The F-Word for Pastors – “Fail” by J.R. Briggs

Fail JR BriggsFirst off, I’d like to thank the kind folk of IVP for a review copy of J.R. Briggs’ newest release, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure. It’s always a pleasure to receive such gifts!

J.R. Briggs serves as Cultural Cultivator of The Renew Community, a Jesus community for skeptics and dreamers – based in Landsdale, PA. He also serves as Director of Leadership & Congregational Formation with The Ecclesia Network. Even more, he’s becoming most known for creating the Epic Fail Pastors Conference and now the penning of this new book.

Failure is not an easy word for pastors. Well, that’s probably true of most people! Of course, when many think of failure for pastors, their mind might typically imagine some grave moral failure. And, though, such is true at times, it is a small slice compared to the greater reality that pastors deal with concerning failure. Continue reading

Memories & the Next Step in the Journey

Well, it is now less than 2 weeks before our big move back to the States. It’s been 5 and a half years in Belgium, filled with great memories beyond description.

We’ve lived here for most of our married life (married 7 years next month) and both of our boys have been born in Belgium. It has become like home to us. As I continue to tell people, this has been as much about learning as it has been leading. I think that will be true going forward the rest of our lives.

So here are 2 short videos: the first capturing memories from our time in Belgium and the second pointing to the next step back in Memphis. Continue reading

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals

The title of this article is a play of the title of a book by John Piper: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. I have not read the book, though it sits in our building. But I can guess what it’s about. The summary on is as follows:

Pastor John Piper says, “We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. . . professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness, there is no professional tenderheartedness. There is no professional panting after God.”

In Brothers, We are Not Professionals Piper pleas with his colleagues to abandon the secularization of the pastorate and return to the primitive call of the Bible for radical ministry.

Maybe I’ll pick up the book one day.

But I write this article because of some recent sporting news in the US. If you are a sports fan and particularly a college basketball sports fan, which is my favourite sport by the way, you will have noticed a little saga over the past week between Michigan State and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tom Izzo, head coach of the Michigan State basketball team, who had been coaching the same well-known college for the past 15 years, was being wooed by the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers to be their next coach. Now, at the same time, if you know sports, there has been an ongoing saga with the Cavaliers best player – LeBron James. Will he stay or will he go to another team? Nobody is sure. And most thought Izzo would definitely not want to come to Cleveland if he knew LeBron was heading off to another team.

In the end, just yesterday, Izzo decided to stay with Michigan State, and I am kind of glad for his decision. Such doesn’t usually happen anymore – sticking to the same team/job.

Now, within coaching, or any professional job, people are enticed all the time with better jobs and better money and better perks. And there is nothing wrong with such (well, sometimes it can go bad, even somewhat extortionary). Of course, a coach that starts at a smaller college will at least consider heading to a larger college with greater pay if it is offered. And then, if another job again comes along, the coach would have the right to consider stepping into that job, even making the jump to the NBA where making millions is a certainty.

But, while this is fine and dandy with coaching, or banking, or accounting, or things of that sort, I get very uncomfortable when this is the mindset of church leaders. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to lay a blanket statement out here that, if a pastor is offered a [better] job by another [larger] church and he accepts, it is completely wrong in every situation. Each situation has to be considered individually. But to have this as a mindset, that is where the problem begins.

There are so many people out there who have a dream of finishing university at 22, finishing seminary at 25, and then expect (or hope) to have a ‘job offer’ given to them from a church. I have no problem with 25 year old people being in church leadership. I have friends who started in their early 20’s. I started at 27. That’s not the point.

The point is that, at least in America, and now in other places with the effect America has on other places, we think it is our God-given right as an aspiring church leader to be hired, paid, given insurance and a nice 401K (retirement) plan, and get all the little extras (like a car and a Blackberry). I’m not sure where we got this idea.

But this is where capitalism has burst into the church like Niagra Falls. It’s absolutely everywhere!

