Category Archives: Mentoring

Processing some things

Tuesday morning, I heard some things that got my attention and shook me to my core.

The first one was Tuesday morning. As my normal routine is, I listen to Pathway to Victory while on my way to work each morning. This morning, Dr Jeffress said something that caught my attention. He was talking about a call and as he was speaking I was thinking about it more in terms of an equation:

Call = Burden + Passion + Opportunity

Hearing this and eventually writing it down really shook me!

I was thinking about this while I was driving. I was thinking back to when I had publicly expressed a “call” of God on my life to preach the Gospel. I was probably the last person that would ever be called to preach. I am not a dynamic speaker. I do not have a commanding or charismatic personality. I would consider myself more of an introvert. I stumbled through memorized speeches that we had to give in high school. I never thought that I would be involved in any sort of public speaking at all. I remember preaching my first sermon and apologizing to my English teachers in advance for all the trouble I had given them during the delivery of those memorized speeches each year. All I knew at the time, was that I had a burden to communicate the Bible to others.

Someone once said, “A call to preach is a call to prepare” So, off to Bible college I went in 1988. Along with the burden, I gained a passion while I was in college as I went through my classes and serving in the local church, I began to grow in my Christian life.

So I had a burden and passion, but was lacking in opportunity. I preached wherever I was given an opportunity. Rescue mission, prison, nursing homes, etc. Then I graduated from college and was ordained shortly after. Ordination was/is a big deal because it is a local church’s endorsement of your calling and gifts. I was ordained but there were no opportunities on the horizon.

Fast forward ten years to 2002. I had resigned my position at a mission agency where I had been for 3 1/2 years and moved to MN to attend Seminary.

Fast forward eight years to 2010. I finished seminary with two degrees.

Fast forward three more years to 2013. I have sent my resume out to over 40 different churches and ministries, looking for an opportunity to re-enter full-time vocational ministry with one interview and a lot of rejection letters. The main reason I have been given is that I do not have any pastoral experience. When I graduated from college in 1992, I was told rather curtly, I was too young and had no experience. I was stunned, while watching my classmates who were the same age and also have no experience, leave college and go into various ministry positions. My home church, although they ordained me, did not attempt to hire me at all. When I finished seminary, I realized that I am in the same boat as I was when I finished college, except for the fact that I am older and married. I am still lacking the experience that most churches are requiring.  I was told by someone that if you are looking for a pastoral opportunity within a church, that most church committees will not take into consideration any experience while serving in a non-pastoral capacity. Honestly, that does not make sense, but it is what I have experienced these last three years.

As I was listening to Dr Jeffress, I was processing my life and realizing that I have a burden (and have had for years), passion (it has been waning in recent years), but the opportunities are non-existent. Then it hit me, the opportunities are no longer present. I thought back to 2010 where I did an unusual amount of pulpit supply and then that came to a halt in September 2010 and I did not preach again until late last year in August of 2012 where I had two preaching opportunities (both pulpit supply) back to back and then as quick as they came, they have disappeared again. Pulpit supply does meet a need, but it is a poor way to learn how to preach and it is a poor way to preach with any consistency. Pulpit supply is not the experience that most churches are looking for. The opportunities are scarce in pulpit supply and in my case non-existent. It is the proverbial catch-22, you have to have experience to get hired by a church, but no one wants to give anyone the opportunity to gain the necessary experience. It should never be this way in a local church.

When I got to work our main computer system was down, so after processing email and doing everything that I could do without our main computer system, I remembered that Jason Meyer was going to speak this morning on the subject of Pastoral Transition after a 32 year ministry. I had the time because our system was down and there was nothing else to do, I listened to the live stream of Jason’s message. If you did not know, Jason Meyer is the new Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is the successor to John Piper, who was the previous Pastor of Preaching and Vision for 32 years.

