134 Posts Categorized as about "The Pastor's Soul"

Good Communication—The First Step

I don’t mind being called a preacher. One of my lifetime goals has been to be a good preacher. That takes hard work. You know that. Good communication is never automatic. Sometimes you may think you’re coming through clearly only to be surprised when a member of the congregation, or even your wife, without your asking, shares with you that your message didn’t come through. We’ve all been there!

I want to write in the next few posts about helping your message come through.

The greatest privilege in the world is to have people listen when we speak. But I never assume that the congregation comes to listen—to really listen. Rather, I usually assume they approach my message with a ho-hum spirit. Therefore, I have to earn the right to be heard every Lord’s day. We owe it to our congregations to prepare and then present good meals. I think that’s what Solomon had in mind when he wrote about the Preacher:

In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. (Ecclesiastes 12:9)

Did you notice where preaching should begin? With being . . . before doing. Before you teach the people you are to be a wise man. Remember how Jesus chose twelve men, “that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). Notice the order? First they were with Jesus . . . then they preached.

The hard work of good preaching begins with the fear of the Lord—true wisdom. Don’t assume its presence. As you work hard to cultivate a genuine, growing relationship with God, wisdom will come.

Don’t take any shortcuts with that first step.

                —Chuck

Trusting God in the Shadows

Have you ever felt God wasn’t using your ministry? Ever felt forgotten in the shadows? I want to dispense a fresh supply of hope. To help accomplish that, let me suggest four principles.

First, when God prepares us for effective ministry, He includes what we would rather omit—a period of waiting. That cultivates patience. As I write these words, it occurs to me that I’ve never met anyone young and patient. (To be honest, I’ve not met many old and patient folks either.) We’re all in a hurry. We don’t like to miss one panel of a revolving door. Patience comes hard in a hurry-up society. Yet it’s an essential quality for ministry, cultivated only in extended periods of waiting. Most often, God imposes it.

Second, as God makes us wait, hiding us in His shadow, He shows us we’re not indispensable. That makes us humble. One major reason the Lord removes us and has us wait in His shadow is to remind us we’re not the star attraction. We’re not indispensable. That realization cultivates genuine humility.

Third, while God hides us away, He reveals new dimensions of Himself and new insights regarding ministry. That makes us deep. What we need today is not smarter people or busier people. A far greater need is deeper people. Deep people will always have a ministry. Always. God deepens us through time spent waiting on Him.

Fourth, when God finally chooses to use us, it comes at a time least expected, when we feel the least qualified. That makes us effective. The perfect set-up for a long-lasting, effective ministry begins with surprise. “Me? You sure You don’t want that other person?” That’s the idea. It’s refreshing, in this highly efficient age, to find a few who are still amazed at the way God is using them.

Some of God’s greatest work begins in the heart of a pastor. Patience . . . humility . . . and depth. Make these your ambition even when you feel in the shadows. God alone is in charge of the results.

                            —Chuck

The Crucial Issue

What will it take to convince us that the last will be first and the first will be last? For some it will take a lifetime. For others only a few semesters in seminary.

Each May, at the end of the spring term at Dallas Theological Seminary, we have the joy of listening to the school’s top preachers. They’re nominated and selected by pastoral-ministry professors. One year a talented young man preached on that pivotal passage in John 13 where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet. After a compelling exposition of that simple text, the young senior class preacher leaned low into the microphone, looked across the faces in Chafer Chapel, and asked his fellow students, “Do you want to have a great ministry . . . or do you just want to be great?”

The packed chapel went silent. Nobody blinked. I’ll never forget his question. None of us will. I hope he never does either.

In a single question he captured the crucial issue: greatness. Not as the world defines it. But greatness according to the standard of the Almighty God. Great leaders are servants first. Like Paul . . . like Paul’s Master, Jesus Christ.

This is for you, and this is for me. If you’ve never submitted fully to the Master, this is your moment. If you’re still arrogant, you probably won’t be struck down with blindness or find yourself shackled in a Roman prison. That was Paul’s experience. But now that I have your attention, I suggest you take a good look within.

You do know how strong-willed and proud you are. So do the people you lead. You know how slow you are to encourage and how reluctant you are to affirm. They do too. You know if you’re greedy. You know if you’re self-serving. Frankly, it’s time to give all that up. We’re back to the crucial question: Do you want to have a great ministry, or do you just want to be great?

How you answer will determine how you lead.

                                    —Chuck

Stepping Out

Stepping out in faith always brings clarification of God’s plan. When Ananias went to see Paul (then Saul), he received additional information (read Acts 9:10–21). As Saul submitted himself to the ministry of Ananias, he found out more about God’s plan for his life. You’re “a chosen instrument of Mine.” I’m going to use you “to bear My name” (9:15). Saul hadn’t known that before. (He had never read the book of Acts!) He knew nothing of what was in store for him until Ananias took that initial step of faith. Both men discovered that God Himself chose Saul to be His instrument and that intense suffering would mark his ministry. That’s the way God operates.

