Love God Supremely; Love Others Deeply (What I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Pastoring, pt. 5)

In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the previous posts and a series introduction here:

Part 1: Not everybody will like you, and that’s okay.
Part 2: Pray for people and let them know that you’re praying for them.
Part 3: Discipleship is easy, yet hard.
Part 4: Encourage your wife to serve where she feels led

In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #5: Make your vision, purpose, and mission to lead people to love God and love others.

Your church needs a vision statement, mission statement, and purpose statement. These three things relate to each other but are different. They will help keep your church on course. At least, that’s what one church growth expert said. Wait… Scratch the vision and mission statements, your church only needs a purpose statement. At least, that’s what another expert said. No, wait… Don’t worry about statements at all, they’re superfluous. Yep, another expert.

Maybe the last guy is actually right. It’s amazing what the early church accomplished without statements, buildings, or a church van.

Actually, I’m not completely against church purpose statements. My church has one. When I first arrived, it was a relic of the 90s, alliterated well: We exist to exalt the Sovereign, to edify the saint, and to evangelize the sinner. We actually changed that in my first year on the field. We now exist to live the truth, build community, and pursue missions; or TCM: Truth, Community, Missions.

But as time has progressed, I don’t even talk about TCM as much as I used to. Somewhere along the way I wrote down on a tiny scrap of paper: Love God supremely; love others deeply. That has become my vocabulary.

Really, whether we have purpose or vision statements or not, that should be our aim. Those two phrases are really what the Christian life is all about. Jesus was asked in Matthew 22 about the greatest command in the Law. Would he choose one of the Ten? Would he choose one of the hundreds of applications and situational clarifications of the Ten? Would he say something different?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus called these the first and second greatest commandments and said everything else is just an application of them. Love God supremely; love others deeply.

In the purpose driven model made famous also in the 90s, we’re given the idea that the Great Commandment and Great Commission are two separate things but go together to define the five purposes of the church. But really, the Great Commission is just the Great Commandment lived out: Love God supremely then love others deeply by helping them to love God supremely and love others deeply. Even when you think forward to the far future, pondering our eternal purpose, it will be the same—we’ll love God supremely and we’ll love others deeply, but we won’t have to encourage others to do the same because we’ll all do so perfectly forever.

It’s so simple and straightforward.

And in the end, it’s really all that matters. The Bible even tells us that we brought nothing into the world and we’ll take nothing out. Naked we came; naked we go. When we’re passing from this life, relationship will be all that matters—did we love God and did we love others?

A lot of clutter gets in the way of this. What I’ve learned over the past 15 years and am still learning is how to fight through this clutter. It starts with keeping it forefront on and everyone’s mind. This is why we preach and teach and disciple—to love God supremely and love others deeply.

SBC of Virginia Young Pastors Summit

Adam Blosser and I were able to attend the Young Pastors Summit today at the SBC of Virginia office near Richmond, Virginia. I’ve attended this meeting every year since 2014.

The fellowship and networking is always refreshing. SBC of Virginia leadership does a good job of a putting together a quality program too. I know we had Tom Elliff a few years ago. Kevin Ezell joined us by video conference one year. This year Clyde Meador of the IMB was with us and Thom Rainer spoke by video conference as well.

The Young Pastors Summit is a helpful event that affords pastors the opportunity to gain wisdom and network with seasoned practitioners who desire to invest in the next generation of healthy pastors. There are few environments that presents a similar opportunity of invaluable leadership development.

– K.J. Washington, Church Planting Apprentice, Village Church at Chester, Chester, VA

Pastors Doug Echols (Bethel Baptist), Alan McFarland (Calvary Evangelical Baptist), and Matt Wilmington (Thomas Road Baptist) featured on panel discussion during lunch

It’s great to get to hear from and interact with guys who serve in different contexts or various size churches but who are thinking through some of the same issues or dealing with similar struggles in ministry.

–Ryan Brice, Lead Pastor, Nansemond River Baptist, Suffolk, VA

I love participating in these kinds of events and love hearing about them happening in other states and contexts. I know I’ve heard about, for example, that a young pastors network in North Carolina and I know examples could be multiplied (feel free to do so in the comments).

Let me encourage you to find opportunities like these for fellowship and encouragement, personal and spiritual growth. Seek them out and participate. For me it’s a two hour drive from Virginia Beach to Richmond so it takes me blocking out basically the whole day on the calendar, but it’s worth the time and God can really use the mutual encouragement that takes place at events like this.

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.

What I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Pastoring, pt. 2 (on prayer)

In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the first lesson and a series introduction here:

Part 1: Not everybody will like you, and that’s okay.

In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #2: One of the most important things you can do for your congregation is to pray for them regularly and let them know that you’re praying for them.

Prayer and engagement with scripture are the two foundational spiritual disciplines, and they’re the foundation of pastoral ministry as well. In Acts 6, the Twelve responded to a congregational problem by delegating a specific responsibility to seven men chosen by the church, so that they, as the pastoral leaders, could devote adequate time to the word and prayer. One of my favorite verses on this subject is 1 Samuel 12:23 where Samuel tells the people: “Far be it from be that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (ESV).

Prayer… it’s that important.

A few years ago I wrote about the method that I have chosen in order to pray for those in my church, and I’ll detail it again in brief here. Not including Sundays, I typically have four days each week with time in the office. In my office prayer journal, I keep a monthly calendar that divides the households of the church into 16 days (4 days times 4 weeks). So, each day in the office, I typically pray by name for 4 to 5 households.

Then, I have my list divided into thirds. Every three months I send a hand-written card to each household letting them know that I prayed for them, encouraging them with a verse from scripture, and providing a prayer request slip they can return to me. Each family/household receives four of these cards during the year.

On the front of my prayer journal is written the line, “Pray specific prayers.” This is where those return slips are important. I already know certain prayer needs from knowing and visiting those involved with the church; but the slips give people opportunity to share specific needs that may not be publicly known. (There’s also an area on each slip that can be checked indicating whether or not the person would like their request to remain private with me, or shared on the church’s prayer list.)

But, we know human nature—not everyone is going to provide specific prayer requests. You can even ask them face-to-face and receive back only general answers. This is why I wrote that line on the front of my journal. Too often I found myself going the lazy route in response to the lack of requests: “Lord, I don’t know what they specifically need prayed for, but you know their hearts.”

That notion was challenged by a Sunday night study we did once by D. A. Carson called Praying with Paul. Carson scours through the congregational prayers in Paul’s letters. These are prayers typically about spiritual growth, knowing God more deeply, fighting for purity, remaining steadfast, having a faith that encourages others, etc.

Now, each month I choose a section of scripture and list three or four items to pray for those involved in the church. This means that even if a person is unwilling to share requests, I still have specific things to regularly pray about their faith and spiritual growth.

Obviously, I don’t have empirical evidence to support this, only what I’ve experienced, but I believe that letting the church know that I pray for them regularly has helped enhance my relationship with the congregation and the unity they experience with each other. Honestly, I still don’t think that I pray as much as I should. I have been trying to devote more time to prayer throughout my week. However, prayer is a powerful part of the life of the church and the spiritual warfare in which we’re involved. I have little doubt that spiritually healthy churches have pastors who make prayer a priority.

Pray for your church regularly, pastors. Pray specific prayers, pray the scriptures, and let your church families know that you are praying for them.