The Heartbeat

In Greek mythology one will find the story of Midas, who for his kind treatment of Silenus (companion of the god Dionysus) was granted one wish. Midas wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Having "the Midas touch" comes from this. Some successful businessmen have been referred to as having "the Midas touch."

Based upon this, some years ago I wrote an article entitled "The Sadim Touch." Sadim was Midas spelled backwards. The article was about church life and pastoring and how things can turn on a dime: how one day everything can be going right and the next day everything seems to be going wrong. When one has "the Midas touch" seemingly every idea, every proposal, works out great. But when "the Midas touch" becomes "the Sadim touch" those same ideas or proposals will prove to be disastrous. I know this to be the case because I have been through both.

When one is young or newly married, I believe there is a greater tendency to be overcome by circumstances. You know the kind: the car breaking down, the need to replace the hot water heater, running out of gas, etc. With age and maturity we tend to grow more resilient to these things and less troubled by them. Maybe these earlier concerns simply get replaced by concerns over one's health. I'm not quite there yet but I suspect I will find out if that is the case.

So too, church problems may seem to you, particularly in the early years of pastoring, as overwhelming problems. But they are not. They are, in fact, just the stuff that makes up life.

While in seminary, I spent one summer working at a Baptist Church near Pontiac, Michigan. The church was without a pastor but had an interim pastor – a much older man and a close friend of my father – who was filling in. It was that man who had asked me to come that summer and help out by overseeing the youth group and also by being the church janitor. Those were two jobs that were in conflict with one another (have fun with the kids, which tended to make a mess that as janitor I would then need to clean up). While I was there that summer the church's "pulpit committee" was ready to present a man to the congregation to have them vote on whether or not he should become their next pastor. I don't remember the man or even how the church voted. But this I do remember: they asked if I would preach on the Sunday night prior to the week that they were going to vote. I agreed. I don't recall what text I used but I remember this part…

As people grow older they tend to mellow. Time has a way of chipping away at the rough edges in all of us. Many of the things that truly bothered us when we were younger simply do not bother us in the same way as we grow older. I have never seen a statistic to back this up, but I would venture to say that most "road rage" incidents involve those who are younger. When we grow older we are more apt to be in less of a hurry and therefore less bothered that someone has cut us off or is honking a horn.

Now this is both good and bad. It is good as it pertains to driving or dealing with someone near us who has made a mistake. But in regards to theology it can be worse than bad. It can be fatal.

I was recently talking to a woman about friends. She said that she and her husband moved to Lancaster sixteen years ago and that it has been a hard transition. I then asked her about making friends and she said she has made three good friends. I then quoted to her an old Chinese proverb: "He who has one true friend has more than his share." Another old quote (I don't recall who said this) is: "Choose your friends like you would your books: few but choice." So let's talk about friends…

Many pastors, even after decades of pastoring, will speak about their lack of friends. For some, this was the result of having kept themselves somewhat aloof from others, never letting others get too close to them. This could have been out of a desire to live a secret life (possibly even hiding some secret sin) or it may have been, as I have heard from some through the years, out of a desire to not be hurt. The hurt, in such cases, has often come from a "friend" sharing with others some confidentially conveyed issue or feeling. In this latter case the pastor (or pastor's wife) has felt "betrayed" by the friend and so he (or she) has withdrawn from attempting to make friends. What's the old line? "Once burned, twice cautious."

The countdown of weeks until you start working full-time as pastor at Burning Hearts Community Church is about to begin (10…9…8…)!

This past year I read the book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It was, in my opinion, one of the better books that I have read in the past several years. It is long (about 600 pages) and quite detailed, but also very candid about Jobs' strengths and weaknesses. The bottom line would have to be that Steve Jobs was a brilliant man who was obsessed with mixing art and technology. He was fortunate enough to have found and then surrounded himself with people of a similar passion. But Steve Jobs was not an easy to get along with kind of person. Indeed, at times, he could be extremely caustic and vulgar to boot. He was known for expressing his opinion on nearly everything, whether or not people wanted to hear it.

There is a most interesting little line found in Titus 2:15b that I have been thinking on for some time. Here's the line: "Let no one disregard you" (ESV).

A while back I told you the story of the parents of a woman who had started attending the church followed their daughter and also began attending. They became very regular attenders and I well recall my visiting them in their home. They had been Roman Catholics from their earliest years but truly appreciated what they had been seeing in their daughter. After a year or two I performed the daughter's wedding. And then after another year or two this older couple – the parents of the daughter – suddenly quit attending the church. After not seeing them for a number of weeks I contacted them and went to see them. There they said words to this effect: "We were raised Roman Catholic. And in the Catholic Church you respect the priest and you do what he says. We really enjoyed coming over to your church and we felt like we learned a lot. But we just could not handle the disrespect that we sensed towards you. We often wondered how you could even handle the criticism…the disregard for you. It was as if everyone thought they were your boss. So we've gone back to the Catholic Church."

Ruth and I were discussing the other night the state of our five children. Some appear to be "hungering and thirsting after righteousness" (Matthew 5:6) while others do not. Just why this is, we cannot determine. For all grew up in the same home, ate the same food (both physically and spiritually), and saw the same things. All had friends from Christian homes and four of the five attended Christian colleges. Yet some are "hot" while others are not.

