Monday, April 20, 2009

AN OPEN HEART OF A PASTOR

I'm always challenged with remarks that are born out of a heart that has been humbled by failure and strengthened by the Grace of God. It is that combination that I believe is so lacking in so much of the professional ministry and church life I see on the scene today. It is also that combination that, when seen, reminds us all that there are no super saints in the Kingdom. We all stand equal at the foot of the Cross.

Much is being written on the Internet and other places about what is wrong with the Church and what is needed by Her. Whatever the answer to the question of what is wrong, no change will ever come without the combination of humility of failure and the strengthening of Grace I found in the comment recently put on my blog by a pastor who has given me permission to share those words with you again.

Rodney Sprayberry exhibits the character, hunger, honesty, and conviction to grow in grace that I would want a pastor to possess were he to be MY pastor and the pastor of MY family. Enjoy him as I did as you hear his heart. I will be saying a final word at the end.


RODNEY SPRAYBERRY says....

"I cannot speak for everyone but I have had multiple conversation with brothers and sisters in ministry who are in their 30s and 40s. Their stories all have similar themes.
While in seminary we were exposed to good theology (or at least how to think theologically). There was very little taught concerning interpersonal/relational issues.

Any leadership training that we got was designed to apply to the average church. The average church had a 1950s structure/mentality even in the late 80s-90s

Don't get me wrong, this post-WW2 manifestation of church life was at one time effective. Check most church histories...and see when their "glory days" occurred. Yet, the church maintained the structure/music/leadership styles/methods even as most SBC churches experienced decline in the decades that followed.

By the 80s and 90s. The leadership models that were "effective" were gleaned more from business models rather than the Bible. Once again good leadership is good leadership wherever one finds it but, IMHO, it appears that good leadership was determined more by "nickels and noses" rather that disciple-making and concentric circles of relational impact.

So with bad interpersonal skills and faulty leadership training (either 1950s style...or a pragmatic business mentality) many of us entered into circa 1950 churches...that were stagnant and dying... because that is what one did...you started small and grew the church or moved to a larger church when God "called you" to do so.

Sometimes we even got dream jobs in successful churches. We tried to lead but we did not always do well.

We were naive enough to think that Christians were, (or at least wanted to be) in general, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually healthy. For that matter most of us assumed because we were "called" we were emotionally, relationally, and spiritually healthy. Nothing was further from the truth.

Like spiritual pornography we fantasized over every glossy airbrushed beautiful testimony of a glowing ministerial position and growing ministry given to us by a peer, book, or church growth/ leadership conference and assumed that that was what the church was created to be.

Then one day we found ourselves face to face with reality. Ministry did not measure up to what everyone said it could be. In all honesty we were drying up inside. We blamed the churches we served. We blamed the people in our churches. We blamed the devil. We blamed ourselves. In quiet moments we secretly even blamed God.

When people in ministry wake up one day and realize that most everything around is a carefully crafted facade they have a decision to make. They can continue to pretend and maintain the status quo...or they can crash and burn...or they can get cynical and get out.

Thankfully, they can also, if they choose, stop struggling to stay afloat so they can be rescued by God's Grace. (Any lifeguard knows that a panicky, struggling swimmer needs to stop struggling before he/she can be rescued!)

Many of us have been brought to this point by personal crisis. Addictions, moral failures, financial disaster, marriage difficulties, depression, catastrophic illness or job loss. We found ourselves at a place where we had to question everything and the answers we found were no longer pithy, glossy, simple, or even easy to express. Yet they nourished our souls.

We still believe that the Bible is true.

We still believe in Jesus.

We still have a heart for people inside and outside the church.

We still have questions

We still struggle.

We are still learning.

We still have good days and bad days every day is hopeful

We still want to be successful but the criterion has changed.

We still don't how all of this will shake out "vocationally" because in reality the churches we serve don't quite know what do with us...In general... they love us but!! There is, at times, for them, great discomfort when we admit to the fact that we have clay feet and that we do not always know what we are doing... or when we admit that we would rather be along side them trying figure it all out rather than our standing in the the pulpit with the proclamation of a "prescription" to help their "aches and pains, struggles and strains."

Final word from Paul.

I believe it is only NOW that one as described in Rodney's words is ready to pastor the people. Because NOW the proclamation from the pulpit will not be, as he calls it, a"prescription" but a PERSON. It is the living Lord who is as at home in any mess we create [and we do create them] as only He can be. When Jesus came to assume His humanity on our behalf it was for the purpose of living in the mess. But unless we admit the same we will not see our need of His reality moment by moment in the journey as a learner as Rodney so wonderfully writes. Well said Rodney.


