A Heart for Ministry…

Staff Relationships / People Relationships, especially in the context of ministry © 2001-2005 Rev. Stephen D. & Laurel A. Shields

Over and over again, you see a problem in churches: Pastors being asked to leave. In fact, the issue of forced exits is so real that many men and women who work with pastors spend much time studying the issue of forced exits. Have you seen a lot of them in Churches this past year? I know of young pastors who have been shown the door. I know of a pastor in his prime ministry years who was asked to leave. I know of a pastor three decades my senior who was asked to leave. That’s scary. How many people have left because of poor performance? Few.

The Bible speaks about the heart you need to have to get along with people. It gives us keys to having a successful ministry by examining the kind of heart we have. Let’s look at these keys together.

KEY: A Cooperative Heart
Are you a cooperator? Paul wanted people to agree, sometimes regardless of the details. Look at what he wrote:

Philippians 4:2-3 (NIV)
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Do you find it odd that Paul’s solution is not to come to an understanding of the truth? I find that a little surprising; but who can argue with Paul? His solution is to simply agree. Sometimes you need to agree to disagree. So you need to have a cooperative heart.

Here’s where it meets the road: There are times you have to respect the convictions of others. As a young pastor, I had a motorcycle. When I arrived at my first church, I realized most of the people in that small congregation had dirt bikes. So, we built fellowship around the motorcycles. I can remember many all-church dirt bike rides on Sunday afternoons. They were a joy. And they brought in some peripheral people. But one aging elder objected. He felt it was wrong to do that on the Lord’s Day. Man, I couldn’t have disagreed more. But he was an elder of seventy some years. I was not even ordained. So I agreed to stop having the bike rides on Sunday’s, despite the fact that Saturday rides worked for no one. Sometimes you have to respect the convictions of others.

There are times you have to leave your personal convictions at the door. When our youth leader wanted the teens to play sanctuary foosball one evening in the sanctuary, I took objection. I said, “Ugh!!! It’s the SANCTUARY!” Yet there were many other Alliance Churches that did things like this. So I let it go. Sometimes I have to check my preferences at the door.

I believe it is James Dobson who says that as a parent you need to choose your battlefields wisely. Are you going to have a fit about your daughter’s music, or are you going to focus instead on that new tattoo she wants to get? Make it your purpose to work to agree on the important things: The mission of your church and the things you value. Make it your purpose to have a cooperative heart.

KEY: A Loyal Heart
Loyalty does not mean blindly accepting a person’s leadership. There are times that loyalty to Christ requires we stop following leadership. For example, if you are youth pastor who catches his senior pastor in blatant sin, what would you do? Loyalty to Christ requires you speak to the leadership in the church about this impropriety.

Loyalty means: Steadfast in allegiance, as to one’s homeland. Faithfulness as to a person, ideal, cause, or duty.

I hate cats. There are lots of reasons I hate them, but the main reason is that, in my opinion, a cat hasn’t a loyal bone in its body. You never read stories about the cat who went into the burning barn and dragged its owner to safety. You never hear of the cat who spent the night with the child in the blizzard keeping him from freezing to death. A dog, on the other hand, is often portrayed as being extremely loyal. I want to be loyal in my relationships.

As someone who is loyal, each one of us needs to be aware that we are on the same team with the rest of the staff or volunteers in our congregations. Your commitment should be to make them successful. Your commitment is to support their ministry, both one on one and in front of others. Let’s think about how a loyal heart is tested and proven.

Imagine you are an assistant pastor, and a layman says to you, “Pastor, that was a great sermon. I think you put more time into your message than our senior pastor!” or “I think he spends his time in his study playing games online!” or “He hasn’t visited me in months!” How do you respond to those things? If someone said to me that I was a better preacher than my senior pastor, I would hope to do three things: First, realize that some people connect with some people better than others. Second, realize that the real challenge of preaching to the same people is connecting with them in fresh ways. It’s easy to shine periodically. It’s tough to shine week after week. And third, respond with: “Thanks, but there is a reason God has chosen him to be the Senior Pastor and me to be the Assistant!” Never have anything but praise for your peers on your lips.

