J.S. Park

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Question: My Pastor Doesn’t Preach Deep Enough

jspark3000:

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Anonymous asked (edited for length):

I know you lovingly and jokingly ‘hate’ on reformed churches. I spent half my life in a reformed Church, but after moving states, I’ve been called to a somewhat more ‘neutral’ denomination … But I miss the deep theology and resonance of a ‘reformed’ sermon. The sermons in my current Church lack luster … I love my current Church but I do miss my ‘reformed sermons’. A lot of young people in our Church are complaining that they are not growing / the sermons are not deep enough … What I’m trying to grapple with for myself is what really is at the heart of a reformed sermon? … Are ‘reformed’ sermons really scripturally deeper? …  I’m trying to get to the heart of this myself so I can be more satisfied with the spiritual feeding my current Church is offering. I am supplementing all this with Piper/Keller/Driscoll sermons online, but I miss being excited about the sermon on Sundays.

 

Dear friend, thank you so much for asking this.  Many of us love our churches but feel off about the Sunday sermons, and this is a much more common issue than you think. 

I edited a lot of your original question, but you were very fair about your pastor and I appreciate your gracious tone. There are too many people who are overly harsh on this sort of thing, and you’re not one of them.  I know it’s also a sensitive issue because you want to respect your leadership while also challenging them to a deeper level. But really there are a few simple adjustments you can make when you’re “not being fed.” 

About Reformed Calvinism: secretly, I am indeed a Reformed Calvinist but I no longer self-identify as one. I do like to poke fun at us because I think we need to lighten up and no one really calls us out, but as far as the theology goes, I’m all there.  I also very much love my Reformed brothers and sisters, even when they’re not always fun to hang out with (hah).

If you feel you’re not being fed on Sundays, please don’t leave the church yet.  Here are some things to consider.

 

1) You are a multi-faceted person that prefers growth in certain areas which your pastor might be missing.

Every person’s learning ability is made of at least four sides: intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual.  We all lean towards one, and so does your pastor.  If the sermon does not hit on your preferred learning style, then it will be extra difficult to grow — but you can still grow.

To break it down further:

- Intellectual: The mind. An increased knowledge and understanding of particular topics, especially systematic theology and grammatical-historical facts.

- Emotional: The heart. Being inspired, moved, convicted, and encouraged.

- Psychological: The will. The inner-workings of our motives, actions, behaviors, end goals, culture, and afflictions.

- Spiritual: The soul. A focus on spiritual gifts, abilities, Kingdom-thinking, evangelism, missions, spiritual disciplines, and other Christianese topics.

 

For some churchgoers, they confuse “bad preaching” with mismatched learning styles.  A pastor who is highly emotional will hardly ever reach an intellectual person, and vice versa.  Very rarely do you find a preacher who is the whole package, and even then, they will still tend towards one or two of these directions. 

For this season of your life, you might want to consider adjusting your learning style.  If your pastor is a blasphemous heretic, then of course you should leave — but if not, then it’s time to stretch yourself.

My first pastor was a very emotional/spiritual preacher, when I am more intellectual/psychological.  But I dearly loved my pastor, and eventually, I found that I really did need emotional and spiritual encouragement because these were weak areas in my life.  I had to stop looking down on my pastor’s sermons as if they were shallow or incomplete.  In the end, this made me a much more rounded individual who could better understand different kinds of personalities.  It will round you out too, if you let it.  These days, I even preach a lot more like my first pastor and it’s helped me to reach others I never could have on my own.

On top of that, when you mentioned that you compensate by listening to Reformed podcasts like Piper/Keller/Driscoll, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this.  We are blessed to have so many free resources, and you should never feel like you’re “cheating” on your pastor if you grow from other sermons.  I also supplement, and a truly gracious pastor would be thrilled to hear that you’re listening to sermons throughout the week.

On the other hand, I would try to be very aware of your own learning style and then accommodate yourself to your pastor’s teaching.  Unless he’s just a horrible preacher, he will say something that’s worthwhile and God-honoring, and we would be wise not to let our biased styles get in the way of God’s work.  Embrace it and be open to other ways that God will speak to you.

 

2) Build on your pastor’s weaknesses.

One time I heard my first pastor preach a much more exegetical sermon than I’ve heard from him, and it was awesome.  It reached my nerdy intellectualism.  So after the service, I told my pastor how great it was to hear him do exegesis on a passage.  It was a sincere compliment that I didn’t really think much of.

