Thank you to Jason Wan, who got all three of my books at once!
My books are here:
Be blessed, dear friends!
Do you ever get tired of serving and sacrificing? I get that we can’t earn salvation, and that our faith and worth isn’t even defined by how much we give, but don’t you sometimes feel like you’re working so hard compared to others, and it’s not fair? the bible says that the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few…I feel like those few faithful workers will have a tendency to burn out! thoughts? 🙂
You know, I think this is one of those things that everyone is afraid to say: and you said it. We all want to look like willing ready servants that are faithful to jump into the furnace, and I would even say: some of our hard work is actually people-pleasing and comparison and trying to earn salvation. Or, people are just afraid to say no because they don’t want to look lazy. After all, half of our generation lives in the Over-Productive Neurotically Over-Achieving Mega-Success era.
But like you said: Yes, we get tired. Mostly I get weary of serving those who eventually drop out of their race of faith anyway. I’ve poured sweat and tears and prayers into dozens of people who ended up going prodigal, and I always blame myself. I know that I shouldn’t. Other times, everyone expects Christian leaders and pastors to be superhuman, and we don’t find a comfortable rhythm of rest and work. This is especially true in my Asian Culture, when taking a break means you’ve dishonored your family lineage and a vacation means you’ve declared feudal war.
Burning out can also be a case of “wrong seat on the bus.” If you’re doing something you’re not called to do, then of course it’ll feel joyless. I don’t think all serving needs to be glamorous or laughs-a-minute, but I see tons of people who are gritting their teeth at church because they’re not maximizing their gifts in the right setting. Some are too prideful to let go, or they can’t imagine someone else taking over, or they’re just used to it. But you can work magic if you just switch a few spots. I’ve seen friends bloom in the right circumstances.
I’m really tired of pastors (including myself) talking trash about other pastors, and Christians about other Christians. I’m tired of pastors saying, “This isn’t gossip if we’re discussing people in ministry.” Even if that were true, we smuggle in all our petty bitterness under the disguise of caring about someone when we really don’t. That’s more reason to be careful, not less. It doesn’t matter if you only gossip with people you “trust” or with just one other person: you are still feeding your inner-troll.
I don’t believe your church and my church exist within their buildings. They don’t end at your back door or my front lawn. They co-exist in the global body of Christ. We are one. So when you talk bad about another pastor or another Christian down the street — any fellow human being — you are undermining the work of God in their lives. Even suggesting that another pastor is “unworthy” of his position (which is already true) will kill a local ministry. All for what? To satisfy our desperate attention-seeking ego for two seconds? To claim we got the secret-sauce of the “right” methodology? You can’t possibly know the extent of damage you’re doing to OUR church, which is also your body. We effectively bite our own fingers and toes. We eat our own. No one is impressed by this, especially not the world. And I’m tired of that sick feeling in my stomach when I leave a room knowing I just spit on Jesus’s face.
If you’ve been brainwashed into thinking your church is the only one doing it right: you’ve fallen for a tribal, cult-like, isolated, nationalistic paradigm which Jesus came to destroy. If you think a pastor is a false teacher, you are not “protecting” people by publicly shaming him. Instead of using your energy to blast the guy, we could be on our knees praying in sweat and tears for God to rend their hearts open and to have mercy on us all. Most likely though, this guy isn’t a false teacher but he simply does ministry differently than you, and you’re butt-hurt for reasons that won’t matter when you stand before God’s face-melting glory at the end of your one short life. If you have to call out a false teacher, point at yourself first.
I know that no matter how much we divide our own church, God still has grace and He will still work in His sovereignty. But it will be in spite of us and not through us. I would much rather God work through me than past me. It’s better. It is how we will not just survive, but thrive.
I have defended crappy terrible pastors for years now. I have also talked my share of trash. I’m done with both. I will say nothing less than to point to Jesus. I beg of you: celebrate people, because God loves them too. Pray for them, because they need it. And pray for yourself, to let go of excuses and let go of your pride. Gossip is gossip, regardless of what else you call it. I plead with you: please join me in stopping the stream of crap that so quickly emerges from our mouths, which have the potential for greater than this.
Fellow pastors and teachers and leaders: I know the frenzy of Saturday night when you’re scrambling to get your sermon just right. After you got your three points, consulted all the commentaries, and fit in your illustrations, here are a few checks to consider that have helped immensely.
You’ve been there at church on a Wednesday night or small group or post-sermon discussion where somebody has the sheet of questions, there’s the go-around of Doritos and ginger ale, and then comes the horrible show-stopping inquisition —
“What are your thoughts on that?”
Oh, this guy got trained good — he’s not asking “yes” or “no” questions. He wants thoughts.
