Hebrews 13:17-25 – Pray for Pastoral Leaders

Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?

Pray for us. We have no doubts about what we’re doing or why, but it’s hard going, and we need your prayers. All we care about is living well before God. Pray that we may be together soon.

May God, who puts all things together,
    makes all things whole,
Who made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus,
    the sacrifice of blood that sealed the eternal covenant,
Who led Jesus, our Great Shepherd,
    up and alive from the dead,
Now put you together, provide you
    with everything you need to please him,
Make us into what gives him most pleasure,
    by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah.
All glory to Jesus forever and always!
    Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Friends, please take what I’ve written most seriously. I’ve kept this as brief as possible; I haven’t piled on a lot of extras. You’ll be glad to know that Timothy has been let out of prison. If he leaves soon, I’ll come with him and get to see you myself.

Say hello to your pastoral leaders and all the congregations. Everyone here in Italy wants to be remembered to you.

Grace be with you, everyone. (The Message)

A survey on American clergy by the Schaeffer Institute found some of the following information:

  • 90% of pastors report working between 55-75 hours per week.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they had another job lined-up right away.
  • 80% of pastors believe church ministry has negatively affected their families.
  • 80% of pastoral spouses feel lonely and underappreciated by church members.
  • 40% of pastors report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 50% of pastors starting out will not last five years.
  • Only 10% of pastors will actually retire as pastors.
  • Over 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month in the United States; 1,300 of them are fired by their churches.
  • The number one reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and support the goal of the pastor; pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction, but the people are not willing to follow.

As a church pastor myself, the one thing I want every single church member to know is: Your prayer support is the Pastor’s life support. 

Without regular, earnest, sustained, fervent, and constant prayers lifted upwards on behalf of pastoral leaders and their families, no matter how hard they labor or how much they work, the church ministry will go nowhere. 

Conversely, however, with habitual and spirited prayer, even the most anemic weaknesses of an individual pastor can be transcended, and the church can thrive and flourish with spiritual health and joy.

Lift prayers for your pastor today and every day, appealing to God concerning the following:

Protection from the enemy

Rest

Anointing of the Spirit

Yielded heart to God

Effectiveness in ministry

Righteous life of integrity

The spiritual and relational glue which binds believers together is prayer. Churches are bound to clergymen and clergywomen, not by a legal agreement, but by a bond formed and sustained by God. 

The heart of prayer is listening, and as we allow God to speak to us through Holy Scripture, in the events of the world and in the silence of our hearts, we are enabled to unite our prayer to the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The renewal of the Church everywhere will not occur through the latest program or becoming expertly savvy webmasters. Instead, sustainable church ministry will come through a renewal of spirituality.

Ordinary Christian parishioners who are prepared to share their lives with God in focused, daily, intentional prayer will be the spiritual means of seeing God’s benevolent rule and ethical will done here on earth, as it is always done in heaven.

Loving God, thank you for being our shield and strength. You are a God of compassion and faithfulness. Please protect, nourish and sustain clergy, church councils, and faith community leaders everywhere through the work of your Holy Spirit. May they find rest and encouragement in your loving care.

Gracious God, without you we can do nothing. Clothe Christian leaders everywhere with your Holy Spirit so that with joy and reverence they may lead your people with integrity and effectiveness, worthily proclaiming your gospel of love.

Righteous God, you have shown us what is good. So, help ministers everywhere to do what you require: act justly; love mercy; and walk humbly with you.

Almighty God, through your Son, Jesus Christ, you gave the holy apostles many spiritual gifts and commanded them to feed your flock. Inspire all pastors to preach your Word diligently and your people to receive it willingly so that together we may receive the crown of eternal glory, through Christ, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.

Titus 1:1-9 – Effective Spiritual Leaders

From Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I’m sent to bring about the faith of God’s chosen people and a knowledge of the truth that agrees with godliness.

Their faith and this knowledge are based on the hope of eternal life that God, who doesn’t lie, promised before time began. God revealed his message at the appropriate time through preaching, and I was trusted with preaching this message by the command of God our savior.

To Titus, my true child in a common faith.

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.

