Tag: Jesus Christ

Christ and Christian Alone

Imagine a Roman calling themselves a “Christian Romanist” and how that would have been received?

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

I will not budge on the idea that there is not justification for any definition of “Christian Nationalism.” There is no definition, no way of working it together or defining/redefining terms that makes adding any adjective to the term “Christian” that can justify it. Even if you try to reduce it to the lowest possible definition, as “A Christian Political Movement based on recovering Christian values and morals in our nation” there is no justification for it. If that means we have to say there is no biblical justification for western Christendom, than we have to say that.

Why do I say this? Why am I bucking 300 years of Christian Consciousness in America and 1400 years of Christian Consciousness in the West? Because while Christendom may have been used as a tool by God as a means to spread the Gospel throughout the world, its excesses and obsession with “Power Religion” have nearly undone all those advances in western civilization to the point that Missiologists have called for a change from “the west reaching the rest to the rest reaching the west.”

As a historian I recognize that part of the Development of Church History is that Christianity became such an influential religion is so little time that it overwhelmed the Roman Empire and created something that has never been duplicated outside the West, but which, by clinging too we are now undoing much of the advancement of the faith which it encouraged.

This is what happens when something reaches the height of its decadence, when it has become so fat and comfortable that it must invent fights and new enemies to keep its power and position which it would not have lost if it had not created the fights and new enemies. As with the Roman Empire, Decadence often hides the internal rot that will eventually lead to the downfall of the empire or nation. Jonathan V. Last of The Bulwark has made the same case for the United States of America, that the fact that we are even having the fights and debates we are having in our society, the massive partisanship, underscored by hatemongering and fearmongering, are the result of internal rot covered by decadence. It is a privilege to be able to have the fights we are having in our society right now.

I have said this before about the Church, In the 19th Century there were entire theologies built around the idea of schism and some of those were important and needed debates, such as the debate between Abolition and Slavery which should have corrected the injustice against the slaves. Some of these debates should have corrected theological error, such as the debate over the nature of the church between Mercersburg and Princeton. But once these debates were considered “settled” (I respectfully submit they were not and that everyone lost) we moved on to other things. Eventually we turned our attention to “Creeping Secularism” to the point that we began neglecting internal affairs and allowing internal rot to form, meanwhile, our decadence allowed us to fight with each other, to be segregated and sectarian. Decadence gave us the privileges of looking at everyone to blame for the decline of Christianity while we ignored segregation, sexual assault, injustices of every kind for every reason, the plight of the poor and many other things. Decadence allowed us to focus on Abortion, an important topic, but also to ignore the rest of the life of the mother or the child once born. Decadence allowed our preachers to fight with one another and our congregations to attack their pastors. Now we see even our decadence slipping away as the Church slides ever faster into cultural exile in America and we think adding an adjective and founding a movement is going to bring that decadence back. Christian Nationalism, being a Christian Nationalist, is a means to try to reclaim that decadence. It has been tried numerous times in the West and once in the East, by numerous people groups, and each time it has failed to do anything but send the Church into exile as the internal rot is exposed.

Imagine, if you will, as the Roman Empire declined, and the Goths and Visigoth’s were sacking and pillaging closer to Rome and the Christians decided to add the word: “Romanist” to their name. I am a Christian in the name of Rome, and I am going to retore Rome to her decadence, to a time gone by. You cannot, because the early Christians understood that the empire was temporary and that the power structures of the world would shift and change. If there was a major Christian Nationalist movement at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire it was not widespread enough, except for under Emperor Valentinian II who promised to restore Rome to her glory days. His actions, however, hastened the decline of Rome, they did not slow it down. The Early Christians did not understand themselves as “Empire Buildings” they understood themselves as alien residents whose primary citizenship was a kingdom not of this world.