For the next few months, my pastor went on an exegetical trip and it was some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.  Since my pastor was already such an emotional preacher, he didn’t leave behind the emotional people in the church either.  I was so fired up.  And it was all because of one specific comment towards my pastor.

The best thing you can do here is to find openings on helping your pastor improve.  Pastors love vision.  They love seeking ways forward.  If you only deconstruct what they’re NOT doing, they will never know what you really need.  But if you can tell them, “I would love more of what you just did there,” they will embrace that all the way.

 

3) Encourage your pastor, because he’s a human being like anyone else.

See: Most pastors on Sundays fall into pride or over-sensitivity, so that if you criticize them, you will get nowhere.  Pastors are constantly on edge about their own performance, and if we approach them in a confrontational way, they will always take it personally.  They’ll either be extremely angry or ridiculously hard on themselves. 

It sounds like a game or something, and maybe sometimes it is.  But let’s take a little extra effort to show grace to our pastors and let them know when they’ve done well.  Almost all they hear is how bad they’re doing.  This wouldn’t help you, either.

You might think pastors should be “above this,” but we easily forget that pastors have all the same fears and anxieties and hopes as you do, and they need encouragement like all of us.  On Sunday nights when you’re relaxing with your family, the pastor is beating himself up over all the mistakes he made.  I’m not trying to pull fake pity here, but so often we show grace for other people that we would never show to the pastor.

Pray for them, keep an open dialogue, encourage them after sermons on a particular point you liked, and be willing to share your issues so he knows what you’re going through.  Your pastor, if he is a godly man, really does desperately care for you, and he will build himself in his lacking areas when he knows what to build.

— J.S.

The Pastor’s Calling: How It Really Is, Not How You Want It To Be

thistreasureinjarsofclay asked:

Is it really improbable for someone to “like” or “want” to be a pastor? I just think that there really are people who understand what it means to be one and are really filled with passion to preach Christ, with compassion for the lost and with care for the flock, that they really “like” or “want” it whatever might be the cost.

 

Hey there my friend. I think you’re referring to some of the tough things I said about seminary and a pastor’s calling.

I believe it’s not improbable to just “like” or “want” to be a pastor, but it’s certainly unlikely.

Please hear me saying this in all love and grace for you.  I know it will sound like such a downer, and when I talk to young dudes who want to be pastors, this is always the hard part.  I feel like the harbinger of bad news or the crusher of dreams.  I end up saying “No you’re not ready” a lot of the time, and usually the response is, “You’re just a hater, you don’t know me man, God’s gonna use me.” 

I’ve hurt a lot of fragile egos who weren’t willing to undergo the honesty of self-examination.  I get cussed out or cut off, and that’s okay.  By now, I’m jaded by those sort of things.  There’s a lot of triumphalistic tribal language about victory and haters and trolls, but really: I’m trying to give an honest accurate view of what pastoral ministry is really like.  If I don’t do that, then I wouldn’t be a good friend.  And even if that person “thinks” they understand what it’s like to be a pastor, they don’t.  Seriously.  I’m being nice here.  You can’t possibly know what it’s like until you’re there, day to day, in the trenches of real people bleeding your life away to serve.

Simply: Ministry is downright impossible except for the anointing of God.  There’s no way to simply “like” your way into ministry.  The life of a pastor is extremely difficult, and if it’s not, you’re probably doing it wrong.  I will never ever sugarcoat this or water it down to spare your feelings.  It’s why doctors will tell you that med school isn’t for kicks and cred: they want you to man up and be ready.  If you’re called, awesome.  If not, wait.

I do see what you’re saying.  There should be joy in ministry.  Of course it helps to like what you do.  Pastors must certainly “like” the church, even and especially when it’s difficult.  But if that’s the sole motivation, it will never last. 

I hate to be the jerk that says all that.  It’s just that I’ve seen so many distracted half-focused jokesters in the pulpit that I realize: no one ever told them the true meaning of being a pastor.  They don’t realize they have the lives of entire families in their hands who want healing and guidance and truth and a true picture of God.  It’s like some of these dudes went to youth camp once and thought it would be fun and easy and so they sign up for seminary to have a “one day per week” job.  And that’s not even close to how it really is.

