Discerning A Call

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
— Philippians 1:8-11

As a pastor, I'm often asked, "How do I know God's will when I have to make a difficult decision?" This is difficult question because it is usually tied to a potential, significant change in the person’s life. Change creates anxiety in most of us. We are concerned about whether we're going to make the right decision. What will happen if I choose poorly? Will this ruin my life?

At this point of near panic, I usually encourage friends to take a deep breath. Seek the Lord in prayer. Often we pray together, asking for peace, wisdom, and discernment in making the decision. The question isn’t if change will happen, but when it will happen. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” Every person goes through changes and needs discernment for life's big decisions.

So, how do you make decision about your calling? 

Recently, I had a significant decision to make. Our church leadership asked me to consider a new position, Pastor of Connections. The new role focuses on assimilating newcomers into the church and cultivating a volunteer culture. Frankly, the decision was a difficult. It would be a significant change for my family and for me. I have been a Pastor of Families for ten years. It's the only position I have had at The Journey. Over that decade, I've studied family ministry, gained experiences in pastoring and caring for families, and I've built a network of relationships with other family pastors (including these two jokers I blog with).

As I processed this new opportunity, I found myself asking, "How will I respond to a new role and new rhythms of life?" Tim Keller gives three factors to help ministers and potential ministers identify their calling. These factors are affinity, ability, and opportunity. First, Keller encourages us to look inward and evaluate our passions. Who are the people to whom we are most drawn? Second, a minister must seek feedback to make an assessment of his abilities and deficiencies. Ask, "For what opportunities am I most gifted?" Finally, there is only a true calling if there is an opportunity or opening. So the minister should ask, "Where am I needed? Where is there an opportunity available?"  These questions guided me as I considered whether or not I should accept this new role. 

I used these questions as a blueprint as I talked to friends inside and outside my local church for guidance. The process was encouraging and clarifying. My friends helped me to see who I am and what I am called to do for Christ. They helped me my giftings  see that the Pastor of Connections role is a good fit. What began as a decision filled with anxiety because of all the change before me transformed into an exciting opportunity that I'm excited to explore. So, as you may know if you're part of our local church, I have happily accepted a new position as Pastor of Connections at The Journey - Tower Grove.  

I will continue to contribute here to the Gospel Centered Family blog. I will be sharing some lessons I'm learning about hospitality and cultivating our volunteer culture. 

One of my takeaways from this discernment process is that I need to evaluate my calling more often. In the eight years I have been at The Journey, I had never taken the time to do this. Looking back, I believe it would have been helpful to regularly receive challenge and encouragement to confirm where I am called to be and to whom I am summoned to minister. 

Wherever you are serving, I would encourage you to seek feedback about your current role--whether you are a volunteer or a staff member at a church. When was the last time you evaluated your affinity, ability, and opportunity?

**Note from the editor: If you are discerning a call, you may also consider reading the book, Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry by Dave Harvey

Can Pastors Have Friends?

Recently I have been reflecting on friendships--not just specific friendships but the concept of friendship. My reflection started while watching the Netflix show Stranger Things. The show depicts the friendship of four middle school kids and their search for a missing friend.

The show is set in the 1980s. It resonated with me personally, because it took me back to a time when friendship was a higher priority in my life. In one scene, a boy named Mike attempts to explain the concept of friendship to Eleven, an unusual girl who hadn't experienced friendship or even been around other kids her own age. While attempting to convey what a friend is and does he tells her, “friends don’t lie." Honesty certainly is an important aspect of friendship, but does it sum up the whole. That scene led me to ask, "How do I view friendships in my own life?"

While serving as a pastor, I've had the opportunity to mentor young seminary students studying for pastoral ministry. One interesting topic that regularly comes up is having friends at the church where you serve. You might be surprised that there's not a consensus about whether having friendship in a church you serve is a good thing. The primary concern is that some people will only befriend you because they want influence. Others have suggested that friendship and ministry aren't compatible, because you are setting yourself up for betrayal. Some pastors believe they will only have friends again once their ministry is finished. The truth is that serving in ministry can be a sad, lonely, and scary place, but this will only be exaggerated if you believe friendships should not be afforded or allowed.  

No matter your occupation, having friends can lead to frustration, tears, betrayal, and disappointment. Any good friendship involves risk. Every relationship has cost. But having friends is an important part of both ministry and life. Can pastors have friends? The short answer is yes.

God created us for friendships. Who will help you as you traverse the complexities of life? In his book Survive or Thrive, Jimmy Dodd talks about six relationships every pastor needs. One of those relationships is friendship. Jimmy says, “One of the most important gifts to us by God to confront isolation is friendship. Friends are a vital part of an emotionally healthy life. Friendships nourish our souls as nothing else can. The Godhead is steeped in relationship. Friends are an earthly, visible reflection of the relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We desperately need friends.” Who are you living life with?

