Pastor's Message for October
How often do we sit down and spend the time to write a letter of encouragement to our family, friends or neighbours? Last month I received the following letter from Rev. Daniel Bullock, Director of Mission and Ministries of the Baptist Union of Victoria. I was encouraged by Daniel’s insights and challenge and realised that the message in this letter is just as relevant and meaningful for all of us and can be applied to every area of our lives, not just the church. My prayer is that, as you read Daniel’s message, you also will be encouraged and strengthened.
As I sat down to write this letter I asked myself a number of questions in relation to what I would write. Questions such as: what does God want me to say to our BUV pastors? What do our pastors need to hear? How can I encourage or challenge? As I wrestled before the Lord with these questions, I felt He wanted me to encourage you to persevere in your ministry calling. So with a little bit of help from the Apostle Paul, my encouragement to you in this letter is to hang in there. “Be on your guard; Stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love”. (1 Cor 16:13-14)
In these verses we find some of the Apostle Paul’s final words of encouragement to the Corinthian church. Paul has tackled a number of challenging issues throughout the letter. He has given instruction on Christian living, challenged hypocrisy, disunity, false teaching and corrected poor theology. But Paul finishes with a charge to the Corinthians to hang in there by living with courage, faith, conviction and love.
In pastoral leadership at any given time we find ourselves dealing with a plethora of issues from giving relationship advice to dealing with conflict, shaping governance policy, offering words of comfort at a funeral, preparing sermons, embarking on new missional ventures, training, counselling, evangelising, encouraging, and on and on we could go. The truth is, we are often being pulled in many directions and as a result we can easily find ourselves exhausted, discouraged and even at times tempted to give up. It seems to me Paul understood that living out faith in the midst of life and church can be taxing on everyone, particularly for those in leadership. In the midst of the various demands of pastoral leadership I have found Paul’s encouragement in this passage quite helpful. Let me break down his words and what I think the implications are for us as pastors.
Be on your guard - The sense of this statement is to be watchful. There may be a sense of being watchful for false teachers or those preying on the vulnerable in the church, but I think the context is suggesting that we watch our character. Guard our values and convictions. Watch the words that spring from our lips, watch our attitude towards people who disagree with us or who are different to us; watch our relationship with the Lord. Our character and godliness are primary to juggling the demands of pastoral leadership.
Stand firm - There are many things we need to stand firm on, including theological convictions, personal boundaries, individual and corporate values, and of course our faith in Jesus Christ. The challenge for us is not to compromise the fundamentals of our faith just to be accepted or to appease our critics.
Be courageous; be strong - Sometimes when we think about being courageous and strong we think about some huge task or challenge, but pastoral leadership has enough challenges in the everyday, without the big moments, to require courage and strength. We need courage and strength simply not to lose heart when we seem to be stagnating, or when we are criticised or when a sermon falls a little flat. It takes courage and strength to front up each day, to preach each week, to love the unlovable. I want to encourage you to keep showing courage and strength in the everyday of your ministry. But I also want to urge you to show courage and strength around your missional endeavours. This may mean having the courage to stop a program, to risk failure and reputation in trying something new, having the strength to stand against injustice or having the courage to admit failure. There are many ways we need to portray courage and strength in pastoral leadership and that can be daunting. But what is even more frightening from my perspective are the consequences for our churches and God’s kingdom if we, the pastoral leaders of our day, fail to take risks and step out in faith trusting in God’s leading and the Spirit’s empowerment. I think that would be disastrous for both church and leader.
Do everything with love - Often this is easier said than done! People can be hurtful, systems can be unjust and people with control tendencies can slow down or prevent mission going forward. For pastoral leaders this can be frustrating and personally painful. Thus, we are often faced with the danger of allowing our hearts to harden. As pastoral leaders we must avoid this at all cost. At times we may need to speak a word of challenge into someone’s life or to rebuke someone who is out of line, but this must never equate to vilifying or dehumanising others. Yes, we must tackle dysfunction, poor ungodly attitudes and behaviour and indeed Jesus did this, but he always affirmed the value of people in the process – so must we. In Galatians chapter 5, the Apostle Paul talks about living life by the Spirit and in verses 13 to 15 he encourages the Galatian Christians to love each other as they love themselves. He goes on to say, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). In pastoral leadership we don’t always get it right, we are human and we make mistakes; sometimes we hurt people with our words, we fail to love, we may pursue, defame or belittle our enemies. To truly take on these words of this Galatians passage and be godly leaders, we must be prepared to admit our failures, repent from our sin and seek reconciliation. That is loving leadership.
My sense, as I write this, is that we all need encouragement because pastoral leadership in any context is challenging. Our Union’s theme for the past year and into next year is ‘better together’. I reckon it is a great theme and believe that in our Union we are better when we build each other up, share resources, and pursue mission together. Sometimes we may be a little reluctant to work closely with our pastoral colleagues and other churches because instead of working in partnership, we somehow function as if we are in competition. A result of such a perspective is the tendency to compare ourselves, our leadership and our church to others. The implication of this is to either think we are better than other churches which can lead to pride, or think we are worse which leads to defeatism and discouragement. Either way it is destructive thinking, which will ultimately lead to destructive behaviour. Whatever church context God has called us to lead in, be it a small house church or mega church, traditional or contemporary, we need to do so with the conviction that God is with us and will supply all we need for the task at hand. We can be reassured that God has given us the gifts and the capacity to lead our particular community. We should be heartened by the truth that God is not comparing us against other churches, but is cheering us on in our context to advance His Kingdom. So in closing, let me encourage you with these words again from the Apostle Paul: “Be on your guard; Stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love”….and hang in there!
Rev. Daniel Bullock
Director of Mission & Ministries
The home of the Bulleen Baptist Church and the SonLife Community Church.
While we maintain our individual identities and ministries, our two congregations work and grow together in shared fellowship and ministry to our community. For more information regarding SonLife Community Church click on the image on the left to go to their website.