Throughout this blog our team of brothers reach out to their
fellow spiritual leaders aiding them in their time of need.

 

Brothers In Arms Blog

BROTHERS \ noun plural: men who share a parent in common
IN \ preposition: used as function word to indicate purpose
ARMS \ noun: weapons\verb: to furnish with weapons

FRIENDS WITH WEAPONS

 

Pastor, Abandon Not The Flock

The stillness of the night is shattered by the howl of a hungry wolf, making the wool of the sheep stand on end in terror like an electric shock just ran through it. Those little sheep really have nothing to fear as long as their brave and strong shepherd stands watching, ready to defend his sheep with his very life. The shepherd, who is a stalwart specimen of manhood, eyes the darkness to see from which way the wolf might come and then picks up his staff to … run the other direction?! Hey, wait … where’s … where’s the shepherd going? What about your sheep?!

That man by anybody’s standard would be a bad shepherd. He might feed the sheep, water the sheep, and interact with the sheep, but to abandon the sheep in their greatest moment of need nullifies the good he had done.

Jesus seemed to think so, as well, as He figuratively spoke of Himself as a shepherd and of people as sheep. He called Himself the Good Shepherd and defined that label as a shepherd who cares so much for the sheep that he puts his life on the line for them instead of running away (John 10:11-13).

Undoubtedly, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and will one day personally shepherd His flock when He returns, but for the meantime, He has placed men over His flock who are supposed to be good shepherds, as well. These “pastors,” a word derived from the Latin word for “shepherd,” are ultimately measured by Jesus’ definition of a good shepherd.

But before you jump up and run away into the night for safety and ease, consider:

1. Your leaving should only be by the permission of God.

Paul told the Ephesian elders to “be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood,” (Acts 20:28). You have been called and placed by God where you are. Since this is true, it’s not up to you when to leave. He called you go there, and He will call you to leave there. Until then, stand and persevere against the wolf!

2. Your leaving very well may cause you to miss something glorious that God is doing.

The 16th-century Reformers rallied around the slogan “after darkness, light.” Scripture and history prove that saying to be wise. It’s often the darkest of hours that precede glorious days of light. Stay put and rest in the sovereignty of God who “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose,” (Romans 8:28). Light is coming!

3. Your leaving could erode the trust of the sheep for the next shepherd.

In a field, when you leave the sheep to the wolf, he likely will get a few of them, but those that remain will still be vulnerable even after they have a new shepherd because they won’t trust him. They’ll expect him to run when the wolf comes, leaving that next pastor an uphill climb to gain the trust of the sheep, which will cause ministry to be greatly hindered. Step back, and look at the long-term, big picture. What effect will your leaving the sheep to the wolf have on the church for years to come?

4. Your leaving might say something about your pastoral motivation.

Jesus says that hirelings run away when the wolf appears (John 10:12). They are shepherding primarily for selfish reasons — what they can get out of it — and when the wolf shows up, a quick cost-benefit calculation leads the hireling to decide that the sheep and the benefits aren’t worth the trouble of dealing with the wolf. “They don’t pay me enough to mess with that!” the hireling says. In contrast, Jesus wasn’t concerned about what He was getting, but whom He was serving. In fact, Jesus came not to be served but to be serve (Mark 10:45), and that caused Him to be willing to face the wolf even if it meant death. He was that concerned for the sheep! Is that same mentality in you? Ask yourself why you are pastoring and why you are thinking about leaving your flock. What motivation surfaces? Is it Christ-like?

5. Your leaving might be based on what you can do instead of what God can do.

We look at situations and say in our flesh, “it’s hopeless,” but is that declaration ever true in light of the God of the Bible? No way! We who walk by faith and not by sight say with Jeremiah, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, … nothing is too hard for You!” (Jeremiah 32:17). We often run away because we think that the wolf is too much for us, the whole time being right but forgetting that God will face the wolf with us. Alone, the wolf wins, but with God, the wolf loses. Don’t base your decision to leave upon what you can do. Keep in mind what God, the one with whom all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), can do.

Brother Pastor, when the wolf howls outside the sheepfold, abandon not the flock. May you stand firm against him and endure for the sake of the sheep and the glory of Christ, the Chief Shepherd!

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Cultivate Joy . . .

when a run goes bad.

