Certain people who have at the church here in Feltham still call me “Pastor”. Now, as a general principle I accept that as a courtesy and largely do not recoil from it. In fact it can be quite heart-warming in that it indicates people’s affection for myself and what I have sought, in my own little way, to do to help them.
However, there are others who have moved on because they rejected my counsel and teaching. They rejected the care that was offered to them. In a sense they decided that they did not want me to pastor them. So why do they till call me “Pastor” when by their actions they have indicated that they did not want me to pastor them? Perhaps I might pick them up on it when it next happens.
Last week was a big week for me; I was in Ethiopia. It was my first time ever in Africa and, all in all, it was a big week. Upon returning to the UK it has been curious to observe responses (or non-responses) from people I have met. Through being away I have lots that has impacted my heart, mind and general well-being. There are things I am interested to share with people. But how many people are interested?
First of all, I want to concentrate on how we show interest in people who have things on their heart that they want to talk about. Perhaps they have been on holiday or simply something big has happened to them. What we need to be is prayerfully sensitive in all our dealings with all people so that we can discern whether people have things in their recent experience they want to talk about. Is there something this person would be encouraged by if I asked them about it? Ponder upon what has been in their life recently. This requires the ability to listen and to ask appropriately probing questions which display your interest.
Generally, if someone does not ask about an experience then the assumption is that they are not interested in what has happened to the other person. Questions do not have to be complicated. Just a simple “How did you get on on your holiday?” can be sufficient.
After asking the question then there is the responsibility to lovingly listen. It may be that you have to shut someone down if they are going on ad nauseum. But strengthening of relationships and encouragement can all ensue from taking an interest in someone and what they have experienced and then listening well.
Secondly, what about the situation from the perspective of the person who has gone through a big experience. For such there is the need to discern who is interested. Some people are not interested and it can be insensitive to dump all your experience on that person. Others are interested, but you need to be careful about how much and what to share with that person. You need to be careful you do not become the “party-bore” who everybody avoids because they have heard it all before and more.
At the heart of all these situations is love. Love is interested in others. And love wants to share life with others.
When progressing through material in a verbal presentation, it is good to think about having regular re-caps throughout the message. By a re-cap I mean going over what has been previously presented
- gives people a breather. It gives them time to re-group their thoughts amidst ongoing presenting of the material.
- allows people to reorient themselves in the message. As the presentation moves on there can be a tendency to lose track of where the speaker has got too. A re-cap gives opportunity for the hearer to know where they are.
- reminds the audience of what has been presented. This aids memory and therefore the possibility of the retention of the material in the mind.
- should tie the message in with what you stated in your introduction and so shows that the message has a coherent thread.
- stirs people up for the rest of the message. Rather, than leaving people to drift into a comatose state through behind unsure about where the speaker has got to, the speaker through a re-cap shows his audience where everything is at and sets the people to to listen attentively to the rest of the message.
The number of re-caps in a message will depend upon its length and complexity, but they are surely most helpful in assisting the conveyance of materiel into the minds and hearts of the hearers.
What impression do I give as a church leader. One model, which is quite common, is that of the “I’ve got it all sorted, try and be like me” elder. This person refuses to reveal any problems in his life for fear that everyone will then judge him as a failure. Accordingly, such a person is very much cut-off from the people. And when they see him on a Sunday morning in front of them they think he has no idea of what struggles they are having.
Such a model seems to exist on the basis of a denial of reality and is not helpful for the congregation or the leader. For the leader he is trapped in a “putting on a front” lifestyle. He is of no help to himself and no help to his people.
It seems to be a far more sensible approach to be free in sharing our struggles. In this model we are very much aware that we are a church member before we are a church leader. this is a very important order to have in place. If we have it the other way round with the “I am a Church Leader” motif prevailing then we can very soon become the professional who must put on a good appearance at all costs. If you are first of all, a brother in the family of God you can know fellowship with those in the church as you pray for one another and support one another in all your struggles. Moreover, the people can relate to; they know that when you preach you are also a fellow struggler with them. They know that you feel with them in their infirmities.