When our children were young, I will admit that we took some pride in how they all seemed to be doing. They were active in the church activities, were baptized (on their own initiative), went on mission trips, and several of them became involved in the Bible Club at the public school they attended. And because they seemed to be doing well spiritually, while we observed the children of some other parents drifting away, we (wrongly) thought it must be in how our children were raised. WE raised our children in a godly atmosphere and now WE see OUR children living godly lives. Thus our pride.

The modern Evangelical church has lost its voice…its moral voice. John the Baptist, in quoting from the prophet Isaiah, said of himself that he was "a voice crying in the wilderness." One would think that the modern Evangelical church, and its pastors, would see themselves in the same way. But they have lost their voice. They cannot cry in the wilderness. Indeed, if there is any crying what we hear is the crying of those churches' congregants crying for something to eat. Instead of meat the people used to get milk, but now they receive nothing.

Back in 1985, after having worked as a real estate agent for several years, two things happened at the same time: my real estate manager took a position with Century 21 corporate and offered to take me with him, and LEFC, the church that Ruth and I had been part of, voted to hire me as the new pastor. It was at this time that the real estate manager took me out to breakfast to talk to me about moving to New Jersey and working with him. The starting salary was around $60,000, almost three times what the church was offering.

The manager knew of my Christian faith and had heard of the vote of the church, nevertheless he was hopeful that I might join him. It was at that breakfast that I told him, "You don't pay enough. The church work offers eternal rewards." As things would be, the manager had a sister who had become a Christian, so he knew what I was talking about.

Let me be blunt: you are not going to get rich (in this world's goods) as a pastor. At least that is highly unlikely. Maybe someday you will write some best selling book or become a much sought after conference speaker, and you will earn lots of money. But most likely you will live out your days like most pastors: getting by while very much needing to live on a budget.

When I first started pastoring, my step-mother, Doris, said to me words to the effect, "You will never get the congregation to go any deeper than you yourself have gone." So, if you want them to go deep into prayer, you need to lead the way. Or if you want them to have happy marriages, you need to show them how. I think there are likely some exceptions to this (congregants who have better prayer lives or marriages than my own). But in general, speaking of the congregation as a whole, what she said is likely true. That is why Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:3 that we (the shepherd or elder over the congregation) should "be an example to the flock."

On a practical level, this means you need to be committed to

I have previously written to you about EDPs (emotionally draining people): those who will drain you by taking whatever they can get from you and leave you with little in return. Related to these people is the issue of to whom you should give your time.

The old saying is that "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" (or the squeaky axle gets the grease). That is, those who are the most vocal – those who make their needs known – tend to get the most attention. Another may be just as needy, or even more so, but because they are quiet they may go unnoticed. As a pastor your attention, your time, will often be directed towards these squeaky wheels. You will leave the ninety-and-nine and go after that one who has either wandered off or come to be in trouble. But I want to warn you: some people are always wandering off or always in trouble.

We're now on the brink of entering the fall season. As you may recall, from nearly a year ago, we agreed that it would be during these last few months of 2022 that you and I would be spending more time with each other as I prepare to step away and you take your place "at the plate" (up to bat, and ready to take a swing!). As you know, I am so excited for you.

In my opinion you have a lot going for you: You are coming into an established church with a good track record and a good reputation. Along with that you have seasoned, but not old, leaders. You are being given a tabula rasa – a blank slate, upon which you may write, define, and mark off what you believe is best for Burning Hearts. And on top of all that you have had the almost unique experience of having spent more than an entire year getting to know at least some of these people who will be looking to you for spiritual direction.

Robert Murray McCheyne – do you know that name? McCheyne was a Scottish preacher from the mid-1800s who died at the young age of 32. I read a biography of him long ago. A quote I recall from him was this:

"I am a dying man preaching to dying men."

Some would mark off my remembering such a quote to what they believe is my "death fixation." Maybe they are right. But I like that quote for it so rightly sums up the situation: We ALL are dying. Sometimes people will remark about this person or that person that "they are dying." But the truth is we all are dying. As Hospice has been putting it for decades now: "The mortality rate is still 100 percent."

Many years ago I ran across an article written by Pastor Bill Hybels. This was long before Hybels, like so many other pastors, self-destructed and disappeared (as a result) due to some sexual sin. The article had to do with a state of exhaustion or burnout that Hybels had been experiencing. There he wrote about how this burn-out had led to a time of self-reflection and asking questions of himself: how was he doing spiritually…physically…maritally…etc. After some time of examining his life in these different areas he finally concluded he was just emotionally burned-out and that this was due to his having spent so much time with a number of individuals with very great needs. In the article, as I recall, he went on to identify these needy people as EDPs: emotionally draining people. If you have not yet learned about these people, you soon will.

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.

Upcoming Events

Adult Sunday School
04 Dec 2022 - 09:00AM
Worship Service
04 Dec 2022 - 10:30AM
Prayer Meeting
07 Dec 2022 - 07:00PM
Adult Sunday School
11 Dec 2022 - 09:00AM
Worship Service
11 Dec 2022 - 10:30AM