Expressing Gratitude

This month every year in the United States, people are encouraged to pause in order to express thanks for blessings which have occurred in their lives over the year. A specific day has been set aside to do exactly this. The roots of Thanksgiving Day are found in the story of English settlers experiencing their first harvest in the new world.

Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to a well-recorded 1619 event in Virginia and a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter from the London Company, which specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with native Americans, who helped them pass the last winter by giving them food in the time of scarcity.

Wikipedia

Thinking about the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving once again in three weeks prompted me to consider what it means to be thankful and show gratitude. To be a bit more specific, I have been thinking about gratitude in the light of my faith. Especially since the above words found in Wikipedia make mention of prayers and ceremonies among almost all religions.

There exist a variety of ways to express gratitude. Most often we think of using words to express gratitude. This may be as simple as saying, thank you, or may be longer by expressing exactly what prompts us to be thankful and how our life has been impacted. At other times, actions we take may be an expression of our gratitude.

So how do we go about expressing gratitude to God?

As a Christian, I believe that all I have and all that I am are gifts from God. God has chosen to bestow material items, means to purchase material items, talents I use, and knowledge which I have obtained upon me. God gives to me even the breath which I take and the food which sustains me. Nothing in my life exists except through the giving of it to me by God. So how do I express gratitude for my very life and everything within it?

Scripture contains suggestions which might be helpful:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micha 6:8

Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:34-40

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

John 4:11

Many other passages can be found which prompt us to give thanks to God. I lift these passages up to you because they talk not about words, or even worship, but about attitude and action. God warns the people that they can do all forms of worship and abide by the sacrificial laws which existed for ancient Israel but that without the correct actions and attitude, their expressions are hollow. (See Isaiah 1:10-18) This warning leads me to think that the best way to express gratitude to God is through our actions and attitude. I think God finds this most pleasing.

So as you pause this month to consider those aspects of your life which generate gratitude in your heart towards God, I encourage you not to just express your gratitude in words but more importantly in actions and attitude.

Church Bullies

As I have written about before, the church is not exempt from the realities of interpersonal relationships outside of the church. While there is a desire that inside the walls of a church there is safety and love instead of hatred and attacks, this desire is something still to strive for and not a reality. The human behaviors which we encounter in neighborhoods, workplaces, and social groups can all be found within the church. This may be the reason that when we do, and we will, encounter negative and hurtful behaviors in the church, it seems even worse than in other settings.

I doubt that any of us have not encountered a bully at least once in our lives. Perhaps the first time occurred on the playground of our elementary school. A bully is anyone who uses intimidation, hateful words, or even physical attacks to manipulate someone into doing or giving them whatever they demand. Schools have always been an environment where bullies seem to exist. However, workplaces can also have a fair number of bullies. Today, social media has opened new avenues for bullies to exert their power. Our education system has worked hard to reduce the impact of bullies on the lives of students but this is a difficult task in light of the number of adults who are bullies as well and youth learn behaviors from adults. The one location which we all hope is free from bullying is the church. Sadly, this is not the case. Church bullies exist and the behaviors are identical to what can be found in the other settings which I have just mentioned.

So what does a church bully look like?

As is the case in the schools, workplaces, and other groups, there are all types of bullies. In addition, to the different types, there are a variety of methods which are utilized to achieve the desired responses from those who are being bullied. I will share a few from personal experience and/or observation.

The Money Bully

One of the most common forms of bully in the church is the money bully. This is an individual who attempts to use their financial contributions as leverage in getting their desires met. They might say something such as… “If the new sanctuary carpet is green, I will stop meeting my pledge commitment.” Their goal is to create the perception that the church will experience a huge financial disadvantage if their preferred color of carpet is not chosen during the sanctuary remodel. An interesting aspect of this type of bully is that there is little evidence available to confirm the threat. Since most church financial giving is kept highly confidential, a person may make the threat even though they are one of the average or below average contributors. Also, will the person actually carry through on the threat is an unknown.

The Volunteer Bully

These are the individuals who use their volunteer hours to manipulate a situation. Usually this type of bully will be heard saying a similar statement like…”I will just stop helping with (fill in the blank) if I am not allowed to (fill in the blank).” Their goal is to take control of the event or project by threatening to walk away if their preferences are not followed. Since the church’s ministry is primarily accomplished through strong volunteers, this threat can carry some weight in the decisions being made by whoever is in charge.

