One of the biggest challenges I’ve found in pastoral ministry, has been the “hand-me-downs.” These, quite simply, are church and pastoral expectations formed by previous experiences, both good and bad, that get handed down or passed onto a new pastor whether he/she like it or not. These ideas are filled with comparisons and assumption, hope and doubt, excitement as well as apprehension.
Hand-me-downs are common in the ministry. And if they’re not handled correctly, they have been known to crush ministers and their spouses of every type. It makes me think of the pressure David felt to step forward but wearing someone else’s armor.
Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. 1 Samuel 17:38-39
David’s response is simple:
“I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off… 1 Samuel 17:39
Please understand: This isn’t a “boo-hoo” blog. We’ve got far too many diva ministers living the victim-pastor role. This blog is a note of encouragement and help in navigating through the pressure of wearing “Saul’s armor”: Those hand-me-down expectations to be something or someone beside whom God has called you to be.
Currently, I am the 15th Lead pastor in our church’s 84 year history. I have followed 14 absolute legends. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton,
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
But along with every position comes a full “closet.” That storage space is filled with the pastoral perceptions, responsibilities, and production developed from previous leadership. It would be naive to not recognize within that wardrobe would also be failings, shortcomings, and disappointments. Pastors normally make one of two mistakes: He/she either chooses to wear the weight of that armor, or closes the door ignoring what is there.
What do you do? Do you quit and church plant? (NOTE: Most church planters will tell you that they may not have much “history” to their church but the people who show up do have past church experience). Do you suck it up, fall in line, and be who people expect you to be?
I want to encourage you to be YOU. I want you to see that God called you
I fell in love with this church in the winter of 2008…issues and all.
In the spring of 2009, Kfirst took a chance on this pastor…issues and all.
And I wanted to give you a few thoughts I’ve learned about stepping forward without having to wear someone else’s armor:
1 – The past is great to visit; it’s a miserable place to live. So much time and energy is spent on expectations and identities connected to former ministers and/or ministries who may or may not have been very successful (whatever ministry success is defined as). You are the man/woman God sent to that church. You are not the previous pastor nor any of the others before him/her. BE YOU! I have no problem honoring people and moments in our church and/or fellowship. I will not idolize them which means the church cannot be about them. Part of pastoring is navigating through the past so that the church community no longer lives in the past. Why? I believe what God is doing NOW is greater than what was done BEFORE.
Your history can be a baton to your ministry without being an anchor keeping you from moving forward.
2 – Get busy living or get busy dying (one of my fav quotes from Shawshank Redemption). There is a necessity for all of us individually, as well as collectively, to experience change. It isn’t easy when people are expecting you to wear the role they have developed for you. That armor was forged from their own experiences and ideas. I guess that type of armor would be a bit easier to put on and wear if EVERYONE had the exact same expectations. But even then, that armor wasn’t made for me. It belonged to someone else.
I’m much slower with change than people perceive. Usually I’ll talk and dream with staff about it for a while before it’s done. Change is the natural result of discipleship. To refuse to change, is the stifle discipleship. And discipleship is life and vitality. And both you and your congregation need it.
There’s a difference between “having church” and “being the Church.” And being the church means discipleship. And whether you like it or not, discipleship means change from the inside out. We see that God created seasons to facilitate a healthy earth. Why shouldn’t we approach it the same?
Listening to their heart (hurts and all) may or may not mean you need to do what is expected. Listening to them does mean you look into the issues/expectations for deeper issues so that you can lead people toward health. You can go insane trying to tailor make your ministry to every expectation. But do your best to do position the church for health and not preference.
3 – Fear isn’t there to energize you; It depletes you. You cannot pastor out of fear. Fear makes you wear the comfortable look and feel of someone else’s expectations. You’ve got to pastor out of conviction. And that is easier said than done. Conviction positions us to the leading of the Holy Spirit and, normally, that takes us out of our comfort zone.
I want to give you a tremendous piece of advice a mentor (Ron Ruch) in my life gave me. From his decades of experience, he spoke 6 healing words:
“I give you permission to fail.”
Those six words have put a fearlessness into me. NOTE: fearlessness doesn’t mean reckless. It doesn’t mean I don’t plan nor do things without excellence. But it does mean I need to move fearlessly forward while carrying a heart for the Kingdom. People may not always understand my decisions or catch the vision behind them. But I pray people will know my heart. My heart is for the Kingdom. I want Jesus to shine. Preferences drive fear. Grumbling drives fear. Guilt drives fear. But God hasn’t given you a spirit of fear, “but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Walk with Holy Spirit conviction and be fearless.
4 – Build your ministry with relationships and not titles. The old saying by Theodore Roosevelt goes,
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”
I cannot count how many meals and coffees I have a year with people from our community. Why that much investment in food and beverages? Relationships. Being relational helps create context for what you do and what you say. But until you develop a consistent history (I hear it takes 7 years of it) of relationship building as a pastor, people will see you in light of previous pastors. Until there’s relationship, they will respond to you in light of who previously pastored them. How do you shake loose of the identity of those that have preceded you? One cup of coffee at a time. One meal at a time. It might seem slow, but it’s deep seeded connection that builds a healthy congregation.
5 – Relinquish what wasn’t yours to begin with. Whether we are talking about power or people, pastors and parishioners need to loosen their tight-fisted grip. Two thoughts: First, There are those that will put pressure upon you to do everything within the church. The expectation is for you to wear every hat in the church. Second, there are those pastors who put the pressure upon themselves to do and be everything.
My advice is simply: delegation and release. Delegate responsibilities. Release superfluous things that claim resources and time that are not the current vision of the church. Empower others to do ministry. If someone wants to leave the church, let them go with blessing being prayed over them. There are far too much energy holding onto power and people; two things of which do not belong to us in the first place.
Today, if you are tired of wearing someone else’s armor…if you’re tire of walking in someone else’s shoes…
Then it’s time to strip. It is time to step out of their shadow and into the life-giving light of Christ and his calling. Their armour doesn’t fit. You are called to be you. God only made one of you and he’s charged you to do it.
Stop living out and in what somebody has handed you. Saul’s armor isn’t for you.
Be YOU in Jesus name. Be YOU covered in spiritual armor. Be YOU living out YOUR identity in Jesus.
You can do this.
I love waking up ever day serving this amazing congregation. Honestly, I want you to have the same love for yours.
Thanks for letting me ramble…