Silver Reminiscences and Reflections: Heartaches

I was recently talking to a pastor, who has served his church since 1987 or so. His son was entering the ministry. I asked, “So what do you think about him entering ministry?” “Well, my heart goes out to him, knowing what he’s going to face, the heartaches and trials. But I know also that God will be sufficient.”

The joys of ministry are wonderful. Being with the saints at Grace Community Church, opening the Word to them and loving them and being loved by them, week after week, month after month, year after year, has been the greatest joy of my life, next to being loved by Jesus and my family. There is no place I would rather be on a Lord’s Day than with these people, who are my family. But you cannot travel 25 years together without heartache.

Yes, there is the heartache of watching God’s people die. We have lost many saints over the years. Sometimes it is hard, especially when they are young. Sometimes it is mixed joy; they fought the good fight and have finished their race. But if they are in Christ, it is never hopeless. The truth is that every funeral for a believer, whether there was a lingering death or a sudden one, is filled with mixed emotions. Death is an enemy and we don’t whitewash that. But there is nothing like death to magnify Christ and the reality, power, and beauty of His Gospel. As George Bethune wrote, “It is not death to die.” So, the heartache of the death of the saints is tempered by “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and “To die is gain,” and “Whoever keeps My Words shall never see death,” and “Death where is your sting?”

There are other heartaches. One heartache for me, is to see people in the same body have a breach in their relationship and then watch them refuse to approach the conflict biblically. I think this was a heartache for Paul (Phil. 4:2-3). Over the years I have seen with increasing clarity in Scripture that Christian ethics revolves primarily around how we treat each other. The “one anothers” of Scripture can only be lived out in the community of faith (Heb. 10:23-25). The church is a platform for applying the Gospel. Therefore, when there is conflict, the pastors labor to apply God’s Word to the lives of those involved. When those involved follow their own wisdom, rather than God’s Word, it is heartbreaking. It is a denial of the unity of the body. It is a denial of self-denial. It is a denial of the power of Gospel and Jesus’ work to make us one in His Spirit (Eph. 4:1-3). It is pure joy when God’s people submit to the Word, bury their pride, own their sin, and reconcile. It is agony when they fracture the body.

But there is another heartache. It is a heartache worse than death. It is the heartache of watching people shipwreck their faith. The reality is apostasy from the Gospel leads to destruction (e.g. Rom. 11:22; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:14-17). The weight of pastoral ministry is put into perspective with the perseverance of the saints. The pain of pastoral ministry is put into perspective with apostasy. Paul knew this pain (2 Tim. 4:10).

The pain with people who shipwreck their faith is that you know them. They are people you have helped through crises. People you have counseled. People who have served with you. They are people you have prayed with, prayed for, and been in their homes, and they in yours. They are people you’ve invested time in for the sake of their souls. They are people who have loved and encouraged you. Then the drifting begins (Heb. 2:1). The red flags start to go up. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt. You tell them your concern. Their response reveals how far they have drifted by the excuses they give. The concern grows deeper, their heart grows harder. The sense of urgency and danger increases. The fog of sin rolls in with demonic density. They don’t want to hear your warnings. They know better. There may be some rational acknowledgement of their sin, but their conscience has been calcified, they are held firm by the evil one, and Christ is no longer precious. They have bartered for another god and have given away far more than they realize (Psa. 16:4).

I remember with great vividness, after a man had gone back to a life of drugs, that I laid my hands on the shoulder of another brother with a similar background, and said with great earnestness, “Do not ever go down that path! Do not fall away! Christ has done too much for you! We love you too much!” Tears welled up in my eyes and in his. He said, “I will never fall away.” Here we are today, that man fell away. It would have been better if he had died then to watch him deceive himself, be hardened by sin, and abandon Christ. There is no heartache like the heartache of one who falls away.

This is why I preach like I do. This is why the elders get involved like they do. We have to give an account for how we shepherded the flock of God. Having a que sera sera attitude scares me to death.

But oh, what joy when one who wanders off comes back. Those stories can melt this broken heart!

Yes, there are heartaches and heartbreaks in ministry. But when I consider the compassion and mercy of our Great High Priest, and His great love for His people, His atoning work, His effective intercession, then I press on. He holds me fast, He sustains my joy, He dries my tears.

Pray for your pastors! Pray for our joy, our holiness, our perseverance, and our labors. Pray for our hearts.

Silver Reminiscences and Reflections: Kids

“When you put your hand on a child’s head, you touch a mother’s heart.” I heard these words from Pastor Albert Martin in a pastoral theology lecture during seminary. It got me thinking about children in the church. So often children grow up in the church and then they leave the church when they become adults. So often children are relegated to some form of ministry which disrupts the family and promotes the idea that kids don’t belong in church with the big people. So early on I developed a commitment to the kids in the church. The kids in the church are the future of the church. They need pastoral care like everybody else. They need attention like everybody else. They need the Word of God like everybody else. My “children’s ministry” approach was shaped on the following principles:

