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Joe Aldrich on Some Marks of Maturity For a Pastor

22 Jun

LE Aldrich

Some Marks of Maturity for a Pastor

To help identify the kind of shepherd who stimulates beauty, let’s look now at some marks of maturity for a pastor. These are goals to shoot for, a direction to move. Since pupils are to become like their teachers, they are really goals for all of us.

The Mark of an Expanding Faith

Faith is that God-given ability to take the promises of God out of mothballs and apply them to the challenges of everyday living. Men of faith dream God-sized dreams and then move out to transform those dreams into reality. God has said that without faith, it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Pleasing him is believing him. Faith as belief is affirming who he is while faith as action is responsible behavior in the light of who he is and what he has promised.

Sometimes it is behavior which overcomes overwhelming odds. By faith men of God “conquered kingdoms … shut the mouths of lions … became powerful in battle” (11:33-34). More often it is a tenacious behavior which endures in the midst of intense struggle and personal loss. “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection” (11:35). Some accepted joyfully the seizure of their property because they knew they had a better and an eternal possession (10:34). Faith is not shrinking back, whether one faces opportunity or oppression. Our Lord warned against the leaven of the Sadducees (rationalism). Rationalism—eliminating the supernatural—becomes the great enemy of faith. The deceptive thing about the leaven of the Sadducees is its reasonableness. Rationalism is reasonable and safe. Faith often appears unreasonable and risky. It was both unreasonable and risky for Peter to attempt to walk on water. It was unreasonable for Noah to build a boat, for Abraham to expect a son, for Moses to abandon the prestige of Egypt, and for George Mueller to care for orphans. We must all grow in faith if we are to please him. Certainly we want to do that! The great faith chapter (Hebrews 11) gives us three clues for faith building.

1. Belief in the Invisible. These faith giants saw through the problems of the natural world to a supernatural Being. They saw him who is invisible (11:27). The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to do the same: “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:1-2). Our eyes must move from the waves to the Master of the waves, from the storm to the Savior, from the fire to the Father. Abraham left the familiar and went out into the unfamiliar, the new, the untested, the uncharted, because he saw that God was the architect and builder of his future (11:10). Cultivation of our relationship with him who is invisible is the first key for building faith.

2. Faith in What Has Been Promised. The heroes of faith not only saw him who was invisible, but they welcomed his promises from a distance (11:13). As we cultivate a relationship with God we are able to claim with assurance (faith) the promises which grow out of that relationship. Sarah was enabled to conceive because Abraham believed God would be faithful to what he had promised (11:11). He believed God was reliable. Our pastor must know both the person of God and the promises of God if he is to be a man of faith.

Two things hinder this process: 1) A lack of knowledge of the promises of God, and 2) a lack of faith in the person and character of God. Men and women of faith welcome the promises of God from a distance. That is, their major expectations are in the future, in life beyond the veil. Moses claimed the promises of God and turned his back on the prestige, power, and wealth of Egypt because “he was looking ahead to his reward” (11:26). Others joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property knowing that they had “better and lasting possessions” (10:34). They will be winners; they will not be ashamed for the choices they made because God is faithful, his promises are true, and “he has prepared a city for them” (11:16). An expanding faith must be marked by confidence in God’s promises.

3. Living a Faith Life Style. A real winner feels the gold medal around his neck before he enters the race. So should the pastor. He should run to win, and motivate by his courageous example a multitude to run with him. The promises of God should be the fabric of his future. Faith begins with the person of God, moves to his promises, and then to a pattern for living. Ours is a living faith and a faith to be lived.

There is a faith life style summed up in Hebrews 11:13: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

Pastors of all people must make this confession. It is the Magna Carta of Christian living. These heroes of the faith abandoned any hope of ultimate fulfillment in this life. They determined to ever be foreigners in their own countries, to live as aliens in their own land.

No city on this earth, no geographical location, no second home in the mountains has foundations which will last. We should abandon all hope of being satisfied and fulfilled with what is temporal. Our heartache is eternal, and no temporal bicarbonate will ease it. Nothing less than seeing Jesus face to face and dwelling in his presence will ever satisfy our deep longing. It’s a longing for home, and this world will never be our home.

