The Complicated Calling of a Pastor

Today my husband Chad and I drove across the wide open spaces of our part of Texas, sometimes chatting amiably, sometimes watching the scenery go by in silence. He spent time listening to speculation about his beloved Dallas Cowboys on sports radio while I dozed in the passenger seat. And at one point we spent a few minutes thinking and talking about our life and the interesting turns it has taken through the years. We never knew that we would wind up here, twenty years into our marriage, happily answering God’s call in our little town. Yet, here we are. God has been so gracious to bring us here where life is simple. The commute to anywhere in our town is four minutes. Trips to our local grocery store are bound to take awhile because there will be friends inside to talk to. Our world doesn’t revolve around money or cars, fashion or fancy houses. Our life here is beautiful and small and unique.

There is a certain simplicity to it. Yet, through the years we have learned just how complicated a pastor’s calling really is.

As people, Chad and I are irrevocably intertwined with others. We are likely to hear deep, dark secrets which we hold close, not even allowed to share many things with each other. We are entrusted with some of people’s most delicate admissions and live through some of their darkest hours with them. Our life is simple in so many ways. Yet, our life is about people, and people are anything but simple. We are complicated creatures filled with all kinds of surprising and delightful and shocking and sad secrets. Every room is at the same time a crowded collection of interpersonal struggles and warm friendships, family strife and sin struggles and amazing examples of God’s grace and mercy.  As a pastor’s family, we get a front row seat to all of it.

I have seen Chad carry the heavy burden of failing marriages and sudden deaths, of children with no heat in the dead of winter. I have seen him try to be the ultimate problem solver while problem after problem is laid before him. I have heard his prayers for the many people on his heart and mind at midnight when he should be sleeping.

And while all of this is going on, still he wrestles with his own spiritual battles. Still he studies and tries to flee temptation and undertakes the difficult task of dealing with difficult people, precious people, kind people, and mean people, all while begging the Holy Spirit to keep him from sin. To give him the mind and eyes of Christ. Still he feels the weight of his next sermon, always bearing down no matter what else is happening in his life or the lives of those who need him at any given time.

These aren’t things that pastors can really talk about with the rest of us. They carry a unique load, and one that isn’t easily understood by those of us who don’t bear their responsibilities. It’s a complicated calling.

Chad and I thank God every day for this simple, complicated life. We thank Him for the complicated people who have been entrusted to our care, and we thank Him for the simple message of the gospel, which can cut through the most complicated of circumstances. One thing we have learned in these pastoring years is that every complicated situation really comes down to just one thing: we all need Jesus. Watching Him work in the middle of even the most difficult and crazy circumstances proves it to us over and over again–Jesus is the real problem solver. A simple truth for a complicated calling.

Women and Seminary: Should You Go?

When I graduated high school I had one primary goal and that was to play softball. The education part would follow, but my dream was to play college ball. At the end of my senior year I signed to play college at a small Division III school, but by the end of my first semester I knew that God was calling me into “ministry.” As a  young woman who grew up in an SBC church I thought that meant I either went to Africa for missions or I would teach children. Since I wasn’t too fond of children I figured Africa was my next step.

I enrolled at Criswell College not knowing anything other than I wanted to study the Bible.  Greek, Systematic Theology, and how do you even say the word hermeneutic much less what it is… I was stepping into a whole new, predominately male, world with more questions than answers, but I knew this was a step I needed and desired. Now 10 years later I’m in the middle of my first semester at Southeastern Seminary and there is a whole new level of excitement and expectancy as I’m back to quizzes, reading page upon page, and cramming for midterms in the middle of 4th grade math homework and cooking dinner.

A couple weeks ago I sat across a young woman I have the privilege of discipling. She shared her thoughts on her place in the church, what ministry looks like, and wanting to go to school, but also not knowing where you start, or if it was even worth the investment of money and time in the long run. It was a flashback to my 20 year old self sitting across from my pastor, and I looked at her with the biggest smile and said, “YES. GO!”

