Walking towards the Light from the cross of a King

A blog by Josh Humbert

It Happened Again…


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Last week I was catching up with a buddy who’s been serving as a Youth Pastor at a church in north Texas for several years.  This is a quality dude: cares about his family, wants the Gospel to spread, using the gifts he has been given, and in the middle of getting his doctorate.  If you asked the question, “who should the Church be investing in and helping to develop?” then the answer would look like this guy.

But sadly, it happened again…

The church where he was serving had a couple families who basically ran the show and they disagreed with his way of ministry.  They ended up forcing him out.  We know better than you, we don’t like what you are doing, get out, see ya.

It is the tragedy that keeps repeating itself over and over and over and over and over again in churches all over.

It’s revolting.  It’s embarrassing.  It’s disgusting.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s damaging.  It….reminds me of this dog I saw once…..

The Youtube Mirror

Here, see what you think.  Watch this clip.

Yeah, there’s humor there.  A dog is treating his own leg like a prime suspect.  This isn’t a cat trying to sneak up on him.  It’s not a predator or even another dog.  It is his OWN leg and yet…buddy is baring the fangs and showing baaaaad intentions.  That is funny, but at the same time, it is incredibly dismal.

I watch this clip and it feels like holding a mirror up to us in the Church.  Is THIS what we do?  Is THIS what we concern ourselves with?  Is THIS the deepest longing of our heart?  Is THIS how we treat each other in the Body of Christ?  Is THIS how we treat those God has called and placed in our lives?

Angrily growling at our OWN brothers and sisters in Christ.  Threatening and intimidating to protect “what’s ours.”  Barking at any who oppose our opinions.  Fangs glaring and ready to lacerate our leaders.

Oh Mirror, Mirror, on the…..youtube wall…who’s the most guilty of them all?

It is us.

A Job You Don’t Want

Are you looking for a new job?  Maybe wanting to try a new occupation?  Thinking of a career change?  Let me tell you about this exciting field that has openings RIGHT NOW! It’s called “Ministry leadership in the local church.”  Consider the following from a recent survey of over 1,000 pastors:

—over 70% of pastors are so stressed out and burned out that they regularly consider leaving the ministry.

—90% say they are worn out on a weekly basis.

—57% would leave ministry if they had a better opportunity available.

—77% felt they did not have a good marriage.

—80% felt the ministry has negatively affected their families.

—80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.

—80% of spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.

—71% battled depression.

—38% said they were divorced or in a divorce process.

—78% said they were forced to resign from a church at least once.

—63% had been “fired” from their pastoral position at least twice.

Other research from places like Barna and Fuller Seminary show these findings:

—1500 pastors leave the ministry EACH month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention with their churches.

—50% of pastor’s marriages will end in divorce.

—80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role.

—50% are so discouraged they would leave ministry immediately if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

—80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter ministry will leave within first 5 years.

—Almost 40% said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

—70% they only spend time studying the Word to prepare a sermon.

—70% felt they had no close personal friends and no one to confide in.

—1 out of 10 pastors will actually retire as a pastor.

I know what you’re saying…. “WHERE DO I SIGN UP?!!”  Right??……right??…oh, you’re not saying that?  You actually have no interest in being a pastor now?

ok-then

The reality is the “career” of being a pastor can be very stressful and dangerous to navigate.  Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I saw this first hand, over and over.  Look again at those numbers!  Less than 10% who enter the ministry will still be in it at the end of their career.  You don’t see those kind of numbers with doctors, lawyers, etc.  There is a level of attrition in ministry that is scary.

We have reality shows about all these dangerous jobs: Crab-fishing, ice-trucking, SWAT teams, etc.  I’m waiting for to Discovery Channel to start running “Deadliest Catch: Fishers of Men.”  I mean, sure, crabs and ice water are scary…but can you imagine camera crews with access to church business meetings, deacon meetings, home groups, and gossip gatherings?  The terror!!!!

Serving in the role of pastor, whatever it may be (lead, youth, worship, etc), is not a “career” that many people would look at and say, “YES!  I CAN’T WAIT to put my health, marriage, family, and finances at risk!  Sign me up now!”  It is flat-out hazardous.

Your Pastors

The crazy thing is this: despite knowing what it may potentially cost them, there are still men and women who willingly step in to the pastoral calling.  They know the risks and they jump in anyway.

Like my buddy who had to leave…he knew the risks, but he was willing to step up and go forward.  And even now, after basically being left unemployed, he is still willing and seeking another ministry place.

Serving as in a pastoral role is an incredible blessing and honor.  You are (hopefully) leading people towards Jesus and guiding them through life with the Word of God.  Lives are changed, destinies are altered.  There is an immense opportunity for life-changing impact.

Are there pastors in the wrong place or serving for the wrong reasons?  You bet.  Are there pastors who seek personal gain and power instead of servanthood?  Of course; just check the headlines.  Are there pastors who have forsaken the Gospel altogether so they can preach life-therapy or health, wealth, and prosperity drudgery?  Turn on your tv.

But what about your pastors at your local church?  Consider them for a moment.

