Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Cost Of Wearing The Pastoral Mask

photo from
Pastor Steve was on the brink of an emotional and physical breakdown. His health was not good and as he lay in a hospital bed after going through some tests, his mind traveled back to that first interview, fresh out of seminary, sitting nervously in a small church. Steve had heard that the church had been on a slow decline for the previous 5 years and had been searching for a pastor for over a year. He recalled how he sat wearing his best suit, displaying his super pastor image for a search committee of 7 elderly members, the remnant that held the church together. 

During the meeting, the committee had laid out their expectations: They wanted a man who could preach great sermons that would bring in lots of new converts. He was to lead the church in creating ministry opportunities, pastor the flock by visiting the sick and burying those who pass from this world. He was expected to bring in money to get the church out of debt. They counted on him to be a great teacher and administrator and of course, be above reproach and the example of what a true Christian should be and do. Steve convinced the church he was their man in that meeting and the church wanted to believe that this young man was God's choice and therefore would meet all of their expectations. 

For the past 7 years Steve had been wearing that same image. Looking back, he now wished he would never have put on the super pastor mask. He was worn out trying to live up to all of those expectations and felt foolish that he really believed he could do all of those things well.  He was ashamed and felt guilty of living a lie for the past 7 years as their pastor.  He felt like a failure in so many areas.

Steve was a good preacher and worked hard to please his members and to grow the church but it left him little time to handle the rest of his responsibilities.  Pastoring an elderly congregation, there always seemed to be a need to visit someone in the hospital or prepare for a funeral. He was a terrible administrator, he hated details but the church didn't have the budget to hire someone to handle the financial and business aspects of the church. 

Steve's family and marriage suffered because he just didn't have the time to give what they needed. He was working 6 days and 5 nights a week and there always seemed to be an emergency or meeting on his supposedly free nights. His spiritual life was running on fumes also. He knew things needed to change but what could he do? Admit that he was a failure, that he was a poser all this time as a pastor?
Coaching pastors, I find that Steve is not unique, unfortunately his situation is more of the norm. *This is the time most pastors begin to look for a way out, either leaving the pastorate all together or finding another church where they often begin the cycle all over again.  Steve was different. He broke down on a Sunday evening service and shared about his health and that he needed a break. He came clean about his feelings and guess what?  The congregation stepped up and agreed to take stuff off of his plate.  They seemed to understand and encouraged him to take a sabbatical in order to get healthy before returning.   
The problem is not all the fault of pastors. The American evangelical church has created the notion of super pastor that comes with unrealistic expectations and job descriptions. The truth is that most believers expect their pastor to have all five ministry giftings of the Holy Spirit; apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. But very rarely does any one person have three of the five much less all of them.   Most pastors excel in one and they try to manage the rest as best as they can. But before long you'll begin to hear the chatter among members, "Our pastor is a great evangelist but he is such a lousy pastor." Or, "our pastor is such a great shepherd but I wish he could preach!"

So how do we address the problem? What could Steve have one differently from the start?  Here are seven ways that may help a pastor avoid Steve's problem.  I'd love to hear any other suggestions also.  
  1. Squelch the perception that the pastor is a super Christian. Two issues here are pride and expectations.  If a pastor never puts on the super pastor mask, he won't have to live up to it. There may be pressure to impress a church to get hired, but if you have to be "Jesus" to get the job, you don't want that job.  Be yourself from the start by being authentic and showing vulnerability. Talk about your strengths and your weaknesses, your struggles and failures. Remind the members over and over that you are not a "super Christian" but a human who sins and fails from time to time. I can only grow and succeed by the power, mercy and grace of Jesus. Stay grounded and resist the urge to be put on a pedestal.  
  2. Take the ministry seriously but don't take yourself too seriously.  Joke about yourself and the boneheaded mistakes you make. Help others identify with you.  
  3. Lead by casting a vision of unity and teamwork. Constantly remind the members that the church (members) should engage the world as a team.  The pastor usually plays the role of quarterback but unless everyone functions in unity doing their part, the church's goals and expectations will not be met.  
  4. Set firm boundaries with your time for your own devotion, your family and free time. Communicate up front with your leadership the importance of those boundaries. Call on your leadership to hold you accountable to keeping those boundaries. Stand firm!
  5. Work together with your leadership team to define your church's specific values.  Post those in a lot of places, preach about them, recognize and reward those who live out your values.     
  6. Delegate, delegate and then delegate some more.  Give as much ministry away so that you as pastor can focus on leading, casting vision, and using whatever ministry gift that God has given you.
  7. Don't isolate yourself.  Find a group of pastors from other churches that you can meet regularly with to play, pray and discuss your common problems. Make friends outside of your church that will allow you to get away from the business of your church.
*Average tenure for pastors at any one church is 5-7 years.
Here are other blog posts concerning this issue:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Miracles Continue at Honduras Orphanage