 

Let’s consider how a pastor is sustained to do ministry for fifty years.  He is called by God.  That’s it.  That’s the only thing keeping him going through the worst seasons.  The church culture can be extremely brutal, punishing, and unforgiving to pastors.  The pastor is under a constant microscope of scrutiny, and to some extent, he should be.  To stay under that crossfire takes a certain kind of thick skin, one that isn’t based on your performance or cute photos or applause or approval rating.

Let’s put it another way.  I want my future kids to attend a church where their pastor will safely, graciously, gently lead them towards Christ.  Not perfectly, but passionately.  I would be trusting my kids to the guidance of someone who is divinely appointed by God Himself. 

But you’ve seen all the horrible abuses of the church.  Like the youth pastor who raped a bunch of girls for several years.  Or the youth pastor who had sex with every girl in his youth group.  Or the pastors who molest the boys in their Sunday School.  Or all these pastors suddenly murdering their wives.  Those are extreme cases.  Yet even in the less extreme ones, I don’t want some pastor who just “decided” to be a pastor.  I’ve heard too many horror stories about pastors who didn’t get the accountability and gut-check they needed.  Going into ministry is not some flippant fun decision to be a preacher and a buddy to your church.  A pastor has to be absolutely willing to give away their lives as Christ died for us.  Pastors always give more than they will ever get.  Without that, they’re really just hurting the church.  Any pastor who’s in it for self-glory or validation or just to fool around will never be near my children.

I’ll put it another way.  If you want to get married or own a business or have kids because it looks “fun” or “I just want to,” then think of how much you’re actually hurting all those things.  You’ll be dragging in all kinds of people to invest into your concepts of family and business, but all the while it’s been about your feelings and gratifying your own desires.  This is why deadbeat dads run out on their families: because suddenly it didn’t cater to their false idea of family. 

 

I know I’m simplifying what you said, and that’s probably not your motivation, and I’m making a lot of presumptions here.  But so long as you do not correctly estimate the sweat and blood and tears of where you’re headed, the lack of seriousness will deplete the life of everyone involved.  Then when you no longer “like it” or “want it,” you’ll mentally check out or you’ll run off, and do more damage.

So it’s my job as a pastor, as a Christian, and as a friend to keep it real about ministry.  Whenever I plant a church one day, I will never hire the people who only “like ministry.”  They better at least like ministry, but I’m looking for the calling.  I won’t care if they’re good at preaching or have good church methodology for evangelism or can run programs.  That’s like caring about someone’s abs to babysit my kids.  I only care if they’re ready to die for these people.  

I’m sorry if that bothers you.  I don’t mean to be rude and I especially don’t want to confuse you if you’re truly called.  I just hope you’ll actually circumvent any anger you have at me to spend that on looking at yourself instead.  If you want to be mad, then by all means, please cuss me out or call me wrong or say I’m a troll.  I just sincerely want the best for the church and for future pastors.  I love you (and the church) too much not to tell you what you’re in for.  And if you’re called, you’ll have to examine yourself even more, and not less.

— J.S.

Hello Pastor Park! I was reading one of the questions that you answered on how to become a pastor. I remember you saying that you have to feel a burning passion for God and the people I have been feeling this burning passion to go to seminary. I would really like to be able to minister to women and maybe even do christian counseling. I just have a strong desire to serve God and hep people in whatever it is that I do. Can you offer your opinion or any helpful advice?

Hey my friend, it’s very much a blessing to be called into ministry: and it’s also so much more insanely difficult than I could prepare you for.  I encourage you to check out my tag for seminary.

I don’t mean to scare you at all, because certainly we need more willing believers to enter into ministry.  But please research as much as you can, get many different opinions, and have as much encouragement and strengthening as possible.  Get some real talk with pastors and mentors.  As best you can, try to dispel any illusions or false ideas about ministry by really knowing all you can before heading in. 

Ministry is like nothing else.  It has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  You are literally living with people through their pinnacle moments.  You’ll be there for graduations and weddings and births and baptisms and hospital visits and prison visits and funerals.  You have no off days.  You see a person at their best and their worst.  That’s really an honor, and sometimes a burden.  You have to love people, no matter what, and that’s much less romantic than it sounds.  It can also be totally wonderful.

I will throw you a prayer.  The best thing for now is to be prepared.  Much love and blessing to you on this journey.

— J

Jul 9

Pulpit Confessions.