Much of the Christian community acts as though this world is its home. Materialism is rampant. We have followed the gospel of the worldling who hopes that by doubling the cost of his new home he can double his happiness. This perverted gospel cripples the impact of countless Christians. The visible mark of faith is an alignment with an eternal home which creates an attitude and life style marked by its contrast with the secularism of our day. This alignment refocuses everything else. It changes our goals and objectives. It redirects our gifts and abilities and resources. It redefines our mission. Suddenly eternity with the Lord is everything, and his purposes become critical as we prepare for that great day. The “alien and stranger” lives for the possibility of hearing his Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Like Moses, he looks forward to the reward.

Pastors must be examples to the church of total stewardship. They should richly enjoy all that God has given, but their heavenly citizenship should be obvious. The deceitfulness of wealth, of any treasure but God himself, is a dangerous time bomb. Some pastors err in the other direction. They parade their poverty and continually let their needs be known, and then praise God for his wonderful provision. Be careful, and pray for balance.

Faith is the essential ingredient that pleases God. Faith is fueled as the pastor cultivates the presence of God. As D. L. Moody used to say, “I am a leaky vessel, and I need to keep under the tap.” Faith is freed as the pastor develops confidence in the promises of God. It is properly focused as he adopts God’s pattern of living. The man of faith is an alien sent by God as an agent of reconciliation. An ad in a secular magazine stated, “Once you discover you can change the world you’ll never be the same.” How true! Faith moves mountains.

The Marks of a Positive Ministry

Faith and hope are inseparable friends. The gospel itself is literally “good news.” A pastor should both be and communicate good news. It’s largely a matter of attitude. Many pastors gravitate toward a negative, critical, condemning pattern of life and ministry. Such a life style is not from God.

It is often thought that the Christian faith is a deprivation of joy in living, or that it is a mere pattern of religious observances, or that it is a hairsplitting system of beliefs. Christianity does involve some of these elements but they are only incidental. The modern evangelist has to sell the biblical point of view that the Christian faith is God’s way to undreamed of personal fulfillment. This will necessitate a shift to a more positive point of view in order to change this false but popular image of Christianity (James Jauncy, Psychology for Successful Evangelism [Chicago: Moody Press, 1972], 39).

Pastors need to be ministers of hope. It should permeate their lives and their preaching. Recently I heard a speaker say that the one who brings the most hope gains the most authority. That’s an amazing and scary thought. Lenin came with a message of hope and changed the world. As his “Utopia” unfolded, people gave everything, even their very lives, to further the cause. People rally around the bearer of hope and submit themselves to him. Hope is a vital quality for pastors.

Peter reminds us that we are to be ready to give an answer, with “gentleness and respect,” to everyone who asks us the reason for our hope (1 Peter 3:15). This is not “pumping sunshine.” Ministry is tough. It involves heartache, tragedy, and despair. The shepherd needs to have a faith which produces a hope that encourages, comforts, and strengthens even as the dark clouds gather. Those who worship Jesus Christ have reason for hope.

A ministry founded on and giving rise to hope is composed of several positive factors:

1. An Unveiled Face—Authenticity. One of the joys of the new covenant is that the veils can come off. Moses came down from the mountain and veiled his face so that his people could not see his glory fade away. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 Paul tells us that we no longer have to function as did Moses. When one “turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (3:16). Let’s not bring back what God has taken away. The Christian pilgrimage is not one sanctifying experience after which we put on the veil. We don’t reach a point where a veil becomes necessary. The longer we walk with him, the less a veil should be needed. Paul encourages us to look at him with unveiled face as we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (3:18).

People are attracted by authenticity. The pastor must guard himself against accepting the illusions, fantasies, or distorted expectations of his congregation. Integrity is the critical element. It is so easy to deceive from the pulpit, to preach about things we have not experienced and do not consistently practice. It is so easy to overstate, to play on guilt, and to imply that we solved a particular problem long ago. If we haven’t and imply that we have (often by what we don’t say), we are inauthentic.

2. A Diligent Student of the Word. The demands of ministry are great, but they must not take the pastor away from the Book. Since when should the pastor do the calling, teach Sunday school, chair three or four committees, fold the bulletins, oversee the youth ministries, plan the retreats, and on and on? His job has never been to do the work of the ministry. He is to equip others to do it.

Bible study, however, is hard work. There are plenty of things to keep a pastor “busy” and to provide an excuse for his lack of preparation. Poor preaching keeps most churches poor. Poor preaching in most cases is the result of poor priorities and procrastination. The minister who is going to build a contagious congregation must handle truth skillfully, knowing that truth is the foundation of beauty. Besides direct study of Scripture, the pastor must continue to learn. Seminars, books, retreats, and significant fellowship should have high priority in his schedule. Many secular management training programs are excellent. Each local church should set aside a substantial sum for its pastor’s continuing enrichment. It is money well spent.