The reason I left you behind in Crete was to organize whatever needs to be done and to appoint elders in each city, as I told you. Elders should be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse and have faithful children who can’t be accused of self-indulgence or rebelliousness. This is because supervisors should be without fault as God’s managers: they shouldn’t be stubborn, irritable, addicted to alcohol, a bully, or greedy. Instead, they should show hospitality, love what is good, and be reasonable, ethical, godly, and self-controlled. They must pay attention to the reliable message as it has been taught to them so that they can encourage people with healthy instruction and refute those who speak against it. (Common English Bible)

Paul wrote his letter to Titus so that spiritually solid competent virtuous leaders might be appointed to guide the church on the island of Crete (located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Greece). 

There was no ambiguity with Paul about the importance of leadership. The Apostle clearly laid out his expectations that church officials must have a good reputation – not bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business. Instead, they must be friendly to strangers and enjoy doing good things. They must also be sensible, fair, pure, and self-controlled.  They must stick to the true message they were taught, so that their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it.

I find it interesting that very few biblical scholars view this teaching as an ideal to aspire – while many churches and believers think this is the case. There is neither any indication nor reason within the biblical text to think that Paul presented his expectations for the ideal leader, as if no one could really be this way. 

Furthermore, Paul did not provide his instruction as a strategy for getting apathetic people off their butts and into some form of service. No, it’s best to understand that Paul meant what he said. He knew that compromising on the character of leadership would erode and destroy the church.

“True leadership is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

J. Oswald Sanders

The selection of church leaders is important because just one bad belly-aching non-virtuous apple can upset the entire apple cart. Good people provide good teaching and good wisdom. Selfish people with a self-centered agenda find ways to subvert or manipulate sound instruction to get what they want. 

Everyone in the Body of Christ is to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of God. They are to be wise to all the shenanigans of myopic persons through understanding the commands and instruction of Holy Scripture. This is yet another reason to immerse ourselves in the Bible so that we will lead with confidence.

If a church or faith community feels the need to overlook character defects to fill empty leadership seats, then Houston, we have a problem. Any short order cook worth his salt would never crack open a rotten egg and mix it in with the rest to make an omelet. And any group of people who throw a bad egg into their leadership team had better be ready to get sick and vomit when meetings are called to order.

It is imperative that spiritual leaders possess the following:

  • A good reputation
  • Faithfulness and fidelity to their families.
  • A clear-mind and consistent good behavior.
  • Self-control
  • The moral courage to speak truth with grace.
  • A spirit and practice of hospitality.
  • An ability to communicate well so that people are built up in their faith.
  • Sobriety
  • Humility
  • Respectability
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Generosity
  • Compassion
  • Maturity
  • Sincerity
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Purity

All these traits are needed for effective and godly spiritual leadership. Compromising on virtue will never end well. Upholding moral character brings blessing.

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” 

John R.W. Stott

God calls and sets apart individuals for service. The Lord desires to reveal and manifest the divine presence among people through leaders who reflect God’s good attributes. Jesus Christ wants his church to be built up through faithful service. The Spirit seeks to sanctify and empower for effective ministry.

Nowhere do we find in Scripture that a leader’s main job is listening to complaints. That’s because God has a zero tolerance policy toward murmuring, grumbling, and ingratitude. In fact, the New Testament clearly says to do everything without complaining or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)

Neither will you find the church is supposed to operate just like an American form of democracy. Spiritual leaders are not representatives of the people to do their will. Instead, they are representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things. 

That all means prayer to God and outreach to the world is the major work for spiritual leaders. And it takes virtuous and ethical persons leading to realize love to all kinds of people. So, feel free to exercise leadership. Just make sure that leadership is grounded in the God of integrity and the Word of grace and truth.

Almighty God, the One who gives good gifts to people, may every grace of ministry rest on divinely appointed leaders. Keep them strong and faithful so that your church may prosper in peace. Grant leaders wisdom, courage, discretion, and benevolence so that they may fulfill their charge to the glory of Jesus Christ and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Deuteronomy 34:1-7 – Take the Long View

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak, nor his strength gone. (New International Version)

A signpost stands at a fork in the road.

Pointing in one direction, the sign says “Victory.”

Pointing in another direction, the sign says, “Fulfillment.”

We must pick a direction.

Which one will we choose?

If we choose the path to Victory,

the goal is to win!

We will experience the thrill of competition,

as we rush toward the finish line.

Crowds gather to cheer for us!

And then it’s over.

And everyone goes home.

If we choose the path to Fulfillment,

The journey will be long.

