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Have Mercy on Your Ministers

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BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     It’s been a tough go for pastors of late. What with navigating the pandemic, shepherding through seemingly never-ending political turmoil, and deciphering culture chaos, all while trying to keep the church united around Christ, it’s no wonder Barna reports that 68% of pastors “have felt overwhelmed regularly in the last four weeks.”[i] And that survey is from May 2020! I doubt the numbers have improved since then. Ministering to people is always an incredible challenge, but the intensity has certainly been ratcheted up to another level these last few years.

     Statistics like Barna’s, rightly, sadden us, it’s true. How can the thought of our beloved ministers being overwhelmed by all of this not draw out our hearts? But as saddened as we are, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Surprise, however, is what seems to me to be the primary reaction to the struggles of our pastors. We don’t seem to have categories for weak pastors.

     I think I know why that is. I don’t have any Barna statistics to back it up. It’s just an observation from my own years of pastoral ministry, and from my experience prior to being in ministry. We don’t have categories for overwhelmed pastors because we tend to think pastors are supposed to be indestructible super-spiritual giants. If you’re anything like me you’ve looked at a pastor standing in the pulpit boldly preaching the word and thought, “Man, he’s got it together.” We often attribute a Yoda-like quality to our ministers. We see them as men who’ve advanced much farther than us in their spiritual lives, who are no longer troubled by the same trials we are troubled by.

      And, speaking as a minister, I admit that “indestructible” is often what pastors think they’re supposed to be. As a result, it’s pretty easy for us to project that Yoda-like quality as if we’re more advanced than we really are.

      But the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ministers aren’t so much Master Yoda as they are Baby Yoda. Yes, there are moments of ministerial boldness, but for the most part, we are weak and need the support and prayers of the saints in order to persevere in our callings.

              When it comes down to it, weakness is what God wants in his ministers. It’s not the indestructible pot, but the beaten and cracked clay pot that God uses to reveal his surpassing power (2 Cor 4:7). While the world might consider weakness a detriment to effective leadership, it’s not so in the New Testament. As the title of J.I. Packer’s book suggests, in the New Testament, “Weakness is the Way.” The Apostle Paul certainly didn’t project any false indestructibility. On the contrary, he came even to boast in his weaknesses, because through his weakness God’s power was made perfect (2 Cor 12:8-9). Despite how we, ministers, often view our weaknesses (as detriments), Paul saw his weaknesses as the very things God used to minister. God has no time for self-confident, “indestructible” ministers. In other words, if your pastor is weak, he’s in good company. A weak pastor is precisely the kind of man you want to fill your pulpit.

     For myself and other ministers, this means we don’t need to put on a face. We shouldn’t pretend to be stronger than we are. We ought to embrace and even boast in our weaknesses (and we each have many) so that Christ’s power might be revealed through us. What a terrible waste it would be if we pretend to be more than we are.

     But for you, my beloved brothers and sisters, that God uses only weak ministers to build His church means you must have mercy on your ministers. How do you view our Pastors and Elders? Do they seem to you like indestructible spiritual giants who’ve already arrived? Or do you see them as your fellow sojourners on the journey to the Celestial City? Do you allow space for your ministers to be weak? To struggle? To weep? To fear? To not have the answer? When you disagree with your minister do you consider his weakness before you send that email critique? Are you willing to stand with the Session when they make decisions differently than you would have? Do you consider how God wants to use you to help your broken-clay-pot of a minister persevere in his call?

     By God’s grace COVID seems to be nearing its end. But the challenge of ministry will always remain. Have mercy on your ministers. Delete the email. Send a letter of appreciation instead. And pray for them. Love them, serve them, trust them, follow them and perhaps we will see more of God’s power at Oakwood.

[i] https://www.barna.com/research/covid-19-pastor-emotions

Posted by Rev. Ben Lee with

Who Are You Owin’? (4)

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BY OWEN HUGHES, Associate Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

Who Are You Owin’?

DISCLAIMER: My blog posts will be about gratitude. Gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation do not come naturally to me, but there are so many people that I owe so much to. People who invested in me, who spent time with me, who pursued me, and who shaped me. Some were intentional, others were unintentional, and others were just being themselves. So, my blog posts will be about people who have made me who I am today. People I am “owin’” for making me, well, Owen. Disclaimer: I am not a writer and I’m not an aspiring writer. So, if my writing is “offensive,” either because of structure or grammar or both, please forgive me.