As I listened to Jason’s story recounting the process and how he spoke many times about the supernatural and the sovereignty of God. I was struck by the fact that nothing of a supernatural nature has been taking place in my life related to ministry since I graduated. It shook me when I had that thought! I started asking myself where I went wrong, was there sin in my life that I needed to deal with, was God chastening me for some reason? I could not identify any one particular thing but as I kept listening, my discouragement increased. I also noticed that Jason had made an impact on several people as evidenced in this video

When I finished seminary and there was no available opportunities for pastoral ministry, I had prayed regarding further education, a PhD or DMin possibly. I found myself in a quandary, I was not academically qualified (grades were not high enough – competition is too strict) and then I found out that I could not get into any DMin program because I lacked the three years of post MDiv ministry experience. So my formal education came to an abrupt halt and I realized that at this point I would not be able to teach in any institution of higher learning with just an MDiv. to teach anywhere, one would need a Doctorate. So teaching in a college or seminary was out.

I was also struck by the fact that John Piper poured his life into Jason Meyer. Jason started his role in August and I can imagine that he has spent numerous hours with John Piper, learning and observing the ministry. Now, the church voted again in December for Jason to become the Pastor of Preaching and Vision effective January 1, 2013. This represents a four month transition. One can only imagine what kind of intense mentoring that took place during those four months and what will take place from January until April when John Piper will step down as the Associate Pastor of Preaching and Vision.

Recently, I had a good friend who was in a similar situation. He was in full-time ministry and was let go by a pastor/church over money issues. He did nothing wrong, he served with honor, but the church and pastor were not obeying 1 Timothy 5:17-18. He found himself out of the ministry and discouraged. He was faithful and had a desire to serve God in full-time ministry and went over ten years with no prospects and a healthy amount of disappointment. The turning point in his life was an area pastor he met who took an interest in him and kept in contact with him. This pastor eventually recommended him to a church nearby and last Sunday he preached his first sermon as the new Senior Pastor of that particular local church.

What I am noticing is a common denominator in these situations: People took a real interest in an individual. It was not a casual interest, but rather a committed one. It embodied the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:2

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

I was also struck by the involvement of the local church in the life of Jason Meyer and the life of my friend. Acts 13 is a text that reaffirms the role of a local church with regard to its responsibilities of sending out those within its midst who are called and affirmed by the local church for Gospel ministry. Too many local churches take the passive approach and abdicate this responsibility to a Bible college or a seminary. Does the local church that you attend have a method or process for recognizing and affirming those who have expressed a call to ministry?

In the end, I am reminded of the Scripture found in 1 Timothy 3:1

If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good thing.

I am also reminded that I am not getting any younger either.

Still trying to make sense of what I heard on Tuesday morning and wondering how it all fits in the context of my life.

I am going to do something I have never done before

… review a book partially before I finish reading it.  You may say that is foolish to review a book before finishing it.  Well there is a good reason for it!  The author makes so many compelling statements in the first 15 pages I wanted to share these with you in hopes that you will read the entire book as I am endeavoring to do.

Here is the story…

My wife works for a Christian radio station where she is a production assistant. One of her duties is to set up interviews with the authors of books that the stations receives.  I look through the books when they come home and will peruse a few of them before they are sent back to the station for interviews.

I was looking through a recent stack that she brought home and saw a book that intrigued me.  I am drawn to any type of book on ministry, leadership or mentoring and this was no exception.

The book I am talking about is Protege – Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders by Steve Saccone.  I had never heard of the book or the author prior to seeing the book in a stack of books. I picked it up and started to casually read the Introduction not knowing how far I would get.  I did not get very far before I started reading some things that really resonated with me!  My wife happened to come into the living room and I read some of these things to her and told her that this was unbelievable, that I had been waiting for someone to write something like this!  She could tell that I was pretty passionate about what I had been reading.  I told her that what I had read and had drawn me in was just within the first 15 pages of the book!

Before I share the quotes that arrested my attention and compelled me to read the rest of the book, I want to share a bit of my story.  I have been looking for an opportunity to serve in full-time pastoral ministry since January 2010.  If you have read here , you would know that my search has been highly unsuccessful.  I have submitted my resume over 30 times to 30 different ministries since 2010 and have yet to be granted an interview.  I had stopped searching while we were expecting our second child because we were unable to travel if called upon to candidate.  I have since resumed searching but the results are still the same.  This book really hit home because it addresses some of the core issues that I have been dealing with since launching my search for an opportunity for full-time pastoral ministry.

