy hand.
If the bullies remain in place, the church will continue to be sick and stunted in its growth and ministries. Read Acts 20:28ff and notice that from the very beginning of the Lord’s church, it has been this way. Your church is not unusual. It may be sick, but if so, it needs a physician and that’s why you were sent. Stay with the patient.
3) If you walk away, the bullies win, they are empowered, and they will try to control the next pastor.
The pastor who follows you will wish for all the world that you had cleaned out that nest of vipers before leaving. As it was, he will feel you took the easy way out, turned over the keys to the trouble-makers, and made sure the next preacher will have to deal with them all over again.
I know, I know–it doesn’t feel that way. You are at your wit’s end and feel you cannot take it any more. But you can. Stay with the assignment the Lord gave you. Love those bullies and minister to them as faithfully as you do the precious saints. Follow the blueprint of Luke 6:27-35. You will puzzle the troublemakers, frustrate the devil, and honor your Lord. Furthermore, you will strengthen your church and give your people a picture of a blessed servant of the Lord for all time.
4) You have a family to support.
As the head of your household, you are charged with providing for your own, a serious assignment from the Lord. To walk away from a steady paycheck because you “couldn’t take it any more” reflects poorly on you and puts your loved ones in a difficult situation.
Now, it’s possible to go too far in the other extreme. I’ve seen pastors cave in to the bullies and not challenge them on anything–”I go along to get along,” one called it–in order to keep their job. Do that and you soon lose the respect of everyone including those nearest and dearest to you, and will become the lapdog of the church-rulers.
Each extreme is unwise–caving in or abruptly walking away.
Stay close to the Lord for His guidance, His wisdom and the kind of self-control only He gives.
5) If you walk away, your ministry will be changed forever–and possibly diminished.
What do you suppose a pastor search committee is going to think when they look at your resume? May I answer that for you?
–”If this guy is so good, why is he without a job now?”
–”If he could not get along with the strong leaders in his last church, he’d have trouble in our church, too.”
–”Let’s not take the chance. Let’s see who else is available without all this baggage.”
And you are history. Believe me, pastor, I have been on the receiving end of this stuff and have the scars to prove it.
You are seriously handicapping your future service to the Lord by quitting and walking away.
In the Southern Baptist Convention–always my frame of reference–if you walk away from your present church, it will take from six months to a year before you get another church and that one will be a third to one-half the size of the present one. You will regress in your ministry in a hundred ways if you walk away.
6) If you walk away and find yourself unemployed, you may lose confidence in yourself and possibly in the Lord.
Say what you like about the ministry being different from other jobs, but the simple fact is in our culture most of us get our identity from our work. When you have no work to go to in the morning, you begin to wonder “who am I?” and then “am I a failure?”
I cannot count the heart-breaking emails I have received from unemployed pastors who wonder why God doesn’t hear their prayers, why search committees do not appreciate their resumes, and why friends do not recommend them to other churches or invite them to fill the pulpit in their absence.
You do not want to be in that position if you can help it, preacher.
7) God can use this testing time in your life, in your family, in your church, and even in the lives of the trouble-makers.
In the weight room, you build a muscle by putting stress on it. In God’s kingdom, He builds believers by allowing us to undergo trials and burdens and oppositions. If we walk away from the work before quitting time, we miss the blessings and often add to the problems of the very people we were sent to encourage and bless.
Did you enter the ministry idealistically? Were you expecting the churches to be filled with saints and every day to be sweeter than the day before? If so, it’s clear you have never read your Bible. Look at the ministry of God’s shepherds in the Old Testament (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc) and in the New Testament (Paul, Peter, James, John, etc). They all had a tough time of it. Did you think you were better than they?
I don’t mean to be unkind here, but only to provoke you to be tough with yourself and not jump ship when the going gets rough.
8) Think of how you will feel about this a million years from now.
Which is to say, take the long view and not the short-term view.
9) The bullies need you to act courageously and faithfully. Whether they know it or not.
It will be good for the Diotrephes in your congregation (those who “love to have the pre-eminence”) to see someone acting like God truly is in this place, that the Lord really did send him here, and that he actually expects to have to stand before the Lord some day and give account for this flock (see Hebrews 13:17). It will be eye-opening for the bullies to see you able to take a licking, then get up and love them again in the power of the Holy Spirit.
You are going to win them by the power of humility, love and service, and not by playing the game the way they want it conducted (by sheer force, big numbers, and power).
10) Your family needs to see you acting maturely, speaking firmly, and confidently dealing with this matter in quietness and strength.
