Pastor’s Corner

A Pastor’s Perspective on Ministry

by

The Rev. Ralph McCune

 

Part One

Acknowledging the Need for Encouragement

Everyone at some point in life needs encouragement.  Living in a world where loneliness, tragedy, failure, and so many other depressing ordeals invade and challenge our lives, it should be no surprise that all of us from time to time need that which comforts our hearts and lifts our spirits.  No one is immune to discouragement.  And it is just as real to Christian leaders as it is to those with secular vocations who may or may not have a relationship with the Lord.

Why does it seem important to mention this—this idea that Christian leaders need encouragement like everybody else?  At least two answers should be considered.  First, there is that tragic myth which says that pastors, other ministers in the church, and leaders in para-church organizations are somehow insulated from the adversities of life; or that these people are so spiritually strong that even when crises do interrupt their lives they have the ability to handle them, perhaps in such a way that would give the impression that they were never there.  But not only that, the myth further fosters the notion that Christian leaders do not experience problems like “normal” people because God always takes care of His leaders.

As blatantly ridiculous as this may sound, it nonetheless presents itself all too often in the life of the Church, not in terms of concrete, clear-cut assertions, but rather as a subtle, deadly and misinformed attitude.  For instance, a pastor has just been informed that one of his best friends has been killed in a car accident.  This person was also one of the strongest leaders in the Church.  The pastor must now minister to the family and plan for the funeral.  But all too often very few people minister to him in this profound moment of personal loss.  Everyone simply assumes that he is “head and shoulders” above such situations.  After all, he is the pastor, isn’t he?  Some of these folks might even say, “This is what ministers are supposed to do.”  But he is a person too; and although he might be made to feel like a tool, or a machine, he is a real, live human being with feelings and emotions.  And somehow he must deal with his own grief.  Perhaps someone will give him a word of comfort.

Of course the one in full-time Christian vocational service is aware that this dreadful mentality only adds to his or her stress.  This assertion no doubt contains an element of truth because people who subscribe to such nonsense place enormous pressure on those leaders to live in a place which we might call “the bondage of performance.”  This mind-set means that Christian leaders are not seen as real much of the time, not “regular” people.  Unfortunately, they are not viewed as persons who must deal with real-life problems and challenges like everyone else.  These leaders in Christian ministry are seen as though they lived in houses with stained-glass windows.  This fallacious mind-set goes on to imply that because they are “religious people” their lives have not been contaminated by worldly, mundane issues.

Needless to say, this erroneous way of thinking only adds additional pressure to those who serve in full-time ministry.

Second, it is necessary to mention this matter of the Christian leader’s needing encouragement like everyone else because the leader must not live in a state of denial.  When any minister conveys a message that everything is always “wonderful in Jesus,” that leader projects a distorted, mistaken view of the Christian life.  Such ministers will then come across as plastic, phoney people.  They also jeopardize their integrity, without which they have no ministry.

Leaders who adopt this phoniness should evaluate not only their spiritual maturity, but their understanding of the Scriptures as well.  Perhaps it would be wise for them to investigate what it means to be free in Christ.  In John 8:36 Jesus spoke of being “free indeed.”  What a wonderful expression!  And what a wonderful privilege it is to explore the possibilities of what this “free indeed” business is all about, especially to see how it applies to life in the temporal realm as well as the eternal.

Freedom in Christ not only refers to our having been redeemed from the bondage of sin; it also means that we are free to let down our guards, remove the masks we all hide behind, and acknowledge, as just one example, that sometimes we need a word of encouragement.

One other thing must be mentioned in this context.  It has been my experience over the years that when I mention my fragile humanity that that not only opens a door of ministry to me, but also a door of ministry to others as well.  I had little understanding of this truth in the early years of my ministry.  Fresh out of seminary I felt it necessary to project a “victorious Christian life” image.  Somehow I had been led to believe that I should always have that “smile, don’t you know that Jesus loves you?” look on my face.  I was not only in a state of denial regarding the hardcore challenges of life, I was also a frustrated actor attempting to be someone that in Christ I did not have to be.  Somehow I had been “programmed” to believe that any acknowledgment of discouragement would be a demonstration of unbelief.  It would be a breach of faith.

            But God always brings the right people into our lives at just the right time—and He has certainly brought a host of them into mine.  Many of these dear people helped me enormously in this matter of projecting a false picture of myself.  I learned that I could share my discouragement, even my insecurities, with those who wanted to demonstrate their love for me.  And I could receive their encouragement as well.

Being vulnerable about our pain, our failures, or our disappointments, is not necessarily a weakness.  Handled with wisdom which can only come from God, the proper exercise of vulnerability can be an enormous strength, and a great tool for ministry.

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