  1. Have fun with the kids. Wrestle with them. Joke with them. Laugh with them. Now the wrestling with them is tricky, because it can be embarrassing if they beat you.
  2. Share stuff with the kids. Give them Latvian chickenpox, they will remember it for the rest of their lives. Give them books too.
  3. Preach to the kids and pray for the kids. Address them in the sermon. Occasionally preach special sermons for them. Let the adults listen in, they can get something out of it. And pray for them. Pray for their salvation.
  4. Treat the kids as image-bearers. How dare the church send kids out right before the sermon. Maybe we need a strong dose of “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” “But they won’t understand.” My experience is that they understand more than we give them credit for. Also, it’s OK not to understand everything. It means there is learning and growing that still needs to take place. Train up young sermon listeners.
  5. Minister to the kids as individuals and part of a family unit. Learn their names, give them a hug or a high five, a Dutch rub or an Indian burn. Ask them about their soul, about school, be a resource for research papers. Ask them if they are reading their Bibles.  This is all part of ministering to them as individuals. But they are also part of a family, so that needs to be respected. Sometimes parents ask for advice and counsel, and it is an honor to help contribute to their upbringing. Other times parents need help, but you don’t want to infringe, so you pray for the parents and the kids!
  6. Count it a privilege to watch them grow up. The long pastorate gives opportunity to see the kids grow. In my office is a collage of the kids in the church from many years ago. I look at it often. Watching the kids grow up is a continual reminder to me of God’s gift to me of wonderful families who believe in commitment and longevity too.
  7. Always reflect when you have the privilege to baptize one of them. There is such joy when one raised in the church professes faith in baptism. They are special times that are monuments to me.
  8. Always reflect when you get to perform their weddings. The weddings are special. Sometimes it feels like I am performing the wedding of one of my own kids.
  9. Rejoice exceedingly when they have been baptized, married, start having kids, and stay in the church. What joy to see the grown children walking in the truth, in the same church they were raised in.
  10. Try to pastor them in such a way that when they are old and I am gone, they will think back with fondness on their old pastor who loved them, prayed for them, baptized them, married them, counseled them, taught them, and most of all, pointed them to Christ.

Ministering to the kids and loving them is not work. It is joy. It is one of my greatest joys. And 25 years have given me many memories and many friendships with these precious ones. It is my prayer that I will get many more years, and I will be able to pastor and love the children’s children.

Silver Reminiscences and Reflections: The Long Haul

I came from a denomination where the average pastorate lasted 1.5 to 3 years. I became a part of a denomination where getting asked to go to a larger church was good evidence that one was a recognized success. Successful churches were big churches. I distinctly remember a now-mega-church pastor saw me reading Selling Jesus, What’s Wrong with Marketing the Church. He asked me,

“Do you know who reads books like that?”

I bit.

“Who?”

“Pastors of small churches,” was his answer.

I also remember our first association meeting, probably about 400-500 people were present. The church planters were paraded up before the audience. The director of church planting was proud of his church planters.

“What city are you in? How big is your church? What is your philosophy of ministry? What are you reading?”

Planter after planter got, named their large bay area city, told of the hundreds that were attending their 1, 2, 3-year-old church. Talked about the latest trends of ministry approaches they were trying, and then said they were reading Rick Warren, Peter Drucker, George Barna, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell. It was finally my turn. Well, my tact in those days was less than it is today.

“I am in Minden, NV.”

“Tell us where that is.”

“How many people in your church?”

“Oh, about 75 are in Christ’s church.” – (little discomfort by the director)

“What is your philosophy of ministry?”

“Acts 2:42.”

“Who are you reading?”

“I don’t read Barna or Drucker, but I am reading Edwards.”

After we had been in Nevada for about five years, I got a letter from a church in Carmel, CA, asking me to candidate for the pastorate there. I read it to Ariel and laughed. She asked if we could at least go to Carmel and then tell them no. Just about five years ago I had two men I respect ask me about going to a large church in Portland. I told them no. They said I should at least pray about it. Ariel and I went back to the car and I said, “Let’s pray. ‘Dear Father, thank you for the time of fellowship and the kind offer. I hope they find the right pastor.” There, we can say we prayed. I have never had any desire to go anywhere else. I have never had a desire to climb an ecclesiastical ladder.

There are three reasons we are here for the long haul. The first reason is the sense of calling. This is where God called us over 25 years ago. God didn’t call me to climb a ladder, He called me to labor here. I have never been convinced otherwise. The second reason is this is my family. I have joked that other churches wouldn’t put up with me, but Grace accepts me and loves me. Why would I leave my family? Family life is sometimes messy life, but family is family. And third, I said I was going to stay. Early on I told people I was here and wasn’t going anywhere. Unless Gabriel appears, I don’t suspect that will change.

Why is a long pastorate important? Why is it important to watch kids grow up and grown-ups grow old? Why is it important to perform the weddings of the kids who grow up under your ministry, and bury those who have grown old under it? Why is it important to be able to preach seven years in one book of the Bible? Why is it important to have a life connected with others and journey together? Well, I suppose the answer is obvious, but I will state the obvious. Building the body of Christ and pouring into people’s lives doesn’t take 2 years or 5 years, it takes the long haul. The fruitfulness of ministry isn’t instant. It takes years. You can’t get to know people in 2 or 5 years. It takes the long haul. You can’t deeply minister to people unless you know them. There is a sweetness to longevity. It’s like a marriage. Sure, the honeymoon is great. Sure, the first five years can be hard. But you don’t start hitting the stride of marital joy and harmony until you’ve been married for a while, a good long while. So, long pastorates are good for the church. They are good for God’s people. They are good for pastors.

My heart’s desire was that God would build a lasting work and no matter how big or how small the church, God would give us grace through His Word to get to heaven together safely. Yep, I am here for the long haul, Lord willing.