My Three Pastors

 

Well, it is October.  And along with being the month of headbands and infinity scarves and pumpkin spice lattes (Yes, I pastor in the suburbs), it is also pastor appreciation month.  And although that very reality makes this post appear to be a desperate grasp for attention and plea for appreciation, I assure you it is not.  But a friend of mine, who is also a pastor, is posting this month on his fb account appreciative notes about pastors he knows.  Thanks, Gordon.  And it got me thinking.  And the thinks I was thinking seemed to stir a wind that disturbed the dust lying so prettily over this blog o’ mine. So, here I write, and here you read, and we will get to the end and decide together whether one or both of us just wasted our morning.

 

What a strange opening.  All of that to say…

 

I realized recently that in the 34 years of life before ordained ministry, I was a member of a total of three churches:  18 years at a church on the west side of Cleveland, where I was born, raised, and first understood the grace of the gospel; 6 years at a church on the north side of Baltimore, where I was trained and discipled in the doctrines of that grace; and 10 years at a church on the north side of Raleigh, where I both cut my teeth on and was the chew toy for the transforming power of the grace of God in and for real life.

 

In those 34 years and three churches I have had… wait for it… three senior pastors (After working on the idea of this post I remembered that my pastor in Cleveland retired when I was a sophomore in high school and there was a new pastor just before my family moved to Baltimore in the middle of my senior year.  But, for all intents and purposes, the starting pastor gets the win in the game of this young man’s life and the relief pastor just needed to make sure there were no walk-off home-runs by the enemy (which is not to say that this second pastor did not have his own ministry, but in the story of ‘pastors in my life,’ he gets more of a parenthetical mention (which means with the addition of this realization, I get to close this thought with not one, not two, but three closing parentheses!))).

 

Yes, I know, waste of your time has taken an early lead… let me start that paragraph again…

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In those 34 years and three churches I have had a total of three senior pastors in my life (shoot… I suppose I should also say that the associate or assistant or youth pastors during those days had as much, and in some cases more, impact on my life and faith (I had two… one in Westlake and one in Baltimore), and this is not to diminish the importance of faithful men in those supportive roles, and perhaps one day the wind will blow and the dust will stir and I will wax long about associate pastors and waste another morning for you.  But not today).

 

Today, I want to publicly appreciate my three pastors. Two of them have fought the good fight and finished the race and have received their commendation from God himself.  One, though still active in ministry, is no longer pastoring a local congregation.  And While I say that I want to publicly appreciate them, I have decided to leave their names out of this.  Some of you who know my history will know one or two of these men.  A very few of you might know all three of them.  So here are three things I am particularly grateful to these men for teaching me.  This is certainly not all that I learned from these three men, but then, this is a blog not a book.

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Commitment to God’s Word.

Commitment that showed itself through a commitment to expository preaching and preaching through whole books of the Bible.

These three men were three very different pastors.  But one thing they had in common was a commitment to feed God’s people the whole counsel of God.  All three of my pastors were committed to preaching the Word of God.  Expository preaching is preaching a passage of Scripture and the message of that passage rather than a topic or a theme with supporting Scripture attached.  It means a commitment to studying God’s Word, knowing God’s Word, loving God’s Word, and giving God’s Word to God’s people.  Their commitment to God’s Word did not stop at expository preaching, but also extended to preaching through whole books of the Bible, chapter by chapter.  Because of these men and their commitment to faithful expository preaching, I have learned to love God’s word and value what God wants to say to his people more than what I might want to say to God’s people.

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 Love for God’s Church

Again, that love showed itself in very different ways.  One pastor was tickled whenever the bulletin announced a week full of different activities a member could get involved in at the church.  One pastor was committed to training up elders to be the partners with the pastor in shepherding and caring for the spiritual needs of the church.  One pastor was committed to training church planters and starting new churches even if it felt like it was at the expense of his own church’s size and reputation.  These men loved Christ’s Bride and considered their callings to be that of caring for her and preparing her for her returning Bridegroom.

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Dependence on God’s Grace

These men taught me the absolute necessity of God’s grace for God’s people.  They taught me that a pastor must be the first to show grace to others, especially to the people God has entrusted to his care.  As one of them frequently said as a reminder to both himself and me about the challenges of pastoring any congregation, “But you know what?  I didn’t have to die for them.”

These pastors also taught me that a pastor never outgrows his own need for and dependence on the grace of God.  Pastor’s can feel snubbed and underappreciated (except in October, obviously).  They can be misunderstood and challenged in their leadership.  They can fight against depression and anxiety, and ego and anger.  Their families can be sources of strength and comfort, and they can be sources of pain and sorrow.  The day a pastor forgets that he is the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15), the least of all the saints (Ephesians 3.8), and insufficient in himself to shepherd God’s people (2 Corinthians 2.16), is the day his ministry begins to die.

So, thank you to my pastors.  You were faithful to God’s Word, faithful to God’s church, and faithful to God’s grace.  Maybe not perfectly, but then, even (and especially) through your weaknesses, Christ shined through.  I pray that my own ministry is a reflection of what I learned from you, heard from you, saw in you.