This reminds me of the model of our Lord and how his suffering in the world provides the motivation for our coming to Him. In Hebrews 4:14-16 we read: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
We also need to be aware of not taking the declaring of my struggles too far. If you are always mentioning how messed up you are it becomes a bit wearisome. It becomes in may ways a subtle self-advertisement.
So as church elders let us be careful about how we portray ourselves before others. The effectiveness of our ministries depends on it.
The Shulammite bride in Song of Solomon says at one point (SoS 1:6b) :
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect.
Whether, it is by coercion or by wrong-headed thinking (or whatever) if we neglect our own vineyard then there is always danger at hand. There are various ways we can do this:
- If we are so busy serving others, and doing things for them, then we can so easily fail to nurture our own vineyard. If we do this relentlessly then we may well find ourselves impoverished in our souls. When such takes place we are hindered in being effective in helping others because there is nothing in our souls to pass on.
- We can be so busy serving in church that we forget our families. As a result relationships with our wives and children are not nurtured and there becomes a distance between us. When this happens things have become the wrong way round. When the vineyard of our family is parched and unproductive because of our neglect then we are compromising our other ministry. If we do not serve well those who are closest to us, we lose the validation for serving others outside the family sphere.
- Churches can be so taken up with evangelism that they fail to nurture the vineyard of the church as it is constituted. So members of the church hear of evangelism and became antipathetic towards it because they feel very neglected. ‘Evangelism’ they hear and rather than being excited they become begrudging of this activity. Churches need to be healthy in themselves before they can be a blessing to others.
In all this I am not saying that there is an either/or, but I am saying that there needs to be care in assessing and acting out our priorities.
One of my experiences of leadership in a church is that you very often act as a lightning conductor. I am not commenting here upon whether or not that is a good or bad thing. Rather, I am making the observation that people very often want to get something off their chest and they view you, as a church elder as a safe, even appropriate place where they can do it.
Sometimes when people have dumped stuff on me I go away thinking there must be a crisis at hand. However, it soon becomes clear that there is nothing of the sort. Rather, they have relieved the puss that has been manufactured in their mulling over an issue. And once the puss is out then they feel so much better and move on.
Another aspect of this is the fact that I can feel that there must be others who are aware of a friction of difficulty in the life of the church, because someone has raised something with me. But it is not so. Rather, the fact that someone can give me a tough time has meant that they have not spread the matter in church. Thereby it is actually giving an opportunity for the church to flourish.
Now there are issues here that one has to be aware of:
- Is there a person committing sin in the way they are acting?
- Is there a need for an issue to be persued?
- Is there a need for the person raising an issue to actually go and sort the matter out with someone else?
- Are there people treating me as a priest in confession? We should be very wary of this, we do not want to act in such a way for people.
- Are they coming to the right person? They need to go direct to God so very often and not to us.
- Am I becoming proud that people are coming to me? They may be bringing hard stuff, but pride so very easily arises when we think that they are actually coming to us.
In all this though, if my pain from being a lightning conductor means that the church is blessed then all is well and good.
When a difficulty arises in our lives what is our first reaction. I am suggesting here how the first thing to do should always be to go the source of the problem. I was faced recently with someone making an observation about my view on a subject which they had received from someone else. I nearly went to the someone else to seek to clarify what they thought my view was. But I stopped and thought that the source of the matter arsing was the person who had sent the email. Accordingly, I went to them and spoke about what my view was. Happily a quick conversation resolved the matter and there was no confusion between us all.
I was left thinking, though that if I had gone and spoken to the third party it could have provoked an unnecessary difficulty. Of course it could have transpired that my conversation with the person who sent the email necessitated going to the other person. But first of all we must go to the source.
It is easy when we hear of something to start speaking to other people and asking their view. But this can very often lead to all kinds of misunderstanding and false accusations. If only as a first-off people went to the source of the issue.
It is interesting that the Lord Jesus when He was speaking about resolving issues said that ‘If your brother or sistersins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over (Matt.18:15). This refers to specifically to the situation when someone sins against you. But it surely establishes a principle that in any issue we go to the source of the problem.