Thank You, Merry Christmas, and a Blessed Beginning to 2016

I am grateful to you who read, thoughtfully consider, and share what I write here.

Why I write:

  • I write to think. Writing helps me organize, refine, and articulate what’s going on in my heart and head.
  • I write to learn. Putting my ideas into writing pushes me to know what I’m talking about and to thoroughly investigate my topics.
  • I write to help. I share from my study and experience in order to encourage, teach, and bless those who read.
  • I write to shape. I hope my ideas influence others. I want to have a voice that reaches more than just a few people, and that contributes to the maturing process of the body of Christ.

So far in 2015,

  • SpeakingofGod.org has had 4,631 visitors and 8,465 page views.
  • The site has had visitors from the following countries:
    United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Spain, Singapore, Philippines, Mexico, Ireland, Brazil, Romania, Sweden, India, New Zealand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Peru, Austria, Guam, Argentina, France, Swaziland, Kenya, Taiwan, South Korea, Croatia, Thailand, Lithuania, Russia, Malaysia, European Union, Nigeria, Bermuda, Switzerland, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel, Caribbean Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Zambia, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka
  • The home page is the most viewed, so it’s hard to tell which single articles are the most popular, but the most viewed new posts this year, in addition to the home page, are:
    Sunday Evening Services are Dying
    Ashley Madison
    Church Member Migration Part 1  and Part 2
    Some of the Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving series

Thank you for reading. I hope you learn, grow, and are encouraged. Have a great holiday season and celebration of our Savior’s birth.

Dean

What A Discouraged Pastor Should Do (Part 2)

I recently read through 2 Timothy several times and journaled the specific ways Paul instructed Timothy to overcome his discouragement. Last week I shared the first four. Here are some more.

5. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2:1)

Man up! That’s probably how we would say it today. But Paul wasn’t urging Timothy to be self-confident, relying on his own strength of character, skills, or resolve. He reminded Timothy there is a source of strength available to every Christian – “the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Generally, grace is God’s favor that we don’t deserve. Specifically as it is used here, it is God’s personal help for challenging responsibilities. We have access to this help in Jesus because He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

How can we get this grace? Hebrews tells us that we can simply ask for it. Because Jesus can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15), He understands the overwhelming sense of inadequacy and inability that leads us to discouragement. Because He is full of grace, and because He understands our need for it, we can come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

So when I am discouraged, I can openly acknowledge it to my Savior and ask Him for the help I need. As He pours His grace into my life, I am able to be strong and “man up” to the overwhelming responsibilities, problems, decisions, and needs I face.

Take a walk. Or go to a quiet place where you can freely commune with God. Tell him you’re weak, faltering, and discouraged. Tell Him! Pour it out. Then ask Him, your understanding Savior, for grace.

Return strong. But keep going back to that place – the place where you ask for grace.

6. Gather some faithful men and teach them so they can do the same. (2:2)

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

When I get discouraged I question my effectiveness, withdraw from people, and fall into a cycle of negative thinking about my influence on others. My thoughts focus on the people who are not receptive to my leadership.

Paul told Timothy to do one of the simplest and most effective things a pastor can do. Select a few men who are receptive to your leadership and teaching. Get them together. Talk about the Bible or some topic that will help them grow in their personal lives and in their leadership. Do this with a view to developing and encouraging them toward being a positive influence in the lives of others – their buddies, their acquaintances, their families, additional study groups, etc.

This will accomplish two things. First, it will encourage you to spend time with people who want and respond to your leadership. Their receptiveness and growth will be something positive in your ministry that will lift your heart. Second, if negative things are happening in your ministry, these men will become forces for good. They will carry truth from your discussions into conversations they have with others. They will generate positive energy in the church body.

Put a few names on paper. Pick a book or section of the Bible, or a good book on some aspect of spiritual life and growth. Find out who’s interested in getting together. Set a time frame on it – 3 months, or whatever. Get started. You’ll be encouraged, and they will grow.

7. Endure hardship. (2:3)

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

This is sort of like “man up”, but with a little different emphasis. Soldiers face long marches, rough terrain, lack of sleep and food, constant life-threatening danger, fierce hostility from enemies, and more. Pastors face tough conditions and hostile people too. It goes with the territory. None of us gets special treatment that protects us from the hardships of life and ministry. We shouldn’t be surprised when there’s hardship.

It’s painful, tiring, and discouraging. It isn’t pleasant or fun. Oh, yes, there are many joys in ministry. But sometimes those are overshadowed by the hard stuff. When the hardships are especially heavy or long, our tendency is to want to escape. Check out. Move. Quit.

What are we to do? Endure.

The words “endure hardship” in this verse reflect one Greek word, kakopatheo, that means to “suffer affliction.” Paul tells Timothy, not to run from affliction, but to suffer through it. Paul used the same word in verse 9, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains.

Additionally, notice verse 10, Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, and verse 12, If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. The word used here for endure is upomeno, to remain under. We might say, Stay in!

Yes, there is a time to depart. I think a pastor can realize he has completed what God brought him to a church to accomplish in the life of that church. There can be another assignment ahead for him and another leader who will take his present church where it needs to go. But hardship is not the signal that your assignment is over, your work done. Sometimes you just need to stay.

In your time of hardship, open your heart to God, listen carefully to Him, and let Him tell you. Is it time to go, or time to stay?

8. Remember, Jesus rose from the dead, and the Word of God is not chained. (2:8-10)

I love this one. Paul literally tells Timothy, Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead! And, I may be in chains, but the Word of God is not chained! He applies these wonderful, powerful truths to his own painful, discouraging situation: Therefore I endure all things!

