The Heartbeat

As you prepare yourself to begin pastoring, I want to warn you about some frustrations you will likely face in the ministry. This is not to discourage you, but to help prepare you. Here are a few…

1. A lack of volunteers. Back in about 1983 – several years before I became a pastor – I attended a seminar in Hershey, PA on recruiting volunteers for church work. The main speaker made the point that "as hard as it is to find volunteers, it is only going to become harder." And that was roughly 40 years ago! Long gone are the days when people would volunteer to teach Children's Church and then do so for 20 years without a break. Throughout our modern world, this issue of finding people who will volunteer, long-term, and keep their commitment, has become a major challenge. And to quote the fellow from 1983: "It is only going to become harder."

I hope you are still excited about pastoring Burning Hearts Community Church. In some ways, this whole experience has been more like getting married, given the protracted engagement period. Usually when people decide to take a job, or even to buy a house, only days or a few weeks go by before the change actually occurs. But in your case, it will have been well over 18 months from the time that we initially interacted with you and the day you begin work at Burning Hearts. So we trust you are still excited about it.

A brief overview of the teachings of Christ reveals that he clearly was not concerned about money, nor did he want his followers to be concerned about money. As he said, "You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24).

Yet money tends to often be a major concern to pastors: either in regards to their personal income or in regards to how the church is doing financially. Let's consider both of those items…

Personal finances. You are not going to grow rich (in earthly funds) as a pastor. Churches simply do not pay enough for you to grow rich. Most evangelical churches operate from a supposed scale, looking at what someone with as much education as you will be expected to have (a Master's degree), and as much experience as you will have, and comparing that to what someone in, say, public education might be earning. That, along with an analysis of the congregation that you are serving, are considered in determining your salary. So, you should get by all right, but you won't become rich.

One of the requirements for an elder is that he is "hospitable" (1 Timothy 3:2). Bible commentators take that to mean "given to hospitality," meaning, willing to open one's home to others, strangers even.

Some time ago I was talking to you and learned, at that time, that you were looking to purchase a house closer to the church building. As the church's permanent place of residence is still unsettled (other than we expect it to be in the Leola area), it may be sometime before we know exactly where that place of residence will be. But I appreciated your expressed desire. For the closer you are to the church building, the easier it will be to have regular contact with those that also live close to the church building.

When I was growing up (in a pastor's home) hospitality seemed like a very regular and ordinary part of church life. Often, following a church service, we either went to someone's home or we had them over to our house. Countless hours, as a kid, were spent playing with other church kids as our parents would sit and talk. My impression, from talking with other now "older" people who, like me, grew up going to church, is that this kind of hospitality has waned pretty much everywhere. House churches and small groups, to some degree, have taken up some of this. But all in all, we are not as hospitable as we all used to be.

I don't know about you, but I have never thought it a good practice to use the title "Reverend" before any pastor's name. That he is a pastor, or an overseer, or an elder, or even a bishop…I'm fine with all those titles. But "Reverend"? Reverend comes from the same word as "reverent" – a word that means showing the utmost respect or adoration. We are reverent before God. We show him the greatest of respect and honor. But to use a similar word for oneself – as if we are worthy of respect and honor AND WE WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW IT – well, there is my problem.

Now I will grant you that I would agree that most pastors do not get the respect that is due them. I recall, now many years ago, an older couple who, while raised in the Roman Catholic church, had started to attend the church I pastored. They came for several years and then suddenly quit coming. Once their absence was clear, I visited them and then learned of their reason for no longer coming. "We just couldn't handle it," they said. "We were raised in the Catholic church and there you respect the priest.

When you become the pastor at Burning Hearts, some people will refer to Burning Hearts as "your" church; you may even call Burning Hearts "my" church. But understand that the church belongs to Christ – it is His church – and that you AND THE ELDERS are the under-shepherd overseers of the church. So thank God you will not be serving alone. Thank God that others will be serving with you.