See, here is the thing, the bible is clear that we live in a backwards, upside down kingdom as Christians. That is, Christians are not to participate in the way the world gets and keeps power. That is, we are not supposed to clamor for the best places an top positions. Jesus tells his Disciples as much in the Gospel of John. The last are going to be first and the first last, so it is with little eternal reward that we clamor to be on top, to be the most influential. The Gospel has never succeeded in this manner, it has always succeeded from the margins of society, when it brings light to the darkness. “But aren’t we doing that?” We ask when we stand against Abortions and general immorality. Maybe, but if it is done in such a way that it adds to the darkness, rather than brings light and life, than we are not spreading the Gospel, just our own agenda. I hate abortion, I think it is a terrible moral ill, but it is just as great a moral ill if I demonize the girl who goes to get an abortion rather than be a light to her by providing another way, a third option that she may not be able to consider. Be that adoption of the child she carries or providing the means for her to raise the child herself. I believe in the traditional view of Marriage, I do believe the bible speaks against and calls homosexuality a sin. But if I dehumanize my brothers and sisters who are struggling with this sin, if I fail to treat them as Christ would have me treat them, I am adding to their darkness, not showing them the light and love of Christ. Sexual Immorality is evil, adultery, rape, incest, ect, they are moral ills, but if demonize the sexually immoral or if I dismiss and mistreat their victims in favor of their abuser, I am adding to the darkness in their lives, not showing them the light and love of Jesus Christ. If I participate in injustice of any kind, be it racism or anything else, then I am not showing them the light and love of Christ. The ways and isms and ists of this world are ways of darkness, when they are added to Christianity, they align Christianity with the darkness, they do not bring the light and love of Jesus into the world. When I apply the world’s philosophies and titles to Christianity, I have lost Christianity. Because I have effectively said that Christ is not enough, I need that ism or ist to make Christianity work. Christianity doesn’t “Work” because of man, because of you and I, but because of the name applied to the beginning of the word: “Christ”ian.

Therefore we reject Christian Nationalism and do not call ourselves “Christian Nationalists” Because anything that is “Christianity+” loses the gospel and becomes just another avenue for the darkness of this world. The Christians of ancient Rome understood this, John’s prologue to his Gospel was written as a reminder of this very thing, that there is no one and nothing else that compares to Christ and that Christianity has no need for additions or subtractions to make it “work” because it is eternally tied to the person and work of God himself. It is through Christ and the way He has shown us to live that we will influence the world, not through demanding that the secular world adopts a morality it clearly does not want.

You want to have influence on our society Christian? Take up the towel and cross of Christ, live the way He has shown you to live and do so without adding man’s philosophies and titles to it. Christianity can stand on its own, it has stood on its own for 2000 years in places where one could be put to death for proclaiming the name of Christ. We do not need these isms and ists at the end, we need Christ and Christ alone. And we had better repent because of Christ, before it is too late.

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

A New Donatist Controversy?

What do we do with those who want to come back to Orthodoxy?

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

The Church at Carthage is one of those important places in Church History because if you look at it you can see a microcosm of the Church from the 1st to the 6th century. If it affected the church catholic, it was probably magnified in some way at Carthage. Carthage was where the first martyrs’ blood was spilled and in Carthage where the Christians first gained recognition for their care for the sick during a plague. Similarly, it was also a magnifier of some of the many controversies that arose within the Church and was the origin and epicenter of the Donatist Controversy from the 4th to the 6th centuries. It broke out over an appointment b of a Bishop by another Bishop who had turned over copies of Holy Scripture to the Romans under the Persecution of Diocletion. The Donatists believed that priests and pastors had to be perfect, there could not be any impurity in them and so for a bishop to be appointed by a traitor meant that he was impure, since he was appointed by a traitor. The controversy lasted for almost 200 years and drew writings from another North African Bishop, Augustine of Hippo whose writings would prove to be a stinging critique of Donatism. One most notable critique was that the Donatists had separated themselves from the Church Universal: “Caecilianus,” Augustine writers: “the Biship of Carthage is accused with the contentiousness of men; the Church of Christ established among all nations, is recommended by the Voice of God, and love forbid us to receive the testimony of men whom we do not find in the church, which has the testimony of God, for those who do not follow the testimony of God have forfeited the weigh which otherwise would attach to their testimony as men.”

It is important to note what Augustine is saying here: Those who have separated themselves from the Church Universal have no recourse to make accusations against those who are inside the Church Universal. The Donatists had separated themselves from the majority opinion, namely that there could be forgiveness for clergy and for Christians in general who had given in to the Empire so long as they were truly repented. By separating themselves then, the Donatists lost the authority that comes from the Testimony of God. If God had told us not to forgiven apostates, then perhaps the churches majority opinion would have been different. But the contrary is the position of the scriptures, when someone has truly repented of sin, receive them back into fellowship as a brother. Further, the church should not entertain accusations against Clergy on theological matters that come from those who have separated themselves from the Church catholic because the have forfeited their testimony by dividing the people of God. In Augustine’s mind, the Donatists had responded to sin with more sin. Demanding the perfection of the clergy meant no grace could be shown to those who had fallen and so no restoration could be granted, it was to deny them the power of the sacrament of Bread and Cup. Further, dividing from the church was and still is an sin because it divides Christ and Christ cannot be divided. Those who split are to be considered “outside” the church universal.  In our modern context, while this argument makes our denominational divides a sin, it also pushes us past mere ecumenicism to deep unity wherein we agree on the essentials and allow disagreement on the non-essentials.