The Behind-the-Scenes Bully

A bully of this persuasion operates in the shadows. The individual enjoys having parking lot conversations with others to rally others to the bully’s way of thinking. These days the conversations do not even necessarily have to occur in the parking lot thanks to the use of email and social media messaging. Bullies who utilize these methods try to undermine the leaders who they disagree with and achieve their goals and desires. I think they can be the most dangerous type of bullies because of their clandestine approach.

What do we do?

Let me first respond by stating that dealing with a bully is never easy. It requires courage and risk. Accepting those requirements, confronting bullying in the church starts by naming it truthfully. The tendency is to dance around the issue and try to redirect so that an actual confrontation can be avoided. By not confronting, the bullying is actually encouraged. The bully gains confidence and feels there is no threat to their power. With time, this will create an environment which will destroy the participation of others and negatively impact the ministry of the congregation.

Once honest naming of the bullying occurs, the leaders within the congregation must have a conversation with the one doing the bullying. This conversation should always occur with at least two leaders present. Important to this conversation is the attitude which the leaders take into it. The goal should always be to work for reconciliation and to affirm the bully’s positives, to acknowledge their views, and to strive to redirect their energies in a positive direction. However, the leaders also need to make sure they point out why this type of behavior has a negative impact on the ministry. Support in changing behavior should be promised by the leaders.

After the initial conversation, a follow-up conversation should occur. During this second conversation, the person should be able to express how they feel they are changing their approach and where they may need additional support. The person should also be given the opportunity to state any continuing or new concerns which may be present with the project or ministry task. If continued bullying behavior has been identified, the leaders must address this honestly as well.

Unfortunately, even after continued conversation with the bully, there may not be a resolution and the behavior continues. If this occurs, then the leadership of the congregation as a whole must make a decision regarding the future of the individual within the life of the congregation. The choice of a bully to continue the behavior is the bully’s choice. The choice of the leadership to allow it to continue to exist within the congregation is the leadership’s choice. Sometimes leaders have to make the difficult decision to allow a person to find another spiritual community which may be a better fit for their desires.

I have only raised a few types of bullies encountered in the church. The reality is that there are bullies in the church. The health of the congregation and its ministry depends upon the willingness of the leadership to address this behavior.

If you have other types of bullies which you have encountered in the church, or have other suggestions on how to address this behavior, please be sure to comment.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

When you look into a mirror, what is it that you see? This question easily haunts me. Over time there have been many different references to looking into a mirror. In the classic story of Snow White (or the more modern version entitled The Huntsman), the wicked witch looks to the mirror to assure her that she is the best looking in the land. Michael Jackson wrote and sang a song, Man in the Mirror, which was intended to spur people to act for the betterment of the world. Christian author, Patrick Morely, wrote a book about men’s issues also entitled Man in the Mirror. All these references leads one on a journey of self-esteem, action, and introspection.

I mentioned that my opening question haunts me. The reason for this is that I do not always like what I see when I look in the mirror. Purely looking at my physical image, I can see all my flaws and imperfections. Quickly it becomes an exercise in identifying all the aspects of my face and body which I would like to be different. When I take an introspective look at myself in the mirror, I am again reminded of all my failures, imperfections, and ways I could live my life differently (or should have). Others are able to identify positive traits in both my physical and internal self but these elude me when gazing in the mirror.

This conflicting image between what I see and what others see also exists between the Lord and myself. Unlike the writer of Psalm 139, I do not want the Lord to see inside me. The writer says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I know that there is an offensive way in me. I try hard to keep this hidden from God and from others. Yet, what is amazing about the Lord is even though my heart is truly known by the Lord, I do not receive condemnation or punishment, instead the Lord expresses only love for me.

When I look in the mirror through the Lord’s eyes, these are the words generated by the image:

So, when you look into a mirror the next time, pray first that the Lord will give you eyes to see what the Lord sees. You may be surprised with the results.

Bigger Than Me

Is that really all there is? How many times in your life have you been disappointed by a site, an experience, or a person? Maybe you had prepared in your mind something large, or even grandiose, only to come to the point when you encounter what you had built up in your mind and walked away disappointed. Each one of us has had at least one experience in this arena. I think it is because we each have a desire to encounter something bigger than ourselves.

In life there truly are experiences which are bigger than I am as an individual. A few summers ago, I was able to pay a short visit to the Grand Canyon for the first time. Standing on the rim of the canyon, I was amazed at how expansive and deep it truly is. There have been times when I have been at a gathering of peers or fellow believers and been awed by the reality that this group of like-minded individuals is so much larger than me as one.