Today’s run was poopy. Every step I took felt like work. I had dry mouth two miles in. My ankles kept cracking. I was extremely hot. My breathing was labored. My rubberband broke, leaving my hair flying everywhere. After going out to my car and getting another rubberband, I tried to set the new pace again. I was so disappointed with how this sacred running time had manifested itself. I tried to concentrate on acceptance, embrace what it was and let go of what I expected and wished it would be.

I reflect on that ideal run—where I feel so strong—where I am mentally focused, and I idealize that run. I compare today’s run, and yesterday’s run, and last week’s run, to that glorious, fantasized run of yesteryear. I just want to get back to then.

For the last several weeks I’ve met with some girlfriends to discuss what it means to “choose joy” in our everyday life. Part of choosing joy (for me) is accepting. Accepting today and being in this moment, allowing my senses to feel right now the smooth satin sheets pressed against my calves.

My new friend Catherine lost her firstborn, a son, after he was born at 28 weeks gestation. Then she became pregnant with her daughter, and, spending the last several months of pregnancy on full bedrest in the hospital, birthed her premature (but alive), and raised her with love. Then just over six months ago this little girl, 3 years-old, was tragically killed in a car accident. A mother who has lost two babies.

We sit in a circle talking about “choosing joy” and Catherine smiles. And I see before me someone who should, in no way, have any joy whatsoever. But she does. She says that God has used it to bring her back to Him. I asked myself, “Could I ever do that? Could I choose joy if I was Catherine?” Then I thought, “I’m such a pansie. What is my complaint?”

Oh to be dissatisfied with a run when there are people with no legs on which to walk. To balk at the slightly-too-salty mashed potatoes when there are children in this world with distended bellies, dying of hunger related diseases every day. That I gripe when we’ve run out of ice, and that my pillow is going flat, that my child woke me up in the middle of the night, and that the mango was not ripe. I set out to focus my time and energy and thoughts on what I DO have and what I DO know. Not what I don’t. This is an exercise worth cultivating.

Veering from grumpy, I swirled my thumb on my ipod over to One Republic’s Good Life. I told myself that today I would run slow, that my ankles needed the exercise. I listened to the air rushing into my lungs and felt my chest rise. I noticed the monarch butterfly eight feet ahead of me and decided the sun on my face was God’s smiling. I thought how nice it was to be alive, and what a gift that I was running sans children, and how nice the lukewarm water felt on my parched tongue. I thought about my mom (today is her birthday) and how she cared for my every need, and how I’m alive today and have fullness in my life because she gave so sacrificially. I considered the clouds, the beauty of the trees, and a God who invites me in, who created me in His World for His glory, and I felt happy.

I took joy . . . I ran with it.

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A Pastor’s Story…

I went into my third pastorate with 10 years of pastoral experience. My previous ministries had seen their share of difficulty and conflict, but only of the kinds common to any ministry setting. Over all, God had given me great success as a pastor, providing significant church growth and allowing me favor with people. I was happy in the church I just left, and they were happy with me. I just simply sensed God’s leading into the new setting. I think part of it was pride. Because of my past successes, though I denied it, I thought fairly highly of myself. Therefore, when the search committee of the new church explained that they had seen much conflict in the past, I was confident I could handle it. I entered the new position fully aware that the previous four pastors had been force-terminated and that the worship attendance had declined from around 1,000 to under 200. The committee told me they had not had good pastors and that they needed strong leadership. I was their guy. Of course, when I entered the new position, I knew there would be some conflict. I knew I would face difficulty. A sick and declining church does not reverse course overnight, and some people would likely be problematic. I had a pretty tough skin and a hard head, so I thought I could handle anything. Surprisingly, however, the honeymoon was sweet. I say it was a surprise because the previous pastor only lasted fifteen months. However, for well over a year, things went pretty well. Attendance increased, we started some new programs, and some good things were happening. Then things started heading south.

