Monday, August 24, 2015

Several things to help pastors enjoy church services

The title of this blog entry may seem very strange to laymen, but I would guess will hit a cord among pastors.  There are many distractions that can rob a pastor from enjoying the very church services into which  he has invested  much thought and effort.  I would like to give you several thoughts that I am continually preaching to myself in this area:

1.  Rest in the fact that this is God's church, not yours.

What I mean by this is, sometimes we feel like all the expectation is on us to perform and make some great thing out of this group of believers.  We bear an unnecessary burden of thinking that it all depends on us and every service must be "super" and above average.  If, and when that does not happen (because it doesn't) we blame ourselves and consider ourselves failures.  Well, listen up "bud" - that ain't your church!  This is God's church, and more specifically - it is Jesus' church.  He is the Head, and He is the leader of it to succeed, fail, or do "average".  Relax - the buck does not stop with you.

2.  Rest in the fact that God is working, so you don't have to manipulate the work.

What I mean by this is that early in the senior pastorate, I felt like I needed to control the "aura" of any given service by pumping the people up or having a theatrical moment, or interjecting myself artificially during the song service to "get the people more stirred, etc.".  I felt like I could make or break how good a service was and how much the people would get out of it.  I have seen other pastors straining to artificially create something by passionate words, brow beating, church self-promotion, etc.   At best this is arrogant, at worst it is blasphemous against the work of the Holy Spirit.

We would do well to consider Psalms 84:2  My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.   God is alive and working in the place of corporate worship and we don't need to manipulate the service to make it "more so".  I think our part is to communicate that clearly to the people and then to allow God to be God.  We all should be coming to the services to meet corporately with God and expect no less.  If the attention is on the "super" pastor or the "super" music or the "super" church we have, or the "super" service - we are missing the boat and participating in plastic worship.  Pastors, rest in the fact that God is working in hearts.  He really is doing a work that you cannot manipulate.  His sovereign evangelism and sanctification is something that works THROUGH us, not by us.

3.  Believe that you are called, gifted, and used by God.

I have no idea how many times I have run back to this chapter in the pastorate:  2 Corinthians 3:6  Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

Imagine - you and I are "able ministers".  That is such a consolation when you feel like your ministry is worth about 2 cents.  Whether we see results or accolades is not the truth - the truth is, we have the ability to minister for God through the calling and gifts He has bestowed on us.  Our ministry really changes hearts and lives no matter to what extent we ever see it.

So, when I prepare my sermons, when I stand in that pulpit, when I reflect on how I "did" last Sunday - let me look through the lens that I am ministering with supernatural gifts that do not fail.

4.  Come to the services to see the living God yourself.

You are not the one man show at church.  Jesus is the one man show.  When we consider that we are coming to seek and worship the "living God" in corporate worship, we must not think that is for everyone except the pastor.  No, you are coming to engage with the God who is alive also.  The song service is not a segue to your show - it is time to sing in the Spirit.  It is time to lift up Jesus in your own heart.  Stop staring at the schedule to see what comes next - consider the words of the hymn from your heart.  Listen to the song leaders comments (God works through him also).  Listen to the choir's worship instead of focusing on sister Jean who is off key.  That choir isn't singing better or worse for your resume's sake.  They are not singing for YOU.  Focus on the God they are singing to and about.  You are not a better or worse pastor because your song service is primo or pitiful.  You didn't come to the service to build yourself up - you came to see the living God.  One thing that helped our pastors with this was moving off of the platform onto the front row during services.  We are no longer the zoo exhibit, but are part of the congregation engaging in worship ourselves.

5.  Allow the details to be the details and not the main thing on your mind.

I am a detail guy.  I go a bit crazy when the lights aren't on properly, the sound has feedback, there is no centerpiece in front of the pulpit, etc. One of my favorite sayings to staff and helpers is "God is in the details"...but an equally popular saying is "The devil's in the details".  That can certainly be true when we are in a service worshiping and leading worship and the only thing we can focus on is the fact that the piano mic is not on or the projector isn't working correctly.