If you haven’t noticed, we are no different than the people in our pews. We do spend too much time online or on the golf course or hunting. But advertising that about your peer to the people he is to serve demonstrates a lack of character on your part. The Pharisees did it to Jesus’ disciples.

Matthew 9:10-11 (NIV)
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and  ‘sinners’?”

Usually when someone does this it’s so that they can put themselves up at the expense of the other party.

Once when attending a seminary course with me, our Director of Youth Ministries, said that I was the best preacher she ever heard. Then, she thought about that and realized that’s impossible because she has heard many good preachers — far better than I. But I know why she said it — loyalty. And since she has gone, I repeatedly tell the congregation how hard it is to do the many things she did.

Decide today to act toward your staff people and your lay leaders with a loyal heart.

KEY: An Honest Heart
A USA Today poll found that only 56% of American teach honesty to their children. And a Louis Harris poll turned up the distressing fact that 65% of high school students would cheat on an important exam. Recently a noted physician appeared on a network news-and-talk show and proclaimed, “Lying is an important part of social life, and children who are unable to do it are children who may have developmental problems.” As troubling as that is, here’s what’s MORE troubling. I know of pastors who don’t always tell the truth. Pastors who don’t necessarily lie, but embellish their reports. Pastors who don’t necessarily lie, but conveniently forget. Here’s one: Have you ever said, I’ve been praying for your sister, Martha” when you forgot that Martha was even sick?

We need to be honest about a number of things that go against our grain. Be honest about your failings. Can you say these things? “I completely forgot about your sister being sick, Martha. Could you ever forgive me?” “I wanted to visit your sister, Martha, but I really felt like I needed some time with my children.” We need to say it.

Be honest about your abilities. Have you ever had someone ask you a question that you didn’t know the answer to? Maybe they wanted to know what hypo stasis meant. Someone recently asked me, “Do the Palestinians have a homeland?” Ugh! That’s not an easy question for me to answer. When you know the answer, tell it. When you’re not sure, admit it.

Be honest about your anger. I must say that one of the most common aliments for pastors today is this: ANGER. Recently, someone in my church assumed something about me that made me angry. I really let them have it, in front of the whole group. Afterward, I realized that I was wrong to react with such anger. I went to them — in front of the whole same group — and apologized. I asked them if they could forgive me.

You may wonder, why be honest? Because honesty makes you credible. When someone finds you dishonest in one area, they will not believe you in another. When they find you honest, they will trust you in what you want to teach them. And honesty makes you comfortable. If you live on a pedestal, you will almost certainly lose your balance. Honesty removes walls. When people seeing you being honest, they follow your example and real relationships can develop. Beyond this, God hates lying.

Revelation 21:8 (NIV)
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

I’m not suggesting that you will go to hell, but don’t miss the point — God hates lying.

KEY: A Teachable Heart
If I could go back 15 years to the start of my ministry, I would work hard to guard against the arrogance of youth. Youth has an arrogance that’s universal. I saw it in college. When a fellow student at Toccoa Falls visited churches who taught something he didn’t agree with, literally took off his shoes and shook them in a service. Wouldn’t that rattle your thought process as you were preaching — to see a college student waving his sandals in the air toward you? He was arrogant, thinking that because he had been to Bible College he knew more than others.

A teachable heart knows that even if you are smarter than your peers, you can still learn from them. I have seen it in my ministry. Some time ago, there was much conflict in our youth group. We were banging our heads against the wall, not knowing how to correct it. Then, our C.E. Coordinator — who had never been to Bible College — brought a mom’s wisdom to the scene: “I think they are spending too much time together.” She was right. You can learn philosophies, and facts, but there is no real substitute for the wisdom that comes with age. The only way to really learn about “getting along with people” is by practice. So find a mentor. Steal that wisdom from those who have it!