At times I feel like the preacher in the pulpit is telling me all his hero-stories, and he seems to be his own marketing guy saying “This is what Jesus does, so do what I’m doing and you’ll make it.”

But I always lean in when the pastor tells me about his failures.  When he’s really for real.  That time he blew up on someone in traffic.  When he really lost it with his wife and kids.  When he quietly refused to help a homeless guy.  His sudden shopping spree.  Those seasons when he stopped praying and reading the Bible because he was so jaded and burnt out.  When he shares his frustrations with the church culture, not in a mean way that points out any one person, but really grieving over our collective lack of passion.  The times when he doubted himself, when he doubted God.

I don’t want the act.  I’d love it for a pastor to just straight up rip the mic and tell us how much he’s hurting right now and how much he still trusts Jesus to get him through all this and even tell us he’s barely holding on by a thread of his beat-up faith.  Hero-stories are okay, but I want to know we’re in this fight together.

I can realize then that the pastor is a human being, and it makes me a little more human too, and this points to our need for Jesus and for grace.  I want to meet inside our mess-ups, because God is there.  With Him, we’ll make it.

— J

Many pastors find themselves in a brutal, punishing culture where they only hear from their church members if something went wrong. It’s like all those imbalanced reviews on Yelp where the restaurant was “awful, bad lighting, waiter a moron.” It’s our human nature to write a negative review; not so much a positive one.

Sometimes, your pastor gets it right. A single sentence in his sermon spoke to you. That prayer he prayed over you flipped a switch. That outreach event, while not perfectly coordinated, stirred your heart with affections you never knew. Some blog post he wrote really hit the nail on the head. Simple: just let him know about that. Brag about your pastor to your pastor.

- J.S. from this post, about encouraging your pastor

Apr 6

Life Is Interruption.

Today I totally bombed the sermon at my church.

I had prepared like crazy: but we just moved buildings today, so we had no sound system, the AC broke, the noise outside was horrible, and my thoughts weren’t gelling together.

I knew that mostly everyone was checking out (except a wonderful group of ladies who sit up front and always take notes).  It was so discouraging.  The environment was affecting me pretty badly too, and the sermon just failed to find a rhythm.  So when the whole thing became unbearable, I cut the sermon short by ending with a metaphor and a story.  For a second everyone listened, and they seemed grateful I had enough sense to end early.  At the very least I was able to land the plane.

I discovered I get easily irritated when “my plans” get foiled by an unexpected turn of events. And really, most of our well-laid plans will get interrupted by inconveniences.  Nothing unfolds the way we picture it in our head.  There’s no ideal room or perfectly isolated space where perfect magic can happen. 

It’s during these escalated frustrating times that we need to think on our feet and be flexible enough to serve the reality of the room.  That meant that I had to pay more attention to the people around me instead of just mindlessly marching with my agenda.  It meant I wouldn’t get to unroll everything I had prepared; it meant all my careful research and prayer and prep was getting shafted; it meant that I couldn’t function at my best.  I could only make the best out of a bad situation.

But that’s okay.  I think these moments are necessary to humble us towards the needs of others, to be sensitive to what’s happening.  I don’t think we need to get everything right in a day.  I think I needed to learn how to serve others in an icky, sweaty, gritty sort of setting, because life is not like the movies where the temperature is always perfect and our speech is so impeccable and the day wraps up with a pretty bowtie.  Life is awkward and amusing and raw, and it’s okay to laugh about that.  We can meet each other there.  And of course, there’s always next week.

— J

Some of us have Friday night services. It can get a little hectic and rushed at night. A few reminders.

1) Your pastor is not just a leader, but a fellow brother in Christ. He might have had a long day of juggling his own life with the sermon and with planning for today. If his sermon is a little off or incomplete, show him some grace and encourage him.

2) It always takes a lot of work for services to happen. A lot of people volunteer their time and energy for it to take off; it doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s easy to criticize, but it’s better to pray for all the people who are trying to make this work.

3) On Fridays you’ll sometimes get visitors who know nothing about church. Remember them and don’t condescend with flowery Christianese language. Please don’t despite them if they do something “un-Christian” — even that idea is antithetical to the Gospel.

4) Ask how you can help the service. Serve.

5) Please don’t expect perfection. Only God is perfect. Expect Him.

— J

100, 99, and 1

I’m sorry, but angry post.