Here are the things from the book I wanted to share:

I think back to when I was nineteen years old, when I initially stepped into ministry and had no idea where to begin. Someone decided to help me figure it out…  Not only that, he spend time coaching and mentoring me with insight and compassion because he believed in God’s call and gifting in my life.  He believed in who I could become as a person, communicator and leader (pg.12)

Wow, what a powerful example of mentoring and coaching!  It gets better.

Throughout history, if someone wanted to learn a particular skill, he or she would find a master or mentor to guide them.  This person seeking to learn and grow is called a protege.  And like any skill or trade, ministry leadership involves a set of abilities that must be developed and cultivated.  (pg.13)

There are countless proteges simply waiting for an experienced master of their trade or wise mentor, but they so often become lost in the deficit of strong and developmental leadership that is so absent and misprioritized in today’s culture and today’s church.( pg. 12)

The author speaks about seminary – he is in favor of theological, academic training but also realizes that there are some shortcomings as well.

I’m profoundly convinced that attending seminary without also receiving “on the job training” is the equivalent of a physician attending medical school without ever practicing their skills in clinical rotations.  And this dilemma is not solved with a simple field education course, as good as it may be. Think about it.  Can you imagine being treated by a physician who possesses all the medical knowledge in the world after just graduating from several years in school but has absolutely no hands-on experience?

The author has hit the nail on the head!  I have used the same example also in some of my writings on the subject as well.

He continues on:

Many proteges who attend seminary as their sole preparation end up stumbling around the church upon graduation and battling confusion and frustration.  Why? Because they initially believe they’ve been properly prepared, trained, and equipped for the demands ahead, but they soon realize it’s not true.  In actuality they were, more often than not, only given information instead of personalized and intentional development.(pg. 14)

This is true also of those of us who have served and are serving in the local church.  My seminary experience was not just merely academic.  I was involved in service within the local church while in seminary and even now.  I also served as a pastoral intern in my local church as a graduation requirement.  I have also found out that having two Masters degrees (M.A. and MDiv) along with over 25 years of practical Christian service in three different local churches will not cut it with churches looking for pastors, whether a senior pastor or assistant pastor.   The expectations have been raised so high now that most seminary graduates do not have much a chance in finding a church ministry unless they were able to serve in full-time ministry on a church staff while completing their seminary training.  Most seminary students have to work a secular job to take care of their needs and after that, there is not much time for anything else.   I speak from experience because the entire time I was in seminary from 2002-2010, I worked a full-time job at minimum 40 hours a week, many times a lot more hours along with studying and other academic responsibilities.

The author also talks about training indigenous leaders:

And if we’re going to become the movement we long to be as the church, we must begin by raising up indigenous leaders rather than just looking outside our own backyards for people who are already where we want them to be. In the short-term, it may be easier to hire a ready made leader; but in the long-term, we not only do a disservice to all the hungry proteges around us, but to the church’s future.  Her future will be shaped significantly by how we as leaders choose to engage the development process of the next generation of ministry leaders”  (pg. 16)

I do not think that there is much more that I can say than what the author has already said in the first sixteen pages of the book.  I think that the church really needs to step up and take responsibility for the proteges in their midst.  We see the church taking a vital role in the development of leaders (see Acts 13).

I look forward to reading the rest of this book

What are some ways that the local church and its leadership can contribute to the training and development of the proteges in their congregations?

 

 

 

Difference Maker: John Piper

Recently, I have been reading the Festschrift for John Piper entitled For The Fame of God’s Name – Essays in Honor of John Piper, edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor.  While reading this book I came across a couple of different stories that go along with the theme that I have written about in the past, people who make a difference in the lives of others by asking them a question that changes their life, giving them opportunities to serve, etc.  My desire is to share these stories to be an encouragement to others who may be searching and also to say thanks to those who have been a difference-maker in the lives of others.  I have written about Thabiti Anyabwile and how Mark Dever made a difference in his life (not sure if either of them will read that article) and writing this one about John Piper (not sure if he will see this either).

