This is part 3 of a seven part series on How to Preserve Your Pastor. I have organized this series around Dr. Tom Ranier’s excellent article: The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors. The top regret of pastors has to do with the lack of practical training for local church ministry which I blogged about here in part 1 of this series. Part 2 addressed how some pastors are overly concerned about their critics. And today I address the most surprising finding among Dr. Thom Rainer’s list of The Top Seven Regrets of Pastors:
Failure to exercise faith. The pastoral quote that accompanies this finding is this: “At some point in my ministry, I started playing defense and let the status quo become my way of doing church. I was fearful of taking steps of faith, and my leadership and churches suffered as a result. Not only was I too cautious in the churches I served, I was too cautious in my own ministry. I really felt God called me to plant a church at one point, but was just too fearful to take that step.”
This quote captures what many pastors have experienced: the comfort of the status quo becoming a barrier to the exercise of a bold faith; living by sight and not but faith which is, admittedly, frightfully the call to live by the unseen:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. Hebrews 11:1-2
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18
It is pretty clear from these biblical propositions that what living by faith really means is to develop mastery over the visible, over the temporary; to set what we experience day in and day out as we make our pilgrimage through this temporal life into the realm of the unseen, the reality of a living faith.
How can we help our pastors do that? We of the church should most desperately desire that our shepherds above all conquer the visible realm so they can be our models of faith living, our examples who can then lead us into our own mastery over the tyranny of the visible urgent. You and I both know that what we strive for is comfort within this world without really thinking about the consequences of what that goal has on our spiritual walk. Our eternal life or death hangs on the knife edge of the decisions we make as we daily chose to live by sight or by faith. Not because we have doubt concerning the finished work of Jesus on the cross for the sake of our salvation or the sincerity of our belief, but because such decisions either reflect or not the true condition of our belief, the true state of our hearts toward what we say we believe versus the fruit that we actually produce.
If we don’t have shepherd-leaders modeling the fruit of the spirit and showing the way for each of us we then have little hope of becoming those who “are in the world but not of it.” Jesus prayed for us and particularly for our shepherds:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. John 17:15-17
Our pastors face great danger of falling into the hands of the evil one and becoming false prophets; those who become content with the status quo of simply “doing church” as usual. And this fall doesn’t have to be one of anything more than what the pastor above spoke of: fearful of taking steps of faith. Jesus warns of that dynamic at Matthew 7:15 through 20. If we who follow pastors don’t become ones who constantly encourage them to show us a different way, to show us real faith living and simply allow them to fall into the trap of seeking life and doing church to merely maintain “the status quo” then we will have fallen under the powers of the evil one. That One’s deception through the temptation of what is seen is all we need succumb to in order to become those who no longer live by faith.
We should most love and cherish our pastors when they make us feel uncomfortable in this world since we know it isn’t our home. We should most admire our pastors when they challenge our worldly goals: the quest for money, fame, success in the eyes of the world; children who “win” but don’t learn compassion for others; passionless comfort that leads to accepting compromise in the church by failing to practice what God calls acceptable religion:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27
Can we challenge our pastors to be men who live “other-worldly lives” so they are freed to lead us into uncommon lives of those who are looking for a better country, people who freely admit that we are aliens and strangers on earth? I pray so because otherwise our testimony is merely that this world is our home, living as though we will inhabit it forever. That is the lie the evil one would love for us, the church, to believe.
And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country— a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16
We serve our men of faith, our pastors, when we don’t help them think all we want is the status quo in our churches. And by serving them in this way we also serve ourselves. We tell them we are ready to follow because we know our call, too, is not to live but what is seen but by what is unseen. As we each demonstrate to our pastor though how we walk in this world we show that he need not fear the temptation to simply make us feel comfortable. We, too, desire to build the church as it continually changes to challenge the culture that is seeking to take captive all men through the deceitful message that this world is all there is.
In the Lamb,