The concept of something bigger than me has led me to consider the reality of God. I am drawn back to my statement at the end of the first paragraph here, I think we are wired to seek out something bigger than oneself as an individual. This desire for me stems from the acceptance of my limitations. I am limited to a specific time, place, set of thoughts, set of experiences, gifts, and talents. My resources and experiences are limited. I need something in my life which transcends my own personal limitations. God is exactly the reality which transcends.

The limits of human existence and ability are not limits within which God exists. God is not confined to a specific time or place. The thoughts of God go beyond my understanding. The prophet Isaiah delivers this message: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8). There exists no end to God’s abilities and power. In short, God is much bigger than me.

This is important because it gives me comfort. When I feel I am not able to control, fix, or overcome aspects of my life, I know that there is something bigger than me which is able to regain balance. Those occasions when I feel alone and small, I am reminded that something bigger than me surrounds me and supports me. During times when I feel that I am uncertain about the future or sense that I am lost on my path, something bigger than me assures me of tomorrow and shines a light on the path.

Everyone craves to find that which is bigger than the individual. I have found it and the name is God.

The Bridge

One of my mom’s favorite songs was a Simon & Garfunkel song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Here are the lyrics from that song if you do not recall it or have never heard it:

When you’re weary, feeling small

When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all (all)

I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough

And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

When you’re down and out

When you’re on the street

When evening falls so hard

I will comfort you (ooo)

I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes

And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Sail on silver girl

Sail on by

Your time has come to shine

All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine

Oh, if you need a friend

I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

Source: LyricFind

Songwriter: Paul Simon

Bridge over Troubled Water lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

This song was originally written to convey the support of one lover or friend to another. However, I have come to see it also as a song in which I envision God singing these words to me, and all God’s children.

Life is definitely not easy. Throughout life, we face times when there are very troubled waters which we are trying to navigate. Jesus made it abundantly clear that during the stormy times in our lives, God does not abandon us and encourages us to not worry:

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Luke 8:23-25

I find so much comfort in the words expressed in this song. I think this is exactly what my mom experienced when she heard these words sung as well. The comfort becomes even greater to me when I think of God singing these words rather than a friend or lover. God is always faithful and trustworthy so as much as a friend or lover might try very hard to live out these words, I know that God always does.

The next time you hear this song, I encourage you to listen to it with the idea of God singing these to you. God’s love truly does create that bridge over troubled water.

No Mistakes

A person’s junior high school years can be some of the most difficult years in their young life. The ages of twelve through fourteen are the time in your life when you are trying to figure out a lot about yourself. Add to this the reality that you are physically experiencing many changes and a whole new set of hormones are flooding your body. At this point in my life I had an amazing English teacher, Miss Becky Schmelling. One of my greatest memories of Miss Schmelling was that she had a poster hanging on the wall of her classroom by the door. It was a cartoon image of a boy surrounded by old cans, books, and a variety of other items which appeared like they might be junk. The caption in big, bold letters said, “I am okay because God does not make junk.” I read that caption every single day I was in her classroom since I was feeling like junk trying to maneuver through my early adolescent years.

When I became an adult, I ran across a quote which carried the theme of Miss Schmelling’s poster a little farther. I honestly cannot tell you the originator of this quote or even where I first read the quote. If you do a Google search, you will find these words, or similar words, echoed all over the internet. The quote is this — “I am okay because God does not make mistakes.” I do not think I am the only one who needs to hear these words, and hear them often. There are many in our world who feel like maybe God made some mistakes, or a big one, when God created them. There is no one who can honestly say that they feel everything about them is perfect.

According to figures released by the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017 (the most recent set of data) there were 47,173 deaths listed as suicide among all ages in the United States. This made suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the United States that year. If you look at the age groups of 10 to 34, there were 14, 717 suicide deaths which makes it the second leading cause of death in those age groups only behind unintentional accidents. What these startling and sad statistics tell me is that there are a lot of people who feel their life is a mistake, and they have no hope. These statistics do not share the number of individuals who attempted suicide that year but the attempt did not result in death.

I share all this with you to impress upon you two important points. The first is that each of you need to remember that God does not make mistakes. There is not one of you who is a mistake. God created you with a purpose and exactly the correct combinations of physical, mental, spiritual, and creative traits. You are unique, there is not now or ever any duplicate of you. You fit into all God’s creation in a way which no other being could ever fit. Your role in this world is very special. God loves you exactly the way you are right now.