"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?" — Luke 15:4

I don’t meet many pastors or Christians who believe this anymore.  We tend to accept those who appear more mature or are “willing to learn” or “have potential” — but we neglect the difficult cases.  We abandon those who somehow don’t fall in line with our church methodology.  We exert our efforts into the easy cases because they’ve met our ego-imposed standards, but we reject those who would “waste my time.”

This is a horrific, unbiblical, worldly legalism that has shackled prerequisites on the same people that Jesus died for.  I don’t remember Jesus setting these sort of absurd checklists to make someone a “worthwhile” disciple.

We think it’s a success in ministry to have all these guys who go to seminary or sign up for a six-week discipleship course or serve on the praise team: and I praise God when that happens.  But God forbid we also visit prisons, help the homeless, love on addicts, or do anything outside the church that doesn’t serve itself.  God forbid we are open to the sincerely struggling and those curious of faith or those who have been burnt by the world and its performance-driven paranoia.  God forbid we are loving to those who have nothing to offer back to the church.

I really want to ask some of these pastors and leaders: What are you actually doing for the Kingdom?  Are you self-reflexively isolating your territory with “worthy” people who are yes-men to your ideology?  Do you only collect churchgoers to perpetuate your programs inside the four walls of your building?  Are you burdening your people with more classes and more sign-ups and more activities?  Where is all this going?  What are you doing with all that time?  Have you even helped one individual your entire life?  Why is the church making people more anxious and more exhausted and more frustrated?  I don’t think this is what Jesus died for.  He died to take burdens off, not add burdens on.  

Recently, a famous pastor of a megachurch and bestselling Christian author called a meeting of his congregation and said, “Anyone who is serving on a team, you can stay.  Anyone who isn’t serving here, there’s the door.”  I don’t understand this.  It’s freaking infuriating.  This is why the church hurts people: because we’ve become an assembly line of jumping through dogmatic hoops.  The “pastors” are power-brokers who have abused God’s authority for their own grandeur.  I’ve always imagined the church as a beacon of healing in a bleak world, but we’ve assimilated the cultural ethos of American Idol into our sanctuaries.  Imagine I tell you, “If you’re healthy enough, you can enter my hospital.”  

If you do this to your people, then call yourself an employer or CEO or a college or a TV show or a critic, but please don’t freaking call yourself a Christian.  We oppose God when this happens: and it’s not okay.  

The church is certainly a sanctuary for the sacred: but it’s also a safe haven for sinners.  It’s a hospital, and we do not refuse the sick.

Of course there is wisdom in using your time wisely.  Pastors are only individuals who have limited resources and ability.  But if you’re a leader in the church, then each person who walks through the door is not some commodity project: but a human being.  They’re worth a portion of your time because they exist.

I can’t say I’m always good at this.  I fail often as a pastor and as a human being.  I have neglected others to my own shame.  In my imperfect writing skill, I’ve probably wrongly added burdens in this post too.  And I’m a small-time guy with just another critical voice in a sea of criticism.  But I grieve for our Christian communities to be like Jesus.  I pray we have a heart for the one when he leaves the 99.  I hope we are not categorizing people into worthy and unworthy: because if this were true, none of us could stand in the grace of God.  But that’s why it’s grace.  It’s for people like you and me and not for who we deem worthy.  

— J

Remember The Uninitiated.

In Sunday services, it can be easy to assume everyone is on board with the Bible, with God, with the music, with their faith — but even the most smiley, firm-handshaking, eloquently-praying, every-Sunday churchgoer could be drowning in a sea of doubt and questions. All the assumptions are only making it worse.

We often design our sermons and services with the faithful believer in mind. “Have you shared Jesus with anyone this week? Have you kept accountability? Have you confessed your sin and asked for forgiveness? Are you serving genuinely with your whole heart?”

These are important things: but the uninitiated won’t really care about them. I’m talking about that guy in the back row with arms crossed and foot tapping. That single mother with four kids who doesn’t think God sees her. The high schooler who’s ready to cut until it’s over. They’re unconcerned with Christian technique and instead: waiting to hear about a Savior.

While some of us are “convicted” by these terms, others will have no context for them and will only feel more distance. Some are just barely hanging on to believe God is real at all, and others still are resistant to anything remotely religious. And we forget about them.

I think knowing the vocabulary is even a disadvantage: because we get jaded to the same verbiage every Sunday. We can get self-righteous with all the insider buzz words because we check that list like a pro — but we can hardly admit we feel further from God every week.

