Confessions of a Pastor: When Preaching “Slumps”

220px-Cal_Ripken_Jr._in_1993As a boy I had the privilege of growing up watching of the all time greats of baseball, Cal Ripken, Jr., while he was in his prime. He was known as the “iron man” because of his consecutive game streak, beating Lou Gerig’s long time record of 2130 games and he still holds this record to this day. Cal’s work ethic and perseverance  to the game of baseball also extended to his defensive abilities — as a shortstop he was equally admirable for his faithfulness. Ripken was unusually great offensively, too — especially for a shortstop — and all of us as boys idolized him.

But I remember one particular year when Cal was in a hitting slump and it was lasting a very long time. I even remember the year – 1992. Cal was trying everything to get out of his slump- that year I recall that he tried three different batting stances, one that was so awkward and unnatural looking that I felt he had a better chance of hitting the catcher behind him than the ball in front of him. As I admiringly observed Ripkin’s baseball career as a boy, I observed several of these occasional hitting slumps. But Cal always recovered from them, faithfully.

In a way, pastors go through occasional preaching slumps, too. At least the faithful ones do. It’s easy to have a collection of 10 or more sermons and preach the same ones all over the country, complete with “zinger” illustrations and everyone lauds you as a great preacher. However, the faithful, expository preacher will sometimes feel a great sense of freedom and power in the pulpit, but sometimes he will not.

I do need to be clear, here. I’m not talking here about the failure to preach the text of God’s Word– a preacher has no excuse for such a failure, rather I’m talking about the subjective element of preaching that many preachers would describe as “freedom in the pulpit.” The Apostle Paul explains it best when he asks the Ephesians to pray “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, (Eph 6:19 NKJ)” Paul must have gone through these “slumps” as well and he knew the power of prayer.

I have a couple of initial thoughts on this toward preachers and listeners:

1. Fellow pastors, we must be faithful to “preach the Word” regardless of whether or not we have a sense of freedom. We are accountable to the Lord for this.

2. Listeners, whether or not your pastor has as much freedom to preach as you have previously observed or not, if he is faithfully preaching the text you CAN glean great truths from it. In fact, I personally feel that one of the reasons pastors might go through preaching “slumps” is to teach God’s people to appreciate the faithful exposition of the Word. Mature Christians know how to feed on the steak regardless of how well it is seasoned.

That said, there does seem to be some causes for preaching slumps and some helps for preachers to get out of them (although I do feel the Lord is ultimately in control of this as the “bestower” of freedom in the pulpit). Likewise, a church member can either provide help for his/her pastor or he can actually make matters worse. In upcoming posts we’ll discuss how a preacher gets into a “preaching slump,” what steps he can take to get out of it (Lord willing), and how a concerned church member can help (and keep from hurting) the situation.


What’s On the Horizon?: Implications of the SCOTUS ruling on Gay Marriage

UnknownWhy am I weighing in? I’ve always avoided addressing political issues and getting into political debates on social media. Why now? As I scroll through my news feed of Facebook, I’m often seeing  one of two extremes from Christians. On the one hand I’m seeing an un-Christlike, trite, often inflammatory, and usually underdeveloped response that falls short of goals that would truly honor Christ. From other Christians, I’m seeing little or no response at all. The latter is safer and more understandable than the former and I don’t desire to condemn silence since there are multiple motives for silence– some noble and some not. But SCOTUS has put Christians, and particularly pastors in a very difficult position by essentially linking religion and state. So as a Christian, I hope to provide a balanced, kind, and well-developed Christian perspective.  As as pastor I pray that these posts may be used as a resource to equip God’s people to prepare, think, and respond appropriately. Because I’ve been asked various sincere questions by Christians, some of whom are members of the church I’m privileged to pastor, and because silence carries its own potential consequences, I  really feel I can’t keep silent on this, though I respect the decision of other Christians who may have that luxury.

I appreciate much of the sentiments in this blog:

Dear Homosexual, I’m Sorry: An Open Letter from a Christian

After my initial post, which was intended merely to provide some guidance for responding correctly as a Christian (and how not to respond as a Christian). I’ve been thinking through all of the various implications of the SCOTUS ruling. I want to address this issue in a reasonably comprehensive manner, so in order to do that, I need to continue to address, in a very general way, the various implications of this verdict before getting into the details in future posts.

1. Biblical: The US law of the land clearly contradicts Scriptural truth (again).

Addressing this Biblically is more involved than meets the eye. Three realities need to be considered. 1)Personal experience, rather than the Bible is the basis of authority for many. 2) Professing Christians have misused the Bible in the past to propagate non-moral agendas that have now created a barrier. 3) Some advocates of homosexual marriage are now openly attacking the Bible by misusing Scripture to undermine its own authority. Example: The citing of polygamy in the Old Testament to undermine the frequently stated Biblical definition of marriage. This then is going to require its own blog article.

2. National: This decision has confirmed that we are no longer a Christian nation.

I think many Christian’s have had the mindset that the gospel will help us “take back America.” While this could be an inadvertent result the gospel’s work in the lives of individuals, this was never the intention of the gospel. God has never called Christians to establish a Christian nation. Furthermore, God has never promised to restore the United States to a God-fearing nation. It is high time that Christians live the gospel and proclaim the gospel, not for the purpose of restoring America, but for the furtherance of God’s heavenly kingdom as He sovereignly sees fit.