The second point is that each of you must share this truth with others. Whether you have a poster hanging for others to see, or you share the message in words and actions, you must communicate to others that they are not a mistake because God does not make mistakes. By sharing this message, you may have an impact that you will never be aware of but an impact nonetheless. This may be the message that prevents someone from choosing to attempt suicide. Sharing of this may also be just the words that gives a person renewed purpose, meaning, or a sense of value. When you communicate this message, you demonstrate the love of God which went into the original creation of a person.

Let me tell you this one more time, you are okay because God does not make mistakes!

One Person

A pitfall which can be a destructive force within the church is when everything revolves around one person—the pastor. When I was in seminary, one of my professors reminded the class of an important truth, he said that we had to be cautious about everything becoming about us as the pastor. We had been guided on all the important aspects of being a pastor. The importance of building relationships; effectively communicating the Gospel in actions and words; and walking alongside people as they began, continued, or finished their faith journeys were a few of these meaningful insights.

I learned that finding a connecting point with as many members of the congregation as possible was valuable. This did not mean everyone would like me but if I could find a way to connect with them in their lives, I could more effectively serve them as a spiritual support and teacher. Building relationships became important in my ministry alongside those who I had been called to serve.

My ability to communicate the Gospel in a manner which allowed people to incorporate it in their thoughts and lives was a gift that God has given me. This was identified by others before I made the step to attend seminary. Others pointing out this gift from God was one of the aspects of my recognizing the call God has placed on my life. My background in public speaking, which began in high school, enhanced the delivering of the Lord’s message on Sunday mornings. I also have a passion for, and some would say a gift for teaching.

Building relationships and communicating the Gospel became cornerstones to my ministry efforts. There were other areas of ministry which I was not the best at but these which I did possess became valuable in my work. I believe that these two cornerstones also endeared me to many members in the congregations which I have been blessed to serve. However, I was always mindful of the warning my professor gave me and my classmates in seminary. I would remind myself, and sometimes others, that I am called to serve with the people in a congregation for a relatively short period of time but they were called to continue to serve when I had been led elsewhere.

The issue that I see in some situations is that the pastor becomes beloved by members of the congregation. Why this creates problems is that when a pastor becomes beloved, it can be easy for that individual’s ego to become too powerful for her/him to manage effectively. This is only fueled when the congregation loves the pastor so much they fail to see the pastor’s warts. A pastor on a pedestal is bound to take a huge fall one day when their ego and the blindness of the congregation fails to keep the person humble.

Another issue which can arise is that members of the congregation can start abdicating their responsibilities as followers of Christ to the pastor. When there is not equal footing and responsibility within the relationships of the church, everything can easily become all about the pastor. The successes and the failures become the pastor’s. The effectiveness of the ministry is weakened due to the reality that no one person can possibly do everything needed. Pastors make mistakes like any other human being so when this occurs, and it WILL occur, if no shared ministry between pastor and members exists, the mistake can have devastating consequences.

When Jesus gave the Great Commission, it was given to a community of believers. There were apostles, teachers, merchants, fishermen, parents, children, families, farmers, lawyers, and all types of individuals with all forms of gifts and talents. Never was it intended that ministry should ever be about one person. The community of faith was designed to be a COMMUNITY which walked together, laughed together, cried together, learned together, and served together. Nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that one person, the pastor, should be the center of the community and the chief architect of ministry. I have never discovered the finding of an addendum where the Great Commission moved from being a community call to a one-person call.

It is not about the pastor. It is about a community of believers who have a leader who has been given the title of pastor working together to effectively communicate the Gospel to the place and time in which they live. Making ministry about the pastor, good or bad, is a way to destroy the potential ministry which can be done.

Need Patience

I struggle with being patient most of the time. If I decide to buy an item, I do my research, I spend some time going back and forth, I work through the financial aspects, and then I head to the store to make the purchase. Once I have gone through these steps, I expect to walk out of the store with the item I have chosen. If for some reason I do not have the opportunity to get the product or I have to wait for some reason, then I become extremely frustrated. My patience does not hold out well for me at this point.

Recently, I was reading a passage from Habakkuk. In this passage, the prophet complains against God because he feels that God is not listening. He has made request after request for life changes but the changes are not coming. He is losing his patience with God. The prophet is speaking for the nation of Israel but I could relate to the complaints on a personal level. Like my shopping routine, if I take a request to God, I have the expectation that the request will be fulfilled in the time frame of my choosing.