Living Water Children's Ranch, Honduras
This is an update on my post on my blog, Miracles on the Mission Field, about the miracles God has provided as we tried to build an orphanage in Honduras. You can read the fascinating story of its beginning here.  Since I wrote that blog, God has continued to bless our efforts and bring the ministry in Honduras to fruition and it has been fascinating to watch and see the hand of God in the process. 
Teresa Devlin, the missionary who helped find and secure the property and get the building built passed away in the fall of 2012.  She had suffered from scleroderma for years and became very sick in June of that year and had to be flown back to San Antonio.  She never fully recovered and went to be with God in October of 2012.
Teresa had been concerned for years about who would succeed her and be the one to oversee the orphanage. Two weeks before Teresa became ill, a young woman from Arkanas, Jennifer Zilly who had been referred to Teresa by a friend, flew down to Honduras to spend some time with Teresa in order to get a feel of the ministry and to see if working along side of her was a possibility.  
Jennifer, Darwin and 5 of the children at the ranch
That plan quickly changed while she was there, as Teresa became sick. With the timing of her visit, and Teresa having to leave Honduras, Jennifer was suddenly faced with a decision. Do I return to the states and forget about this opportunity or do I stay? She felt as if her timing was God's and that she was left to further Teresa's ministry. So instead of flying back home like most would have done, Jennifer stayed in Honduras and began to adjust and learn the Honduran ways. This young American, right out of college, found a job coaching girls basketball in La Ceiba, Honduras and made herself part of the community (that there was even a coaching position open is a miracle and another story).  Fairly quickly Jennifer adapted and over the year she began to pick up Teresa's ministry.
Today Jennifer is married to a wonderful Honduran young man, Darwin who was Teresa's main instructor at her music conservatory. They now live at and oversee the Living Water Children's Ranch, the orphanage we had been working to establish for several years. 
It hasn't been easy but they have 7 children living at the home now. The process of securing children for the orphanage is difficult and sometimes drawn out because they have to work with and through the Honduran government. So they take the children that God provides and wait for the next one.
Doing their schoolwork
What has been incredible is all of the ministry that they have started for the children and the neighbors around them.  Not only are they raising the orphans, but they have also started a school on the property for children in the neighborhood.  Darwin continues to teach music to children and oversee the music conservatory. And they have recently started a weekly Bible study for the families in the neighborhood with a surprising number attending. 

Jennifer is a prolific writer and she chronicles in a real and personal way their struggles with these very difficult children in this third world country.  She doesn't gloss over the ministry and you'll get a great up close and personal view of life as a missionary by reading her blog.
The interesting thing about the transition from Teresa Devlin to Jennifer Zilly was that I along with a mission team from San Antonio, met Jennifer that spring in Honduras during Jennifer's initial visit to meet Teresa. We didn't know how serious Jennifer was about moving to Honduras and working with Teresa, but most all of the team members did not think that Jennifer would be the permanent replacement for Teresa.  
However we were not in a position to make that decision, thank God, and a few weeks later we suddenly needed a person to fill in for Teresa and Jennifer was there.  We realized that she was God's choice!  
Darwin directing his choir
Jennifer is completely different from Teresa, in age, personality, life experience, etc., but what each have in common is a heart for God. Jennifer has turned out to be an incredible self starter, who has stayed as close to the word of God in her words and actions as most anyone I have ever met. She needs our prayers every day to continue the incredibly difficult and demanding work in Honduras. She has fought illness, difficult living conditions, an apathetic, uneducated and Godless people in which to minister.  In spite of all of this, Jennifer and Darwin are committed to reaching this community for Christ, and raising children with the knowledge of Christ so that they may choose an eternal home in His kingdom and may live productive, fulfilling and Godly lives as an adult.  
It is beyond my comprehension how God has provided every time we hit a wall with this project.  And not only did He provide, but God gave us more than we even imagined every single time.  So yes, I'm learning to accept God's will, wait on His timing and not try to control the process. He is infinitely wiser than his children.  Go here to read about the first children at the orphanage.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How Katrina dramatically changed a Texas church

10 years ago, Austin Christian Fellowship, a large congregation in an affluent area of west Austin, had big plans.  Their big vision was to raise enough money to build a 4,000 seat worship auditorium on a hill, the highest point in west Austin.  It would face Austin and the congregation would have a beautiful view of the hill country and the skyline of Austin, making it the premiere church of Austin, Texas. 

But a hurricane changed all of that. Hurricane Katrina came nowhere near Austin, but Austin felt the impact as hundreds of the New Orleans residents that were displaced from their homes by Katrina were bused into Austin. Most of those sent to Austin were housed in the Austin convention center, and churches all over Austin began to offer aid. AFC Pastor Will Davis, during a sermon this summer, told about how Austin Christian Fellowship responded and how it radically changed him and the church. 

ACF was one of several churches that worked with the city and state officials in a coordinated effort to provide basic essentials for those displaced by Katrina. But Will explained that he felt God telling him to become personally involved.  So he went to the convention center and found a displaced family from New Orleans and took them to dinner. The encounter moved Will to such an extent that ACF not only helped the family find housing but assisted 20 other families also.  The whole experience radically changed the pastor, the leadership and the congregation's mindset for missions and passion to serve. 

At the time of Katrina, Pastor Will explained, ACF was giving about 1% of its budget to missions, local or global. This encounter so changed the mindset of the staff, leadership and congregation that the "big vision" of building a giant auditorium now seemed very small. That goal of building a massive worship center was replaced by a vision of serving their community and planting churches. Instead of growing vertically, ACF would make its impact through missions and growing God's kingdom horizontally. Since the encounter with the refugees of hurricane Katrina, the church has increased its giving every year to where they now give over 50% of their annual budget to local and global missions. They are planting churches throughout the city and sending mission teams all over the world. 
Isn't it amazing how God uses many things, events, people, and even a hurricane, to change hearts, minds and attitudes? Whether you are a pastor, deacon or member, perhaps the greatest way to change yourself and your world is to take a step of faith and join God in what he is doing.  When you "go" incredible things happen.  Go here to watch Will's entire sermon as he shares the story of how Katrina changed him and the church.

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