First off, one problem is that we use the terminology of hire and fire with our pastors. Huh? Hire and fire! Now I do understand in today’s world, for those able to receive a salary and insurance and taxes, we utilise this terminology. It’s understandable. Still, I steer clear of it because of what it portrays, or what it does not portray.

You see, pastor (or I like the word shepherd) is first and foremost a gift. Check out Ephesians 4:7-16. It doesn’t say Jesus hired pastors. It says He gave them as a gift to the body of Christ. Or, to put it in even better terms, Jesus gave pastors to be a ministry-serving gift. And this is where we have gone off track as well. We don’t even know what ministry is. The word simply means to serve. There is nothing inherent in this word that means something like ‘the person who stands up front, preaches, and gets paid for it.’ Absolutely nothing in the background of this word.

The word pastor, or shepherd, refers to one who cares for the sheep. That’s our call. It might involve preaching, though even with study and preparation, that takes up about 3-4% of my time per week (of course, I preach once on Sundays and some can boast of preaching at 5 services per week). But pastoring involves caring for the sheep and it happens across many varying ways, not just preaching.

I’ll never forget the time I was at a leadership conference. First off, they started in Judges. Not that we can’t learn anything from Judges, but I was thinking that’s not where you generally start. I would start with Jesus, since He is the greatest pastor (or shepherd) ever. But at this conference, one speaker encouraged us to not spend so much time with the people. Rather we needed to give plenty of time to focus on our message to be preached. Now, sure we need to guard our time and not be overly abused from jumping from one person to another. But shepherds like to be with sheep. Jesus, as the Great Shepherd, loved being with people. I’m thinking that if we identify ourselves as pastors, we are going to want to be with the people. Otherwise we need to ‘resign’ (to use another word that goes in the grouping of hire and fire).

You see, most pastors are not pastors. They are CEO’s of large businesses who provide a product for a group of consumers. Yep, that’s what you see a lot these days. You’ve got guys who are good at vision, good at time management, good at managing people involved in tasks, but they are not really shepherding the sheep. Again, as I keep making side notes, I don’t have a problem with vision, managing time and people. I see that in my role at times. But it does not start there and the end goal is certainly not that. Those whom Jesus gifts as shepherds are not gifted to manage. They are gifted to care. And this will mean washing people’s feet. You know, like the Great Shepherd did.

Therefore, because we don’t have a clear grasp on what ministry truly is, what pastoring-shepherding truly is, we talk about hiring and firing (and resigning), we talk about capital campaigns, and our ears even perk up when another church down the road offers us a larger audience with better pay and perks. Again, to consider pastoring another church is not a problem. It’s the mindset that causes the heart of the Great Shepherd to break.

We can easily fall into the trap of approaching church leadership from a professional, business, capitalistic framework. This is dangerous, my friends. Actually, it’s very dangerous not only for the people we ‘lead’, but for our own selves. We will burn out, we will lose passion if it turns into this. Unless somehow we truly desire to feed our greed and keep jumping from Division 2 to Division 1 to a larger Division 1 setting to the great Professional league. With a shift like that every 5-8 years, you might make it to retirement. But you will be empty in your 60’s and 70’s.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are not professionals. The church is not a business. God’s favourite system is not capitalism. If we are pastors, then we have received a ministry gift to serve in caring for the sheep. And rather than a business, the church is a family. And rather than capitalism, God’s favourite approach is His seeing the right-living of His kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven, which oddly enough comes through serving. At least that’s how the Great Shepherd did it. And that’s what He is asking of those He gifts as shepherds.

What happened with Tom Izzo is fine in the world of college basketball. And I’m glad he chose the path of staying where he was, though he didn’t have too shabby of a place to stay at. But that bigger job and higher pay enticement does not belong amongst the church, the ekklesia, the body and bride of Christ. He gave His life for something else. Let’s walk in the footsteps of the Great Shepherd.