Following Habbukuk’s complaints, God responds. In God’s response, God reminds the people that relief will come but it will be according the correct timing. The people are told that they are to await this right time. God tells them that the source of their agony has not escaped notice. If the people will wait and remain faithful, the relief will arrive.

The words recorded in Habakkuk often convict me. I am reminded that I need to have patience. The message of God’s faithfulness and listening to my requests comes through these words clearly. I need to remember to wait on the Lord and I will not be disappointed.

This is not a new message to me. While I can understand the message and I believe the words to be true, putting them into practice in my life is not easy in any way. As I stated at the start of this post, I struggle with patience most of the time. I am convinced that this will be a lifetime struggle for me. Reading this passage often will be a valuable reminder to me. Being reminded that God’s time is much better than my time will assist me in my efforts to be patient.

How do you do with waiting on the Lord? What do you use as reminders of God’s faithfulness?  

Integrating Faith

Having spent most of my life in Iowa, moving to Texas at the end of last year has given me the opportunity to experience some different ways in which people live. I truly have enjoyed these new experiences and you can read more about them on my other blog. One of these experiences has been the openness about the sharing of faith. I realize that Texas is considered part of the Bible belt but I really did not fully understand what that meant. There is seldom a visit to a nearby Starbucks when I do not overhear a conversation regarding personal faith or a specific congregation. Many people come into the Starbucks carrying a Bible.

As I sat in Starbucks doing some research last week, two people were sitting at a table next to me. They were discussing which version of the Bible was their favorite. Then a man carrying two Bibles walked in the door, searching for the person he was supposed to meet. I began thinking about this openness and how I felt about it. Having grown up in Iowa, my experience with faith is that it was not something people shared publicly often. I seldom encountered people carrying Bibles into Starbucks and rarely heard conversations of faith.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to learn about another person’s faith, whether the person is a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or even someone who states they have no faith, I have enjoyed listening and learning from them. One result of this is that it makes me very mindful that not everyone believes what I believe. I have also learned that there are different understandings and practices in relation to the manner in which someone lives out what they believe. I was thinking a lot about these things when I was sitting in the Starbucks last week.

I admit that I had a reaction to the conversation which I heard and the man walking in with two Bibles under his arm. My reaction took me a little by surprise since it was a negative reaction. I thought to myself how it appeared that these individuals were forcing their faith on to me. Even though none of these individuals said a word to me, I had this immediate reaction. My question then was why I would react in such a way since I am a Christian and am not ashamed of my faith. The conclusion to which I came was this amount of openness was an experience which I had not had while growing up.

Another thought that entered my mind is how a non-Christian feels when she or he experiences a similar situation. Are they offended by such an outward demonstration of the Christian faith? Does the person feel uncomfortable? What I described here is definitely not an aggressive action taken by anyone. There was no attempt at proselytizing anyone. No one made derogatory comments to me, in fact, none of the people who I mentioned even said a word to me. Yet, I still wonder how I would feel if I were not Christian and I experienced this regularly.

As I have thought more about all this throughout the week, I realized that at one level it is refreshing to be in an area where people have no concern regarding speaking to one another about their faith. I do not believe any of these people were trying to flaunt their faith but instead were making it a normal part of their everyday life, even in Starbucks. I also determined that I would want a Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or anyone else to feel comfortable to do the same. Everyone should have the freedom to integrate their faith into as much of their day in a manner they choose.

My first negative reaction to this new experience came out of a sense that someone was trying to shove their faith into my face. I was concerned about how it might also offend others who may not be Christians. Now I realize that not only was that not the intent of the people who I encountered but instead that I might actually have learned something from them on this day. I need to be more willing to integrate my faith even into trips to Starbucks. I will continue to be sensitive to those around me but I need to do a better job of not compartmentalizing my faith. While I may not carry a Bible around with me everywhere I go, I can still demonstrate my faith in my actions and words.

Pastor Crush

Why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry? This is a question that many people ask especially today. There used to be a time when full-time ministry, or becoming a pastor, was considered a noble aspiration. During the Middle Ages, it was considered an academic pursuit that was reserved for the wealthy who could afford to get a formalized education. The culture of today seems much different and many factors contribute to the less than lofty stature full-time ministry now occupies. So, why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry?