3. A Liberator of the Body. The marvelous doctrine of reconciliation helps us see that ultimately evangelism is what Jesus Christ is doing through his church to reach his world. The pattern looks like this. At Christ’s incarnation, God was “reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Since Christ ascended to his Father’s right hand, the Father “has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (5:19-20). That’s what Christ is doing today. He entreats a lost world to be reconciled through his church, which is his body. Christ sows his good seed (beautiful seed) in the world, where his work is to take place.

The pastor must focus his church outward, not inward. His motto should be, “When the saints, go marching out!” The church is not a holy huddle, it is a task force whose primary focus must always be the “fields ripe for harvest.” Unfortunately, bigger buildings, larger programs, and more staff dictate church mission. We must justify our large expenditures, and the basic evangelism strategy becomes herding fish toward our expensive, stained-glass trap. Instead, the church should be God’s family extending itself to meet needs in the name of Jesus. Evangelism is what Jesus is actually doing through the preaching, the worship and fellowship, and the service of the church.

The pastor more than any other individual determines the character of the church’s preaching, fellowship, worship, and service. The content and style of his preaching is critical to the church’s health and beauty. If a church is to be a learning center, the pastor must make diligent preparation so that what is delivered is biblical, balanced, relevant, and liberating. Likewise, the pastor is the key to liberating the church to be a healing communion as he gives himself to building up the body so that it moves toward health. The pastor is also the key to whether or not the church is free to worship and to respond as a family to the presence of God in its midst. Finally, the service of the church is conditioned by the pastor’s vision (or lack of it). Liberating a congregation to be God’s people in service can be threatening. It often involves a rethinking of the pastoral and leadership roles. In most cases it means seeking a lower profile and elevating the gifts and abilities of others.

Jesus desires to explode himself through the lives of his people and do greater works than he did while on earth. He wants once again to touch the untouchables, feed the hungry, bring light where there is darkness and life where there is death. He wants to invite the thirsty—whoever they are, wherever they are—to discover living water. In the counsels of eternity, God decided for a time to link himself (and in a sense limit himself) to the frailties of his creatures. Why he has not evangelized with the hosts of heaven we do not know. What we do know is that Jesus’ mission today is done through us, his ambassadors. We are now members of the second incarnation called to make visible the invisible God. His impact, his mission, is linked to our obedience and vision. If we draw limits he has not drawn, he becomes limited in his outreach. If our hearts have no compassion for the lost, we neglect our commission and Christ’s mission is aborted.

Who do you think God wants to use to reach your neighborhood? Is he doing it? Why not? Pastor, you are God’s instrument to set people free—to encourage them, to liberate them, to give them your blessing to mark the lost for Christ. It may mean you will have to change your attitudes toward the unsaved. You may need to realign your understanding of separation with biblical truth. Perhaps you will have to eliminate some programs, change the thrust and tone of your preaching, focus again on the essentials, and start reaching your own neighborhood. People may need to be encouraged not to attend the programs and activities of the church so they can spend time with the unsaved. Your church may need, with your firm leadership, to move out into the community and serve it. Neglected widows may need help, injustice in your community may need to be confronted, programs may need to be implemented to care for the poor and needy … with no strings attached. You may need to brainstorm with your leadership team about where Jesus would go in your community to meet needs, and then direct resources and people into that area. Christianity in action under qualified leadership is always effective evangelistically.

4. A Builder of Men. Men attract men, especially in a church context. A primary part of the pastor’s job is the building of men. To nudge men on toward maturity takes time and commitment. His must help others to minister—not do the work of ministry himself. The minister is like the foreman in a machine shop, or the coach of a team. He does not do all the work, nor does he make all the plays. (Though he is a working foreman and a playing coach!) If a man can’t operate a lathe, the foreman rolls up his sleeves and shows him how. If a player can’t carry out an assignment, the coach demonstrates how to make the play (Leighton Ford, The Christian Persuaders [New York: Harper & Row, 1969], 49).

Even though the pastor is a shepherd who loves the entire body, a ministry to men must have a special place in his heart. While in the pastorate I met with at least five groups of men each week. I met one on one with a dentist friend, with two other board members, with a group of twenty or thirty businessmen, with the entire board, and with the pastoral staff (seven men). Although the group dynamics were different, the purposes were similar. With mutual accountability we shared the Word, prayer, schedules, and relationships. Each year, at my request, the board of elders met without me to evaluate my ministry, my marriage and family, and anything else they desired. This information, often painful, was shared in love and resulted in growth and encouragement. It also set a precedent. As they saw the value of evaluation, the board members requested that each of them be evaluated too.

