Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Staying Long

Following are some thoughts I shared with the Pastoral Ministry class last night about staying long. I hope they will be of help and encouragement to others as well.

Staying Long

I am convinced that the greatest need for churches and pastors today is for a pastor to stay put for a long time in one place. This will not be easy, and will require patience and endurance. My longest tenure in one place has been five and a half years. I have served my present church for five years. While no one has any guarantees, it would be my desire to stay here for many more years. As time goes by, our ministry and fellowship together becomes richer, truer, and more meaningful and significant. My heroes in the faith have been men who have stayed put in one place for a long time. My pastor served one church through his entire pastoral career of over 40 years. I thank God for his wonderful example. I pray that I may have that opportunity in one place as well as I serve Christ and His Church. Here are some pointers I have picked up from some of these men who have modeled faithfulness to one church over a long pastorate:

“Remember who called you”
You were called by Christ, and it is ultimately Him whom you serve. Be committed to stay as long as He is using you, in spite of visible results. He opened the door of ministry there for you; make sure He is the one who closes it and opens another before you run from that place.

“Bloom where you are planted”
All of us think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It may be, but it still has to be mowed! There are no perfect churches. One of my old professors said, “It’s the same devil you have to fight in every church. You might as well stay and fight him where you are.” Every year you stay, you are earning more credibility and more trust of the people. Why leave and start over somewhere before you have given the Lord the opportunity to use you where He placed you?

“Heart of a shepherd, hide of a rhinoceros”
There will be conflict. We must not wear our feelings on our sleeves. We must be the most forgiving people in the Kingdom. We must never allow conflict to embitter us toward the church.

“Know your enemy”
The enemy is Satan, not the church or the grumblers in the church. If there are people posturing themselves as enemies, they are under the influence of the enemy, and this requires compassion, not combativeness.

Sometimes when people complain, they are correct. 2 Kings 19:14 – When Hezekiah received a nasty letter from Senacherib, “he took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.” Are we humble enough to let the Lord read our hate mail and point out to us which parts are accurate? If we are in error, we must model the gospel by repentance and confession, seeking the forgiveness of the people involved, showing grace to all, and seeking to regain the trust of the people.

Preaching to Stay
We should preach in such a way that if what we say angers people, it will be clear that they are angry at God and His word, and not at us. We cannot use the pulpit for a whipping post or a platform for personal agendas. We must stick to the Word in its simplicity and sufficiency. Steady biblical preaching will develop an appetite for the same, and people will begin to wonder what they would do without your regular, systematic and faithful exposition of God's truth.

Praying to Stay
Our success in ministry will be directly proportional to the depth of our prayer lives. We must pray about all aspects of the church and ministry. Use Jesus’ high-priestly prayer (John 17) and Paul’s prayers in the epistles as models. Pray for your preaching and your ministry, and the people’s reception and response. Pray for increasing love and spiritual maturity among the members. Pray for the lost. Pray for ministry and evangelistic opportunities. Pray for your members systematically and spontaneously.

Developing Koinonia
Be a member, not an employee. Become part of their faith-family in every way. Develop personal relationships as you would with other friends and fellow believers. Invite others into your home and into your life. 1 Thes 2:8 – “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives , because you had become very dear to us.” Pick out some people to pour yourself into.

A fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22); The byproduct of suffering (James 1:2-4). If suffering makes you flee, you can only expect more of it until you learn to stick through suffering. Dever (Deliberate Church): “It would be wise for many of us to lower our expectations and extend our time horizons. … It is wise to show care for the congregation and concern for the unity of the church by not running so far ahead of them that people start falling behind. Run at a pace that the congregation can keep. ... Patience in the pastorate requires thinking in terms of 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years of ministry.” Keep things in an eternal perspective. What is five or ten years compared to eternity? Don’t gauge success by the numbers, but by your faithfulness to what God has called you to do. It has been said that it takes 5 years to really begin “pastoring” a people. That is somewhat artificial, but the wisdom in it suggests that we not be in a hurry. Average pastoral tenure: 2-3 years. No wonder churches and pastors are so unhealthy.

The example of Charles Simeon
Members boycotted his ministry for 12 years, locking the pews, throwing benches out into the street, and throwing dirt and eggs on Simeon while he preached. But he endured “with faith and patience” and loved the church through it all, and managed to have a ministry of 54 years in one church.

“Just say no”
Over time, you may be contacted by other committees, or asked to place your name into other places for consideration. You can do this, but always from a position of “I shall not be moved.” In other words, it should be up to that other church to convince you that the time is right for you to go to them, and not vice versa. Your default commitment should be to stay.

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