Underneath the entire controversy was the question: “What do we do with those who succumbed to the pressure to apostatize and worship the Emperor but are now repenting and want to come back into the fold?” That has the baseline to the question I have seen people posting on Twitter, what do we do with the people who sold themselves out for political power, who will, when this over want to come back to the fold as if nothing happened?

I have written before about the heresy of Christian Nationalism. Statism that masquerades as Christianity is no different than the Priests who sold themselves out and either turned over Holy Books, or who burned incenses to the Emperor. The choice by Diocletian was either denounce Christianity or die or rot in prison. Those who sold out the imperial cult under Diocletian and Galerius in the East now found themselves in a Roman Empire under Constantine that was favorable to Christianity and so it made sense for them to renter the Church and it would have been understandable if people like Nicholas of Smyrna, who had languished in prison, took exception to this returning. Yet, they met the challenge with grace, unlike the Donatists who gracelessly refused to accept anyone who had betrayed Christians, regardless of how penitent they may have become.

I wrote way back in 2015 that those who were clamoring for power, the “Court Evangelicals” as John Fea calls them, were not building up the flock, but instead feeding it to the wolves, and feeding the other shepherd to the wolves as well. The reality on the ground, that is, the reality of those of us who interact with real people in the real world is that the world looks at us and hears Christian and automatically associates us with the power hungry who think that the future of Christianity hinges on a political party (fact check, it doesn’t). Not some of these people want to come back to the Orthodoxy table like nothing happened and so we are faced with the inevitable question: “How do we treat those who sold themselves out for power, who separated themselves from the Church Universal to support Statism masquerading as Christianity, and more so, what do we do with the Cultists who might want to re-enter the fold after this is over and they realize they are on the wrong side of history?

As Christians we do not have purity tests, or at least we should not, if we do have one it is the only Jesus gave, and that is by the fruits of the believer, we will know who they are. Those fruits are the fruits that come with repentance and a life in the Spirit. The key there is repentance, the complete change in thought, attitude, and action from one direction to another in keeping with the transformed life of the Spirit. If you have truly repented , there will be evidence in the transformed life of the Spirit, those who have not repented will not show evidence of a transformed life.

This is why I had no faith in the claims that many of the Evangelical Elites that President Trump was a “Baby Christian.” There was no evidence of repentance or a transformed life, instead, his sinful habits and worst characteristics have gotten worse overtime. If you do not believe, just look at Twitter. A repentant man would have humbly confessed the truth to the many allegations against him when they were true, a repentant man would have apologized for the harsh rhetoric and dehumanizing speech directed at Blacks, Latino’s and other minority groups. A repentant man would not have lied and downplayed real threats to public health and our soldiers overseas,  A repentant man would have been one showed contrition, but also vowed to do better, to turn things around. Repentant people don’t act tougher, don’t act like they have a mandate from heaven to do whatever they want, speak however they want. One of my prayers for the president these last four years would be that he would genuinely repent of all these things, the greed, malice, hatred, fearmongering, lying and slandering, all of which are vices mentioned in scripture that we are to turn away from, to put off, if we truly have put on the Spirit of God.

I know that some want to “Forgive and forget” but that is a little harder when we are as divided as we are. There has to be true and real reconciliation and that can only come through repentance from those who have wronged other. But here is the thing, those who have remained in the Orthodox Camp may have to do some self-evaluation of our own attitudes. There may need to be some things that repent of as well, maybe it is unrighteous anger, maybe it is a pure hatred of the “other side” or demonizing or dehumanizing on our own account.