The first story comes from Jon Bloom who is the President of Desiring God, he writes:

In 1991, about a thousand people were attending Bethlehem.  Pam and I didn’t know the Pipers personally.  So a phone call in January caught me off guard.  It was Noël Piper. “Johnny and I would like to know if you and Pam would be interested in renting our basement apartment.” I think my jaw dropped to the floor.

In the spring of 1993, as we were preparing to move out of the Pipers’ house into our first little home, I heard from Jim that John was contemplating hiring his first full-time administrative assistant.  He wanted a male, someone who could travel with him and uniquely care for the growing number of inquiries and ministry demands.  This news landed on me with the same weighty sense I had about the apartment.  I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  At age twenty-seven, an administrative assistant position may have appeared an unwise career choice.  But I knew I was supposed to do it.  This was the next step.  A few days later I walked upstairs to John’s home office and simply asked him to consider me for the job.  He did.  I began in July.(Pg. 502)

What a story!  I am not sure that I would have the boldness to ask for a job like Jon Bloom did, but now he is the President of Desiring God.  But it all began with a simple question regarding the rental of a basement apartment which eventually forged a friendship and relationship which has grown and been nurtured over these many years and still continues to thrive today.   In my own world, I have sent unsolicited resumes for opportunities that I was aware of that I was interested in, but I did not receive those positions.  The difference was the fact that I did not have a close enough relationship with the person making the hiring decision to warrant consideration.

The second story comes from Tom Steller.  Tom is the Academic Dean at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He writes:

As much as Dr. Piper loved investing in college students, his growing desire to preach to all ages in all situations in life the glories of Christ that he was seeing in his study and in the classroom became overwhelming.  A short while later, we received another letter from Dr. Piper, saying that Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis called him to serve as their pastor.  The next sentence changed my life forever.  “Would you like to come and serve with me?”

There is a bit of a back story that I did not include in the above quote that I think will give some context to the overall story.  Tom was a student of John Piper’s at Bethel College and had taken seven classes from him.  He also attended Fuller Seminary because of John Piper’s influence.  Tom was the one who founded The Bethlehem Institute which eventually morphed into Bethlehem College and Seminary.

Again another great story of someone making a different in the life of another person by asking a simple question.  I like what Tom Steller said before disclosing the question that John Piper had asked him, “The next sentence changed my life forever”.  As I sit here and write this post, I think about what that would be like to get a phone call, email, or have a personal conversation with someone that had the ability to put another person in a position that would eventually lead to unparalleled passion and fruitfulness and a great growth potential.  If I received a call from men like John Piper, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, I would probably fall over in shock!  I have never met John Piper personally. I met Albert Mohler once while on the SBTS campus in 2008, and I have traded a couple of emails with two of Russell Moore’s assistants, never meeting him in person either.

As a side note, I have answered a lot of questions this week regarding not being in ministry from various people (church members and co-workers).  Never an easy question to answer, but one person that I spoke with this week got it.  He said that it sounds like you are in a catch-22, churches refuse to interview or hire you because they say you do not have enough experience, how do they expect you get obtain the needed or necessary experience?  I have had a lot of conversations on the subject of not being in ministry, but this person really understood what was going on.

Who knows, maybe one of these days I will get a call, email with a question like Tom Steller received?  Until then….

Thanks to John Piper for being a difference-maker in the lives of these two men and in the lives of others who have not shared their experience in print.

Last time I checked it was the local church

Recently I have been reading a book that has captured my attention and really helped to mold and change my thinking about the role of the local church in sending men out into ministry.

As you know, I have been praying, looking and searching for a place to serve the Lord in full-time vocational ministry since January of 2010.  Recently, I had the opportunity to pick up a copy of the book Test, train, affirm & send into ministry.  I had the opportunity to speak with the author recently regarding my situation and I had been reading his blog.  I am not writing a book review per se (although I might take on that task at a later date), but I want to share with you some quotations from this book along with my thoughts that will hopefully align your thinking regarding ministry and the local church.