Paul Burleson

33 comments:

Aussie John said...

Paul,

I am in wholehearted agreement with your last paragraph.

In a previous comment I recorded my joy at reading Rodney's words.

Until the church leaders in developed countries are, at the very least, as honest we will find guilt filled congregations which are equally disingenuous, living out the same charade as the majority of their leadership.

The result is often that genuine followers of Christ are so disheartened by their own lack of polished spiritual perfection, that they give up.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie John,

Well said...again. Thanks.

Thy Peace said...

Amen.

In the crucible, when everything is lost, we find life in Our Lord Jesus Christ. Outside of it, I am finding that I am living on crutches.

To be honest, all this belief in Christ, lot of times I am in doubt. I question a lot. I question myself and God. Lot of times I come up empty.

But something in me is in joy when I read The Word of God, when I listen to Christian music/singing and preaching. So I can not discount these experiences. For they are real.

This questioning is why I like Mary Burleson's blog and I find she and others also question and lot of times are not sure if it's God they are talking to ... It's comforting to know that others have similar questions in their walk.

Chris Ryan said...

I was encouraged, convicted, and refreshed as I read Rodney's comments in the previous post. As I read it again I was encouraged, convicted, and refreshed. That is probably as much an admission of my failure of progress in this area as it is a testimony to the spirit-filled nature of Rodney's confession.

But I was especially moved by your final thought, Paul. That it is only when you are broken that you are prepared to lead. I so often forget that the church really is about the blind leading the blind and encountering the one who offers healing. Then power is made perfect in weakness. And all I can do is bow down in worship, praying that the one who has restored my eyes will restore my heart, mind, and will also.

Paul Burleson said...

Thy Peace,

Thanks for stopping by AND for connecting the dots with research on so many blogs that help make sense of things I read. It's invaluable to me.


Chris,

It's amazing to me how Kingdom stuff can be understood by thinking of the normal way of things and going the opposite way.

To find life is to die. To be great is to serve. To be strong is to admit weakness. No wonder the things we believe are not desired by those outside the Kingdom. It makes no sense to them at all.

But, as you said, when encountering that factor that gives sense to everything, the reality of Jesus, darkness becomes light, weakness becomes strength, death becomes life and service becomes greatness. How easily we forget.

Chris Ryan said...

When you said that "It makes no sense," I thought I should add one more paradox to the list: foolishness is wisdom.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

I just came from Wade's blog after reading his excellent post. I hope to one day have such a gracious spirit in the face of criticism.

I think Wade and Paul Williams have it right. Such a gracious spirit can only be cultivated in a secure understanding of our identity in Christ.

This is not an easy thing to do. In a church culture where almost everything that defines " a sucessful minister/ministry" is based on some sort of "performance criterion" our identities are more closely tied to what we do (or don't do) rather than who we are.

In the church culture whether you are in the pulpit or pew it is easy to hide in plain sight.

Being secure in our identity in Christ is the only way to face the truth(or untruth) obout ourselves (and each other)in a redemptive way.

Paul Burleson said...

Chris,

You got that right. I'm going to be thinking of more.


Rodney,

Wade's post is superb.

I would say to you that you are now that gracious spirit in the face of criticism. He is that spirit. He is your very life. He lives in you by His spirit.

It IS as we get to know what we ALREADY have in the person of Christ and live life in that understanding that we experience what we already are by His grace.

Performance for a Christian is doing BECAUSE He has [whatever] not doing so He will. [Whatever] The former is New Covenant. The latter is Old Covenant.

By the way, THANKS for permission to use your wonderful thoughts on my blog. I'm privilaged to be able to do so.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Thank you. You are welcome :)

Lin said...

This past Sunday our Youth pastor preached for the first time. He preached on Eph 4 and talked about Christian community and what it really means as in all of us being ministers to one another, bearing one another's burdens, etc. He confessed that he has been wrong in that there are many in the church he does not even know...that he focused on programs instead of loving people.

He quoted Galatians 3:28 and added that there was no senior or youth,etc before the Lord. And what it means to be a Body of Christ. He went back to the Body metaphor and what that means to operating as a true Body.

It was awesome and very convicting. I did not even notice his spikey dyed hair this time! :o)

This post reminded me of him

Aussie John said...

Paul,

In reading yours and Rodneys words I'm reminded of my own struggles as a pastor,of desperately seeking to teach and function Biblically and be an example to the saints, and at the same time trying to please people, denominational leadership (one who intensely detested my theological position),prickly individuals amongst the church members (KJV only, a deacon who boldly stated "I am no man's servant"), etc, and coming to a place where one of those prickly people made serious false accusations against me, which I had no way of disproving.