But what do we do with the question of criticism What do you do when you see crumbs left by the youth pastor in the fellowship hall? That must be corrected, because those who work in the kitchen will be bothered. When you must criticize someone make they know that your fundamental reason for doing so is to help them succeed. Sometimes we criticize for the wrong reason: because people don’t do things the way we do. A friend of mine was on a lay missions trip to Asia. One day he was cutting the grass and the missionary he was staying with came home and said, “Hey — when I cut the grass, I rake first, cut it, then rake again.” What’s up with THAT!? This is a big world with many ways to cut the grass. This is a big world with unlimited numbers of ways to do ministry. Don’t criticize just because someone does something differently than you. Don’t criticize for any reason except to make them succeed. If someone left a mess on the kitchen counter in the fellowship hall, I would probably say, “Hey — I wiped up the counter in the fellowship hall. You might want to save yourself some grief from the fellowship hall committee by making sure your group cleans up after themselves.” If I don’t do that, the Fellowship Hall Committee could be so angry they would take it to the Board. I never want that to happen.

When you are criticized, make sure you accept it graciously, as correction. Criticism is hard to take. I hate it. But if you can take it graciously, you look great. Often, I have wanted to smack the person criticizing me, but I have learned two good responses: Smile and agree to consider what they are saying, “Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll give it some thought.” Then, examine yourself before God — is it just? “God, is that true? Am I like that? Do I do that? Help me see through YOUR eyes.” Don’t go home and kick the dog. Talk to God about it. Talk to another trusted friend. Talk to your mentor. Then, based on what God shows you, respond privately, making any corrections he leads you to make.

KEY: A Willing Heart
Be willing to take responsibility. Just after 9-11, President Bush was being compared to President Harry Truman. I like that, because, despite his abuse of the English language, Truman is one of my heroes for one reason: President Truman is reported to have had a sign on his desk that said, “The Buck Stops Here.” That’s the way it is with pastors. You can never gain respect by shifting blame. Ben Rothlesberger has learned that well. He doesn’t blame other players. He takes the blame himself. What a contrast to other teams who blame everyone they can think of, from the referees to the fans. Dodging responsibility will make you lose respect. But you will gain respect by accepting responsibility — even if it doesn’t rightly belong with you.

Here’s a related concept: Never establish blame. Some of the most powerful words you can say is “It was my fault.” and “You’re right — that should never have happened. But if we have to blame someone, blame me so we can move forward.”

Having a willing heart means carrying your own knapsack.

Galatians 6:2-5 (NIV)
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

Do you notice an apparent conflict in those verses? There are two kinds of things we carry. The first is are called burdens — which should be shared. These things are like boulders that can crush individuals. A double funeral is a boulder. I would need help with that. The second kind are loads — which should be carried personally. These are knapsacks. My Sunday sermon is my knapsack. I better not be looking for someone to help me with that consistently.

These verses tell me I need to be willing to carry my own knapsack. And they warn me: do not pick up the knapsacks of others. And they exhort me to be willing to carry others’ boulders. And they counsel me not to try to carry my boulder alone. That’s part of a willing heart.

Having a willing heart means being willing to say “I am sorry.” When you say you’re sorry, you need to be willing to accept the consequences. I used to say to my wife, “I said I was sorry. You HAVE to forgive me.” That’s a stupid thing to say. And it’s not real. Being sorry means being aware that you deserve no forgiveness. So you humbly say, “I am sorry — will you please forgive me?” or “I am sorry. I was wrong.”

Having a willing heart means being willing to go the extra mile in things like expressing appreciation both privately and publicly. It means doing what you’re asked in a timely fashion. (This isn’t really an extra mile, but these days, it’s seen as extra.)

I am not that talented a guy. I am not an outstanding preacher. I am not a great administrator. I am an average speaker. I am a less-than-exceptional visitor. But I think I have a heart for Ministry. It’s funny, these inabilities I see in myself have made me feel that I wouldn’t last long in ministry. In fact, when I was in my first pastorate, I wanted to have business cards printed, but I figured I wouldn’t be there long enough to use a whole box of cards. Others who met me felt the same. Recently someone told me that when he heard I went to that church, he thought, “They will chew him up and spit him out!” However, I say in humility, that didn’t happen. They helped me grow and in the process they grew too — personally and numerically. It was not until ten years later that I left that church, and that because of a call elsewhere.

I have asked myself many times, “What gives a person staying power like that?” And I believe, with all I am, that it’s a matter of the heart and not one of skill. Not that you don’t have to do a good job. I do my very best. I push as hard as I can. But the key to getting along with people is always a matter of the heart.


All original material © 2001-2005 Stephen D. and Laurel A. Shields