But here is the thing, if they or we are genuinely repentant than forgiveness has to follow suit, if we are to be like Jesus, then those who genuinely repent have to allowed a twentieth chance. I am sorry, but this is not my thought, it is Jesus, he is the one who tells us to forgive, he is the one who tells us to love our neighbor and our enemies. I do not get a say in whether I offer forgiveness, it is there fore the taking if repentance comes. At the same time, if repentance doesn’t come we have to still be willing to forgive, even if the lack of repentance means we cannot fellowship together until that repentance has occurred. As Dr. Bryan Lorrits says: “Forgiveness if required, with reconciliation there is a loophole.”

But, with that I have to remind everyone that God’s goal is reconciliation, that is stated several times in Scripture including in Colossians 1:15-20. God’s desire is to draw all people to himself and if He is drawing all people to Himself then He is also drawing all people to each other. There is a trajectory towards God we are all taking, or should be taking, and if we are on that trajectory then we have inevitably getting closer to one another To look and see a Brother and Sister who I disagree with and say: “If these are the people you’re inviting into the Kingdom God, then I am out.” Doesn’t halt their trajectory towards God, it halts yours. It is important to note that we are all taking the same path towards God, Jesus Christ, if we are all on the same road we should not cause a roadblock by fighting over who should or should not be here. We do not get to determine that, only God does.

Because here is the reality before us, the Church was left here to prepare the way for the return of Christ. That means we are to do everything we possibly can to make it as easy as it can possibly be to see God’s desire that all people be saved (1 Tim 2:5) come to fruition. If our actions turn people away from God, we are not preparing the way, we are hindering the way. Isaiah prophesied long ago that a voice would cry out, and six hundred years later one did.

Church What a vision! What a reality and it is a reality we are currently living in and will one day realize fully. That cry, in the wilderness, it has already happened: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” John the Baptist calls out, God is coming, get ready, make the Highways Straight. And you know what, not only did John cry this, God showed up in the person of Jesus Christ the true and permanent heir to the David Throne, born to the Virgin Mary and her betrothed Joseph of the Royal Line of David. The Glory of God was revealed in Him and He proved over and over again that God’s word would endure forever, even though the leaders of the people were fickle and immoral, God showed that he would keep his promises. Then through His death on the cross He made a way for the lambs to be gathered back to God, for all sins to be forgiven and the scattered flock of God to come home and to this day He takes care of the young lambs, the rich, the poor, the lame, the sick, the imprisoned, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the lost, the least, there is not one who does not fall from his sight. Now he sits at the right hand of God and he is coming again as the right hand of God, in full power, in full splendor, as the Shepherd King and He will one day complete the gathering process. Every mountain is being made low, every valley lifted high, every rough place a plain and every uneven place even! There will no longer be any barrier to Him for anyone, His full glory will be revealed, Church Behold Your God! He is the same today, He was the same yesterday, He will be the same tomorrow, You and I will fade away and die, but He will endure forever.

This is the God who tells us to forgive, this is God who is working to reconcile us to one another as He reconciles us to Himself. So, when people repent, we will welcome them back, until then we will work on forgiving them, it is not going to be an easy road, but it is one we are required to take. We should do it by avoiding purity tests like the Donatists and let the fruits speak for themselves, just as Jesus told us to.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

 

Trying Times and what to do about them.

Now is not the time for each one looking to his own interest, but to the interest of his neighbors.

Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner

In 2018 the Grammy Nominated Christian Metal Band Demon Hunter released an album by the name of “Outlive.” It was one of the last albums I reviewed for any reason. The story behind where the album comes from is a really moving one, basically, what we are all experiencing in 2020 the band Demon Hunter’s individual members from Ryan Clark their lead singer to Timothy “Yogi” Watts the drummer had some sort of major life event all around the same time. Those events drove the development of “Outlive” including the opener “Trying Times” which captures as well as sets the tone for the album, the lyrics go like this:

 

These are trying times

Made to break the heart wide

But we still defy

We will make the dead rise

 

We can’t be silent

We can’t belong

We have a promise

To die upon

We’ll set the fire

Into a song

To burn eternal

When we’re all gone

These are trying times

Made to break the heart wide

But we still defy

We will make the dead rise

I have been thinking about this song, or had it stuck in my head the last two months as I have presided over 4 funerals and had 2 deaths in my own family. As I have talked with my congregation members about the uncertainty of the future and made plans to continue to minister during a global pandemic and contentious election year. 2020 has been a trying year, these truly are trying times.