When Cynthia and I first sensed God’s direction to leave California and relocate our Insight for Living ministry, we could hardly believe it. We had planned to stay in the same place for the rest of our lives. Neither space nor time allow me to describe the things God has shown us since we made the decision to move. Initially, very few people could grasp God’s plan for us. In fact, some firmly rejected it. But now as God continues to put the finishing touches on His magnificent portrait, what we see is absolutely beautiful. Until we took that initial step of obedience, all we had was, “It’s time to go.” It’s amazing to me, even as I write these words! Surprises always bring about clarification of God’s plan.

By the way, the Swindolls have grown deeper in our relationship with the Lord, having trusted Him without first knowing all the details. The same will be true for you. Obeying God drives the roots of your faith much deeper. And that obedience stimulates growth in every area of life. We’re stretched emotionally, often physically, but most importantly, spiritually. Obedience always stimulates growth.

Ananias’s compliance with God’s surprising plan allowed him to witness supernatural power. No one else in Scripture witnessed the scales miraculously falling from the contrite former Pharisee’s eyes. Only Ananias. When Saul’s sight returned, Ananias’s own eyes were also opened to the amazing power of God to transform a life. Obedience always stimulates growth.

Step out on faith, and you’ll find solid ground.

                                        —Chuck

Humble Yourself

Rather than racing into the limelight, we need to accept our roles in the shadows. I’m serious here. Don’t promote yourself. Don’t push yourself to the front. Don’t drop hints. Let someone else do that. Better yet, let God do that.

Today would be a good time to resist going through life and ministry trying to live according to your own understanding—thinking if you can just climb one or two more rungs, you’ll be there. Then you’ll have what you need. Your family will be (what’s that word we like to use?) . . . comfortable. You know what your family needs most? They need you to be right with the Lord. That takes humility . . . especially as pastors.

If God is pleased to expand your ministry, trust me, the word will get out. You’ll be found . . . in God’s time. If you’re necessary for His plan, God will put you in the right place at just the right time. God’s work is not about us. It’s His production, start to finish. So back off. Let Him pull the curtains and turn on the stage lights.

Or He may choose you to be one of the nameless, lesser-known individuals who make the difference for someone else. View either path as a privilege . . . because it is.

Your part, pure and simple: humble yourself. Go there, my friend, and stay there.

                            —Chuck

Disappointing Results

A few sentences in the diary of James Gilmore, pioneer missionary to Mongolia, have stayed with me since the day I first read them. After years of laboring long and hard for the cause of Christ in that desperate land, he wrote, “In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.”

Let me add some further reality to that statement by taking you back to an entry in Gilmore’s journal made in the early days of his ministry. It expressed his dreams and burdens for the people of Mongolia. Handwritten in his journal are these dreams: “Several huts in sight. When shall I be able to speak to the people? O Lord, suggest by the Spirit how I should come among them, and in preparing myself to teach the life and love of Christ Jesus.” That was his hope. He longed to reach the lost of Mongolia with the gospel of Jesus Christ. How different from his entry many years later, “I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.” What happened in between? He encountered the jagged edge of an authentic ministry.

When I write about succeeding in the work of the Lord, I’m not promising success as we define it in human terms. I’m not saying because you are faithful to proclaim the Word of God your church will be packed or continue to grow larger. Some of God’s most faithful servants are preaching their hearts out in places where the church is not growing. A great temptation for pastors in those difficult settings is to turn to some of the other stuff that holds the promise of more visible results. Don’t go there. Stand tall. God is at work.

If you know the Lord has called you into His work, and you would not be fulfilled doing anything else, then press on and never look back. Even if the results often seem disappointing. Like James Gilmore, stay at it.

                        —Chuck

Objectives, People, and Places

In every ministry, there are at least three essentials that produce an atmosphere of joyous cooperation. They are objectives, people, and places.

First, whatever God plans, He pursues. That has to do with the ministry essential of objectives. There’s nothing wrong with having a clearly defined mission statement that gives direction and purpose to the vision of a ministry. In fact, there’s everything right about it as long as it is the Lord who provides the direction. God’s plan unfolds in ways that confound human wisdom and sometimes defy common sense. But it is His plan. Objectives are essential when they are His objectives, not ours.

Second, whomever God chooses, He uses. That has to do with the ministry essential of people. And, I must quickly add, the people God chooses are never perfect. That includes me. That includes you. In fact, we prove more useful to the Lord as pastors when we accept that reality . . . and trust Him with our imperfections.

