Today we are celebrating the ordination of brother Gary Koontz. It seems like it was only yesterday when a colleague and friend was preaching my ordination service. He touched on issues and topics that were relevant to serving the Church of the Brethren as an ordained minister. Over the years, I discovered there were a few things he didn’t tell me that I wish he would have covered so I might have been better prepared when they arose. I’ll briefly cover topics in both of these areas today. While I’ll focus on how they apply to pastoral leadership, please know these topics and principles also apply to every person and ministry in the church.
Several principles about serving God are found in Acts 4:1-22. It says, “The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.
5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. 7 They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
“‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.”
The first principle we see in this passage is we serve a mighty, loving and gracious God. He sent his Son to be our Redeemer and Healer. You get the privilege of sharing this with the world. The only way lost and hurting people receive the help they need through Jesus is if Christians are willing to share Christ’s love with them. Preach with boldness and serve with confidence. Remember – you’re preaching Jesus, not yourself.
The second thing we see is God’s people can have a hard time recognizing when God is doing something new. The Jewish leaders just couldn’t accept that Jesus was their Messiah. He didn’t fit the mold of what they thought the Messiah should be so they rejected what God was doing.
We can struggle with this same attitude. We all know Christians whose most popular statement is “We’ve never done it that way before.” When a congregation contains too many people who think like this, it slowly kills itself by walking the road of nostalgia for the past instead of taking the path of relevance for the future. Most congregations don’t die because they quit trying to be faithful to Jesus, they die because they become irrelevant to the surrounding community. Unfortunately, some churches in our denomination are walking this road.
If God calls you to serve in one of these congregations, do the very best you can to lead them forward but don’t put yourself under too much pressure to be the one who turns them around. You can’t change them. Only God can.
Make sure that you don’t get so set in your ways that you can’t see what God is doing in front of you. Pastors can get the “we’ve never done it this way” attitude too. The truth is it’s easier to stay on the same course, even if it isn’t working, than it is to put out the effort that’s needed to go in a new direction. Be a lifelong learner. Your education isn’t finished simply because you’ve met all of the requirements for ordination. Keep reading books on the Bible and theology. Go to workshops. Sign up on websites to receive articles about current social trends and how churches might react to them. Never stop learning.
Another principle we see in the scripture passage is that God will guide you. When Peter spoke to the Jewish leaders, he spoke the words the Holy Spirit gave him to speak. Make sure your ministry is bathed in Bible study, prayer and spiritual disciplines. When uncertainty, opposition and overwhelming obstacles arise, take them to God. Search the Bible to see what it says about the issues you face. Pray about them. Ask God for help and strength. Pray for him to show you if the people who are opposing you are actually right. Strive to walk with Jesus in every area of your life.
The strength of God is the only thing that will sustain you long term in ministry. Today is a day of excitement and joy, as it should be. Just know that excitement and joy alone will not be enough as you face the rigors of ministry.
Ministry is hard work. Gary, I know you’re not afraid of hard work. Without it, your business wouldn’t have been successful. However, ministry contains one giant obstacle that no other job has. It faces spiritual opposition.
Satan will constantly oppose your work. He will do everything he can to stop people from receiving salvation in Christ or from getting healing for their problems. He will send people from both within and outside of the church to discourage you. He knows your weaknesses and will use them in any way he can to bring you down.
You’re going to be a leader in a spiritual war that’s been raging since the Garden of Eden. This war takes a toll on pastors. Let’s take a few moments and be honest about the realities you now face. I’m not sharing the following statistics to criticize Christians, congregations or pastors. I’m just sharing the reality of “what it.”
According to current information about pastors from pastoralcareinc.com:
80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents. I realize you’re at a different stage of life than many pastors are when they become ordained. Nevertheless, ministry will still take a toll on your family. Make sure you spend time with your family and, most of all, don’t take out the frustrations of ministry on your relatives. Find healthy ways to deal with your stress. Protect your family.
90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands. I’m not sure this is always a bad thing. Feeling inadequately trained should drive us to God. More than once, I’ve prayed, “Lord, what do you want me to tell this person?” while I’ve been talking to someone. When we feel we have all of the answers, we’ve made ourselves the main focus instead of God. Your training can’t be the source of your strength and confidence. God has to be.
80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged as role of pastors. 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living. 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. When these feelings come over you and Jackie, don’t give in to them. Remember your calling from God to enter into this ministry. Reflect on this day and all of the people who are here to support you. Talk to a friend who understands what it’s like and allow him or her to support you.
70% of pastors constantly fight depression. Pastoral ministry takes an emotional and mental toll on you. Make sure find ways to keep yourself mentally healthy.
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend. In today’s culture, once people outside of the church find out you’re a pastor, by and large, they’ll be friendly to you but they won’t want to be your friend. The simple truth is most people don’t want to hang out with a pastor. They’re afraid you’ll judge them for every mistake they might make in front of you – even though most pastors don’t do this. Make an effort to cultivate relationships with those who are willing to be your friend.
33% confess having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church. This statistic is not only shocking, it’s sad. Satan knows that if he can get pastors to fall into this type of sin, not only can he destroy them and their families, he can rip apart the congregations they serve. Don’t allow this to happen to you. Protect your sacred marriage relationship. Don’t be so paranoid about it that you refuse to minister to females when they need your help but use common sense when you do it. Don’t put yourself in situations for something like this to happen. Also, never think “This can’t happen to me.” Saying something like this means we’ve let our guard down. When we let our guard down, Satan is ready to pounce.
66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves. Some people will watch to see if you do it. This might not be fair but it’s a reality. You’re signing up to live in a fishbowl and there’s nothing you can do about it. Try your best to live a godly life and be a good example to everyone who is watching. Just don’t spend too much time worrying about what everyone else thinks. You’ll never be able to please everyone.
So, Gary, welcome to pastoral ministry. At this point, we need to answer an obvious question. Is it worth it? Well, as a pastor, you’ll find most people in the congregations you serve will love and support you and your family. You’ll get cards and gifts of appreciation and encouragement. People will invite you to participate in family gatherings and invite you out to lunch.
After a sermon that you think is terrible, and it very well may be, someone will come up and say, “Thank you. I really needed to hear that.” You’ll realize God took what you said and used it to help someone.
And, most of all, you’ll have a front row seat to see the power of Jesus being revealed in people’s lives.
So, yes. It’s worth it. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s worth it.