I hope our churches are designed for both the strong and the weak, for the faithful and the curious, for the prodigal and the wanderer, for the robust and the rebel. I hope we use a language that invites everyone without compromising doctrine. I hope we define our terms like sin and wrath and Spirit every single Sunday, because even the veterans need a light on their basement of faith.

We could meet each other at ground level with the grace that Jesus offers. This is a harder way, with no lazy shortcuts and shorthand, but with gritty raw honesty: the same that Jesus had. To desperately strive for the ideal every week will only remind us how much we’ve failed, but to remind each other of Christ tells us there’s a hope beyond our striving.

It’s only Jesus who meets us exactly where we are. He assumes you don’t have it all together: and he offers grace for that very reason. The church is called to do likewise, as a safe haven for saints and a hospital for sinners. I pray we make room for both.

— J

Church Things We Say: “Man-Centered Theology”

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Whenever someone in church says “man-centered,” I’m pretty sure I know what this means: that the whole spiritual walk needs to be uber-focused on the face-melting glory of God or else we’re totally sugarcoating the wrathful explosive fury of our precious doctrine. 

There’s this urgency we need to go back to our roots like Acts 2 and keep it straight Table-Flipping Jesus and there’s no room for feel-good therapeutic advice here, because that would be selfishly consumeristic and you-centered.  “God is for Himself and not for you, you know.” 

I think I understand all that.  Man-centered bad, God-centered good.

I’m just wondering if even God sees it this way.  I’m wondering if He makes this sharp distinction between His glory and your problems: because I seem to remember God wore a coat of flesh and became one of us and got right in the middle of our mess.  The Gospel seems to be saying that it was His Glory to take on our shame and He was exalted by humbling Himself among us. 

 

It seems that God Himself would say He was both man-centered and Him-centered, because God became man and took on the worst of us.

I know that the institutional church culture has catered to people by entertaining them; I know there’s a pervasive smog of people-pleasing in our Sunday services; we’re all tempted to hear cute three-point bowtie sermons that teach us how to have better finances and nicer kids.  I do not believe in a self-help theology. 

But God is a God of help.  He gives grace in our time of need.  He lifts up the downcast and strengthens weak knees.  He entered into humanity to reverse the curse of sin. 

The Bible is also not disconnected from our daily struggles and concerns.  Scripture makes clear that life is about Him, but there’s plenty of wisdom there for us too.  I hope our pastors have a Bible in one hand and their church’s hurts in the other, because these things cannot be separated.

 

God will even make much of us so that He will make much of Him.  When David took out Goliath, he said it was so that “All those gathered here will know it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.

God won that day: but God was pleased to give the victory over to David because He knew David would center it on Him.

David and Ruth and Paul and Mary were certainly celebrated: but they maintained a mirror-status to reflect the one who mattered most. 

I think we need to relax about a lot of this stuff.  A theology that helps you is not a terrible thing.  I don’t think Christian theology would draw a jagged line between “man-centered” and “God-centered,” but really just sets the priority. God will do amazing things through us for His Glory, but we get to enjoy them.  We don’t get to boast in those things, but we get to enjoy boasting in the God who does them.  And God does care about every nuance and detail and worry of your life, so that His glory informs all those daily decisions.  

The Glory of God is not above your everyday worries.  It is, instead, in them, working through them, pointing to Him.

— J.S.

 

"It’s a glorious thing to be enabled by the atonement by the blood of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to be freed from self and make much of God as your supreme joy in life. And it’s a glorious thing to delight in being made much of by God. Everything hangs on their ordering. Their ranking. Their being the bottom or not. That’s what I’m after.

"… God, everywhere in the Bible, loves us in such a way as to make clear his design in loving us is that he would be made much of. His design in making much of us is to make clear that his goal is that he be made much of."

— John Piper

It’s still amazing to me when people take notes while I’m preaching.

I mean I can hardly believe it.  Who am I?  A nobody.  A messenger.  A mirror.  Pointing to Him. 

To see people take such detailed notes: I feel so inadequate and so humbled.  It nearly wrecks me to tears, when I really think about it.

Oh, that I would not mislead, but only point to His grace and glory.

— J

Jan 8

Why I Don't Ever Want to Preach a Good Sermon by J.S. Park

I was published on Sermon Central!