Maybe you are like my friend…… wading through what it looks like to be a woman in the SBC and not knowing your path or next steps and you feel this tug to enroll. I would think there is some interest since you are reading this post, so if I can let me encourage you a couple things:

Women Need Theology Too
My husband jokes that he and I have the same undergrad degree its just that I have a little honors sticker on mine. When I enrolled at Criswell I went in with the mindset of wanting the same training any pastor would get to teach the Word, so that I could do the same thing to a group of teenage girls or women.

So much of women’s ministry and teaching in the past has been marked by weak topical teaching. We have created a culture that gives quick fixes and popcorn Bible study as the standard for our women in their Spiritual growth and then wonder why they and us feel shallow and lacking. Good theology brings about solid moms, bosses, wives, and caretakers.

One of the biggest things I see in the women I lead and interact with today is the inability of our women to be able to take on the hard things in life because they haven’t been equipped to study, apply, and live out the Word of God when life gets messy. With the access of tons of blogs and podcasts, they are more willing to commit an hour to listening, instead of 30 minutes to studying. We need women’s voices who have done the hard work of training study to then equip others with solid meat and not infant milk. Their roots are dry and shallow and when the cares of this world come along we have a huge group of women falling away.

We Need One Another

First Sisters……There is so much beauty in watching other women who have the same heartbeat for the church and the Gospel and watching God grow them right before your eyes. In my Old Testament class, I have a classmate who is serving overseas in an unreached people group sharing the Gospel of Jesus. There is another sister who is the children’s minister at her church, and several other women who are single moms and studying to know the Bible more. Each of their stories, their life stages, you see God’s work goes far beyond you. As I have gotten to know other women in my studies it has helped me fight that lie “you don’t belong here” and instead become more passionate about my small role on this huge planet. It reaffirms that God still calls, uses, and sends women for His Gospel both here and abroad. There is a common bond that provides both encouragement and perseverance to keep going.

And Our Brothers……As a woman surrounded by men I definitely had my times of feeling out of place, but as I look back on my early years of ministry I can fully say I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my brothers beside me. I learned a lot from them about ministry and the burdens they carry as Pastors. We shared mutual stories of calling, balancing family, and ministry demands and they taught me a thing or two about Calvinism and Arminianism in their coffee shop debates before I had any idea what these “isms” were. One brother helped me get my first staff position on a church because he saw and affirmed God’s call on my life. We sat in Chapel together soaking up the Word, we walked the streets of Downtown Dallas giving food and water and sharing the Gospel with the homeless men and women of our city, and we prayed for one another in losses and victories. From the very beginning, God set the mandate that we are better together, in our uniqueness and in our similarities. Why would this be any different than in our seminaries as well?

Wide Open Opportunities

I believe in the last ten years, and even in the last year with all the conversations happening around women in Ministry, more and more opportunities are opening for us to take part in.

Because of the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptist all across the country, we are able to attend school at our 6 seminaries for a fraction of the price. My school, Southeastern Seminary, has a special initiative to help bring women and other minorities into their school through the Kingdom Diversity Scholarships that are available for us. Our seminaries are working hard at their Online and Degree Programs in order to help make education more available to the working woman, stay at home mom, and retired widow. With emphasis in theology, missions, women’s studies, counseling, and education you can study and receive a solid Biblical education on top of your desired field. The opportunities are endless! From certificates to full degrees to free courses you can take just to get your feet wet, there is so much available to you as a Southern Baptist Woman.

I want to end with saying that Seminary isn’t for everyone, nor is it the only marker for a solid study. Thanks to the internet we have so many sources at our fingertips that can help grow us both intellectually and spiritually. My favorite Bible Teacher, Jen Wilkin, is a self-taught gal, but her self-study is evident in her content and push for Biblical literacy.