Recommended article: 4 Things Jesus Did Not Die For

3. Legal: The Supreme court has reached new heights of “over-reach” by choosing to re-define marriage.

The five supreme court justices essentially acted as an oligarchy, establishing a law, and re-defining an entire concept that does not exist in the constitution. This has essentially established a precedent that even homosexuals should be very concerned about. We are losing our democracy. Dr. Al Mohler has done an excellent job in explaining the far-reaching implications of this decision. I’ll refer you to the following blog articles:

First article from Al Mohler

Second article and audio briefing from Al Mohler

4. Cultural/Social: The problem of viewing people within a country according ethnic and social communities.

There is currently this euphoric sentiment that the SCOTUS decision promotes unity, peace, and harmony. It does not.

Our culture has shifted from promoting the need of “individual rights” to promoting the need for the rights of various ethnic and social communities. This move is a shift from viewing every individual citizen (including those who have chosen a homosexual lifestyle) as a part of a unified country to a nation that is fragmented by various “communities.” This is a “divide and conquer” approach, by those with a socialist (not necessarily homosexual agenda) and will not bring true unity, despite all of the celebrating. The best examples are the decisions of President Obama and Hillary Clinton to endorse gay marriage after stately opposing it in the past. I submit that these recent decisions do not result from evolution, but pragmatism.

The decision has also sanctioned one of these communities as the “gay community.” I’m going to argue that this is not merely a result of gays lobbying for freedom and equality, there is another agenda here and way of  thinking that has been accepted over time. How did our culture move this direction?

This video interview addresses this very well: Is Gay the New Black?

5. Liberty: This ruling will require Christian state officials, responsible for approving marriage documents to either violate their religious conscience or resign.

So what if a state official has a religious conviction against gay marriage? Rule of law dictates that he must issue the license. The state official has already lost his/her liberty. But it won’t end there. It will move next to any organization receiving federal funding. Rule of law will require them not to discriminate, they will surely loose federal funding.

What about religious institutions such as churches? We might be ok for a while, but when this verdict fails to actually bring the harmony and unity that it so desperately desired, the culture will go after those they view as the source of the problem and churches will likely lose their tax exempt status — for starters.

Will pastors be penalized for refusing to sign a marriage license of homosexuals? The Supreme Court says no, and the news pundits say no. They have protected our right to teach our own beliefs. But what currently hangs in the balance is not our freedom to teach, but our freedom to live and practice in matter consistent with our teachings. This verdict has made marriage a right, not just a liberty under rule of law. This may require pastors and churches to be either Biblical or lawless.

Ultimately the Christian should expect persecution and trust that God will give us the grace to handle it as it comes. However, we certainly ought to live as prudently as possible. We’ll explore various options.

6. Family: Children face (inevitable?) exposure to ideas they may not be ready to process, and schools will likely be required to educate students on all of the options. 

To my knowledge no civilization in history has attempted to define marriage the way the SCOTUS has and we don’t know the ultimate impact it will make on society. I’m most concerned for my children and what they will be facing in the days ahead. How do we protect, prepare, and equip them?

7. Unknown: Because the SCOTUS verdict is unprecedented, there are certainly unforeseen implications. 

We rely on history to warn us of the future consequences of the decisions we make. But no history exists to project potential outcomes. It is a bit scary.

I’ll be addressing much of this in further detail in coming posts. Until then, let’s remember some simple yet profound words from Scripture:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Pro 3:5-6 NKJ)

4 Dangerous Temptations a Pastor Must Resist (part 1).

Jonathan_EdwardsSo with only a little over a decade of ministry experience, I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on pastoral ministry. I have, however, noted over the years several temptations either by taking stock of my own thoughts or observing the pitfalls of others in ministry.

1. A pastor must resist the temptation to make his ministry his idol.

There is no question that ministry is important, the spiritual needs of people are great, and my responsibility before the Lord is real. But I must be careful not to make the ministry the Lord has given me an idol in my life. How can I avoid this, you ask? Avoiding the following temptations will help.

2. A pastor must resist the temptation to make his position his identity.

I’ve seen this. A pastor finds his identity in his position, rather than maintaining his identity in Christ. The pastorate is my calling, my responsibility, even my position, but it can not be my identity. My value is based on who I am IN CHRIST, not based upon the fact that I’m a pastor. The size of my ministry does not equal my value.

3. A pastor must resist the temptation to worry about people in his care.

I’ve always been a little envious of those who have “happy-go-lucky” personalities who don’t usually struggle with worry. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Add the legitimate care of the ministry to the equation and it is sometimes hard to balance concern and worry. The answer is prayer. When I’m tempted to worry about church members, I must pray instead, and take action as God directs. I recall from my childhood singing a little chorus: “Why Worry When You Can Pray. This is sound advice.

4. A pastor must resist the temptation to focus on God’s working through him to the exclusion of God working in him.

Counseling, preaching, teaching, advising, and leading are all energy expenders. It is easy to desire for God to work through me, which is godly desire, unless it is to the exclusion of desiring God to work in me. Time alone with God and thinking, reading, and praying for personal, devotional enrichment is a helpful antidote to this pitfall. Jesus had to get alone with his Father and away from the crowds, how much more do we as pastors need this.

Coming soon… 4 more Dangerous Temptations a Pastor Must Resist. Also, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this–whether you are a pastor or not!