Matt Ryman

     This blog post is one that I have shared in many different places: small groups, youth groups, and sermon illustrations. It is the story in my life where I experienced a humiliating failure and how a group of men, and one in particular, spoke some of the most shaping words to me.

     I did not do well in my undergrad education. I went to Grove City College and flunked out after two years with a 1.7 GPA. I didn’t party or get wrapped up with the wrong crowd. I just could not manage my time and was the king of procrastination. When I went back to Grove City, I had taken a year off, worked very hard at a restaurant in South Carolina, and had a girlfriend who I wanted to marry (and I did!). With a new motivation to work hard, I finished my degree and ended up with a 2.6 GPA. I then swore I would never go back to school. 

     In 2008, I felt God’s hand guiding me back to school, this time to get a theological degree and to become a minister. I worked hard for five years; Amber worked hard for 5 years. We sacrificed (if I wanted to be spiritual, I would say “invested”) every Saturday and all of our savings into seminary. In 2013 I graduated and was offered a job at the church we were attending and had been the part-time youth guy.

     They hired me with the understanding that I would get ordained within a year. The ordination process was brutal. It consisted of five written exams that included basically everything you have learned in seminary. You must submit two papers in Greek and Hebrew. Then you must sit for an oral exam that can last as long as the men who are examining you want it to last. My first one was three hours and my second one was four hours. These oral exams are quick-fire questions about everything from your devotional life to ancient church history.

     When I walked into the room for this oral exam, I was seated at the end of the table in a chair that was considerably lower than everyone else’s. I don’t think this was intentional, but the chair was so low that when I bent my head down, it actually touched the table. I sat there, very nervous, and the first question they asked me was about my devotional life. I admitted to them that I hadn’t had much of a devotional life over the past year since I was busy with work and studying for my ordination. The guys then rifted for about 30 minutes on the importance of a devotional life for a pastor. Sweat started to build up on my hands and all of a sudden, my devotional life came back to me and I started to pray that the sweat wouldn’t start running down my face!

They moved on to Bible knowledge.
They asked me, “Who is your favorite Old Testament character?”
 I said, “Joshua.” 
They said, “Where do you find Joshua?”
I said, “The book of Joshua.”
They could see the level of intellect they were dealing with, so they said “Great; now outline the book of Joshua.”
With wide eyes, I said, “Every chapter?”

      I got to chapter four and then stalled out. During the following questions, I managed to get the engine cranked again, but by the last few questions, the guys were pushing my broken-down brain to the side of the road.

     At this point, sweat was the least of my worries. When it came time for me to explain what the atonement was and where to find it in the Bible, my head was on the table and I was crying. I was devastated. Five years of seminary. A call to the ministry at a church. My wife sacrificing so much time and energy for me. Hours taken from my children. Tens of thousands of dollars spent. Letting down my family, my father and mother, my church, and God. As I sat there, an objective failure, the guys wanted to make sure I understood why it was important for my seminary education to be more than “head deep.” They spent almost an hour talking about the importance of making the Gospel more just an intellectual exercise, but a heart movement. As they finished driving this point into the mind and heart of a failed seminarian, they started to shape a young pastor. Matt Ryman, the pastor at University Presbyterian in Orlando Florida told me to stand up. I did and he hugged me. He told me that this doesn’t matter at all. He told me education, ordination, ministry success, ministry failure, doesn’t matter at all to Jesus or eternity. He told me my identity is not in what I do or don’t do. My identity is in Christ and Christ alone. He is the one who called me, who saved me, and who holds me. Matt spoke the simple truths of the Gospel that have the most profound effect on a person’s life. My life is hid in Christ. That is my identity.

     Over the following months, I had some of the sweetest times of study. I actually hid the word of God in my heart, and it changed me. My father and I would FaceTime two or more times a week and he would test me on my studies. Those are still some of my fondest memories with my Dad. God imprinted on my heart that my identity is not in my success or my failure. In fact, He has always been bigger to me in my failure, because it is when I am nothing that He is my everything.

     I am definitely ownin’ Matt Ryman for seeing an opportunity in my failure to drive home the beautiful truth that my identity is in Christ and Christ alone!

     When it comes to those who have encouraged you in your identity in Christ, who are you owin’?

Posted by Rev. Owen Hughes with

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