Over the years, I have encountered adult children of ministers who quit going to church years ago “after seeing how the church people treated my daddy.” They grew bitter at the church and marked them all off as unChristian and hypocritical. To the extent their preacher-fathers allowed them to be hurt, they did them no favors.
Protect your children, parents. As much as you can, pastor dad, shield your wife from the trouble. She’ll need to be in on some of it, but not all. But shield your children from as much of it as you possibly can. They are so vulnerable. They do not have the spiritual resources with which to deal with hateful members or cruel leaders. So, try to shield them.
The ministry can be the most rewarding life in the world. But it can also be the cruelest. In either case, it is the Lord Christ whom you serve. And let me assure you, He does not take lightly the wonderful service you render in His name nor the treatment you receive from those who would hinder you. (Hebrews 6:10 has your name all over it.)
Find out and then help your family to see what Scripture means in calling the Lord “our Shield and Defender.” It’s all good.
Now, get up off the ground and get back into the ring, preacher. The worst thing they can do is kill you and all that does is send you to Heaven.
[button link=”http://www.pastorshelper.com/BrokenSymbols.doc” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”] Click Here to download in Word Format[/button]
[Feel free to edit and use this Easter/Lenten Season]
Whenever we refer to something as symbolic, we are saying that it is representative of something else – generally of something much greater than the symbol itself. For instance, on my left hand I wear a symbol, a ring that represents the covenant I made with my wife many years ago. In our church auditorium as I stand at the pulpit, to my right and to my left are two other symbols – one a flag representing the Christian faith and the other flag representing the United States of America. On the table in front of the pulpit are more symbols, quite simple ones, really, just some pieces of bread and cups of juice. But these simple elements are representative of something much greater. Most of you are familiar with these symbols, but it is quite probable that many of us have become overly familiar with them.
Paul records for us what Jesus had to say about them:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:23-25, NKJV).
One item that many overlook in Jesus’ words is one of the most important – it is the word “broken.” The symbols that Jesus used to describe the great reality of His impending crucifixion were symbols that were broken, broken to represent four significant truths that should have a tremendous impact on each one of us reading this today.
1. A BROKEN WORLD
God created this world perfect in every way. The earth itself was devoid of any pollution and any corrosion. In the original created order there were no earthquakes, or hurricanes, or tornadoes. There was only rich soil, clean air and water, flawless vegetation and an absolutely perfect atmosphere. In the human realm there was no disease, no sickness and no death. God created humankind to be perfectly healthy in every respect. Morally, there was no animosity, or rebellion, or racism or division in any way.
But when the first human couple rebelled against God by sinning, God’s perfect creation was broken, every part of it, the natural, human, animal, and moral realms of creation were all affected negatively by sin.
When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned (Romans 5:12, NLT).
Adam’s sin broke the world. It caused division between the created order and man, man and man, and man and God. God had given Adam dominion over the entire creation; one was connected to the other, so when sin entered into Adam it also entered the natural world. God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17).
It was like the proverbial house of cards that came crashing down. Not only does Genesis record for us the fall of man, but also the fall of the world in every single respect. Jesus’ celebration of the Lord’s Supper was looking forward to the day when God’s broken world would be reconciled with God.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21, NIV).
Our time of Communion is a time of looking into the future, when God’s new order becomes a present reality, when the shackles that bind the hands of the world are loosed and God’s original design is reinstated.
…we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13, NIV).
The broken symbols that we partake of are a reminder of the broken world in which we live, and which Jesus came to heal. They are a picture of the certain hope of a world that will be fully restored and within which we will dwell for eternity.
2. A BROKEN LIFE
As Jesus broke the bread and distributed it to His disciples, He had in the mind the broken lives of every man, woman, and child that would ever live. He could look at all of us, from Adam down through all of His descendants, and His heart was stirred with a desire for reconciliation and restoration.
God’s deepest desire is that the broken lives of today become the restored lives of tomorrow. When Jesus sees the brokenness of our souls and bodies He is moved to compassion.
As they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry (Luke 20:41, NLT).
Why did Jesus weep? Because He was looking out upon a city of people with broken lives that would not accept His offer of reconciliation. Jesus was looking at people just like us and He saw lives broken because of sin; he saw broken bodies, broken marriages, and broken souls in need of redemption. He saw disease that needed to be healed. He saw relationships that needed to be restored. Jesus saw tears that need to be wiped away, and sin that needed forgiven. Concerning His ministry, Jesus stated:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”(Luke 4:18-19, NIV).
Jesus’ anointing was directed toward the broken lives of his culture and ours. The good news of God’s gifting is for those whose lives are dominated by poverty, for the imprisoned seeking liberation, the afflicted in search of healing, and the oppressed who so badly need their burdens to be lifted.