But the lyrics above do not leave us at trying times, they acknowledge that yes, these are indeed trying times, but they also move beyond, the “but” is the pivot in the song. These are trying times and they break open the heart and cause us to bleed, but that does not change our resolve to live as believers, on the contrary, we will continue to defy and even make the dead rise. There is a resolve to the song, yes, things about bad, but this is temporary, what matters is what is eternal. We could silently suffer, we could act like and belong to the world, but the promise of the Gospel is to great, we may die for it, but that is of little consequence. So they set the fire that comes from the Gospel into song and do their part to keep the proclamation going long after they are gone.

Oh, if this was the attitude of Christians in 2020

Let me be clear, this is not a call to defy government orders on shutdowns or mask mandates. I am talking about defying the world and its attitudes by standing up to continue to proclaim the Gospel. Instead of fighting foolish and ill-gotten culture wars over masks we lived out and proclaimed the Gospel and wore our mask and reframed from gathering without social distancing out of love for our neighbor. What if instead of talking about all the things kids are missing out on this year we saw this as an opportunity to really secure in them a deep faith built on scripture. It seems to me that if Christians really wanted to recapture the “family values” argument we would be jumping on this opportunity to spend more time together, instead we have watched as Christians and secular persons alike protest in mass against what they see as Government overreach that at the most base level is motivated by a desire to protect the most vulnerable among us. Coke-a-Cola has had some incredible ads on TV of late pushing exactly this kind of family reconnection and I wonder why Christians are not embracing it to the extent that we could. Actually, there is a growing body of evidence that children in two parent households have thrived during the shutdowns because they are spending more time with their parents.

 

It seems to be, that to be a truly “Pro-Life” people than we should be the first to adhere to guidelines that can protect those we love. As I have said before, if we are to be pro-life then we must be pro-life from conception to the time the person passes away and we cannot be the cause, either through being wantonly reckless or on accident. In fact, in the bible, even in the New Testament, if you are careless about the life God has given you and reckless with the lives of those around you then you are not living as Jesus has commanded you to live. In the Old Testament, carelessness about life from womb to tomb was punishable by death in many instances (see the Levitical law codes). In the New Testament part of Jesus commands in Matthew 5 is looking to the needs and care of your neighbor while you also love your enemies. In Paul’s horizontal ethics your brother is to be treated as if he is infinitely greater than you and he is to treat you as though you are infinitely greater than himself. It is has been disconcerting, even discouraging as a pastor to see Christians treat their neighbors the way they have in this political cycle. Gossip and Slander and not love and grace have been the mode of operation for Christians and it is not going well for us because of this. The greatest testimony of the believer is not how much scripture they know, it is how they live out that scripture as a reflection of Jesus Christ the Lord of the Universe.

Why is it then, that in these trying times the Church has looked more like the world and not like the hands and feet of Christ. Why do we have to be told to do something that will look to the health and flourishing of our neighbor? Why are we parroting all the fearful speculation and embracing misinformation in greater numbers than our secular counterparts? Why, when we have a promise to die upon, are we rejecting that promise in favor of the ways of the world.

Church, we need Gospel Renewal, we will not last much longer without it. The people of God need to start opening their bibles, setting their opinions aside and placing God at the center of every thought. We need, so desperately, to take up the mantel of the Gospel for the sake of our neighbors and even for our own eternities. When did “Individual Freedom” become more important to Christians than “Love your neighbor?” One is a man-made right, the other is a God-given command.

Yes, these are trying times, but for 2000 years Christians have had an answer for trying times, proclamation of the Gospel and when we have chosen that over the ways of the world the Gospel has spread like wildfire. When we light the eternal flame of the Gospel in times like these people are drawn to it like moths to a lamp. When the people of God live out the mission of God in trying times, the world cannot understand it and seeks to understand it. So instead of protesting, proclaim, proclaim the word of God, proclaim what Christ has done, proclaim what we believe and proclaim it with your life. Proclaim it by honoring your neighbor and wear a mask when you’re in public, proclaim it by not sharing that meme that runs down the politician of the other party, proclaim it by the way your life speaks to what Christ has done, by honoring and upholding the life of your neighbor. Proclaim it, proclaim it, proclaim it and when you wake up in the morning, proclaim it again.

To God alone be the Glory, forever and ever, amen.

 

12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oRev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center

Church, Your Pastors Need You!

With only 10% of pastors who start the ministry, finish the ministry, 78% of pastors feel they have no close friends, we have a crisis and it is only going to get worse.