An encouragement to pastors and Christian leaders: it’s not all about the sermon.

The original post is here.

Be blessed and love y’all!

— J

Jan 4

I'm on the route of full time ministry (but not becoming a pastor) and it's been a journey of trusting & learning process (still is) of what it means to take up my cross & follow Him. One thing people have told me is that ministry is the loneliest things someone can do. So, based off that, how have you experienced loneliness during your journey towards becoming a pastor? Thank you so much and God bless you! May He give you strength & pour into you so that you'll be able to pour into others!

Anonymous

Hey my friend, thank you for this question.

There are really two kinds of loneliness that every pastor and every Christian servant will feel.

1) The loneliness of following Jesus in the church.

2) The loneliness of following Jesus in the world.

If you’re a pastor or Christian servant who is never lonely in the church: you’re probably too comfortable and complacent.

If you’re a pastor or Christian servant who is never lonely in the world: you’re probably too comfortable and complacent.

For example: When I gave away half my salary in 2012 to fight human trafficking, I got the most backlash from fellow Christians.  Almost my entire church at the time looked at me like an alien.  I thought maybe it would inspire a few people to follow harder after God: but it did not.  Most of them called me a show-off or thought it was a waste of time.  I was totally alone.  Not a single person in my church really commended me or cared.  I wasn’t doing it for that, but I’m still saddened by how much I repelled other brothers and sisters in the church.

Most pastors also live in a brutally punishing culture in which you’re expected to perform at a maximum output all the time.  Pastors are often seen as Pope-like beings instead of brothers in Christ, so they’re very rarely encouraged by others.  It’s easy to think a pastor has it all together, when we forget that pastors are still learning and still trying to follow Jesus like everyone else in the church.

But I need to say: Pastors are expected to be lonely sometimes.  It’s part of our calling.  So while I sound like I’m tooting my own horn, I also know that loneliness is part of the package.  I don’t expect pity or false sympathy. 

Every pastor and Christian servant has been appointed by God to fully give their lives over for His mission: so of course, there will be lonely days when no one understands us, when we enter hostile places, when we are misunderstood by our church members.  Jesus told us it wouldn’t be easy to follow him in this world.  But he also told us it would be worth it: and I’m privileged to be adopted into his Kingdom.  I am never truly alone.

— J

I would like to become a pastor. How do I get there, would you say? :)

Anonymous

Hey my dear friend: I say this with all grace and respect for you, but I’m not entirely sure this is the correct question. I know you asked this without bad intentions, but I just want to gently push back for a moment so you know what you’re getting into.

I don’t know any pastor who began with “I would like to become a pastor.” When someone tells me this face to face, I tell them they have no clue yet and they should really consider something else. Being a pastor is not a job you apply for: it’s your whole life.

I’ve had to shoot down several young men who felt like being a pastor would be cool or interesting or a unique career or a one-day-per-week job — and as mad as they got at me, they did end up realizing they were just in it for themselves.

Being a pastor means you’re giving up your entire life for people. You will never ever get back what you give until glory. You will probably die poor or hated or early. You get the tougher judgment (James 3:1). Hours of hard work can result in very little fruit for years. Ministry will bring heartbreak nearly every day.

I’m saying this the same reason doctors want med students to man up: because the pastoral call is not built on a whimsy. It’s a crazy hard life. Please know I’m not judging you or your motives. I’m trying to love on you by saying how hard it is right upfront, and if you think this is a downer or “speaking death,” then you’re still too sensitive in all the wrong ways for ministry.

God also appoints pastors. You’ll almost feel like it’s an interruption or an unwanted pull. This isn’t true for all pastors: but mostly you’ll have a burden for people and for God’s kingdom on earth. You’ll have a burning for God more than you care about your own name, recognition, church size, book deal, or blog. You’ll point to His glory, not yours. You won’t be scared of people. You won’t entertain in your sermons to get validation for your skill.

So before you think about the “how,” which is just as easy as serving a church and applying for seminary, please consider the “why.” Pray very hard through this. Ask others what they think of you and let them dig in. Listen. You’ll get both an internal and external confirmation.

If enough people look at your life and say “No,” then please don’t take that as people “holding you down.” They’re trying to help you and help those future church members that you might abuse for your own glory. Or they’re saying to wait a bit until God actually calls you into those deep waters. It’s okay to wait.