In your powerlessness over people, problems, and your own inadequacy, remember, Jesus rose from the dead! He is all-powerful and even conquered death. Your weakness is an opportunity to experience His power. And in the end, He wins, and we will all reign with Him.

In your limitations and seeming ineffectiveness, remember, God’s Word is not limited or bound. It is not chained by your circumstances, other people’s hardness and apathy, or your lack of ability.

Unleash the Word! If you can do nothing else, if you are paralyzed by discouragement, insecurity, lack of direction, criticism, or consciousness of your imperfections and limitations, open the Word. Infuse it into your own heart. Exposit it into the hearing and hearts of your people. The Word works.

It will accomplish what God wants.

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.  

Isaiah 55:10-11

 

I’ll share more of these points from 2 Timothy for discouraged pastors in the next post.

 

What a Discouraged Pastor Should Do

Pastors experience discouragement. It goes with the territory. Paul wrote his protégé, Timothy, to encourage him at a time when he was down. Paul’s letter is what we call 2 Timothy.

How do we know Timothy was discouraged? Here are some clues. Paul said in 1:4 that he was aware of Timothy’s tears. He addressed in 1:7 the fear Timothy was experiencing. In 1:8ff, Paul challenged Timothy to not let suffering for Christ get him down. In 1:13 he tells Timothy to “hold fast;” in 2:1 to “be strong;” in 2:3 to “endure hardship;” in 3:14 to “continue;” and in 4:5 to “fulfill your ministry.” I infer from all this that Timothy was hurting and discouraged. Timothy seems to be a reluctant leader, one who is somewhat timid, subjective, and sensitive to opposition. Paul wanted to encourage him.

I need this kind of encouragement at times, and I’m sure other pastors do too. I read through 2 Timothy several times lately and made a list of “things to do” for a discouraged pastor. I’ll share several of them today and more in future posts.

1. Stir up the gift of God which is in you. (1:6)

When you are discouraged, you question your ministry effectiveness and maybe even your calling. It helps to review your initial calling to ministry and to remember that God has gifted you in specific ways to build and bless His church.

The term “stir up” in Greek is a combination of three words, meaning “make the fire alive again.” How do you do this? Here are my thoughts.

– Remember God’s initial calling on your life; review it, relive it, talk it out, write it down.

– Remind yourself of what your gifts are and how God has used them to build and bless His church.

– Recommit yourself to living out your calling, to using your gifts for building and blessing the church, and to complete dependence on God, the Spirit, in using your gifts.

2. Be Gospel-driven, not emotion-driven, in decisions. (1:8-12)

Paul himself experienced hardship and suffering in ministry. He encouraged Timothy, and took courage himself, from the Gospel. He reminded Timothy that his suffering was “for the gospel” (8) and that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling . . . according to His own purpose and grace” (9). Jesus “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher . . . For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed” (11-12). And he tells Timothy not to be ashamed either (8).

Shame and embarrassment come from being overly-sensitive to the hardship and hostility that go with Gospel ministry. Sometimes our emotions control our decisions, including how we view ministry. Paul challenged Timothy not to be ruled by emotion, but be governed by the Gospel.

When I’m down, I can make decisions based on emotional discouragement and hurt rather than on Gospel confidence, hope, and calling. Discouraged pastors should review the Gospel, and take heart from the confidence that our salvation and calling give us.

3. Don’t change the basic message. (1:13-14)

“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” When people are opposing you, or circumstances are weighing on you, it’s important to keep preaching and teaching the truth. One temptation might be to adjust the message to please people, or to try to attract or keep people. The other tendency might be to preach reactively, venting about issues that frustrate or discourage you.

There’s certainly a place for honesty, for expressing concerns, and addressing issues pertinent to the life of the church. But the discouraged pastor should be careful to stay on center, keeping truth central, and not modifying the message to fit current fads, to please influential people, to avoid controversy, or to vent anger or resentment.

When everything else seems uncertain, you can go to God’s Word, week after week, to nourish your own soul and to feed the flock of God. Hold on to this. Keep doing this. Do it this week, and the next, and the next . . .

4. Remind yourself of the people who encourage and help you. (1:15-18)

The number of names Paul uses in 2 Timothy is remarkable. Some of them are people who hurt him in very personal ways. Others are people who encouraged and helped him. It is clear that these encouragers had great impact on the state of Paul’s mind and spirit. Look at the names and what Paul says about them in 1:15-18.

“All those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” Wow! A bunch of people abandoned Paul, and he names two of them.

Pastor, do you ever see images of people in your head when your mind drifts, when you’re feeling discouraged, when you’re tossing and turning at night – the faces of people who have left your church, or hurt you in some way? I do, and I’m pretty sure Paul did!

But look at what he said next. “The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain . . . he sought me out . . . you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus” (16-18).

Paul also had in his mind the image, name, and sweet memory of one who had really encouraged him. He reminded himself, and shared with Timothy, what a blessing good ol’ Onesiphorus had been.

People who leave are one of the greatest causes of a pastor’s discouragement. The natural tendency is to expend mental and emotional energy thinking negatively about them. But the people who stay, and especially the people who care for you, who take you for coffee, send you a text, tell you they’re praying for you – these are “refreshers!” There are a few who seek you out, make it a point to ask how you’re doing, and pray with you. A discouraged pastor will do well to think often of, and thank God for, these.

 

I think Paul shared some of his own discouragements with Timothy so Timothy would realize he wasn’t the only one hurting. In fact, Paul’s next statement is, “You therefore, my son, be strong . . . “ (2:1). We’ll pick it up there next time.