Monday, April 26, 2010

In Praise of Pastor’s Spouses Everywhere

Disclaimer: Since my blog is about all things church, I feel justified in posting this. Naturally, none of the difficulties I reference occur at my present church, but are simply a collection of events from other times and other places and the experiences of other people. I use the pronoun “she” to describe the pastor’s spouse because it is convenient. I acknowledge and thank all those men who are married to women in the ministry.

Sometimes the tending of souls that a pastor does is so exhausting, often times there simply isn’t anything left to give to the tending of other, more material things that simply have to be done in this life. Like flowers, bushes, trees, leaky sinks and window sills. Too often, the tending of one’s own children, marriage and other significant relationships also get passed over because of psycho-spiritual exhaustion. Clergy have an incredibly high divorce rate and one of the highest rates of chemical dependancy in any career. The burn out rate among pastors is extraordinarily high. Frequently, pastors go on to become human resource specialists or insurance salesmen. Can you imagine what it must be like to be married to a pastor? Most mere mortals would never survive being married to a pastor so God, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, made a special class of humans, the pastor’s spouse.

The pastor’s spouse understands that ministry runs in seasons and like the seasons, it is impossible to ever be fully prepared for their length. So she has enormous patience with her husband who vanishes for days or sometimes weeks, and sometimes, months, showing up at odd and inconvenient times to eat or sleep.

The pastor’s spouse doesn’t file for divorce when, in his delirium, he looks at her during a conversation and says, “I’m very sorry, dearest, I simply have no ability to converse with you tonight.”

The pastor’s spouse isn’t phased by phone calls or text messages or e-mails at all hours because she understands that the moment of decision in a person’s life cannot be scheduled neatly into office hours.

The pastor’s spouse bears up under disappointment well, always expecting the best but understanding that when dealing with people and their spiritual lives nothing is ever convenient.

The pastor’s spouse realizes that her ambition must be laid aside for the sake of her family and her marriage because if she works during the week and her husband on the weekends and holidays, they will never see each other nor be able to spend meaningful time together. She understands that you can seldom or never go home for Christmas or Easter if your family home is more than a day’s drive away.

The pastor’s spouse knows that you must squeeze every drop of joy when joy is to be found because tomorrow may bring heartache and pain in the lives of others and therefore in the life of her husband and his ministry.

The pastor’s spouse understands when there simply isn’t money in the bank or a raise in salary every year because her family’s welfare is dependent upon the welfare and generosity of other families.

The pastor’s spouse is patient when her “honey-do” list is overlooked for months and sometimes years in order that others might be served first.

The pastor’s spouse has extraordinary self control in order to share the pew with many who are convinced they could preach a better sermon, lead more effectively and do a better job of running the church then her husband.

And when the pastor’s spouse is at the breaking point and needs somewhere to turn, she is content that only Jesus and a precious few friends can ever truly understand her life or be trusted to keep her secrets safe or truly share her burden without being scandalized and calling her “unspiritual.”

And when the pastor is finally put out to pasture, his health broken, his mind exhausted, the pastor’s spouse knows she must nurse him and be content with whatever they have managed to set aside for these years knowing that true retirement and true rewards are not found in this world but only in the kingdom yet to come.

And I have no doubt that when the pastor’s spouse awakens in the arms of Jesus, the Savior will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Though you sacrificed for every one, you did it really for me. Of all my servants, you are one who exhibits so faithfully my decree, ‘I have set for you an example that you should do as I have done.’ Come, enter the rest prepared for you since before the world was created.”

Martin Luther, the great reformer, was late to marry. But he found bliss in his married life to Katherine von Bora, a former nun. He praised her as the book of Proverbs praised the “good wife.”

From Proverbs 31:
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not hard, all the days of her life...

She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness....

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Thank you, pastor’s spouses, everywhere. You are the person behind the preacher who keeps us accountable, honest, humble, and gives us joy when we come home. Thank you for your sacrifice to Christ and his kingdom. Yours is a unique and often misunderstand and overlooked ministry. Great will be your reward. God bless, thanks for reading. PJ

Monday, April 19, 2010

What We Learn At Pastor Conferences

On March 25 I was blessed to be able to attend the Catalyst One Day conference ( at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. The featured speakers were Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel. It was an amazing event with about 2100 pastors and church staff in attendance.

The day long format was intense but extremely gratifying.

Here are notes from what I felt was the best of the presentations by Craig Groeschel, pastor of ( Some of the notes are his and some of the comments are mine.

Busting Barriers with Mindset Changes by Craig Groeschel

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Romans 12:2

Think Differently about your church culture. (or whatever)

(don’t think) Our people won’t ____________. (do, think, any behavior, i.e. invite, bring unchurched to worship; won’t get into worship, etc.)
(do think) We haven’t led them to _____________. (do, think, any behavior).

They “won’t” because we “don’t.” We have to model the behavior we want them to do. Whether this is how to worship, how to invite unchurched people, how to give. What people will do depends largely on what we lead them to do and to do that we must do what it is we are asking of them.

Think differently about programming.

(don’t think) We have to do more to reach more.
(do think) We can reach more by doing less. (Less is more). Why do we keep doing things that don’t give life? Life transformation decreases as activity increases.

Think differently about the mission.
(don’t think) We can’t hurt someone’s feelings.
(do think) We can’t allow someone to hold back the mission of the church.

Think differently about people leaving the church.
(don’t think) We can’t let anyone leave.
(do think) We can grow when people leave.

Wrong mindset on this is a momentum killer. Don’t be needy. Needy people are there for the wrong reasons. Typical complaints of needy people: I didn’t like that song. The preacher isn’t deep enough. The music is too loud (seriously, he said all this).
Don’t bless the wrong people to leave, but the right ones. You choose.