This is important for a number of reasons:

1. This means that you will not need to try and carry the load of the church all alone. You may, at this time, not see it as a load, or a burden, but it is. When you learn of a marriage that is failing, or of someone in the body spiritually falling, or of someone suffering, or of someone dying. In all these cases, there is a burden, a heaviness that comes with it. Some people are exceedingly strong and they will be just fine, with you or without you. But others will be looking for help. And the more people there are, the more potential times of trial there will be. It is SO GOOD to know at such times that there are others – other elders in particular – who are there to help carry the burden.

With this letter we have now reached the half-way point of the year. Like swimming across a lake, it is now closer to swim to the other shore than to turn and swim back to where you started from. So there is no going back now! (Not that you, or I, or the elders ever had any thoughts of going back.)

For Ruth and me the same clock that brings you closer to beginning brings us closer to the end. For you, to start literally on January 1 seems so good, so right. For me, to have December 25 be my final Sunday seems rather strange, but that is how it works out. Ruth and I are uncertain what the future holds for us. We know that come April 1, 2023, we plan to head off on our 100-day "Tour of America." The previous plan had been for a February-September "Walk Across America," but that was simply not to be. So now it is the tour. Even now we are slowly making preparations for that tour. When we initially started talking about it the gas price was around $2.85/gallon for gas and now…well, I can only say that the trip has become more and more expensive as time has gone by.

How do you eat an elephant? The answer is: one bite at a time. Taking over the pastoral leadership of a church may seem overwhelming. To your good fortune, you have an advantage that few pastors ever have: a year of getting to know a congregation and the congregation getting to know you. Like stepping into a swimming pool at the beginning of the swimming season, you will have had the opportunity to step in slowly – to get used to the water. Most pastors have to just jump in and take the shock. Either way, most end up saying, "It's not bad once you get used to it."

But the size of the task is as big and long as you can imagine. It potentially could mark off the remainder of your life, even if you should live a long very life. It is like running a marathon. You don't run a marathon like you would run a 100-meter dash. From your very first step you have the long haul in mind. And because you have the long haul in mind you are not easily dissuaded or disturbed by things that show up along the way.

2 Timothy 2:2 is one of those "go to" verses dealing with what you should be doing as a pastor. There Paul, in writing Timothy, says, "And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." Call it mentoring, or discipling, this is where it is worth spending time as a pastor.

I long ago lost track of how many men I have met with through the years. Most of them I met with one-on-one, but sometimes it was in a setting of several men. I never mentored any women. Ruth has mentored women, and I have been fine leaving it like that.

So what is this mentoring or discipling like? The answer to that depends a lot upon the individual you are mentoring. Some men are students: avid readers and thinkers. Others are not. Some might take up a challenge to memorize scripture; for others that seems like a hopeless cause. So you start with them, figuring out who they are, how serious they are in regards to growing, seeing how disciplined they already are, etc. And then you go from there.

There are three places/times when you will have access to preach the gospel to a captive audience: at weddings, at funerals, and in prisons. As to why those in prison are a "captive" audience is quite obvious, but the pressures of propriety will make those at the weddings and funerals equally captive, for people at those times are not going to walk out. (I might add, a fourth place/time also exists should you ever become an Uber driver. Those riding in the back seat are pretty much stuck with you. I have yet to have one jump out of the car while we're still moving!)

So these are special opportunities. They are different than your Sunday morning church crowd. Those at church are there because they love the Lord and may even love you. Not so with the weddings and funerals. You are nothing to most of those people. But you are, in fact, something really grand: you are an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

I want to warn you about politics and political affiliations. The apostle Paul, in Romans 13, is quite clear that governments exist by the hand of God. So politics (the art and science of the development and direction of government) is not a bad thing, but part of God's plan for mankind. To serve as a politician is, at least theoretically, a great way to serve both God and man.

So why a warning? It is mainly because politics can be so terribly divisive within a congregation. The old line is that people should "never talk about politics or religion," as those are two areas where people simply don't agree. As ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ we cannot, of course, avoid talking about "religion." But I believe we need to do what we can to allow the gospel (the preaching of the cross of Christ) remain the ONLY stumbling block that we have when we talk with people. If the cross is an offense to some – and it is – then so be it. But we should avoid making any other issues additional points of offense.