Having said that: The confirmed call to ministry is a beautiful thing. The joy I get to experience being interwoven with other broken lives is just incredible. It took me about two years of ministry to really understand what I was doing (and I’m still learning), and I’ve found it’s ultimately about living with others in their journey towards God. It’s a messy organic journey that breathes and breaks, and it will usually be ugly and dirty. But there’s nothing like the glory of seeing another person’s eyes light up and the Spirit breathe new life into them. Nothing like seeing dead bones get up and dance.

That’s only if you can endure the many nights of loneliness and rejection. God appoints certain people to do that, and you could be one of them: so I am only telling you what I wish others had told me before seminary. Pray hard, my friend.

— J

The Language of the Enemy and the Infidel: How Religious Language Will Eventually Kill You

There’s a certain vocabulary in churches when good old church folk talk about the “enemy,” and how the “oppressors” and “injustice” and “persecution” are against us on all sides.

I worry about this sort of military mindset in churches because we’re cherry-picking Bible verses to find more reasons to alienate others and perpetuate a xenophobic cycle of the foreign stranger. 

This is a culture of nationalistic fear.  It is a triumphalist self-affirming theology.

And man does it feel wonderful.  It appeals to the most reptilian black-and-white part of our flesh-driven nature.  It requires no work except to label all critics and haters and naysayers as “them.”

 

When the Psalms talk about “smiting the enemy” or “justice against the oppressors,” they were not talking about your boss at work or that one girl you can’t stand.  They were talking about actual invading armies that would pillage, murder, and destroy whole families.  They were venting about the futility of ever finding peace. They were talking about the unresolved tension between a broken hostile world and the God who would deliver them from their earthly distress. 

Unless there is smoke rising from the debris of your burning house or you’re forced to eat your dead children, you don’t get to use the angry language of the Psalms.

 

I meet many Christians who are not only absorbed in this language of the infidel, but overwhelmingly infatuated with it.  It’s intoxicating to think you’re invincible, to claim that God is on “my side.”  Disagreement is called the “enemy.”  Everyone is a hater and we only like yes-men and we can’t be told we’re wrong.

We try to pass off the enemy as, “Oh I just mean Satan,” but we always have some person in mind.  We’re not really talking about spiritual warfare.  We’re just hijacking the Christianese vocab to cover our real feelings of jealousy, insecurity, and bitterness.

I’ve heard pastors say the “enemy” about their own congregation, or about that church down the street.  I hear bloggers throw around “enemy” like the world is against them when they (freely) express their opinions.  I hear this used in conversations about Chick Fil A, gay marriage, the government, and the President. I’m sure I’ve even done it here in this blog post, despite my hurting heart to quit dividing.

It’s an atrocious abuse of vocabulary, like when people casually use the word “rape” to talk about getting beaten in a video game. 

I wonder: Does this language actually DO anything?  Does it work toward any purpose other than to rant to our like-minded tribe so they can all nod and agree and reinforce our bias?  Is it anything more than preaching to the exclusive members-only choir?

I have never seen “enemy” used constructively.  Certainly there are biblical laments and judgements against people who are actively enslaving and hurting others.  Your problems are also very real. But we can’t keep using this language to create conflict where there is none.  It’s not for your platform. 

 

Jesus came to destroy these categories in the cross.  He called us all equally broken, all equally needy, and all equally dire for grace.  He didn’t just give us orders like “love your enemy,” but he reversed the very wellspring of our connective tissue by demonstrating love for his own murderers.  It was a cosmic upheaval of our instinctual competitive brutality.   Jesus bridged divides, first between you and God, and then between you and others — and he showed no favoritism among the lepers, the lame, the adulterers, and Roman officials.  He went to them all, dined with them all, died for them all.

So then: saying “us” versus “them” is just your flesh talking.  It is not from God.  Ever.  It’s not from grace or love or truth.  It’s the perpetuation of our violent broken humanity that only rehearses a tribalistic narrative that will kill everything around you, including you.  And I’ve seen it happen, over and over, poisoning our churches and families and blogs and nations. 

The unresolved tension in Psalms does eventually resolve.  There’s always an exhalation, a moment of unclenching and relief.  The groaning of our souls meets the hope of a Redeemer.  Scripture does not end with destruction: but a re-creation.  It kills the enemy by turning them into beloved friends.

This then, is truly what Jesus died for.  It’s the church he meant for us.

— J.S.