Think differently about limitations.
(don’t think) We can’t because we don’t ______
(do think) We can be we don’t __________

Sometimes God guides by what he provides, sometimes by what he withholds. Limitation leads to innovation. Perhaps the biggest innovations came about because of limitations (lack of space led to second site instead of new building).

Three Assingments:
Find someone one or two steps ahead of you and learn how they think (not what they do - don’t copy what without the why).
Identify one wrong mindset and ask God to renew your mind with truth.
Identify one painful decision you’ve been avoiding and commit to make the decision no matter what the short term pain.

Thanks for reading. God bless. PJ

Monday, April 12, 2010

Grace, Cheap or Costly?

Grace and the loving forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ are one and the same thing. By God’s grace, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, we are forgiven. But if we don’t feel guilty for our sin, if we don’t feel shame for our actions and inactions and words and thoughts which grieve the heart of God, do we really receive God’s forgiveness? Martin Luther would argue, “no.” If you don’t believe your sins are forgiven, he says, they aren’t. That’s the part that faith plays in grace. We are saved by grace “through” faith. So, if you aren’t sorry, you don’t feel guilty, you don’t feel responsible and you don’t really feel you need to be forgiven. People and churches fall into this trap all the time. They talk about how all is forgiven and yet they feel no shame and therefore they do not amend their life and they therefore make the grace of God, in the words of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “cheap.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book called, The Cost of Discipleship, in which he lays out the difference between “cheap” grace and “costly” grace. I’m grateful to the website, , for the following explanation of Bonhoeffer’s work:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.... In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God. 45-46
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. 'All for sin could not atone.' Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin....
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 47

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

This grace was certainly not self-bestowed. It was the grace of Christ himself, now prevailing upon the disciple to leave all and follow him, now working in him that confession which to the world must sound like the ultimate blasphemy, now inviting Peter to the supreme fellowship of martyrdom for the Lord he had denied, and thereby forgiving him all his sins. In the life of Peter grace and discipleship are inseparable. He had received the grace which costs. 49
As Christianity spread, and the Church became more secularized, this realization of the costliness of grace gradually faded. The world was Christianized, and grace became its common property. It was to be had at low cost....49

Monday, April 5, 2010

Change Lies Ahead for the Church

Radical change lies ahead on the church landscape in America. We must prepare now for future ministry.

a. We are living in the last generation to see full time, paid, professional clergy (with benefits). While there will continue to be full time, paid clergy, they will be working for mega-churches and will be the elite and the lucky.
b. We are living in the last generation to be able to afford the traditional church building. As congregations shrink in size they will have to sell their buildings. New church plants will not be able to afford to purchase land and pay for new buildings. New churches will rent space or will buy multi-use space which can serve as either a way to draw in the world (retail, restaurant, clinics, play, etc) or provide income (church as land lord). In some cases, it may be possible to rehab empty churches but the difficulty remains in how to pay for maintenance and utilities.
c. Seminary education is about to radically change. Thanks to the internet, traditional campuses and class room experiences will increasingly become a thing of the past. Since clergy won’t be full time, prospective candidates will not be able to afford the costs of traditional seminary education. Undergrad + seminary program can = $100k.
d. Traditional benefits enjoyed by churches may end in the near future. Since we have allowed a generation to grow up which doesn’t see the church as beneficial to society, we may lose our property tax exemption and other exemptions (such as exemption from traditional employment laws, sales tax, income tax, etc.).
e. When looking for a church, people’s first experience, first impression, and a major determining factor in their decision about whether or not to visit that church, will be their experience of that church on line. Personal invitation to church will remain a chief factor in choosing a church, but the internet experience will become more and more critical.
While not replacing face to face relationships, people will continue to form online communities and seek ways of networking those communities and integrating them into their daily life.
f. In 20 years, there will be more unchurched people than there are now. 78% of Polk County (Iowa) residences say they have no church home. That trend will continue. There will also be fewer churches.
g. Every Christian must now understand themselves as a missionary. Every church must be a missionary sending and equipping center. Every pastor is already a missionary, regardless of whether or they realize that yet or not.
h. The model of church as a dues paying club must end. The attitude that has to go is this: “We pay our dues, we expect service for our dues, if you don’t do what we want with our dues, we will leave.” The model of a church as a corporation must also end. Members are not share holders. This adjustment will affect the way we teach about financial stewardship. The corporate model of leadership is no longer feasible either, because we are now entering a time in history when faith, not votes, needs to be our guide. (eldership) (spiritual gifts)
i. This is an era where vision will determine the future of the church. Those who have God given visions will survive. Those without will close.
j. The population is graying, the church in America will be hit by a catastrophic demographic change in the next 20 years as many of our current members will be dead. The boomer generation will transfer much of the remaining wealth away from the church, using it for their retirements, health care, and end of life issues. Their estates will be smaller and will less frequently include churches in their final bequests. The boomer generation is also slow to empower the next generation to lead. k. In the city of Des Moines there is currently a surplus of underutilized young leadership both inside and outside the church. l. Further, for reasons stated previously, many church buildings will become vacant in the next 2 decades. It may be possible to acquire them at no cost and plant new congregations with new leaders with the express purpose of reaching the neighborhoods surrounding the churches.
m. We live in times of unprecedented change: health care, the stock market, new enemies, uncertainty, talk of climate change and catastrophe, etc. The Good News has the best market it’s had in years. Our Savior can deliver real hope and real change. The only thing keeping us from revival now is that churches tend to be inward focused with their resources while talking about being outward focused.

End Result:
The church of the future will by necessity be leaner, more efficient, have a different profile (look much different) and will be more focused on mission.