After twenty years of preaching/teaching/leadership, resignation from what I knew was God's call on my life was the last straw, which sent me into the pit of depression, and two dark years of which I have little memory, except that I failed my Lord and family somewhere in that time.

Your words, Paul, reminded me of a day,thirty years ago, at the end of those two years, when I was driving alone. That truth, which I had preached to others hit home, and the flood gates opened forcing me to pull over, "It IS as we get to know what we ALREADY have in the person of Christ and live life in that understanding that we experience what we already are by His grace."

I'm appreciating the fact, in your blog, that I have come across people who know that fact and reflect the grace that they have received, and now live in.

Somehow, I cannot divorce the thought of the above quote from Paul Youngs book. Is the lack of grace shown towards him and his writing a reflection of the lack of understanding of grace received, or maybe, never received?

Paul Burleson said...

Lin,

I REALLY appreciate your sharing that with us. it is encouraging to hear that one with his FIRST message hits upon something I believe many, in the pulpit for years, have lost or never knew to begin with.

By the way...my granddaughter just out of her teens into her twenties would LOVE to see a preacher whose hair matched her own at least in color. LOL


Aussie John,

You and I are going to have to seriously compare notes someday. My "pit of depression" included seeing and not understanding the suicide of one of the best young christian women I knew who had a manuscript unpublished on the death of christ whose name under 'written by' simply said "One of the perpetrators."

I well remember the anger, cursing, and screaming I did at God whose Sovereignty I never questioned [Though I certainly questioned His love] and whom I never doubted I knew...just wasn't too sure I wanted to know Him at the moment. [All this driving alone to where her body was at the time.]

It was at the climax of this and a few other happenings that I came to reality. His reality.

Your last question is the same troubling question I have also.

I will admit I've seen in Old Testament Lot, who was a justified man according to 11 peter 2, but chose to fall to unbelievable depths of shameful behavior, including incest, how far a man can go away from his commitment to his God. The only redeeming factor in his life was that he was disturbed in his soul by it all.

Absent that disturbance in the soul of many I read and I have to doubt the presence or knowledge of Grace don't you? My heart grieves for them.

Chris Ryan said...

Rex,

Is it really right to ask for grace after showing none? I believe Jesus told a parable about somebody like that. The man had just been forgiven a great deal of debt, but then would not forgive a fellow servant a few dollars. The king was mad at the unforgiving man whom he had forgiven so much and so he had him thrown in prison. Just reflect on that.

Rex Ray said...

Chris,
In your example, the man received grace but showed none.

How does that relate to you saying, “Is it really right to ask for grace after showing none?”

Could you quote from my comment how I asked for grace but showed none?

If you think I’m asking for grace for him not to give my comment to the deacons, you’re wrong because if he does he’s codenaming himself.

Other than that, I don’t have a clue of what you’re talking about.

Paul Burleson said...

Mr. Ray,

I have just seen your comment and have deemed it inappropriate for this blog and have erased it. I have no idea as to your motive for posting it and really do not believe the action of putting something up that is so personal between you and another brother is correct under any motive since my blog has a guideline of being respectful even in disagreement. [It may be fine on other blogs that have a different purpose than does mine.]

Feel free to communicate with me personally by E-mail if you desire, but I would ask you to refrain from that kind of posting here if you would. Thank you in advance.

Wayne Smith said...

Paul,

I didn’t see Rex’s comment, but I can guess what it is about. Paul this post is about a Pastors Heart and Brother Rodney laid out His Heart for all to see. There isn’t that many Pastor who will Open Their Hearts Up for all to See. Brother Rex can thank the Lord for calling Brother Rodney and His Lovely Wife here to Bonham where we have a dire need to Show The Lordship of Jesus Christ in our Churches, as Brother Rodney is trying to do here at New Zion Baptist Church. We all need to follow the Command that Jesus Christ taught in Matthew 18.

Brother Rex, I love you and forgive you for the outbursts on these Blogs. Being you are 1 year older I will Chalk it Up to OLD AGE SYNDROME.

There is a good post on Matthew 18 over at:

http://www.sbcimpact.net/2009/04/22/matthew-18-get-your-programs-here/

Wayne

Wayne Smith said...

Rodney,

Thank You for Sharing Your Heart and Your Love for the Lord.
I also have a vested interest in the Church that called you to Bonham because of the relationship of Your Wife and my Great-Grandchildren.
I met You and Rex for the first at the Christmas Program when Our Great-Children were in the Program. I have been Trading/Loving BARBS with Brother Rex for a few years here on these Blogs as we were the only 2 posting from Bonham before You joined in. Pray all this will play out and bring Glory to Our Lord, which is all of our Intent and Purpose for being Created.