Then the cavernous silence, like God looking for Adam in the garden after the Fall. You look for fig leaves under the seat. All you got is ranch chips and a styrofoam cup of creamy wonder from the He-Brews Coffee Bar.
No one moves, twiddles a thumb, or even breathes: because a sign of life would indicate you want to speak, and getting called on is worse than the moment you use the table of contents in the Bible.
And then like watching a car accident in slow-motion, the leader’s neck moves his head towards you and he asks, “Why don’t we start with you?”
Chairs creaking. Looking for a trap door, fire alarm, paper bag, smoke bomb, taser.
The only way it could get more awkward is if you karate chopped the guy next to you and jumped out a window yelling, “They’ll never get me!”
I feel you on this one. It’s pretty uncomfortable to just talk deep at the drop of a hat, and an insensitive leader with a low EQ — bless his heart — will just trample on your natural defenses. No one can go from zero to vulnerable that easily. If a Bible study means to get at the core of our human struggle, then we should probably expect a lot of silence.
So hey: awkwardness is okay, and there’s a way to handle it that’s more like a scalpel than a broad sword.
Whether you’re the leader or shy enough to use your turtleneck as a hoodie, here are four ways to push forward.
There’s always a cringe-worthy moment on Sundays when the preacher drops an anvil in the pulpit that suffocates the whole sermon.
It’s a shrill phrase, nails on a chalkboard, subtle as a sledgehammer, insensitive, no tact, no grace, a lazy tactic that’s meant to stir up something but disregards actual human interaction.
Pastors: don’t just describe the water that we’re drowning in. That helps no one. Show us how to swim.
I’m not above these things and have and occasionally caught myself in the middle of a sermon to laugh at them. Let’s be a little more self-aware and nip these at the bud.
There are things we hear in the pulpit that sound uber-deeply complex, but like a time travel movie, the more we think about it, the more likely our heads will explode from sheer absurdity. Here are some incomplete half-truths we hear in church that need more nuance. Let’s be thoughtful.
We’re not surprised anymore when a famous preacher who blasts homosexuality gets caught in a homosexual affair doing meth. A governor who pursues ethics in Wall Street is busted for carousing with prostitutes. An actor turned governor turned actor hides a secret child outside his marriage for ten years, fully realizing his role as an actor. We’ve learned that Nazi doctors who ordered the deaths of countless people were also fathers and husbands, a phenomenon later coined “doubling.” At least a third of pastors are addicted to pornography. And half of Christian men are in the same boat.
Once you claim a standard, you’re claimed by that standard.
Even the reckless prodigal or the pseudo-reasonable atheist has claimed categories of superiority. They both sneer at the religious right. The only difference is a Christian works from a deficit: he is expected to be impeccably polite while an atheist lacks all accountability and likes it that way. The atheist has infinite loopholes when he falls — especially when he falls — while the Christian is ready to be hanged at any second for a single outburst.
It’s a sort of reverse bigotry. The non-religious gets in a scandal and it’s “business as usual.” The pastor destroys his marriage and he’s no longer qualified for ministry, or to be treated like a human being.
How far do we take this? If an atheist turned out to be an axe murderer, his atheism as a cover is as good as a cheap hooker’s dress. Try to call that the usual business and you’re likely to be called insane.
No matter who you are or claim to be, a standard has claimed you.
The late John Stott said, Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross … It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.
While no one has a valid excuse for hypocrisy, a follower of Christ has more reason to keep it real. He is held accountable even when others are not. And if we claim no superiority, then we have no right to judge outside the church. We have every right to confront each other in the church, to build and not to destroy.
But we cannot ask of others what we first are not doing ourselves.
Do you think your faith could be where it is now if you hadn’t gone through seminary? What do you think of serving in either the church or the missions fields without attending a seminary school?
Near the end of my seminary studies, I wrote a blog post about my entire experience plus wisdom for students here. Read it whenever you like.
One thing seminary does is it will expose your strengths and weaknesses. I hear plenty of pastors say, “Seminary will destroy your faith and make you resent God” — but that’s impossible. No one makes anyone do anything: your environment only exposes who you really are. Same with the car who cuts you off, the friend who betrays you, the dude who holds you at gunpoint, the seminary that pressures you. All of it reveals what’s already inside.
That’s why some seminarians come out with huge Bible-heads all puffed up from learning Greek, or some will have a dried up faith when they learn about Creationism, the Old Testament genocides, and how the Bible was made, as if they finally get to say, “This is what we believe?” No one did that to them.
So be ready for the most rigorous refinement of your intellect in the context of your faith. If you’re humble and teachable along the way, you’ll love it. If your expectations are otherwise, it’s a minefield.