There will be times in which we must watch our step.

There will be times we can stop to enjoy the view.

We keep going.

We keep going.

Crowds gather to join us on the journey.

And when our lives are over,

those who joined us on the path to Fulfillment,

will keep going without us and

inspire others to join them, too.

–Simon Sinek

Fulfillment

It wasn’t all about Moses. The dream and vision of entering the Promised Land didn’t die with Moses. He was just one character, albeit an especially important character, along generations of Israelites who anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people.

In Christianity, the victory has already been won. In Christ, every good promise of God is and will be fulfilled. Therefore, we can choose fulfillment. We can live into Christ’s victory over sin, death, and hell by choosing to be fulfilled in our Christian lives and our Christian service.

Fulfillment of our godly dreams, good vision, and compassionate ministry requires looking beyond the short term. Long term sustainable thriving in Christian mission and flourishing as a Christian community requires an eternal perspective.

Change

To have the end in mind, a future far ahead of us, demands systemic change. This alternative system will be inspirational, not fear-based. Rather than afraid of what might happen, a long term view is for the next generation – not the next budget crisis due to the next building need.

Maybe because I have been a pastor for so long and know my tenure in each place is only temporary, I know that my vision needs to look further down the road than my own time with a group of people. And a vision of any faith community needs to outlast our own mortal existence. If such a perspective and vision appear as if it will take the energy and will you do not have, then there is no shame in saying so and planning for a good death.

Resilience

The church is resilient. It has lasted two millennia. She has weathered a lot of challenge and adversity.

Metaphors matter. The word pictures we use are important. I choose not to view the church as the first bite of the apple, which I believe is the best bite. Instead, I see the church as a fine cigar. It’s the last puff of a cigar which to me is the best of all. Christ’s Church is far from its last puff. Rather, I’m saying that the best is yet to come.

Perseverance

Your best years are not in the past; they are in the future. And that is exactly what the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews wanted his readers to see. Yes, it is difficult in the present. You might be tired and weary, feeling as if you cannot keep going with this whole church thing. Maybe you’ve even dropped out altogether. So, according to Hebrews, this is what we do:

You must encourage one another each day. And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If you don’t, then sin may fool some of you and make you stubborn. (Hebrews 3:13, CEV)

Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance of faith…. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess…. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:22-24, 35-36, NIV)

So then, with endurance, let’s run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up,and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne. Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged, and you won’t give up. (Hebrews 12:1-3, CEB)

So, through Jesus we should never stop offering our sacrifice to God. That sacrifice is our praise, coming from lips that speak his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share what you have with others, because sacrifices like these are very pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:15-16, ERV)

Community

If we are united in a common cause; choose to collaborate with others; then, even if there is no clear end in sight; we will be on a road of contributing to something bigger than ourselves; something with value that will last well beyond our own lifetimes.

We can anticipate fulfillment.

This is a hard road. It requires counting the cost of discipleship. More important than our doing, is our way of being together, how we are with one another.

For, in the end, relationships bring fulfillment because relationships are the only things we will take with us.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 – Leave a Spiritual Heritage

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

Remember God’s Law

The book of Deuteronomy is a farewell address by Moses to the Israelites. Moses was about to die. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. So, Moses restated God’s law and called the people to remember all that God had done. He exhorted the people to communicate the law and their heritage to the next generations. If God’s Word and God’s ways are continually observed, then the people would prosper in the land.

The overarching command and call to the people is to love God with everything they have and everything they are. God’s people are to have a total commitment of mind, body, emotions, and spirit to the law of God. Each ability and gift, and all that makes a person a person, is to have its clear direction and orientation toward loving God through obeying God’s commands.

Talk About God’s Word

The love of God is meant to become a habit in the normal daily rhythms of life. And we are told how to do that:  impress God’s commands in the family; talk about them at home; talk about them when you are out and about; talk about them in the morning and the evening; even write them out and have them before you continually.  The entire day is an opportunity to love God by talking about God’s Word.

The privilege of discussing God’s Word doesn’t need to be forced or awkward. Yet, it is something which needs some intention and purpose to it. Most people like talking about things which are important to them. If someone is really into classic cars, he does not have to try and force a conversation about it because it just comes out of him. Because they go to car shows, maybe own a classic car that they are continually tinkering with, and read up on car magazines, a discussion about the subject is quite natural to them.