Jonathan Faulkner

Author’s Note: This was written and scheduled before the shutdowns, God’s Heart recognizes that we are all now in the same boat and feeling the isolation. We love you and miss you all! 

Ministry is not meant to be done alone and yet, 70% of pastors in America today struggle with depression and with it, 78% severe loneliness causes by a lack of close friends. This is according to Lifeway Research conducted by Thom Rainer. Every other week, it seems, we are hearing story after story about pastors burning out, pastors committing suicide, pastors getting into extra marital affairs, pastors leaving the faith altogether. The number of pastors I know who are either unhealthy, no longer pastors (some are no longer Christians) or in need of extended respite has gone up exponentially over the years. Along with that, it seems more and more Christian College and Ministry Preparation organizations like them (including seminaries) are having a harder time finding pastoral candidates and my own conference is recruiting simply because we do not have the pastors in the “pipeline” to fill our pulpits. Take my Alma Mater where, the year after I graduated boasted the largest ministry and biblical studies prep enrollment in the modern era. Just six years later they had no new recruits in this year’s incoming class. Pastoral Ministry, they are realizing, is either unpopular or downright dangerous, given the above statistics, it is likely the latter.

Now, before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer, this is not a cry for help, this is not me trying to get attention. I am writing this for my brothers who cannot> I am writing this because up until now I am relatively unscathed. I have been a pastor a total of 2 years (1.5 at my first ministry and 9.5 months at this one). I do not have 30 years of heartache, criticism and loneliness that many of my brothers do. It is something I want to find a way to avoid, as much as possible, including protecting my family from the pains and hurts that often come from Pastoral Ministry. Paul Borthwick once told our Missiology class in Seminary that missionaries experience up to a 600 on the psychological pressure scale, the average persons stress level is around 100. When asked about Pastors he said it was about 500-600 as well. Sustaining 500-600 for a long period of time is supposed to kill a person and yet, our pastors and missionaries operate on these levels from week to week. So, I am writing this as a youngling, maybe I can be dismissed as naïve. However, keep in mind, I grew up in a pastor’s household (I am a PK) and I married a PK. For that reason I have now lived on both sides of the pastoral health coin and between my wife and I we have 50+ years of pastoral family experience between us (wow, we’re not even 30 yet).

One of the ideas they are teaching us in our seminary pastoral ministry classes, at least at Gordon-Conwell was that we should teach our people what our job consists of. The old joke about pastors only working one hour or day a week comes to mind as a common misconception about what pastors do. Though most of our congregations do not actually think this is true, whenever we do talk about the pressures related to our jobs. I recently listened to a sermon from Good News Community Church in Ogunboji IA. From a pastor who was stepping down entitled: “The Sermon most pastors should not preach.” Talking about pastoral health is considered Taboo in some church circles and we are facing a reckoning because of that. It is a topic that needs to be discussed in greater detail and at greater lengths and not just in our own little pastoral huddles but in front of our congregations. The reason is both complicated and simple, the health of the pastors will help determine the health of the Church. When a Pastor feels unsupported and isolated, the congregation will suffer because of it. When the pastor feels attacked by His flock, he will attack back. An unhealthy pastor almost always leads to an unhealthy church. Churches should not only want healthy pastors, they should be going to the same lengths the pastor goes to for them, to keep him healthy.

Do you see what is being said here? Churches, your pastor needs you! In fact, scripture gives us a corrective towards the role of our shepherds. First, it is the pastor or teaching elder who carries on the teachings of the Apostles. He or she is responsible for apostolic succession defined as the passing down of the teachings to future generations. The pastor preaches the word of God, it is their primary focus and should take up most of their time. In small settings the pastor is also responsible for the care of the flock, but they cannot and should never be the sole person expected to care for the flock. In Acts 6 when the Hellenist Widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution the Apostles, who understood their primary concern was to tend to the preaching of the Word, selected a Deaconate, a word which literally means servant or minister. Now, in congregations of 20-40 it is common for the pastor to do both works and usually they are able, however once you get above 40 it becomes more difficult to care for everyone and every need. But I want you to notice that the Deacons were not called to bring matters to the Apostles so they could take care of it, they were empowered by the Apostles to Minister. The Deaconate served the Apostles by freeing them up to do the work of the Word and Sacrament while they took care of the on the ground needs. That does not mean that the Apostles were not involved in the care of souls, on the contrary, the Apostles still made visits and showed Pastoral concerns (read any of Paul’s letters) for the physical and spiritual well-being of their flocks, but they also had deacons who served them by serving their flock so they could be devoted to the word of God. Since scripture knows nothing of a non-spiritual leader in the Body of Christ we must continue in the care for our shut-ins and sick and in prison, however, we also must remember that our pastors cannot and should not be expected to do the full work of the church alone and if they are, something has gone wrong.