Wayne

Aussie John said...

Paul,

You ended your comment by, "Absent that disturbance in the soul of many I read and I have to doubt the presence or knowledge of Grace don't you? My heart grieves for them."

My answer to your question is "Yes!", my heart does grieve for them as the fruit of the Spirit is either invisible or absent. It's been of some concern to me, over the years, that such people set themselves up as the sheriff/judge of anyone who doesn't conform to their views, whatever those views are.

In the end, they are a destructive force amongst the congregations in which they lurk. Sadly, one has to be at this end of life to see the effects, which usually,takes many years. Even more sad, is that some are pastors(??)!

I am reminded of what I've read of the fifth columnists, during the second world war,who appeared to be ordinary members of the community, whilst, at the same time, sowing seeds of discontent, and selling out their communities.

Paul Burleson said...

Wayne,

Thanks for your encouraging words to Rodney. I am thankful for his honesty and openness. May his tribe increase.


Aussie John,

Again, on target with your thoughts.

I'm REALLY amazed with the lack of civility that seems to correspond with the desire of people to be sheriff/judge/jury/executioner of those who disagree with their particular view of things.

It may be me, but I don't think it's hard to spot a spirit that is far from the peaceableness of His Spirit when reading what many people say on the many blogs I read. I think one can disagree over ideas, secondary doctrines, even personal issues with a peaceable heart and be true to one's desire to love people. But you and I would agree, I think, the opposite is often spotted in professed Kingdom people.

Sorry for my delay in responding to you guys. I've spend the day [yesterday] driving over five hundred miles out of state to see a board member of VTM who is gracely ill and will be having surgery next week. It was well worth it to visit and pray with Bill Willard and his wife Janie. They've been with me as friends and BD members for nearly forty years.

Bryan Riley said...

A beautiful post. Yes and amen.

Many a man failed to ever humble themselves at this point and instead ended up humbled and out of the pastorate altogether.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Wayne

You have a wonderful extended family and your g-grandchildren are beautiful,smart, and talented!

We do what we do for sake of the "next generations" don't we?

Blessings to you my friend.

Rodney

Rex Ray said...

I wish father and son would get together: son writes, “Insecurity is the mother of twins named control and intimidation” while father writes, “My blog has a guideline of being respectful in disagreement.”

My mistake was commenting on the wrong post when truth is condemned as disrespectful and descent is deleted from the man in the pew.

Paul Burleson said...

Mr. Ray,

You are always welcome as anyone is when demonstrating a respectful spirit in disagreement.

Trust me, after fifty-three years in ministry I KNOW respectful disagreement when I see it and I know the opposite.

But we can respectfully disagree on that and I'm fine with it.

Ultimately, I, as blog moderator, will make the decision about where the line may be... and... whether it has been crossed or not.

Insecurity, control, intimidation may all be my motive. I don't think so. But I'm willing to let the One who really knows our hearts decide that.

By the way, if you desire to, you will find, I'm sure, many areas where Wade has excelled his father in grace, wisdom and fairness. I hope so. He, along with his siblings, would need much grace and wisdom to survive the parenting they had to endure. Thank the Lord for His Grace in all of it...right?

Rex Ray said...

Paul,
Sorry you mistook Wade’s quote to apply to you.

I believe your parenting is to be praised to have a son such as Wade.

Paul Burleson said...

"My mistake was commenting on the wrong post when truth is condemned as disrespectful and descent is deleted from the man in the pew."

By this statement I was hearing you say that my post had condemned [your] truth as disrespectful and the dissent of a man in the pew [you] had been deleted.

This, in contrast to the way Wade handles his post AND, my post was the picture of the truth of the statement made by Wade when he said that "Insecurity is the mother of twins named intimidation and control." [Which statement I believe to be true by the way.]

My comment was only assuring you that my motive, the best I can tell, is not because of insecurity but, rather, because of an established guideline I have.

My final comment was to assure you that whatever Wade says or does WILL exceed whatever my efforts might be on any subject being addressed.

This was said based on my assuming you were comparing the two posts, Wade's and mine, to point out the differences with his being the better. I say 'amen' to that.

Also, my comment about his surviving my parenting was not responding to anything you said at all. Just stating a fact.

[Frankly, I hadn't considered what you might think of my parenting skills.]

Now with all that cleared up, let's get on to commenting about the post as written and engage in a conversation that will address the issues that might be raised by a well written post. [Not the author or moderator of the blog. :)]

Rex Ray said...