So, then, the best way to live into God’s law is to spend time with God through regular Bible reading, focused and earnest prayer, conversing with others, and taking advantage of opportunities to learn and know about God.  For the Christian, talking about Jesus is meant to be organic, springing from a heart which loves God and observes God’s law.

Discuss God with Family

When it comes to family, we don’t need to be an expert on God or the Bible. We just need a willingness and a curiosity to ask questions. Typically, when raising my girls, most of our conversations at the table centered around one question I would ask. We discussed it, talked about it, and mulled it over. Sometimes it was a deep theological question. At other times, it was a practical question. My wife and I often had others share a meal with us, so I usually asked our guests to tell their God story or participate with us in the question. If they were not Christian, I would ask them what they thought about Jesus, and why.

God loves it when we have conversation in the home around biblical teaching. God also loves it when we have discussions in public. Some Orthodox Jewish persons still to this day wear a “phylactery” on their foreheads – a small box with little Scripture passages inside of it – testifying to their value of the written Word.

I’m not sure that’s what Moses had in mind when he talked about binding God’s commands on the forehead and tying them as symbols on the hands. Much of the Hebrew language is metaphorical, speaking about concrete things as a way of communicating something intangible. So, I wonder if the big idea here is simply to be open about faith and love for God and the law.

Keep Tangible Reminders of Scripture

Although I don’t believe we have to take these verses quite so literally, there is, however, something to be said for keeping Holy Scripture in front of us, continually, to remember divine commands and promises. It’s good to write some Bible verses and place them on your bathroom mirror, the dash of your car, in your pants pocket, or anywhere you will see them on a regular basis. It’s a practical way of remembering to observe all that God has commanded.

Physical reminders of significant spiritual events can help us keep God’s Word in our lives. When the Israelites experienced God in some significant way, they built an altar. For example, when they approached the Jordan River to enter the land, God caused the water to stop flowing so that they could cross over. Here is what happen next: 

Joshua erected a monument, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

“Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always.” (Joshua 4:20-24, MSG)

Passing the spiritual baton and leaving a heritage for future generations is a sacred trust. The best way for that to happen is within the home, talking about God and Scripture as a daily routine, as well as freely conversing about spirituality in public.

Pass Faith to the Next Generation Church

Hopefully, God and Jesus get talked about in the church! There are several ways churches can impress God’s Word to younger generations: 

  1. Train them to lead.  Adults do not have to do everything in the church. Every generation can be empowered to engage in ministries on a regular basis. Everyone needs a mentor to do anything well – which means taking others with us along the journey of ministry so they can both shadow and participate.
  2. Empathize with young people and young families. That means avoiding criticism. It’s easy for older generations to be critical about millennials – their lack of involvement, or how they live their lives. They don’t need our criticism; they need our help. To have empathy means we recognize they’re just trying to do the best they can in a crazy world. A world, I might add, which is quite different than the one many of us grew up in. This is an extremely competitive world, requiring more energy and drive than previous generations. Being a student today is not like being a student when I was a kid.  Being a young parent is not the same today as it once was. Today’s family structure is completely changed; what we think of as a traditional family only makes up 7% of the American population. The stance to take on this is not to criticize, but to encourage and help.
  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously.  Discussion, conversation, questions, and mutual sharing are the ways Jesus developed his followers, and it is a way we can reach younger generations. Dialogue goes a lot further than just telling others what they should believe and do.
  4. Adopt a young person, or a young family. If you consider yourself part of an older generation, seriously consider taking a younger person or even family under your wing who is not related to you. Invite them to a meal, read these verses, and discuss them together. Commit to praying for them daily for a set period.
  5. Look for ways to support children, teens, and young families. Prioritizing younger generations means they don’t have to do everything our way. Rather, it means we will listen to what they need in loving God and building into their own kids’ lives.
  6. Be great neighbors. Discuss, teach, empower, and develop young people without criticism into good neighbors who engage their local community by addressing issues with great love and lots of compassion.

There are certainly more ways to engage. The idea here is that we think about how to embody the teaching we have in Deuteronomy by passing on God’s love and God’s Word. Where will you start? Is there a way that resonates with you?  If you are a younger generation, who are some people you believe could be helpful to you? Let’s work together to realize God’s Word springing to life!