Most of us probably thought that once we completed our training (Bible college or seminary) that it was incumbent upon either of these institutions to place us in ministry.  It seems very logical, but yet it is unscriptural.  “God has not ultimately commissioned these institutions to fulfill this responsibility” (Croft, pg. 31) Churches have abdicated their responsibilities because of the plethora of institutions that exist to provide training and education for future ministry.  The churches should take the position that they need to partner with these institutions rather than give up what rightly belongs to the church.  I am not against seminaries or colleges, I graduated from two such institutions. What I am against is the local church exempting itself from the testing, training and affirming of men who are called to ministry.  It is easy just to send someone to a Bible college or seminary and hope that they turn out right, but why not take an active approach in that training?

It is the local church that God has appointed to be the agent to test, train, affirm, and send those who are called.  Because of this truth, the local church must embrace this enormous responsibility (Croft, pg. 33)

What does the Bible say about this?  Look at Acts 13:1-3

Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers:  Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. (NKJV)

By reading this passage, we see that the local church was the sending agent and instrument of affirmation of Barnabas and Saul.  The local church cannot shirk away or deny this crucial responsibility.

Here are some quotations that really impacted my thinking in this area:

No church, therefore, which neglects the proper education of her ministers, can be considered as faithful, either to her own most vital interests, or to the honour of her divine Head and Lord” (Croft, pg. 52)

Without the proper instruction of God’s Word in the church, not only will those called into ministry be confused and the church lost in its responsibility in the external call, but spiritual life will also be lacking in the church.” (Croft, pg.53)

The situation I am currently in is a bit unique.  I graduated from Bible College in 1992 and was ordained shortly after graduation (If I had it to do over, I would have not been ordained so soon) I spent 7 years in the secular workforce wondering where I would end up.  I ended up at a mission agency for 3.5 years (1999-2002) and then came to seminary in 2002.  I have been a member of the same local church for almost 10 years now.  I currently serve as a deacon.  I cannot go back to the church that ordained me and expect any help because there are some doctrinal and philosophical differences that exist between us.  We have a great and a cordial relationship,  I go back to visit when I can and the people are always kind and gracious.  At the same time, I recognize that there are differences.

In order to test, train, & affirm a man for ministry it requires tangible involvement on the part of the pastors or elders of that particular congregation and the members of that congregation as well.  How will a local church send a man off to ministry if he has not been given opportunities to exhibit his internal calling within that church?

 

Diseased or Disqualified….

I bet the title got your attention…. if it did then I did my job!

Let me say, neither of them…. read on and you will understand.

I was recently speaking with a friend who like myself is trying to find a place to serve in full-time vocational ministry.  He has been a youth pastor in the past but through no-fault of his own, found himself back in the secular workforce.  He recently attended a conference and got together with some other student pastors.  He relayed the experiences to me that he felt like he didn’t belong because he was not a full-time vocational student pastor.  Hearing his story made me remember my own experiences in this area.  I remember graduating from college in 1992 and watching others go off into full-time ministry.  It would be another 7 years before I had my opportunity.  The opportunity that I had was in a para-church organization.  I will summarize my experience by saying, it was not all bad, but a lot of it was not good either.  I left to go to seminary after 3 1/2 years of serving in that area.  Now I am experiencing the same things all over again, graduated from seminary in 2008 and 2010 with two degrees and I can’t get any interviews. So I really could identify with what my friend was telling me that day.

I reminded him (and myself) that we did not do anything wrong.  In his case, he was forced out by a pastor who refused to pay him a livable wage and who eventually wanted someone else as the youth pastor.  I reminded him that neither of us have done anything to disqualify ourselves from being in ministry, that we did not have leprosy (even though people treat us like there is something wrong when they hear our stories) and that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).  In spite of this, I know of men who have disqualified themselves from ministry due to their own moral failures, but yet have received better treatment than we have in our pursuit of full-time vocational ministry.