For me, I consider it to have been a limited choice. Why I state it in such a manner is because long before I would “choose” to enter full-time ministry, a sense of call was placed upon me. I come from a denomination which emphasizes the understanding of a call. The church culture in which I grew up, and would eventually seek ordination from, felt that every person has a call placed upon her or his life by God. Some are called to be teachers, some business leaders, some lawyers, some medical professionals, and the list goes on through every form of employment and volunteer opportunity that comes to mind. I was taught that each person has a call, or often multiple calls, placed on them by God. Just because God places a call upon a person, the person is not required to fulfill the call. In fact, many individuals pursue other courses in their lives. However, after years of resisting the call into full-time ministry, I chose to respond reluctantly in the affirmative.

General themes of why a person answers the call to full-time ministry exist. One of the reasons some give is a desire to help others on a daily basis experience the love of God. Another reason is to assist others in developing answers to their questions regarding their faith. Other responses might include a fulfillment in walking through life’s challenges with another person. For me, it was a strong desire to open for others the wonder of what a relationship with the Lord might mean in their life.

Whatever the answer to the question of why a person has gone into full-time ministry, a sad reality exists…the church is crushing pastors at a very alarming rate. What I mean by this is that in too many conversations with colleagues and those who have exited from full-time ministry, I have heard too often that the demands of the congregation and the denominational hierarchy crushed their passion and desire to continue in full-time ministry. Too often these demands distract the pastor from their role as a shepherd, teacher, companion, and spiritual leader. I would say that the demands actually prohibit the pastor from fulfilling these other roles. Yet, these are usually the roles which lead the person to enter full-time ministry.

Let me share a few examples of these demands. The first one which quickly comes to mind is the demand of being the referee. What does refereeing have to do with being a pastor? Well, it really should not have anything to do with it but often the pastor is the one expected to enter conflicts within the church and reduce or eliminate the conflict. Imagine being a parent who has over one hundred kids who have a tendency to enter squabbles over toys, control of the television, or who gets to play the Xbox next. This is often what a pastor feels like when trying to maneuver through all the he-said, she-said arguments which arise out of situations such as who decides what to serve at the Fall Festival Dinner.

Another example of the demands which crush a pastor is the endless amount of discussion and input from a variety of individuals in order to make a decision. Churches love to have committees to discuss and plan everything from what coffee to serve during fellowship time to what songs to sing during the Christmas season. While there is indeed value in seeking input from various voices and creating an atmosphere of participation among the members, these groups often get bogged down in details and personal opinions. These details and personal opinions frequently lead to the squabbles I mentioned in the above paragraph. The other issue which arises is that little progress is made in making a decision and it all is very time-consuming.

A third example which is too frequent is the financial stress the pastor absorbs. When it comes to church finances, the same story exists in some level in every church, there never seems to be enough money for anything. This leads to many different burdens placed on a pastor. One is the idea that a pastor should be the chief fundraiser of the church. Some members view it to be the pastor’s responsibility to find creative ways to bring money into the congregation and then lead those fundraising efforts as spokesperson and arm twister but do these things in a very unintimidating manner. The other side of the coin is that the pastor is often charged with the responsibility to reduce and maintain spending at the lowest level possible. The pastor is left to rely on volunteers and donated monies to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished from repairing the leaky flat roof to having weekly activities for youth from age 0 to 35. Of course the use of volunteer labor will also require being flexible and understanding that they have real lives so cannot accomplish what they commit to doing for four to sixteen weeks. Yet the pastor gets the blame when things are not done correctly and in a timely manner.

The list of examples can grow with each exhausted pastor with who you have the chance to speak. Horror stories and tears are in abundance as pastors tell of the demands placed upon them and the way in which they are often treated. Besides the personal anguish and abuse, yes, I will call it abuse, the issue that tears most pastors hearts the most is that they do not have the time or the energy to live out the passion which called them to full-time ministry in the first place. Every once in a while they are fortunate to see a glimmer of their call fulfilled in the life of another person but these occur like shooting stars at night which are fleeting and way too infrequent.

The congregations and denominations of the church are crushing the pastors who feel God calling them to full-time ministry. It is the congregations and denominations who are losing out on women and men who would love to shepherd, teach, walk alongside, encourage, and spiritually lead in the example of Jesus. Until the church wakes up to this reality and does something meaningful about it, you will continue to see pastors step out of full-time ministry, pulpits remain empty, and seminaries have fewer and fewer students.