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Companions for the Journey

I was hooked. I was watching previews for upcoming films and a preview of The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy flashed on the screen. I would have to wait until the following Christmas, but this was my kind of movie.

I had never read the series, but I determined that I would do so by the time they released the first movie. I devoured the books. And while the films deviated in a few places from what Tolkien had written (thoroughly upsetting some purists), I loved them.

There are innumerable memorable bits of dialogue and some very unforgettable characters in The Lord of the Rings. And there are many great themes in the series. To me, one that stands out in particular is the friendship between Frodo and Sam. And by the way – if you don’t know the story, it’s a great read!

I’m writing this early on a Sunday morning, and this morning’s routine was the same as most other Sundays. I get my cereal and tea, check the Phillies’ score (alas! – last night was painful), and text two of my closest friends. One is preaching for the other who is enjoying the first Sunday of his sabbatical. I pray for both of them throughout the week, but especially on Sunday. And I know they pray for me.

For well over a decade, we have been meeting monthly for lunch. We’ve sometimes rescheduled, but we’ve rarely missed a month. Each of us has gone through both good times and hard times, but we’ve been able to rejoice together and encourage each other. Along with two or three others these men have laughed with me and cried with me, counseled and challenged me. I have friends outside of ministry, and I am grateful for them. But having friends who understand my world has meant much to me.

The two most significant traits among my ministry companions are their confidentiality and their lack of a competitive spirit. I know that I can bare my soul to these men and not fear that it will come back to haunt me. And there was never a sense that our church’s size made any difference, or that one of us had to have the upper hand.

We find ministry friends throughout the Bible. Paul had a bunch of them. Read the closing paragraphs of his letters and you’ll find them being singled out time and time again. And I can’t help but think Jesus’ disciples were more than a group of guys he was shaping into future leaders. We do an injustice to our Lord’s humanity if we imagine that he had no need for human companionship.

No doubt you have friends. But do you have ministry friends? Do you have men in your life who do what you do, who understand the challenges and the joys of pastoral work? If not, let me encourage you to reach out to some other pastors in your area. Have lunch, talk, and ask God to help you discerningly build one or more friendships that will enable you to encourage each other along the way.

Have you benefitted from these kinds of relationships? Or has it been a struggle to develop ministry friendships? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

A Minister’s Preaching – Part 2

“Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for Thee.”

So reads the next section in the prayer “A Minister’s Preaching” in the book Valley of Vision.

Why do we preach? We preach because people need to hear from God. We, like the writer of the lines above, long that people might be edified with divine truth. We want to see them grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, to see them mature in their faith, to see them live out the truth of Scripture in their lives.

Spiritual growth – in our own lives as well as in the lives of others – takes time. I used to compare what we do when we preach to the way layers of newspaper and paste become a paper mache creation. Change is imperceptible, but as layer upon layer is added, the object takes shape. So it is with preaching.

And by the way – let that encourage you. Watching our people grow is like watching children grow. You don’t see much of anything if you look day after day, but over time, it becomes visible. Often we get discouraged because it seems like nothing is “happening.” But we don’t see the hearts of our people, and we don’t know what God is doing in them.

The goal of preaching is that people grow to be like Christ. That’s what the author of this prayer means when he expresses his desire that his people to be edified. Pray that God will do that in your life and in the lives of your people as you preach and teach this Sunday. May God bless in your work.

P.S. Tim Challies links to a solid book on preaching in his A La Carte today. Preaching by Alec Motyer is on sale for $2.99 (Kindle).

What if I Don’t Like My Pastor’s Preaching?

When this blog was still in its prenatal stages, a young friend sent me over forty questions he thought younger pastors would have about ministry. Many of them, like this one, are rather provocative. Perhaps you find yourself in this situation or know someone who is.

My answer assumes that you’re an Associate or Assistant Pastor. And the first part of my response will not be very helpful to you if you’re stuck in this situation. But it might help someone contemplating taking a position in a church.

If you are considering serving on the staff of a church, I would suggest that you listen to several – and I mean several – sermons before you accept the position. It might be a very attractive opportunity. But you and your family will also be attending the church, so you also want to consider the same factors you would if you were not in ministry and you were looking for a home church. And that includes the quality of the preaching you’ll hear each week.