Whether you step into formal education or not,  more than anything I hope you hear today that women are still called for Gospel ministry, your gifts are needed in the local church, and as a follower of Jesus you have the privilege of getting to contribute to the body of Christ both with your mind, hearts, and soul. Keep doing the hard work. Keep praying and asking God where can I serve you best and be willing to sacrifice where He leads.

It’s a great time to be a woman in the SBC, I hope to have you in class with me someday. I’m saving a seat for you!

Thoughts on Depression Among Pastors

I talked to a friend a few days ago, and our conversation turned toward his pastor.  His pastor is a mess, and not your typical everyone’s a sinner mess, but a dangerous mess.  I immediately thought of Andrew Stocklein, the California pastor who took his life a few weeks ago.

Two years ago, I struggled through a bout of situational depression.  I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I wasn’t excited about anything.  I remember feeling like everyone would be better off if I just left.  There were some other mitigating factors to this season of my life, but after several visits to the therapist, his diagnosis was situational depression.

Situational depression, as it was explained to me, is not like chronic depression.  Chronic depression can last for years, even decades.  Situational depression is sometimes diagnosed as a case of the blues, or a sad season in life.  Situational depression is just as dangerous as the more familiar chronic depression, and if left untreated can cause just as much damage.  Situational depression is not just a case of the blues.  A case of the blues resolves itself within hours or days, or maybe a week.  Situational depression brings on the same symptoms as chronic depression.

I think many pastors suffer from situational depression.  What did I do?

  1. I sought help–I did not want to talk to anyone.  My wife made me see a Biblical counselor.  If you are suffering from either type of depression, you need to seek help.  There are gifted Biblical counselors who will help.  Many of them will give you a discount for their services because they are former pastors.  My counselor was a former pastor and he has a heart for helping other pastors.
  2. I remembered that church is just church–In the course of my counseling, one of the brought up was me tying my self worth to church growth.  He told me, “Tony, it’s just church.”  What does that mean?  Here’s what I came up with:  God knows who will and who will not be saved.  He even knows how His children will be saved.  God knows who’s church will grow and who’s church will decline.  My obedience or disobedience will not doom someone to hell, or send my church to its demise.  It’s just church and when my life is over, the most important legacy I will leave behind are the relationships I’ve invested in, not the church I’ve served in.  My counselor meant for me not to take church so seriously.
  3. It’s all about relationships–This goes with point number 2.  The most important relationship is with God, and then with my family.  100 years from now, no one is going to care that I was the pastor of First Baptist Rich Hill, but some great great grandchild, during his baptism, will be thankful for his heritage of faith.  He probably won’t know my name, but just the thought of investing in future generations of my family puts an extra bounce in my step.
  4. I bought into Financial Peace University–Did you know the number one cause of divorce in America is financial troubles?  There are so many pastors who have made poor financial decisions, and those decisions lead to worry, anxiety, and situational depression.  Pastor, if you are under mountains of debt, go to Dave Ramsey’s website and get Financial Peace University.  It will make a world of difference.
  5. I stopped weighing my deeds–We tend to life with a scales mentality.  We measure our good works verses our bad works, and if we’ve done enough good for the day, then we proclaim the day good.  I looked at my day, some the good works I had done, and I said it was good, and there was morning and evening on the 28th of May.  There are no scales in heaven.  There is no system of weights and measure.  There’s only grace, God’s abundant grace, poured out on us every day.  Our Heaven;y Father is our biggest fan.  He doesn’t hold a set of scales in His hand waiting for your bad works to outweigh your good works so He can zap you.  I’ll write a full post on this in the future.

I’m still processing how God led me though that very dark time in my life.  I don’t want to go back there ever again.  It was scary.  I may write a part 2 to this post, but for now, if you are struggling with any kind of depression, anxiety, stress, or nervousness that’s beyond the scope of everyday life, please reach out to someone.