Once you obtain your degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I have no idea if you will pursue any further education. My guess is that at this time even you don't know the answer to that question. For if I were you I would be thinking, "Just make it to January 1, become the new pastor, do really well, see the church prosper, keep the ministry in balance with my wife and family, get the bills paid, find a house closer to the church, get to know people, and maybe…maybe somewhere in there I can think about my personal educational goals." Maybe.

Well, whether you go on for more schooling or not, I can guarantee you that you will be doing more reading. They say that the average high school graduate reads just ONE BOOK between the time of their graduation and their death. If that is true, it is not only astounding but downright frightening. For it raises all kinds of questions about the intellectual future of our country. But that "one book" line is not true in regards to pastors. Indeed, if it is only you and me at the church, in the future, I can guarantee that you will be reading more books.

As I promised last week, this letter is about theological deviance, or what some might call heresy. If we are honest about it, we will admit that truth sits along a spectrum with truth on one end and heresy or falsehood on the other. And while we – like every other church (and every other religion on earth) – would like to suggest that we, more than any others, are on the end of truth, if we are honest and wise we will admit that we but hope we are on the end of truth. In some areas there is little question (God is; God is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him; Jesus is God incarnate, the Savior of all who come to him and the Lord of all, whether they confess him or not); in other areas we are less certain (age of the earth; the mode of baptism; the timing of Christ's return). And since this is the case (that we are more certain about some things than others), I believe it behooves us to be bold and strong in regards to those things that we are most certain about, and far more careful, reserved, hesitant to speak about those areas that are in question.

My guess is that every pastor is pretty much the same in that every pastor has his own particular "hobby horses": things that matter to them far more than they may matter to others. I know I have my list. Here are some of my "hobby horses" as they relate to church life…

1. Hymnody. As I posted out on the church sign last year, "If we cease singing hymns we become a thief…robbing a younger generation of their Christian heritage." Do you remember that sign? It was one of those signs that I intended for the greater church in Lancaster County. For my attitude has been, for a long time now, "shame on those churches that have ceased singing hymns." By hymns I mean the songs that the church has sung literally for centuries: Come Ye Sinners; Amazing Grace; Holy, Holy, Holy; O Sacred Head Now Wounded; and others. The route I chose for Burning Hearts was to begin each service with one of these songs. God forbid that someone growing up at Burning Hearts would not know such songs.

It is May. Soon people will be heading off on vacations. And at Burning Hearts, as at every other church in the country, there will be the challenge of finding teachers, nursery workers, ushers, greeters, musicians and, on occasion, even a preacher!

It is good that you have a secular job. Sometimes fellows enter the pastorate who, quite literally, have never had a job outside of church. And because of that, they don't know what it is like "out there." And because they haven't experienced life "out there" they have this really twisted notion that people's lives should and will revolve totally around a church schedule.

I recall, for example, back when I was selling real estate. I was, as they say, "burning the candle at both ends." I was busting a gut to make a living. I don't know how many hours a week I was working but it was a lot. I never missed Sunday morning church because of my real estate work but I can recall many Wednesday nights when I was not at the church's Prayer Meeting because of my real estate work.

I doubt there are many greater concerns to any pastor than the concern that he should be viewed as a hypocrite. But as we each know ourselves DEEP DOWN we know our hearts and minds. And as I have preached on many times, even if our mouths (words) and bodies (actions) seem in line with God's word, our minds (thoughts) betray us. In the words of the old hymn "Come Thou Fount" there are those times where we are "prone to leave the God I love." Not that we would actually do that, but our thoughts are hardly what they should be.