I think we need to come to the place where we give a certain allowance to details not being exactly right in, well, ANY service.  We are not working with professional ushers, sound system techs, etc. - there will be things not quite right.  I have made the mistake on many occasions to feel negative feelings toward people who I thought should do better, only to realize that they were doing their best - but things "happen".

As pastors, we must strive for excellence and to remove stumblingblocks that interrupt or distract from the message - but ultimately, God WILL sanctify His people despite incorrect details.  I struggle with this, but it is the truth.  If I am so "peeved" by the details that I preach with a bad attitude, then I am grieving the Holy Spirit that wants to use me.  That will never do.

6.  Deflect the "stinkers" that answer to Jesus for how they talk to you.

In every church there are "stinkers" that seem bent on saying exactly the wrong thing to irritate you before or after you preach.  I believe the devil is pinching their bottom or something to say that thoughtless, heartless, distracting, hurtful comment to pull you away from clear ministering.  They say rude things about how long you preach; they correct something that you said; they tell you something they don't like about the church; they complain about some foolish thing or another.   Deflect it - don't engage in it.  I have burned myself time and time again by responding to these comments in a sarcastic or defensive way.  It does not work - nothing works.  That person will stand before the Lord for their resistance and hurtfulness to the ministry and God's servant.  Plain and simple - let God deal with them and give them no energy.  You are not the problem pastor - they are.  It is not "lording" to know that God did not engift or call those people to lead and teach the flock - He called YOU.  You must own and embrace this authority and service and like Nehemiah, ignore the Sanballots and Tobiahs to do God's great work.

I am certainly not condoning deflecting or ignoring valid complaints or concerns.  I am talking about the guy who thinks his spiritual gift is "criticism".  He oozes negativity and discouragement like a nasty burn oozes puss.  Deflect and do not engage.

7.  Don't worry about results.

Now, some will disagree on this point, and I am willing to allow them to be wrong.  One of the great joys that I have had in ministry is not to look at "the numbers" week by week.  We only publish the average attendance once a year at our annual meeting.  Why?  Because being results oriented is a HUGE distraction to actual God-ministering.  It is trellis work and not vine work.  When the numbers are up you think, "Well, look at that - I am really doing something for God."  When the numbers are down you think, "That's it, I'm a failure, I want to quit."  Man of God, listen to me - that is garbage.  Stop looking at the numbers.  *I must credit Dr. Dan Davies with this thinking.

The same is true with responses to the invitation.  Let me blow your mind a moment.  I live on the North East coast and hardly anyone responds physically to the invitation.  When I go preach at different places - people come forward in plenty.  I really don't know if it is our geographical location or the mindset of our church - but people don't usually walk the aisles.  This really troubled me for some time and I even had a pastor recommend that I use the deacons to come forward and "prime the pump" so others would come.....Long sigh here for Arminian manipulation.........

Men, the work of sanctification is not "decisionism", but rather the change in hearts and lives as the work of God "untwists" people's minds long-term to conform them to Christ.  Sometimes, invitation calls (as emotional as they can get) are really replacements for the true repentance of the heart that  isn't the business of any person seeing you walk forward to an "altar".  Over the years we have seen real and lasting growth spiritually in our people though they are not big on walking an aisle.  We must believe in God's living work of changing the heart, and not put our trust in the physical response/ result of seeing people come at a man-method invitation.  But...we are just men and want to see those results for our own validation that we are a "good pastor".  We must focus on faithfulness and the final "well done" rather than present results.   When I can free my mind from those man-made expectations - then I can enjoy preaching the life-changing Word of God without trying to make more people come forward to please my immature heart or the voices of my critics.

Well, I have written much but I hope this will be a blessing to some of my pastor friends and enlightenment for laymen.  Let's get back to enjoying our church services again and engaging with the living God who occupies the pillar and ground of truth.

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