After 8 1/2 years of church planting, I finally hit the wall. Or maybe it was the bottom. Whatever it was, I hit it hard. While I’ve hit that low place before as a pastor, I never expected it to happen in the context of a church and ministry that I love.
I sat on the sofa and said quietly to my wife, “I’m done.”
At the culmination of several weeks of uniquely intense ministry, I had decided to step out of my role as lead pastor. That was just days before I left with my family for a week of (obvisouly much needed) vacation to Hilton Head Island, SC.
By the end of the week, I had changed my mind. Totally and unreservedly changed my mind. It was an unexpected 180 of pastoral perspective.
It wasn’t the vaction that “did the trick.” While at the beach, my wife sent me a link to a blog post a fellow pastor had written about another pastor’s burnout.
That pastor’s name is Jack Miller.
Jack had been a local church pastor and seminary professor (just like me). In one fell swoop, he resigned from both and entered into a three week depression that left him weeping daily.
Then something changed.
Jack realized that he had been doing ministry with the wrong motive and in the wrong power. His motive was not for the glory of Jesus, but for the praise of his own reputation. Everything he had been doing was about how it would reflect on him. Since the people in the church weren’t changing as he’d expected, they were not making him look good. He became disillusioned and angry. He felt his soul starting to die.
But it wasn’t only due to his mis-guided motives. He realized that he was doing ministry “in the flesh.” He was striving and working so hard. Giving it all he had. That was the problem. He was giving his work what he had rahter than relying on what God had for him in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
With these discoveries, he began to envision a new ministry and a new life. Hope and renewed enthusiasm began to bubble up in his heart. The glory of Jesus would be the aim of his ministry. Reliance on the Spirit would be the sole power he would seek.
He was led to a deep repentance and fresh faith in the redemptive work of Jesus.
And everything changed.
He asked for both jobs back. The seminary got a new professor, but not a new professor. Also, the church got a new pastor, but not a new pastor.
They got a new Jack.
When I read that post about his pastoral transformation, I was convicted… and inspired… and most of all, I was convinced that this is what I wanted. I shared his need for repentance and with him, I began to envision a new life and a new ministry.
I knew that Creekstone needed a new pastor. And I wanted to be that pastor.
But in order to go the distance for a life of pastoral ministry, I would have to change my ways. But how? What paradigm would be sufficient for faithful, effective, and healthy pastoral ministry for someone like me, an introvert who loves alone time in old libraries?
I remembered a book on pastoral ministry I had read in January 2004 by Eugene Peterson entitled, The Contemplative Pastor: Rediscovering the Art of Spiritual Direction. I loved the vision of his approach even then, but didn’t have the courage to put it into practice.
In chapter 2, Peterson outlines the three primary roles that a pastor is called to fulfill and why the pastor must be “unbusy.”
He writes, “If I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don’t have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion?”
Then he asks, “What is my proper work? In no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?”
Peterson proceeds to describe three things he can do as a faithful pastor:
1. I can be a pastor who prays. “In order to pray, I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a discipled detachment… I cannot be busy and pray.”
2. I can be a pastor who preaches. “Preaching is a creative act that requires quietness and solitude, concentration and intensity. ‘All speech that moves men,’ contends R.E.C. Browne, ‘was minted when some man’s mind was poised and still.’ I can’t do that when I’m busy.”
3. I can be a pastor who listens. “I want to have the energy and time to really listen (to people) so that when they’re through, they know at least one other person has some inkline of what they’re feeling and thinking…. I can’t listen if I’m busy… but if I provide margins to my day, there is ample time….”
This is the path I want to walk with Creekstone Church as we journey together through the brokenness of a fallen world to the promised paradise. I want to pray with and for the church. I want to preach the glorious good news of Jesus. I want to listen well, not in order to fix anyone, but to help our folks see how God is in this and how his grace is at work in the shadows.
Yes, I love to write. Thankfully, I get to write a sermon every week. And I can write on my blog in the between times, too. But my primary job is not to be a writer or even a speaker, but a pastor–a pastor who speaks and writes, but who also prays and listens.
And yes, there is more work to be done than prayer, preaching, and listening. But whether it is equipping the staff team, leading and developing the elder team, even in those roles, I am to care for these leaders, to nurture them through prayer, teaching, and listening. Helping us as a church listen to God and follow the Spirit.
This means that I am not called to “run a church,” as much as to “care for souls” — to feed the sheep as Jesus would charge Peter. The way we put it at Creekstone as our mission is a good place for me to start with my job description: “We exist to glorify God by helping people come alive to the wonder of the gospel” — the wonder, beauty, and transforming power of God’s grace as we live all of life in union with Jesus.
My role in helping people in this way is to pray, preach/teach, and listen. In an image Peterson uses, I am the harpooner on the whaling ship. I have a job to do. The chase will only result in victory if I am poised and still, alert and clear, filled with energy to throw the dart when the time comes. That is helpful image because there are so many things a man could do upon a whaling ship–and all important.
But the harpooner must not abdicate his position. He must not be frantic or distracted. But focused. Prayer. Preaching. Listening.
I don’t possess every spiritual gift. But I do have a few grace-gifts to share for the good of the church. My job is to use those and let others use theirs.
This is why I am not going to try to “do it all” as Lead Pastor. There are far better administrators around. Folks much more gifted who can oversee our property, ministry team systems, and K-Group development. Others are better than I am at small group discipleship. And I am certain there is someone more equipped than I am to oversee the church’s finances!
We have always needed a team to do ministry. We will need a team more than ever as I ask for help to keep me honest to my new job description and watch folks step up to contribute their gifts.
I cannot do everything. And that is a good thing.
But when it comes to prayer, preaching, and listening, I’m stepping up to the plate for the glory of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.