God has mercifully and lovingly provided me with gospel friendships along life’s way. There are important friendships with men in my local church as well as friends who spur me on who are not a part of my local church (I think that's really important for pastors, too). Included in this list are the two amazing guys who also write here at Gospel Centered Family. My relationship with Patrick and Jared began with an email to Jared about family ministry. What grew out of that email was a pair of long term friendships. Many times in ministry you spend your time networking and have a lot of relationships that are surface level, only used to aid one  another in ministry rather than delve into the depths of a person’s life. I'm thankful that this is not the way it is with these guys. They won’t allow it. They enter into struggles and shed light into dark places. They do not meet failure with harshness, but with grace, encouragement and prayer. They know when to challenge and when to listen. Our friendship is not based on my performance, and it is a beautiful reminder of how God relates to us.

If you are struggling to find meaningful, life-giving friendship or you're wondering why it even matters if you have friendships, consider reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero or A Loving Life by Paul Miller. If you are a struggling pastor please be encouraged to check out the book Survive or Thrive by Jimmy Dodd, and also his ministry Pastor Serve, which provides pastors to shepherd other pastors. If you are not a pastor, encourage your pastor by asking how they are doing and how you can pray for them. Let them know about Pastor Serve. You can find out more about Pastor Serve at www.pastorserve.net.

God, thank you for friendships. Give us the kind of friendships that point us toward You. You are our Friend, closer than a brother. You are always faithful, caring, and trustworthy. Help me to be a good friend. Amen.

Practicing Presence in Ministry

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
— Romans 12:14-16

While attending a seminary chapel service, I once heard a pastor say, “Seminary should be a whine-free zone.” (He didn’t have any thoughts on whether it should be wine-free). He reminded the students that in this season of life their main duties and focus revolved around reading and studying God’s Word. Therefore they should be without complaint.

Part of me resonated with what he said. I truly enjoyed the classes I took and understood the importance of preparing for my calling. There is so much goodness, wisdom, guidance, growth, and counsel gained from learning — endless things for which to be thankful. Seminary classes specifically provide a framework for understanding how to minister to people, but they don’t teach you how it feels to sit with specific individuals in specific situations. You can gain great insight concerning why people are struggling, what questions to ask to help them understand why they are struggling, and even various remedies of how to practically help. But no case study discussing a couple who lost a child can prepare you for the weight and grief of sitting and mourning with a family who’s been through it.

Being a pastor is a complex calling with numerous of responsibilities. On any given day you may need to work on sermon prep, speak with a couple whose marriage is falling apart, have a budget meeting, and lead your family in evening devotions. These important parts of your day take different gifts and different types of attention. Each of them requires your full presence. Resist the temptation to enter into a situation thinking  “how do I fix this person or circumstance” but instead pray continually to be able to see the child of God before you. Can a pastor be expected to do all of this? Not in their own strength. It isn’t easy, but here are four things to remember as you head into a day that seems impossible.

  1. Trust God. Remember, the Gospel is not “work harder, do better.” It is not lean on my own understanding and strength. The Gospel is, trust in Christ crucified. God is for you and has called you to this.  He will not leave you or forsake you. He will be with you for each of these endeavors. Delight in your need of Him. Don’t be ashamed of your weakness. Part of leading well is admitting and asking for help. The Bible says much about God using people in difficult situations for His glory. Pray often for God’s help and an attitude that readily admits your need for Him, and for others.
  2. Remember your calling. It is not an accident you are in this role. God called you and the church (community) affirmed that calling. Trust that God is working for people to grow in their love of God but also for your to grow in your love and dependance on God. Pray often for God to remind you of His sovereignty, purposes, and faithfulness.
  3. Don’t be afraid. God works even when we are not our best. We all have times where we are not going to be able to make the best decision and say things exactly like we want to. In spite of our best and worst days God is working and changing the world through us. Pray often for a humble heart that is quick to repent.
  4. Be patient. God does not work on our timetable and no one else does either. Trust in God’s work in the people’s lives you are ministering to and be faithful to pray and be present with the people of your church.

This post originally appeared at the Three Fourteen Institute web page. 

Family Friday Links 4.1.16

Here's what we've been reading this week:

Barnabas Piper wrote post for new parents. He writes, "New parents want to grab the world by the tail and avoid all the mistakes their parents made and all their friends are making." He goes on to list 6 messages for new parents. If you are a parent (new or not) this list is full of helpful reminders.

Tim Challies had a post on parenting lessons as well. His list of 10 are helpful reminders for parents as their kids grow older. Parents, check this out in order to be reminded and encouraged.

Nina Schmidgall had a great post on the KidzMatter blog entitled "The Role of a Family Pastor". In it she writes, "As an increasing number of churches realize the importance of identifying an individual committed to developing a discipleship strategy from cradle to graduation, there are many questions about what that role might encompass." She goes on to explain in great detail what that job entails. Family Pastors, how does this compare with your job description? Churches, do you have someone in place who fills this role?

Jonathan Parnell wrote a post on what parenting means. He writes, "When we begin to see our parenting through the lens of spiritual warfare, it reconfigures our work ..." He goes on to list the 5 ways in which this happens. Parenting is a struggle, just not in the way think; it's a spiritual struggle.

What have you been reading online this week? Leave a link in the comment section and we'll check it out.