One of the claims of the ancient Roman Church is that Peter and Paul had two different styles of leadership, Paul believed in a plurality of leaders and Peter believed in one sole leader. I do not think scripture supports such a split, Peter’s letters and indeed his own life seem to revolve around a plurality of leaders and he acknowledges that churches have multiple under shepherds (1 Peter 5:1) it just is not the primary concern of his letter and so does not get the treatment it does within Pauline letters that deal with specific corrections to churches in specific situations. In Acts we see Peter and Paul operating within a plurality leadership structure, Elders, Overseers, Presbyters, Deacons. Again, Pastors are not excused from the care aspect of the ministry, but they should not be the only ones doing it and members should not expect pastors to do all of the visitations and all of the care.

We also have a problem in how we talk to and about pastors. That is, we would say something to a pastor that we would never say to someone else, we will make criticisms of spiritual leaders that we would not make to someone else. We hold pastors to an impossible standard of perfection and when they do not meet it, they are met with criticism and a disrespect normally only reserved for our political opponents on Facebook. If this seems like an overstatement, I have seen it and heard it firsthand in my own father’s life and have even experienced a little bit of it myself in my short ministry. I got called a “Disrespectful stupid kid” by an older member of my first church because we had a contemporary Sunday and all the Deacons and myself wore jeans and a Polo. We had even informed the church the previous two weeks and the man had plenty of time to prepare for the Sunday. Halfway through the second song the man grabbed his wife by the hand and stormed out. This kind of behavior is something we should expect to see at a pre-school, among kids who have never known any better or been taught any better. Not the behavior we should expect to see from men and women who have been Christians for 40+ years. Thom Rainer recalls the story of a young pastor who came across a woman praying in the sanctuary “against the new young pastor (him) who had brought Satan’s music into the church.” Pastors are regularly triangulated, that is, when someone says: “Someone told me” or “People are mad” when they do something that someone does not like. We get to be roast preacher by person who just shook our hands and thanked us for the sermon. This is although many of our church by-laws ban clandestine parking lot meetings and gossip. As a Pastor we have to forgive the people that hurt us, but we also need to pray for and exhort those who hurt us to be better, to grow to maturity in Christ so that they are producing the fruit of the Spirit, which, by the way, we need to produce too.

On a personal level, Paul instructs Timothy, his emissary to Ephesus, to make sure that he was taking care of himself (1 Tim 4). This is because Timothy is filling the role of an Apostle, setting back in order what the false teachers had torn asunder (1 Tim 1:5). Paul understood that unhealthy and immature leaders were the reason that the church at Ephesus was a mess and so he wanted his emissary to be healthy himself as a model of the life found in Christ. Timothy is to: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers and example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (4:12). Further, Timothy was to “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (4:16). Admittedly, when I taught Master Classes on 1st Timothy in 2013 and 2018 these were the hardest passages to teach on, they seem self-serving, but if pastors are going to teach the full council of scripture, we must teach our congregations to honor the full council, and that includes the passages about our health and responsibility. Our congregations do not need to just know how to relate to the world as Christians, they need to know how to relate to one another and we are included in that “one another.” Perhaps we need more sermons on Pastoral Health, not less, more sermons on 1st Timothy 4:11-16, not less. Timothy’s example was meant to bring a broken and unfaithful church back to saving faith in Christ, how can we do that if our congregations are allowed to treat us like we are sub human?

Now, not every church falls into this trap, there are pastor loving churches out there. One of the goals Rachel and I have in our current ministry is to turn the generosity shown to us back towards our town. We have also been blessed to have formed a friendship with two families our age and our older Church Family praises God for that. They are not perfect, we have had some bumps in the road as I learn how to communicate with a church again (interesting how seminary numbs those senses) and learn to slow down and smell the roses of small town church life. The biblical standard for all church leaders is high, overseers, elders and deacons, but the standard of Christianity (Jesus Christ himself) is so high the only way we can attain that standard is through Him. That is how it is supposed to be, how God meant it since He put Abraham to sleep on that mountainside and took the full weight of the covenant upon His own shoulders. We as pastors need to expect more from our congregational leaders and from our congregations and they need to similarly expect more from us. We have failed in our discipleship if we have a lot of Christians in our pews with a faith so fragile and conscious so weak they cannot do the work God has put before them and they disappear when things get tough.