Paul,
My comment that was deleted did not fit your post because it was not on topic of praising a pastor’s heart.

My comment would have been on topic of Wade’s post as an example of “Insecurity is the mother…intimidation and control.” That was my mistake in choosing the wrong post.

My only excuse was seeing your post referenced on Wade’s post and I thought it fitting to give a ‘Paul Harvey’. I see that it was not wanted.

Aussie John said...

Paul,

Rodney wrote: "Like spiritual pornography we fantasized over every glossy airbrushed beautiful testimony of a glowing ministerial position and growing ministry given to us by a peer, book, or church growth/ leadership conference and assumed that that was what the church was created to be".

If that statement wasn't so true, I would have laughed out loud, instead, the truth of it brought back too many memories of my own naive gullibility in the past.

When I was young enough, and naive enough, to listen to such stories with glazed eyes, I believed they were pure truth, but as I became more and more privy to the inner workings of denomination machinations,I began to realise that, because a story had elements of truth in, didn't make the story true.

Yet, what a relief was the revelation that the men who were placed on pedestals,whose words were often quoted, had as many imperfections and foibles as I had (they didn't seem think so!).

Even more shocking was the discovery that denominational politics, using various devices usually reserved for secular politics, had a large part to play in these people being on the pedestals on which they were placed.

Rodney's observation that when people in ministry,"wake up one day and realize that most everything around is a carefully crafted facade they have a decision to make" is so very true.
Sadly,as revealed by their defensive attitudes, many have decided for the status quo.

Tragically, the very people we are called to reach with the precious message of God's great gift of grace, are very aware of how true all of this is.

Paul Burleson said...

Mr. Ray,

One final response. I promise.

The post was, if my intention was fulfilled, an attempt in praising a pastor for an "open heart" of recording how expectations can be created and then be bought to nothing so Jesus can be real in one's life. That was the testimony of one person's open heart.

I would praise that in anyone who's willing to share their shortcomings.

As to a "the rest of the story" comment about another person's failure, you're right, this blog is not for that. Thanks fo recognizing that fact.


Aussie John,

You have nailed some of the more salient points from my perspective also.

I think it may be that by the time people [pastors and others] wake up to it all, they are in such a comfort zone that they opt for the status quo, as you said, for fear of creating more pain than they've already experienced. [Without the security of their so called comfort zone.]

Sadly, pain will ALWAYS be there. It is the joy of knowing the reality of Christ's life as our security in the midst of whatever pain or pleasure life brings that I wouldn't trade for all the facades imaginable.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

I am preaching through Philippians over the next few weeks in a series called "Where Joy Will Surprise You". The main point of the series is to (hopefully) help people discover joy in the places they do not normally expect it to be.

This week was on difficulty (hardship and suffering) in the course of the message I said:

"I believe most Baptist deplore the idea of a prosperity gospel but I am afraid we embrace a comfort gospel. We tell people that if they follow Christ they will have things like a better life, a better marriage, better money management, better ????

Make no mistake.... when Christ changes you life it is always for the better but better does not mean easier!!!!

If Paul is to be believed (and I believe him) suffering (which includes pain and difficulty) is a "grace gift" from God."

I wish I would have quoted from you:

"Pain will ALWAYS be there. It is the joy of knowing the reality of Christ's life (and the spiritual formation that is occuring) and our security in the midst of whatever...life brings"

This makes life joy-filled and better

Therefore the desire to maintain a "comfortable status quo" does little to further God's redemptive work inside each of us.

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Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

I remember 30 years ago my pastor made a very strong statement and also a clarification that I as a young ministerial student not get caught up in ministry but seek a life in Christ and the ministry will take care of itself. Because the motivation is always Him, not me or my performance level. I am not trying to oversimplify the issue just stating how clear it was to me then and I still believe it is true today. When I seek a ministry first then performance level, results, my weaknesses and strengths, others opinions, my opinions all become center stage. When I stay focused on life in Christ and abiding in His Life, then as the adjustments to ministry come over the years I accept His restful certainty that He is pleased because He was the motivator all the time. If I take my eyes off of Him I miss the opportunity for refinement.

Thank you for allowing me to comment. Sorry, I've been away so long. Still appreciate you and Mary's blog so much. Love ya man.

Steve Miller in San Antonio

Paul Burleson said...

Peter,

Interesting. I looked a bit at your places. Interesting.

Steve,

Good to see you back. Missed your comments.

Paul Burleson said...

Rodney,

I again thank you for your well written and genuinely honest comment and the privilage of posting it here at vtmbottomline. The conversation has been very beneficial for all of us.