Churches and pastors, please do not treat people like they are second-class citizens, if they are called to ministry, but do not find themselves in a full-time position.  If anything, do what you can to affirm the gifts of that individual who may find themselves in your church after their education is complete.  When you are at a conference, do not look down or disdain an individual who you may meet but is not in full-time ministry, but you recognize that they have a desire to be there.  Remember, there is nothing wrong with the desire (1 Timothy 3:1).  Instead of passing judgment on us because of our current circumstances, why not come along side of us and offer to help.  Invite these men into preach in your church, take them to lunch and listen to them.  Be a friend to them.  Nothing stings worse then being treated like a outcast from people within the profession that you are desiring to be in.

In another post, I am going to write about the role of the local church in sending men out into ministry.  But for now, I wanted to speak to the story that grieved me when I heard it a few weeks ago.

What we can learn from Joe Paterno

This is not going to be an article on football or the scandal that plagued Joe Paterno in recent days before his death, but rather a few things that I learned from an article in the USA Today written by Jack Carey.

Most people will remember Joe Paterno for his coaching longevity, his accomplishments on the football field or the scandal that eventually led to his dismissal from Penn State University. What stood out to me was something far different.

Joe Paterno had a mentor who believed in him. This belief was not just something that was said and never acted upon. The individual who mentored Paterno was a coach named Rip Engle. As the story is told in Carey’s article, Paterno had been accepted into law school, but while he was waiting graduation, Paterno was given the opportunity to be a part-time assistant under Engle working with the quarterbacks. Engle was later given the head coaching position at Penn State and was allowed to bring one assistant with him and that assistant was Joe Paterno. Paterno ended up succeeding Engle in 1966 and the rest of the story is history.

The part I am focusing on is that fact that Paterno was given a chance by someone who could help him and did help him succeed! Engle gave Joe Paterno a part time assistant job which ended up preparing him for the job that he held for 46 years. Not much was said in the article about the relationship between Engle and Paterno, but it was that key relationship and mentoring that undoubtedly took place between these two men that helped Joe Paterno become one of the most well-known college football coaches. Not many people know who Rip Engle is, but they know who Joe Paterno is!

If you are mentoring someone, what are you doing to make sure that they are advancing and progressing in their respective fields? Many professions require an internship and it is during those times that the greatest learning takes place because it is leaving the theoretical and the book learning and allowing them to put things into practice with hands-on learning. What good is a doctor, if they complete their classroom training, observe the more experienced doctors practice medicine, but then the student is given menial tasks and never allowed to do anything of substance that would allow him to eventually practice medicine and become a full-fledged doctor? What good is a lawyer that finishes law school and passes the bar exam, but is never allowed to argue a case?

I think that there is a big misunderstanding in mentoring. Mentoring is not just getting together, talking and listening, or just watching some experienced person perform various tasks within a certain field. Mentoring is spending time with people and letting them do some of the same tasks that the mentor would do. Mentoring is about making opportunities for the one being mentored so that they can grow and develop.

Too many times we can place too much stock in education. I am not discounting education in any way. I have a B.A , M.A. in Theology and a Master of Divinity, so I am not against education. I think too much emphasis is placed on education and too little on letting people learn hands on. I would not want a pilot flying a plane, if he hasn’t had the proper amount of classroom training along with time in the flight simulator and the right amount of flying hours. The balance here is education with practical training.

The same is true for pastoral ministry. We have enough people out there that are saying, “Watch what I do and learn from me”, but not enough pastors who are willing to take a risk and let people learn by doing.

I think the words of Mark Dever are so applicable in this context of mentoring,

God raises up young men who watch their life and doctrine closely and are gifted to teach his Word publicly. Hire them when they’re a cub. Let them chew things up around the house for a while, and you’ll have a lion that loves you for life! Young pastors make mistakes. But young pastors—if they’re called and equipped by God—can stay for a long time, and have deeply fruitful ministries for decades

Remember, not many people knew who Rip Engle was but they knew who Joe Paterno was. May we be people who not only mentor others but give others a chance to learn by doing and by making opportunities for them to do so!