The greatest struggle of the average pastor in America is with discouragement and sometimes flat-out depression. The source of his discouragement may be the stress of the ministry and the absence of elders who are walking with him in it. Or the feeling that he is not equipped to take care of a flock. Or that he or his wife or children are struggling with their own sins that they believe they have to keep hidden in order to maintain the facade of a “nearly perfect family.” Or the daily struggle of caring for the needs of a church, sometimes going months without hearing a word of encouragement or gratitude from those he is serving. Or the source of his struggle may be financial stress.
Alistair Begg gave a talk at a pastors’ conference years ago entitled, “Dealing With the Blues.” His subject was ministerial depression, and the auditorium was packed with discouraged pastors and elders. After the session, elders from one church asked to talk with Alistair in private. “Our problem is not with the pastor, but his wife,” they said. “She is deeply depressed, and we have tried everything, but nothing has helped. What should we do?” Pastor Begg said, “Increase you pastor’s annual salary by $5000.” The elders were shocked and had no response. Later one of the members of the church who heard about this conversation found Alistair and said, “You don’t know how right on target you were. Our pastor’s wife has never been able to buy new shoes for her children, and the elders wear it as a badge of honor that the pastor’s family has to scrape together pennies to make ends meet. They believe they are helping them trust God. They think they are helping the pastor never to become a lover of money by making sure he doesn’t have any money to love.”
I heard about another pastor who was thrilled when a couple of families in his country church started giving him milk and eggs every week. Until he found out that the cost of the gifts was being deducted from his salary.
Paul addressed this issue of remuneration for pastors a number of times. He said to the church in Corinth, “If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?” To the church in Galatia, Paul wrote, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.”
Part of the problem is disobedience to the Scriptures with regard to providing for pastors. But there is a deeper problem with disobedience to the Word with regard to giving to the church. The average church in America operates on a 10/90 basis. Ten percent of the people give ninety percent of the money so the church can operate, the pastor and the elders can feed and care for the people (one hundred percent of them), the lights can stay on, and the missionaries the church supports can do their work all over the world. Let me ask you something. What percentage of people in American churches make their mortgage payment, or the payment on their car which provides them with physical transportation, in the same way they give to the church? I would guess that most do not. The few who do pay their bills that way end up losing their cars or their homes. Now, if we pay our bills one hundred percent of the time because we feel an obligation to do so and we want to continue to enjoy the material things that money provides, how much more should we cheerfully give to the church where we are loved, cared for, encouraged, and taught spiritual truth?
I thank God for those churches, including the one I serve, who love and provide for the ones who care for and feed the flock. I thank God for the many who encourage me and let me know they are grateful for our family and for my leadership.
What about you? Does your pastor or his wife have the blues?
If you had asked me five years ago (or at any time in my 37 years of marriage) if I thought I would ever take ballroom dancing lessons, I would have laughed and pointed at the floor while saying, “With these two left feet? Why would I want to do that to my wife?” But here we are, Cindy and I, about to finish up our third class in ballroom dancing, and ready to sign up for the next one. I still can’t believe it. I was the guy in theater productions who would be told by the director, “Mark, you just, uh, stand over there next to the fake tree while everyone is doing this dance number.” Dancing and I have never seen eye to eye, or foot to foot, and probably never will. But I love this ballroom dancing class for a couple of reasons.
First, I love our instructors. Rocky and Mary Lou won the Senior IV International Standard National Championship in 2012, but they don’t sport that bumper sticker on their car. And even though they are national champs, they are also excellent teachers. It is rare for people who have made it to the top to be good at coaching beginners, because their standard for excellence makes it difficult for them to have patience. Rocky and Mary Lou are outliers, in that case. Part of it is their faith: they love God and it shows in how they treat people. Part of it is their humility, which is born out of their faith. They exemplify Paul’s encouragement to, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” They are down to earth, funny, kind, and patient. They are excellent in their craft, but Rocky and Mary Lou love to help others learn. And believe me, if I can learn the basics of waltz, foxtrot, rumba, cha-cha, and swing, anybody can. Any. Body. To find out more about their classes at the Alamance Fine Arts Academy in downtown Burlington, go to https://alamancefinearts.com/
Second, I love the people we are learning with. They are mostly beginners like me and Cindy, and we have fun learning together, and laughing with each other’s mistakes. We also learn more about their lives, their joys and their struggles, how to encourage and pray for them.
Third, I love doing this with my wife. Cindy and I look forward to the time together, doing something we both enjoy. It is good exercise, both for our bodies and for our wills. I have had to learn to lead her in each dance, and she has had to learn to follow me. I honestly love to lead in most settings and situations, but would be perfectly content just to follow when it comes to dancing. But that is not the way it works. Rocky has said it to us over and over, that if the man doesn’t lead, the woman will not know what he is doing and will not be able to follow. He has also told us that if we are leading properly, then we never have to exert our will, we never have to force our partner to make the move she is supposed to make. She will simply follow our lead. One of my favorite parts of each class is watching Rocky and Mary Lou demonstrate a step they are going to teach us. We see him leading and her responding and both of them moving together as one. They put “dance is poetry in motion” on display every week, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
I’m pretty sure that Cindy and I will never enter a ballroom dance competition. But we will keep learning how to dance together, and how to love each other, for the rest of our days.
The enemies of Jesus wanted him dead. “And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death…” They wanted him dead so badly that they were willing to do anything to make it happen. It must have been because Jesus was a good teacher. That’s what some say. The last time I drove through the college campus, I didn’t see any teachers being tied to a whipping post. OK, maybe they wanted to kill Jesus because He performed miracles. You mean, like giving blind men their sight and dumb men their speech and deaf men their hearing? You mean like raising dead people to life? I just can’t wrap my brain around the idea that the religious leaders would want to kill a man who was healing people of afflictions and diseases. The last time I walked through the hospital, I didn’t see doctors and nurses being dragged away from patients and carted off to be executed. OK, maybe they wanted to kill Jesus because he was such a good man. Forget “random acts of kindness.” Everything Jesus did was on purpose and for good, and no one could ever accuse him of any sin. So, the religious leaders killed him to make him stop doing good? The last time I went shopping around Christmas time, I don’t remember seeing policemen holding down Salvation Army volunteers, clubbing them senseless because they were collecting money for the poor.
Stop with the nonsense, already. The enemies of Jesus wanted him dead for one reason alone. He claimed to be God. Isn’t that what steams the clams of the “religious leaders” today? Those who want to silence Jesus and all his followers do not care one whit when you talk about him being a good teacher. Or a great healer. Or a good man. They would even agree with you on those counts. But they get their undershorts all in a wad when you talk about Jesus being “God come in the flesh.” Their necks begin to redden when you suggest that there is no way to forgiveness except through Jesus. They go apoplectic when you say that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Let them. Ultimately, their argument is with him, not you and me. And if Jesus Christ is God, which the Gospels make clear that he is, then his Word is true, sufficient, and authoritative.
Here’s what C.S. Lewis said about Jesus in his classic, Mere Christianity: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Either Jesus was a lunatic, a liar, or Lord of all. There is no other choice. But don’t take my word for it. Go read the Bible for yourself. Start with the Gospels and read the life of Jesus. I dare you to stop with the nonsense and read the Bible for the plain sense. Double dare you.