Cancer… Just Another Bump in the Road

by CJ Adkins

It’s the thought in the back of every cancer survivor’s mind.

What if it comes back?

None of us who have come through life threatening battles with cancer want to even think about going down that road again, but sometimes it happens.  It appears it has happened to me – again.

As most of my friends know, I was diagnosed in December 2004 with Stage 4, “Incurable but hopefully manageable” Colon Cancer. After having surgery to remove 3 1/2 feet of my intestines, I went on a 6 month course of Chemotherapy to kill the tumors that were throughout my liver. A Radio Frequency Ablation burned out the last three and I had the joy of going into remission.

Five months later a routine followup CT scan revealed the cancer had returned in the liver and it was another 6 months of chemo for me. Since the end of that regimen I have remained in remission for nearly 12 years – having periodic scans along the way to keep an eye out for possible recurrence.

I have enjoyed relative good health until the last 8 months or so, when I experienced a 1-2-3-4 punch beginning just before last Christmas. Acute renal failure landed me in the hospital for treatment of that ailment in late December.  While there, I tested positive for the Flu (even though I had taken my yearly Flu shot).  On the heels of recovery from the Flu, I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive skin cancer known as Merkle Cell Carcinoma on my forehead.  Surgery at the James Cancer Center at the Ohio State University removed the tumor but tests revealed it had metastasized to one of the lymph nodes in my neck. So – 30 radiation treatments were prescribed, and I finished up on those in July.  In the midst of all of that, I was found to have a partial tear in the retina of my right eye!

Needless to say, it’s been a tough few months.  Nothing terrible, but just bumps in the road that we encounter if we hang around this planet long enough.

Beginning to bounce back from the complications caused by the radiation treatments, I have been looking forward to ramping up my ministry activities.  Plans were in the works for a short term mission trip back to the Philippines and Linda and I have been looking forward to doing some things on our bucket lists. Then, Tuesday, after some routine tests at the local VA Medical Center showed some possible abnormality in my liver, a new CT scan was ordered.

The results indicated “multiple lesions throughout the liver, with characteristics consistent with metastatic Colon Cancer”.

So, to use the technical theological term, “Here we go again!”

Through the Veterans Choice Program, I am being referred back to the Ashland Bellefonte Cancer Center – the place that brought me through this disease twice before.  I’m sure there will be more tests before any course of treatment will be discussed.  So, we have taken a deep breath, shared the information with my church family, and face the future with total dependence on our Heavenly Father.

I write this today, not seeking attention or to ask for pity. This is one of those things that happens to us in this broken world.  I do ask, however, for your prayers.  I am blessed to have a multitude of Christian friends in the U.S. and Canada, and many more who are spread around the world in Europe, Asia and Africa. These are people who know how to get in touch with God.  We often make intercession for one another, and this is one of those times.

Healing is not what I am seeking, as much as I am asking for the measure of Grace that only God can provide, to get us through these “bumps in the road” of life that we are bound to encounter. I ask you to pray for Linda, also as we walk down this road together again.  Healing is naturally what I desire, but I know that my ultimate healing will take place when I one day enter the presence of the Lord.  I don’t know what the immediate future holds for me, but I know the One who holds the future, and I’m sure He is going to use this new adventure for my good and for His Glory.

From the Blog “For What it’s Worth.” Originally posted here and used by permission from the author.
CJ Adkins is the Pastor of Westmoreland Baptist Church in Huntington, WV and is a Past President of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. Married 47 years to Linda and the father of 2 sons, he most enjoys bragging on the brilliance and extreme giftedness of his of 5 spectacularly talented grandsons, Quint, Will, Canon, Asher and Nathan. He also likes to hack around on the golf course and the keyboard when he has the time.
(He’s also the father of Jay Adkins, one of the members of the SBCVoices team here. I’m proud of him even though he likes my kids better than he likes me as evidenced that he names his grandsons above but not me and Ben.) 😉