We as a board recognized our need to be a redemptive community. We structured our weekly board meetings so that the first hour focused on instruction and worship. Board members rotated the teaching assignment among themselves. I spent hours working with some of the men helping prepare them to preach and teach. What an exciting experience to sit on the front row as one of them delivers the morning message! Men, help your pastor by being honest with him. I remember so well the evening a man in my congregation said to me, “Joe, you’ve been my pastor for two years. I’m disappointed you haven’t built into my life more effectively.” It was a time of soul searching … and growth. You may need to pose a similar question to your pastor to nudge him into one of his most important responsibilities. An effective pastor builds into his leaders to establish the base for a healthy and attractive ministry. Before a church is ready to add members, it must increase the quality and quantity of its leadership. A wise pastor learns how to be a builder of men, then makes this challenge central to his ministry.

5. A Family Specialist. Focus on the family! Target sermons regularly on marriage and family living. Take advantage of the excellent video series and printed materials available. People are hurting desperately in this area. Meet these needs and evangelism problems are practically solved. If your church cannot accept the wreckage of broken homes and shattered dreams, it is not a place where Jesus lives. Your church should be the greatest garbage dump in town—a place where the broken, oppressed, misplaced, abandoned, and unloved can come and find a family where they are accepted and loved … as is. “As is” people are Jesus’ kind of people. The Pharisees despised them. They still do. “As is” people become great disciples and great soul winners. Those who have been forgiven the most love the most. The effective church ministers effectively to families because it is a family. Pastor, you’re the key. Father the fatherless, rebuke the offenders, encourage the discouraged, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep, weep, weep. If your heart is not broken by broken people, you don’t have Jesus’ heart. If your heart is not compelled to go when lost men stumble in darkness, you don’t have Jesus’ heart. Pray that his mission will recapture the hearts of his children and of their leaders.

6. A Careful Planner. The old adage is true: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. A goal is a statement of faith about the future. Visions remain visions unless goals are established as steps to the visions’ realization. Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time. A careful planner simply puts a foundation under his fantasy.

Some years ago I put together a document which has been very influential in shaping my life. It contains my personal objectives, goals, and standards. I established objectives and goals in five areas: spiritual, intellectual, physical, family, and ministry. Objectives became broad statements of purpose. Suppose one objective in my spiritual life is to be conformed to the image of Christ. That is a broad, unmeasurable purpose. To achieve it I must establish several goals. One goal would be to maintain a regular Bible study program. Another might be to develop a significant prayer life. Reading Christian biographies could be another goal. If I meet these goals I will be well on my way toward my objective of Christ-likeness. Unfortunately, these goals are still too general and unmeasurable. Therefore, I must establish standards to quantify my goals and make them measurable. Here is a sample:

I. Objective: To be conformed to the image of Christ.

Goal: Regular Bible study Standard:

30 minutes each day in Bible study

Standard: 10 minutes each day in devotional literature

Standard: Weekly reading of pertinent journals, such as Christianity Today

Goal: Develop a significant prayer life

Standard: 30 minutes each day

Standard: Written requests with answers recorded

Standard: Daily prayer with wife and family

Standard: Daily prayer with staff

Goal: Read significant Christian biographies

Standard: One biography per month

Such an exercise is invaluable. The more you plan, the more efficient is your time spent in working. Perhaps the greatest value of planning is the “self-fulfilled prophecy” effect Planning plants seeds which enable visions to grow into realities. Planning is simply taxing the mind to solve the problems that keep us from a fruitful future. Not to plan is not to set in operation the incredible resources of the human mind, a resource which when linked with faith can move mountains. A man of vision plans … so does an effective shepherd.

Our fifth and final question is one only the pastor can answer: “What changes must take place in the life of the pastor to make him that kind of a person?” It is a critical question. Pastors need the insight and the feedback of their leaders to answer it effectively. The question cannot be answered unless it’s asked. My prayer is that many pastors will take the risk … and ask.

Article adapted from the ‘Pastor and Evangelism” in Joe Aldrich. Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You (pp. 149-160). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

About the Author:

Dr. Joe Aldrich (Th.D – Dallas Theological Seminary) was the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Newport Beach in the 1970’s, and the President of Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, Oregon in the 1980’s and early 90’s.

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