Readers may not know–indeed, in 950 posts I’m not sure if I have mentioned it–but I am an ordained minister. I trained for ministry at Maritime Christian College (MCC), and served in various ways over the next few years. About 15 years ago, I began translating that vocation into an academic field. I’m still trying to work that out today.
Part of that development in my vocation is having landed in a local church in Prince Edward Island, Cornwall Christian Church. Our church is not big, but it is small. One of the reasons that it has remained small is that it has a history of sending ministers out over the last decade or so. Cornwall Church has been a refuge for many pastors, ministers, seminary professors, and missionaries in transition–as well as a safe space for those who are looking for a home church for their parachurch ministry. Our church has also been a place for young leaders to test their mettle, and a place of recovery for a number of servants of the church who have been wounded and need a place to heal.
Though far from perfect, our church has a unique history and a unique ministry. Moreover, my years in professional church ministry has given me the ability to understand what church leaders experience in their lives. These two factors combined allowed me to speak specifically to the weight that pastors and church leaders carry. I took for my text the passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul is boasting of his struggles. Beyond shipwrecks and persecution and illness, Paul names what is the greatest weight of being a pastor to his people:
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor 11:28, ESV).
This sermon for Pastor Appreciation Month is, then, a somewhat dangerous sermon. I open up the heart of my experiences so that church people can see the struggles that pastors go through–and the impossibilities that we have set up for them. It is a sermon that active paid pastors can’t preach in their home churches, but I can preach it because I have nothing to gain–or nothing to lose. And it is a sermon that I could only give at this generous, flawed little church in Cornwall, who will hear it in the right spirit and then seek to encourage people with it.
So, hesitantly, I share it with you. There are some tech issues, but they are okay. It is a very local sermon, but I think those who need to hear this sermon can appreciate that. And the sermon relates my negative experiences in churches, leaving out much of the positive. I hope that those who have shaped me in my various churches know how much I love them. But I share this sermon because people need to know what their priests, ministry leaders, pastors, missionaries, and elders experience.
I also share it because I believe that the church (in North America, at least) has some need of responsibility and repentance. If I am right, it is not something we dare put off.
Note: If the embedded link does not play, click here.
Brenton, I enjoyed this post and your sermon. The sermon, not because it was an overly optimistic exhortation to pursue a ministry vocation, but because it was (1) biblical, (2) sincere, (3) nakedly honest, and (4) grace-based.
I agree with your assessment of the state of the church (including the hope we see in God’s work among our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia and elsewhere). I also believe that you rightly identified the core reason for the burden borne by clergy. For “good” ministers (i.e. the faithful who follow Jesus’ example as our Shepherd), the ministry is HARD. Impossible, even. Yet, because we cannot do it in our own strength, we are wonderfully forced to rely on our Lord to daily renew us.
I have known many pastors who didn’t possess this deeply compassionate heart. They didn’t ache over the disappointments and weep over their own failings. They were perfectly content to treat their ministry as a “job.” And many of them did the very least they had to do to keep that job. This awareness of the lack of zeal among too many pastors and chaplains is another aspect of the anxiousness that we who love all of the sheep (not simply in our own congregation) feel.
Just like our brother Paul, all the saints who love the whole church (clergy and lay alike), possess a loving concern “for all the churches.” That is our burden–and our blessing.
No, it’s not overly optimistic. Yet, I still think the call is there for people.
I hadn’t thought of bad ministers, or lame ones. It’s such a difficult job I’ve never thought of people doing it just to get by. But, I suppose, if you are less emotionally invested, it’s not so hard.
Brenton, that sermon was delivered to people who obviously could hear it. The problem is, it needs to be heard by a lot of people who at present are not able to “get it”…
I think you’re right, and I think it’s already happening with so many (especially) young people giving up on pretty much every kind of Christian churches, even Evangelical ones – who tend to retain more people statistically, but who knows what is going on in the hearts of those who remain… The present and coming cultural pressures from without, added to the pressures from within, which you have simply skimmed over lightly, are already starting to squeeze. I read Rod Dreher’s blog; I don’t agree with him about everything, but I do think he sees some things clearly, especially how Christians are going to be able to survive that pressure. Above all, it will be in communities like those your church seems to be and who will act on calls like yours.
You served as a pastor, and you’re where you are as a professor, for God’s good reasons. You and Richard Beck are, for me, the best representatives of the Church of Christ tradition – you’re more Orthodox than a lot of Orthodox 🙂
You are right, Dana, that not everyone could hear this sermon. There is a spirit of Entitlement in the North American Church that needs a kind of exorcism. The thorn will come out, but there are lots of ways to get a thoon out.
I don’t know Richard Beck, but the Becks are a longterm Church of Christ family locally!
Richard Beck’s blog:
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Brenton, I wrote a comment that seems to have disappeared. Hope it shows up.
Hi Dana, I think I restored it from spam!
Hi Brenton, when I am granted a space of quiet listening I will listen to your sermon. It was around this time last year that you graciously listened to one of mine as I bid farewell to a small church before moving on to my current appointment.
I particularly warmed to your description of a church that has been a place of welcome to many who, at one point in their lives, needed it. There are many ways to understand growth apart from the one beloved of church statisticians, those who join us and then stay, the easiest to count, and yours is one that particularly appeals to me.
It is a longish sermon–and not a lovely and warm one like your Morris church sermon in the country. But I had the time and the opportunity, and it was worth the risk.
It has been a pleasure for me to receive healing in this place, and I hope it has been for others. It’s not a bad thing, I think, to be a small church in its ways.
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So far so good… but just as I got the point where you bring in scripture it froze. Then I got this notification: “Sorry, you can’t view or download this file at this time. Too many users have viewed or downloaded this file recently. Please try accessing the file again later… ” 🙂 All in all, I think that’s good news! I’ll try again later! Shalom!
Got it!… Excellent message! I’ve often felt that I could pitch-hit as a preacher-teacher (and I occasionally do), but couldn’t take the rest upon my shoulders. It is a heavy burden, and God bless anyone who takes it on! My oldest daughter is thinking of going in this direction. I think she’d be excellent at it (but she doesn’t get that from me)… I tend to like books better than I like people.
Books are better than people! Perhaps that’s my issue. I do wish the best for your daughter, who does a beautiful and difficult thing.