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2-4-6-8-who do we appreciate?

January is National mentoring month

April is Jazz appreciation month

May used to be National Guide Dog month until 2010 when they inexplicably moved it to September which, nobody saw coming.

And there are others.  This month, I learned, is Pastor’s Wife appreciation month.

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image borrowed from Crossway.org

I’m not sure if this is a rant or a constructive thought, but here it is.

A pastor’s wife needs to be appreciated, as does an accountant’s wife, a butcher’s wife, a dentist’s wife… you get the picture.  Every member of the local congregation needs to be appreciated and not taken for granted especially those who work behind the scenes and make the public folks look better than they really are (1 Corinthians 12:22-26).

Something about a month of “appreciating” the pastor’s wife communicates to me that it’s an area we aren’t very good at.  Sort of like a hospitality committee (you know, because we stink at just being hospitable so we need a committee to organize and announce how hospitable we are).

But beyond that, when is the last time, ladies, you wanted to be identified by what your husband does for a living?  I’ve not yet heard of someone introducing herself by telling what her husband does for a living and that explaining everything you need to know about her.  And while on that subject, I also haven’t asked a mechanic’s wife what she thought the smell was coming from my engine compartment or an engineer’s wife to design a flux capacitor for me.

(incidentally, this is not intended to be a sexist rant.  I am aware that there are female mechanics and engineers.  In that case I wouldn’t ask the husband of an engineer to design me a flux capacitor (unless of course the husband AND wife were engineers or maybe an engineer and a chemist (I’m looking at you Jack and Paige), then I’d have the baddest time traveling DeLorean in the neighborhood!)).

And yet, just as each of us has a unique calling and need for grace, so to the Pastor’s wife.  Not more grace, not some special seat (or parking space) but grace uniquely fit to each of person to match their gifts and needs in their desire to live out the gospel where God has put them.

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I know one woman who told her ridiculously good-looking boyfriend that the one thing she did not want to be was a pastor’s wife.  Ten years later they were heading into seminary and down that rabbit hole.

I know a pastor who was told by an elder in his church that his wife wasn’t qualified to teach… Sunday School… to three-year-olds!

I know another pastor’s wife who worked full-time the entire time her husband was a pastor and the church complained about how unavailable she was.

Shy pastor’s wives are criticized for not being more involved.  Outspoken pastor’s wives are accused of abusing their position.

Consider: a pastor’s wife does not get to leave the church when “things just aren’t going well,” or she just “isn’t feeling connected,” or there just isn’t enough for her kids.

Most pastor’s wives outlive their husbands, which adds injury to insult.  Let’s face it, most pastors’ idea of a retirement plan is, “preach till I die.”  And most churches can’t afford much more than a “be warm and well-fed” model themselves.

While other members of the church may know, theoretically, that their pastor is a sinner, the pastor’s wife experiences daily that her pastor is a sinner in as much need of the grace he is preaching as anyone.

Pastor’s wives are people—sinners saved by grace alone.  They have gifts, just like other members, but that does not mean necessarily gifts just like their husbands.  Some are gifted teachers and communicators.  Some are terrified of public speaking.  Some are gifted counselors.  Some are not.  Some have the gift of hospitality.  Some do not.  I haven’t met every pastor’s wife nor even most, but I can draw some conclusions from the ones I’ve met.  ALL of them need friends.

But what does that look like for the woman who happens to be married to the pastor?  Ladies in the church, do not assume that your pastor’s wife is cold or uninterested in friendship with you.  She is navigating what feels like treacherous waters.

Does she have confidants in the church where her husband, let’s face it, makes his living?  “I feel like my husband has time for everyone but me.”  That’s your pastor she’s talking about.  “Please pray for my marriage.”  That’s your pastor’s marriage she’s talking about.  “We haven’t had a raise in five years, and I my husband’s considering another change, but I don’t know if kids or I can take another move.”  That’s your pastor and your church she’s talking about.

This pastor’s wife (not “this pastor’s wife,” this pastor – me – his wife – my wife.  Confused yet?  Anyway)—this pastor’s wife, in the years after she became that which she swore she could never be, has come face to face with the many fears she had in expressing her resolve never to be one.  Some of those challenges have come from cruel people, but some have come from well-meaning friends and some have come from facing her own idols and need for Christ’s forgiveness and grace.

This pastor’s wife has also sat in his office with him and prayed through tears for the precious church God has called them to; she has spent hundreds and thousands of hours caring for and serving their church; she has poured herself out in prayer for the church and their sinner-of-a-pastor; she would give anything for the children and teens of the church and the community and can often be found at a middle school or high school volunteering or subbing.

So, yes, appreciate the wife of your pastor.  She is seeking to do that which God has called her to do – to love her husband, raise her children, love Christ’s bride and love the lost.  If it takes a special month to bring her to your mind then start this month.  Show her the grace and patience you desire and need from others.  Bear with her and love her like any other member of your awesome church.

Then, I don’t know, go crazy, appreciate her in June too.

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