  • Is your youth pastor striving to make the Gospel plain to those kids and pour into their lives?
  • Is your worship pastor seeking to see Jesus lifted up, no matter the “musical style,”?
  • Is the lead pastor opening the Bible, explaining Jesus, and applying it all to daily life?
  • Are they displaying lives of character and integrity?
  • Do they love and lead their own families well?

Sure, we ALL have opinions and preferences about how those things are done.  It would be very easy to pass along your “list” of “things to change” (and many do, all the time) to make the church fit your vision of how things should be done.

But if those things I mentioned above are happening with your pastors…isn’t that worth celebrating and supporting?

Hit The Ground

One of the sincere blessings in my life as I’ve been able to travel and serve in some different ministries is the great people the Lord has allowed me to meet and befriend.  I can tell you of some very solid men and women who are serving their churches well and I am truly humbled to call them my friends.

Towards the end of this summer, I felt an undeniable burden to pray for them.  I posted a simple status about doing this on Facebook and watched as so many of them clicked the ‘Like’ button.  As the ‘Like’s’ rolled in, I was praying by name for them, their family, and their ministry.  Men and women spread all over Texas and some surrounding states…my friends…and I was able to pray for them.  It was almost a strange feeling — but I really was honored to be able to pray for them.

Later that night as I showered,  I again felt that burden of prayer but now even stronger.  So I laid face down (as best I can fit!) in my shower and prayed once more.  It was an incredibly humbling experience.  So many of those faces came to mind.  I thought of all different challenges they are facing and all of the many cities they served.  I thought of their families and the burdens and expectations they face.  I thought of their desire to see the Gospel continuing to transform lives.

It was a weighty experience to consider so many different lives and situations in prayer.  And yet, it was a comforting experience as well.  To maybe encourage these good people in some small way and to be able to lift them up in prayer — that meant a great deal to me.

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A Way Forward

I’m no different than anyone else — I have my “list” of what I would like church to look like or sound like.  And my preferred ‘song list’ on Sunday morning is probably different than yours.  But it is a grace of God that He keeps showing me that ultimately my “preferences” aren’t the answer.  My opinions, in fact, aren’t actually the one missing ingredient to seeing amazing church growth and excellence.  All my assumptions probably aren’t helping to encourage my pastor.  It is when I actually seek to LOVE the Church (pastors most definitely included), that I start to see the real answer.

Lovingly but firmly, God keeps reinforcing this beautiful theme that John the Baptist laid out in John 3:30, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.”  THAT is the answer.  That is what is good.  The elegant and simple message of Scripture is what our pastors and churches need right now.

Do I want the pastors who lead me to thrive?  I must decrease (and that includes my “list) and Jesus must increase (and that includes me praying, loving, and encouraging pastors, as Jesus delights in).  If I know how dangerous and challenging it is to be pastor and I’m aware of how bleak the statistics are—then what I am doing right now to decrease myself and love and support the ones God has given to lead me?

Sometimes in conversations with people who are complaining about something their pastor or church is doing I almost want to ask them — “hypothetically, if YOU were pastor of this church…would you want church members like yourself in your congregation?”  That’s not a fun question but I must turn it on myself too. Would I want to be a pastor if the congregation was full of people like me?  That’s worth considering.  It’s yet another “mirror” thats worth holding up and peering into.

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There is a great need for quality pastors in the church right now.  It is an extremely tough calling and the workers are truly few in number.  Do you and me want to see the ugly trends continue?  Do we want to keep removing valuable people from leadership just to get our way?  Do we really think Jesus will celebrate those kind of moves when it’s time to stand accountable?  Do you think He will say, “That church-split you helped orchestrate?  That was a stroke of genius!  A proud moment right there!  Well done, good and faithful splitter.”?  Of course not.  Then why do let the nonsense perpetuate?

Change must start with us.  If we seek to glorify our lists and our preferences, we will watch more and more precious servants burn out or kicked out.  The dog will keep biting his own leg.  However, when human preferences and opinions are of lower priority and where Jesus is made to be the ultimate focus, then the church will be healthy and our pastors will thrive.  The Gospel is infinitely more expansive than how you think ministry should happen.  The Church is about more than your wants.

I’m not discounting accountability or communication.  True pastoral love and support will include those things.  And I believe those elements will naturally flow in a church where the leadership knows without a doubt that the people are WITH them.  My hope here is just to awaken us to what is happening.  What HAS been happening.  The imbalance is too much.  It is time to stop the bleeding and that begins with you, me, and the body of Christ.

Let us decrease as we hit our knees and pray fervently for our brothers and sisters.  Let us decrease as we seek to build UP those whom the Lord has appointed over us.  Let our lists crumble to an afterthought as we walk in humility as we seek out the good of others.   And then, let us watch in amazement as we get to experience more and more of the presence of Christ.  We will see a church unified in mission.  We will see pastors (and their families) standing tall with a beautiful tapestry of support and encouragement.  We will see the darkness scatter as the great and glorious Light shines forth.

I’ll close with the beautiful words of Philippians 2.  It is a favorite passage and I love to recite it and hear the powerful truths present here.  If my words aren’t clear, then let this passage say it better than I ever could:

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation in love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.  

Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Amen.

Thanks for reading.  Your comments are welcome below.

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