A few issues were arising at around the same time. For one thing, I made some decisions (not even major decisions) that were not popular. This led to some very nasty and untrue rumors about me. Also, a couple of people by this time had simply decided they didn’t like me. One person in particular would show up at my office at least once a week and tell me the things I “need to do.” When he saw that I only took some of his advice, he became very hostile toward me and started spreading the word that “the pastor thinks he knows everything and doesn’t listen to anyone” (he actually said this to my face). The worst thing, however, was that we had a new chairman of the personnel committee. I’m still not sure why, but this man who initially supported me, became my worst nightmare. Not only did he become extremely critical of me and the rest of the staff, but he proved to be a blatant liar. For example, when one of the committee members called me and urged me to attend the personnel committee meetings, I said, “I’ve never missed a meeting.” She said, “We’ve been meeting every week, and the chairman said he keeps asking you to come, but you refuse.” I had no idea they were meeting every week.

When I did meet with the committee the following week, I had already been experiencing about two years of false rumors and overt confrontations, so I was feeling somewhat beaten and much less confident. In the meeting, I was shocked at what I heard. They told me that “the church” was having “serious concerns about my leadership.” For one thing, I never visited hospitals. What? While I lived in a city with five hospitals (it once took me five hours to make one round of hospital visits), I rarely missed seeing a church member in the hospital. In fact, when the chairman’s father, who lived in another town, was in the hospital in our city, I visited him three times. Another issue was that I needed to start spending time with the staff. I said, “In addition to weekly staff meetings, weekly lunches together, frequent dinners in my home, and daily interactions in each others’ offices, how much time should I spend with them?” The response? “You don’t have weekly staff meetings.” When I produced a very thick file with four years of personal notes from the weekly staff meetings, they were unsatisfied, simply replying, “Well, the church doesn’t think you spend time with the staff, so you need to do something about it.” I was dumbfounded. I was being called on the carpet for these and other accusations that were demonstrably false, and the only reaction was that I needed to improve. Now don’t get me wrong. If they had actually told me of legitimate things I was doing wrong, I would have listened and made changes. That, however, was not the case. I just didn’t know what to do.

I decided to update my resume and post it on the placement site of the seminary where I was currently working on a degree. Every time I proceeded to upload the resume, however, I couldn’t bring myself to click the mouse. I wanted to leave, but I just didn’t have peace about putting my resume out. The previous pastor had been given a year’s salary and benefits to resign (in our denomination, an outright termination typically requires a 3/4 vote from the congregation, and that can be messy). I found myself praying that the committee would make the same offer the previous guy got. They never did.

Then a business opportunity appeared on my radar screen. A new coffee franchise was making a splash, and at a family member’s prompting, I decided to look into it. To make along story short, I was approved for a franchise, I found an ideal property, and I lined up funding. I was so fed up with being a pastor and being abused, I was going to go open a coffee house. I just wanted out.

Things at church were not improving, and I kept waiting for them to offer me a deal, but my mind was made up. I was going to go regardless of what they did. Then one morning before the sun came up, I was out running. As I turned up my street, my mind was preoccupied with my new career, and just as clearly as anything I’ve ever heard from God, He said to me, “That is not your calling.” That’s all He said, but I knew in that instant that I was called to preach—to pastor—and I could not possibly open a coffee shop. I showered and dressed with a new sense of my calling, and by God’s grace I was not going to let a personnel committee take that from me. I had a plan.

The thing is, I knew that only a small percentage of the church members opposed me. I knew that if a business meeting were called to vote me out of my position, the vote would never reach 3/4, or even simple majority. In fact, I suspected it would have been just the opposite. So I called a meeting of the personnel committee, and I told them, “I’m not resigning. If you want me to go, then call a meeting of the church, but I will not be bullied, and I will not step down. God has called me here, and I’m staying until he calls me elsewhere.” While most of the committee sat in stunned silence, the youngest member said, “I’m with my pastor. I’m tired of all this, and I refuse to be a part of it anymore.” From that point on, I had a revived sense of calling and purpose. It was life-changing.

What happened next was exciting as well as surprising. Some good, godly people decided to be like that young personnel committee member. They started standing up and speaking out, and they even started defending me from rumors. Some of our key leaders also started getting right with God. The church was slowly becoming more unified, and we were starting to see some positive signs, including some modest growth. I was content, and probably 98% of the church was as well. Things were good. Then a search committee called me. I was not looking, so I was not interested, but God was in it. I am now in a new ministry position, and I am so thankful to God that I am not running a coffee house. I’m also thankful that He caused me to stay in that situation until He made it possible for me to leave rightly. I still find it hard to believe I almost abandoned my calling. Thank God that His heavy hand was on me.

Pastor Mike

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