Saturday, March 31, 2012

Challenges of pastoral ministry

It's been a couple weeks since writing anything on this blog. This was a deliberate choice on my part. I refrained from writing so as to pray, search my heart, listen to God through Scripture, listen to those who disagree with me and also to listen to those who mentor and pray for me.

Ministry update: Sermons from I Corinthians
The last three to four weeks have been some of the most challenging times in my ministry. For those of you who are not aware of happenings in the life of this pastor, let me give you a quick update:

I will be a pastor now for twenty-eight years this summer. Even before my ordination to pastoral ministry my approach to preaching and teaching has been to develop all my themes for sermons, bible studies, and even theological formulations from Scripture. I enjoy preaching and teaching through the bible. And as long as God lends me breath, I expect to continue that mode of teaching.

Despite moving to Chicago, I have maintained this practice and approach: open up the Scriptures, try to get out of the way and let the word of God speak. I know this sounds simple but it is actually complicated. This challenging approach to preaching and teaching came under fire recently as I preached through Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Particularly, my interpretation of chapters 5, 6 and then our new associate pastor's interpretation of chapter 7.

Some would say we took a traditional position that failed to incorporate the ways in which human beings have changed and the many ways that human beings can love and express intimacy with each other. Furthermore, our positions were heard as insensitive, inflicting pain and rejection of those who are faithful, obedient followers of Jesus, but who also live as homosexuals or lesbians, etc.

Since preaching I Corinthians 5-7, we hosted a forum. Members of the congregation gathered to allow me the chance to respond to many concerns raised about my preaching, teaching and my ongoing pastoral ministry at the church.

Lessons learned
So I took a break from writing and went into prayer to examine my heart, my preaching; to listen to audio versions of the sermons, to be quiet before God and also to listen to others. Here are some things I am learning:

1. In the heat of "challenge" your true friends emerge. Generally, everyone likes or tolerates their pastor as long as the pastor generally says what they like to hear. But in moments of great challenge you will discover the ones who are your friends. I am not saying supporters, or backers, friends, who reach out to you even when they may not agree with everything you are saying and doing.

2. Pastors and church leaders must lead with conviction. Without a sense of rootedness, vision, commitment to a way of living, you will be blown off course by every wind, complaint or dissenter. Conviction helps you stand and take the heat in the kitchen.

3. Pastors and church leaders must lead with humility and patience. Reject the attitude that the pastor is the repository of all truth. Have convictions, but share them with gentleness, humility and patient endurance (2 Timothy 4:2).

4. Pastors and church leaders must never value reputation above character. There is a world of difference between reputation and character. People can smear your reputation because it is malleable and often driven by other's perception. But your character is the core of your life. Your reputation is the way people perceive you; your character is the way God sees you and knows you. The Lord told Samuel, "Man looks at the outward appearance (reputation), but I look at the heart  (character) I Samuel 16:7. In the end, God will judge us not on the basis of what was popular or how many people appreciated us, but on the basis of obedience to his will. So stand on principle and character.

5. When you stand on principle or core convictions be prepared to lose people. Every pastor would like to know that the impact of their ministry and response to their ministry is always positive, up and to the right on the growth chart. But this is not so. John 6:66, Mark 10: 22 just to name a few, all show people offended by Jesus' words and then left.

6. Lean on God. I used to sing a song back in Jamaica, "Learning to lean, learning to lean on Jesus. Finding more power than I ever dreamed, I am learning to lean on Jesus." Well, I am still learning. The challenges of the ministry are never greater than the resources and the love of God. God will sustain me and our congregation during these tough days.

I solicit your prayers, your feedback, as I seek to be faithful to Scripture and to the God of Scripture. To God be all glory and praise!