I wish I had an easy answer for this area. The Bible speaks of having a "sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV), or taking "every thought captive to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). Jesus addressed this sort of thing when discussing the committing of adultery and lusting after a woman in one's heart or mind (Matthew 5:28). It is this sort of inner conflict – one that Martin Luther, citing the apostle Paul, concluded that we all face – that can drive us to despair. But don't be driven to despair. Be reminded that you are like every other person, every other man (1 Corinthians 10:13). And that even though God has placed you in a place of spiritual oversight of God's flock, you are best able to lead the sheep to green pastures and still waters by seeking those for yourself. Because you need them as well.

Most people work jobs that, regardless of how they are feeling, require them to work a certain number of hours per week. I say "regardless of how they are feeling" because, quite honestly, if there were no requirements, many would simply cease working, or try and get by working fewer and fewer and fewer hours. The self-motivated, hard workers, are often the business owners: the founders, the entrepreneurs, those that got the business going. These are often disgusted with the lackadaisical attitude of those who have been hired by those under them. They cannot seem to understand why everyone doesn't have the strong work ethic that they had and which made them successful.

And now here we have you entering the pastorate, with no one to watch over you, to keep your hand to the fire. Well, not quite…

Due to Burning Hearts having many young children in it, through the years you will likely be performing lots of weddings. Weddings and funerals are both great times for interaction with families, but weddings can be particularly a time of enjoyment.

I well recall the first few weddings that I performed. I was, like anyone in my position might expect to be, a bit nervous. From the time I was a young boy I had observed my dad (a pastor) perform weddings and so, to some extent, I had almost an innate understanding of what was to take place. There is no question but that this was helpful to me and to those getting married. One thing I could not seem to remember, however, was which side the bride and groom were to be standing on. But this solved itself for me when about the 5th or 6th wedding I ever performed, one of the groomsmen fainted during the ceremony. As he was, while I stood up front, off to my left, that forever cemented in my mind which side the groom (and groomsmen) were to be on!

Back when I first started pastoring, two brothers and their families began attending the church. The younger of the brothers (about 15 years older than me) had attended seminary and was theologically a ROCK: really solid. In time, both families would join the church and the younger brother, named Dave, would become not only an elder but the chairman of the board of elders.

By my own choosing, I sought out Dave to mentor me. From that a deep relationship of reading books, discussing the ministry and praying for the church began. This continued for several years until Dave and his wife moved away.

During that time I began preaching through (as I recall) Matthew's gospel. I don't recall where we were in that study but one week he wrote me a short note (something he did not ordinarily do).

One of the real joys of pastoring is the writing of sermons. Some well-known pastors have talked about spending "one hour for each minute" of preaching in study and preparation. I have never bought into that. For if one took that to heart one would never be doing anything but studying and preparing one's sermons. On the other end of the spectrum was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that 19th century English preacher, generally regarded back then as well as today as one of the greatest preachers to have ever preached in the English language. Not only was Spurgeon an incredibly gifted speaker, but what irked the other pastors of his time is how Spurgeon would put his sermons together on Saturday night, after supper! It was his general practice to have dinner guests on Saturday evening, and then following that time of eating and visitation with his guests he would excuse himself, go into his study, and prepare his sermon for the next morning. So not only was Spurgeon good but he was fast!

As you are a man rooted in the scriptures, you already know that you are not the head of the church. Christ is the head of the church. But under Christ you are a shepherd. Indeed the word "pastor" is related to the word "pasture." And it is to green pastures (and still waters) that you are to guide the sheep under your care. It is a great responsibility.

Many years ago I came under a period of conviction based upon my reading of John 10:3. In that passage Jesus is talking about the good shepherd (himself) and how he calls his sheep "by name." The passage bothered me because there were many people who were regularly attending the church and whose names I could not recall. I had met these people, sometimes more than once, and yet I could not remember their name(s). It was during that time that I began to question the wisdom of the large church.

Upcoming Events

Prayer Meeting
17 Aug 2022 - 07:00PM
Adult Sunday School
21 Aug 2022 - 09:00AM
Worship Service
21 Aug 2022 - 10:30AM
Prayer Meeting
24 Aug 2022 - 07:00PM
Adult Sunday School
28 Aug 2022 - 09:00AM