A number of years ago I was a member of a church where a man who had been afflicted for many years by polio also attended each week with his mother. This man had full mental faculties but his body had been so ravaged by this dread disease that he could not walk or even speak. Men from the church would drive out to his house early Sunday morning, lift him onto a sheet of plywood, and then place him in the back of a station wagon to drive him and his elderly mother to the worship service. When they arrived at church they would place him on a flat cart and push him to the very front pew. Each week, when the ushers passed out communion, they would go to this man’s side where his mother would take the bread and the cup and place it in his mouth. One day I was asked to assist in passing out the elements for communion. It just so happened that I was the one who would take the cup and bread to this man. As I handed the elements to his mother, I watched as she lovingly placed the bread in his mouth, and then the juice. As he swallowed I looked into his eyes and saw the tears begin to well up. And from the look in his eyes I could tell that he knew a better day was coming!
As Jesus broke the bread that day so many years ago, He saw the face of this man and He saw your face and mine. Jesus came to restore us and make us whole again. The Lord’s Supper distinctly represents the fullness of a life that has been cleansed and renewed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The elements are a constant reminder that He has come to restore our broken lives and make us whole again.
3. A BROKEN BODY
Near the Cross, Fanny Crosby wrote, Jesus keep me near the cross, and multiplied thousands have sung it as a prayer. Those near the cross could hear the dripping of His blood and see it form a dirty pool on the ground. They saw it trickle down His naked side and drip off His toes. They saw it oozing from the spikes through His wrists and ankles. They saw it gush in a sacrificial fountain when the spear was thrust into His side. Those near the cross heard the sighs, the groans of the Savior. They saw the agony on His face when God the Father would not listen to Him anymore, but let Him die all alone. They heard His voice when He prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” They saw His lips, feverish and parched, when He begged for water and was given vinegar to drink. They were there to see Jesus’ head drop to His chest as He breathed His last.
The Lord’s Supper represents the broken body of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It represents the agony and the pain – Yes! But more than that, it represents the length to which God is willing to go to restore the broken world and the broken lives that dwell there. The only way that God could heal the broken world and our broken lives was by coming to earth Himself and taking the punishment for our sins in our place. Because of His great love for us, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice of substitution.
Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him (Heb. 9:28, NIV).
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Col. 1:19-22, NIV).
It is through the broken body of God hanging on a Cross that our brokenness is healed, our sorrows diminished, and our souls reconciled to our Creator. Peter wrote, (Jesus) himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Pet. 2:24, NIV). The broken symbols of the Lord’s Supper are a reminder that our healing was purchased with the price of Christ’s death.
4. A BROKEN HEART
Does your heart break when you learn what Jesus has done for you, and when you recognize how you have run away from Him? The symbols on the table represent your heart if it is willing to be broken. The old spiritual asks the question, Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? O! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble! Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Why should we tremble at the memory of Jesus’ crucifixion? Because it shocks our system to come to the realization that this God of the Universe, the Creator of the World, would love us so much as to choose not to punish us for our rebellion, but embrace us with His love and an offer of reconciliation.
When I see my own life, when I consider the times when I have rejected God, when I think of the many sins that I have committed against Him – and to know that He loves me so much that He is willing to die in my place – my heart is broken. It is broken because I have come to the realization that I was there when they crucified my Lord! It was my sin and my rejection of God and my foolish ways that drove the spikes into His wrists and ankles. It was my deliberate “in your face God” kind of attitude that thrust the spear into His side. It was my hate that ignited His love, my complacency that moved Him to action, my cruelty that fueled His compassion, and my sin that brought His grace.
My heart becomes broken when I fully see that I have broken the heart of God. To have a broken heart, and to see it represented on the communion table, is a good and honorable thing, because it is only when our hearts are broken that they become pliable. It is only when we come in shame for our sin that we are able to see and accept God’s outstretched hand. Martin Luther said, “God creates out of nothing. Therefore until a man is nothing, God can make nothing out of him.” And what does God make of us and our broken hearts? When we come in faith, accepting what Jesus has done for us, He takes our broken heart and replaces it with one that is brand new.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
Through Jesus’ broken body, the broken world, our broken lives, and our broken hearts are reunited with God for all of eternity. I hope your heart is broken for God today.
The world is filled with broken things. A child weeps over a broken toy. An archaeologist rejoices over a broken jar. A broken atom powers a city. Before us each Sunday are two broken symbols: let us partake of these symbols, fully aware of what they represent, and let it be a time for both reflection and rejoicing.
Have You Visited SermonWorld.com?
- Full Manuscript Sermons -- 5+ Pages Each
- Fully Editable to fit your style
- PowerPoint Slides for each message