Third, wherever God selects, He sends. That has to do with the ministry essential of places. I wish He would send all of the great people to Stonebriar Community Church. And I wish He would never let any of them leave! That’s a desire based on my limited human perspective. I never prayed this prayer, but I’ve been tempted to pray, “Lord, send us only the great ones and keep them here forever. Don’t ever take them anywhere else.” (Being imperfect, I’m not above a few selfish prayers!)

God’s plan, however, includes removing some very gifted people from among us and sending them elsewhere. Out of those who ministered in Antioch, God chose to send Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1–2).

His ways are not our ways. His places are not the places we would choose to go on our own. None of that matters. What matters is this: God sends people of His choosing to places of His choosing. The sooner we accept and embrace that truth, the more contented we will be.

––Chuck

Pastoring and Politics

I see it every night on the news. The politics of backslapping and handshaking and making sure “so-and-so” isn’t turned off—it’s maddening! (We call it “smoke-blowing” here in Texas.) It’s become a politics where the objective is favorable public opinion. Period.

If we’re not careful, we can let politics work its way into our churches. And even worse, into our pulpits. In fact, the pastorate is a breeding ground for this sort of thing—maybe more than most professions.

I love the way the apostle Paul keeps our motives clean and our focus sharp:

Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know. (1 Thessalonians 2:4–5)

People-pleasing is a very tempting allurement, especially for people in ministry, because most of what we do gets done through people. When needing volunteer positions filled—whether in the nursery, for a Sunday school class, among the ushers, or even in our music ministry—it’s easy to massage our words and say more than we mean . . . or say something other than what we mean. (That’s called a lie.) The pastor must resist the temptation to flatter. We must refuse to play both sides against the middle.

Don’t go there. Why? Because once you start, it’s hard to stop.

When a pastor is a people-pleaser, he sits on the fence so as not to offend anyone. He remains neutral when he should NOT be playing it safe. He tells people what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

That’s not pastoring . . . that’s politics.

Look at the apostle’s words one more time. I find myself both challenged and refreshed by Paul’s transparency: “We speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.”

—Chuck

No Hooks

We who love to fish know that the better the lure, the more deceptive it is. We try to appeal to the appetite of the fish by hiding the hook in a worm. We use a certain kind of lure that’s attractive, with eyes that sparkle or a body that glitters. The fish gets caught because it thinks it will get something soft and delicious, but it gets something sharp and painful. That’s deception.

The pastor is not to be deceptive. I love Paul’s simple declaration: “Our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (1 Thessalonians 2:3).

Paul was who he was . . . wherever he was. He made no empty promises. He didn’t pilfer from the ministry’s money. He didn’t say one thing in one place but something else in another. There was no “deceit”—a term that means in the Greek: “to lure by bait.” Just like a fish.

I’m sure you have experienced, as I have on occasion, those you thought you could trust . . . but you couldn’t. When you got close to that particular person, you found there were hooks. He or she said one thing—which looked and sounded attractive—but behind the veneer there was a hook. There were private maneuverings and hidden agendas. There was a twisting of motives with error and deceit.

Paul says in effect, “Pastors are not to be deceptive.” If we take a positive slant on Paul’s declaration, we can say: “Our exhortation comes from truth, purity, and by way of honesty.”

In other words: no hooks.

––Chuck

His Power, Our Preaching

In the middle of the week not long ago I walked into our church’s sanctuary. The room was empty and quiet. In fact, it was dark except for the exit lights that never go out. I came down the middle aisle and stood there with no one else in the room. You know what? It wasn’t at all exciting or inspiring. Without the presence of God’s people and without the Spirit of God igniting the place with His power, there wasn’t a whole lot to it. It was just an empty, dark room.

I have learned that the same is true of the preacher.

It is important that we pastors hone our skills in preaching and teaching. But it is more important that we lean heavily on the Holy Spirit for power in these things. Any pastor who does not feel weak—and on occasion, fearful and trembling—is not being honest with himself. Don’t go there.

Even Paul struggled with such weaknesses: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3–5).

You have to love Paul’s humility, vulnerability, and dependence. He tells the truth. He admits his weaknesses. He describes his feelings.  He doesn’t worry what others may think. Paul tells the Corinthians in effect, “I’m a needy person just like you, and I have to depend on the Spirit for the strength just like you. Because it is not about me; it’s about the Lord.”

This week, take a walk all alone into the room where you preach. Stand there for a few minutes in the dark, quiet, and empty space. Let the silence envelop you. Remind yourself, as I try to do regularly, that it is ALL about Him—about His power and glory—and it is not about the preacher.

Without His power working in our weakness, brothers, our preaching is like that dark, empty room.

––Chuck