The longer I have pastored, the more imperfect I feel.
I recently read this book… and I loved it! When I first picked it up I said with a smile, “oh wow, this must be my biography”. I know I am an imperfect pastor— I will be first in the line to point out my faults. However, for some reason unbeknown to me, God has called me to this role. I would do something else if I could, but I know that there is no other option. God has me right where He wants me!
Get Zack Eswine’s book: The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus. Crossway, 2015.
This book was a great encouragement to me, I hope it will be for you as well. Here are the five main lessons I’m taking away from this great book.
Lesson #1: Letting go of the itinerant life and finding joy in staying in one place.
Before God called me to the pastorate, I was a traveling evangelist. God opened doors for me to preach all over the world and partnering with ministries such as Youth For Christ, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and other large evangelistic organizations. I loved the itinerant life; I had a great affection for traveling and seeing God move in various places. During my traveling days, I would often say, I will never be a pastor… I will support pastors through being an evangelist.
That was my plan, but God had something different in mind. I remember the snowy day in 2006 when God clarified that I was one foot in the local church and one foot on the road. I have continued to travel and be a local pastor, but over time my passion and calendar are more filled with staying put than traveling.
In Zack Eswine’s book, he addressed “Everywhere for all” in chapter five. He asked a powerful question: “What does it mean to let go of the itinerant life?” (75). He presented a powerful case for “knowing the trees” of our town and realizing that even Jesus spent 30 years in the same place (76). His biblical idea of the shepherd returning to the ordinary moved me, after they had experienced the extraordinary (80). Instead of hitting the road on tour, or trying to become famous as traveling speakers, the ordinary pastors went back and did their ordinary life, yet they were never the same.
I must remember that there is power in staying put, and though there are days that feel mundane, the God I serve is everything but mundane.
Lesson # 2: Overcoming the addition to immediacy.
I was speaking with another pastor this week and said, “I am a fast food kind of guy… I want everything, including change, to happen in two minutes or less.” Whether it is waiting for change in a person’s life, or waiting for change in the church I am helping to revitalize, I can often grow very impatient. Eswine addressed the problem of “immediacy” in chapter eight in a way that I found greatly refreshing. He pricked my conscience with this statement, “What makes slowing down so difficult? It is our craving for something other than fame-shy work, our everywhere for all, know-it-all, fit-it-all attempts to replace God, and our prayerlessness, which leaves us burdened with a load that only God is meant to carry” (118).
I have the addiction to haste that Eswine calls out (120). I long for things quickly and I have a “run instead of walk” mindset. He pointed out that one reason we can feel the need for speed is because of our church’s past (121). Our church was popular at one time and now it is not; I find myself wanting to I want to rush back to regain numbers through new attendees. I need to remember, as he said, that patience in pastoral ministry is a virtue (124).
Lesson # 3: Remembering that this is a marathon, so find a sustainable pace.
“Sometimes we work a full day in one hour,” wrote Zack Eswine in chapter 11, Finding Our Pace (169). He is right when he says that “Pastoral ministry doesn’t un-anxiety us” (170), though we know the answers for casting our cares on Christ (1 Pet. 3:7) and counsel others to do this, we \can carry a high level of anxiety as pastors. In my life, I find myself plagued by worry and fretfulness often. As a biblical counselor, I can give chapter and verse for overcoming this, but the practice of combating it is a whole other game. I have to remember that casting my cares on Christ (Matt. 11:28) is a moment-by-moment pace of life (171).
I was grateful for Eswine’s biblical journey through the early morning hours all the way to our dreams in the night. He presented a perspective of trusting Christ at every waking and sleeping hour, knowing that He is our shepherd as we shepherd others in His name. He refers to these as the “four portions pace of life” (180) and gave practical examples for applying them to our daily calendar. I was most convicted that these paces allow us to listen to God and have a deeper longing for beholding God (chapter 10). I know that this is an area where there is a needed change in my life, and quickly, or burn out is inevitable.
Lesson # 4: My pastoral calling is to touch the sick and the sinner.
Getting our minds around hospital visitations, hospitable hugs, or hopeful pats on the back seems easy. People need the embodied company of Christ in the life through the ministry of presence that we offer as pastors. However, what is not as easy to intellectually grasp is the necessity to care for sinners and “touch” their life with the truth of the Gospel we possess. Eswine presents a case for caring for sinners (chapter 13) that gives practical application for being involved in the spiritual development of those under our care. This care begins with ourselves; we must work out our sanctification and eradicating public and private sins from our life (202).
Galatians 6:3-4 clarifies that we are “Keep watch over ourselves” first. It’s easy to see the sin of our sheep before seeing the sin in our self. Grace must change and soften us, so we can deal with others gracefully (204). Our goal is to see hearts softened and godly sorrow developed in the sinners we care for. There is a drastic difference in worldly sorrow over godly sorrow.
Our goal is not to see people merely feel bad or sorrowful for their sin, rather it is to call them to a change their thinking and behavior to conform to the likeness of Christ and the truth of His Word. As we strive for this in our people, we work to restore them in gentleness (211). This requires patience and intentionality, be it in the church discipline process, or even in the everydayness of loving on the saints. We love on this physically sick, but we also love on the spiritually sick continually.
Lesson # 5: Making decisions God’s way.
Eswine is right – we all have learned good leadership lessons over the years (229), but have they been biblical and godly leadership lessons? I have considered myself a “leadership junkie,” consuming hundreds of books, articles, and presentations on effective leadership. Many of them are meant for the business context, but I have prided myself on being able to take what is presented in business terms and contextualizing it for the church. While there are many things we can learn from the common grace of God found in the world, we must not forget the special grace and revelation we have from Christ and through the Holy Spirit in the Word of God. We should be able to not just make the right decision but make the most God-honoring decision.
In Eswine’s book, he addressed godly decision making with three primary questions that we should ask (236-241):
- Is this the right thing?
- What is the right way to do this?
- Is this the right time?
I was grateful for the way the author explained this within the context of his own eldership (230) and the parameters and focus they set for themselves as to why they exist and how they are to make decisions. In my own context, we are striving to make the best decisions, moving from merely having right leadership to having godly shepherding.
It is easy for us to get caught up with the idols of “The inner ring” at Grace Chapel, or any church, as he described them (242).
We must avoid valuing the approval of a person we are close to over doing the right thing before God. As a pastor and fellow elder, I can long to be accepted by the other men, my staff or congregation so much that it causes me to compromise convictions. I will strive to please the Lord first by leading with confidence, making decisions that are biblical, and living to please God and glorify Christ in the whole of my leadership and life.