But Church members, we need you as well. We need you to come and talk to us when you have a concern, that is one of the reasons we keep office hours. But also need you to pray through your words and handle the conversation in a manner that is healthy and mature, and which builds up and does not tear down. We need you to stop saying: “Someone said” or “People are talking” because those phrases are unhelpful and pull us into a relational triangle that is extremely unhealthy. We need you to step up and serve when asked, to be a part of the body of Christ and care for one another. Churches should not consist of one man or woman doing all the work, that is not the church, instead we are members one of another (1 Cor 14:12-26) and should be “devoted to one another in family love, honoring one another as better than ourselves” (Rom 12:10). We should also: “have the same mind as Christ who…humbled himself to death.” (Phil 2:5-11). We should be a community “Devoted to the teaching of the apostles, the breaking of bread and the prayers…having everything in common” (Acts 2:42-47). That includes Pastors, lay people and everyone else in between.

Finally, we need you to stand up for us among yourselves and stand up for our wives and kids. My wife has been shocked at how many pastors’ wives no longer believe because of either 1. the way their husbands have been treated and 2. Because their husband has neglected to “manage his own household well” (1 Tim 3:1-11) and the busyness of ministry (some pastors report working 80-90 hours a week). I know too many Pastors kids who have left the faith altogether because of how their parents were treated by church members. Their response is: “If the people in the pews are not going to live out scripture, then I want nothing to do with Christianity.” We are servants of you, but we are also servants of Christ. Servant, however, cannot mean dehumanized slave who bows to members every whim and gets yelled out for every misstep. We need to stop infantilizing each other, pastors to their congregations and congregations to pastors. To claim the grace of God all day while we treat others gracelessly is to not actually know the grace of God.

So, what do we do? First of all, when your pastor sets a life-flow schedule like the one I have, do not mock it, do everything you can to make sure he can make it work. Pastors set a life-flow schedule and make sure your church is aware of it. When I arrived here in Buffalo Center I set out what a normal week would look like. A typical week would start with visitations on Monday (do this, it helps you deal with the usual Monday depression) and then I am in the office Tuesday and Wednesday with a text study with area pastors on Tuesday mornings. I am off on Thursday, then I hold office hours Friday and Saturday morning. Then I get up early to pray on Sunday Mornings and open up the church and prepare for the service. During those office hours I am usually preparing my sermon. General wisdom says that if you preach a 25-minute sermon you should spent about 25 hours preparing for it. Tuesday morning is devoted to preparing the text in the Greek or Hebrew, the afternoon is devoted to further study, commentary work or extra biblical reading. Wednesday is more of the same, finishing any textual work that needs done. The afternoon is for preparing for a church meeting, if we have one that night and more sermon study. I am in the office from 8-5 and after 5, unless I have a meeting, I shut it all down and go spend time with my wife and daughter. This pattern and rhythm of life will give you about 45-50 hours a week worth of work that includes the time you spend praying for your congregation (an important part of your ministry). On weeks when you have funerals you will work a lot more hours and you may not get your day off and weeks you have meetings and hospitality expectations (my wife and I try to invite visitors over for coffee/tea and dessert or a meal when they attend church) add to this, but can be seen as times when your ministry and family intersect.

The bottom line, ministry should not be a death sentence. We should not be burning out pastors if we are living as the body of Christ, no one should be burned out, we should all have all our needs, physical, spiritual and emotional, met through Christ and through the Body of Christ. We are interdependent and need to live in this manner because it is the example scripture has given us. We should not have 10% retention rate for pastors, and we should not have 70% of our pastors fighting depression and 78% of our pastors battling severe loneliness. Nobody should have to suffer these things within the body of Christ, if they are, pastor or lay person, the body is suffering from it.

Pastors then, take care of yourselves, and congregations, take care of your pastors. You may find that by allowing them to care for themselves and by caring for them. They are in a much better position to care for and love each of you as the shepherd God has placed before you to lead you further into Christ.

I write this because we love you in Christ.