But you’ve made the decision, and you find yourself in a position where you are regularly struggling with the preaching. What do you do?

First, some things not to do:

Don’t stage a coup
You may laugh or recoil at the mere suggestion, but it’s not that far-fetched. You can unintentionally plant seeds of discord in your church by sharing your thoughts with the wrong people. You (and your wife) cannot risk saying anything to people within the church.  If you do plan to talk about it, you need to find someone who can keep the matter in the strictest confidence. Never put yourself in the place of undercutting your pastor. That means that you don’t entertain other people’s criticisms of his preaching, regardless of how you feel. Certainly James 4:11-12 applies here.

Don’t give him books on preaching. 
That’s just not gonna cut it.

So what can you do? What are your options for dealing with this?

First, check yourself. 

What I mean is check your own heart. Is it just a matter of preference, or do you feel you could do a better job? You know what? You might! But nurturing that attitude will do nothing good for you or your church. It will affect your relationship with your people, your relationship with your Pastor, and God’s blessing on your own preaching. Run from this!

Second, identify why you dislike his preaching.
Look, every preacher has a different style, you included. That’s why we all have favorite preachers. How we preach is the product of several factors: what they taught us in school, what we picked up (often unwittingly) from other preachers, and our personality, just to name a few. If you don’t resonate with his style, remember that you can still learn and grow if he is teaching the Bible clearly. And try to avoid comparing him to one of your favorites. You wouldn’t want someone comparing you in that way.

Next, pray for him. 
Preaching is hard, and like athletes, pastors go through slumps too. From my experience and from talking to other pastors, sometimes our sermons just seem to fall flat. As you know, most pastors have a lot to do besides preach. Sometimes those other responsibilities end up impacting our preaching. And then there are personal things that the pastor is going through, or church problems he is dealing with.

But remember: God prospers the preaching of his Word. Your pastor might not be the greatest orator or the greatest theologian. But if he is faithful to the text, God will use him. You don’t have to love his style of preaching, but challenge yourself to find something to take away from the sermon.

If you still feel that the preaching is seriously deficient, I believe that the best response is to begin (quietly) to look for another place to serve. Senior Pastors have a right to expect loyalty from their associate staff members. In most cases, the Senior Pastor will have been there longer than you have.

Your job is not to rescue the church from what you consider less-than-stellar preaching.  If you are talking about preaching heresy that’s one thing.  But if you are unhappy with the “how” of your Pastor’s preaching or the things he emphasizes, that attitude will only deepen with time. Sooner or later that will make itself known. And you don’t want that.

If you can’t cheerfully live with the situation, then pray for an opportunity to move on, be humble and respectful, and be open to the possibility that what you consider deficient is not so much deficiency but a difference of style or personality. And if you leave, don’t drop a bomb by criticizing the preaching. Keep that to yourself.

In the meantime, guard your own heart and pray for the man God has placed in the role of preaching each week.

About Expectations

He was between jobs, and as he sat across from me in my office he was pondering his future. “I wish I could be a pastor so that I could study the Bible all day.”

It wasn’t the first time someone said that. Hey, I might have thought that way myself when I was in Bible College (back in the antediluvian period). I don’t recall what my expectations were. But I learned fast that pastors did more than “study the Bible all day.” So I told my friend something that has often been true. I said, “To be honest, I often have to fight for the time to study.”

Has that been true for you? While preaching and teaching is likely the primary responsibility of most of us, it’s not our only responsibility. I’m sure you know that already. But has that knowledge affected the way you plan your time? And has it affected your availability to people? Because people are probably the biggest “interruption” we face in our preparation. Let me encourage you to welcome those interruptions.

When I first started in ministry, a church near us had called a new pastor. Shortly after he came, a young woman in the church went through a very painful broken engagement. Her dad, wanting to get her some pastoral counsel, took her to see the pastor. Instead of welcoming the opportunity to minister, the new pastor said, “I did not come here to wipe your noses.”

News of that encounter quickly got around the area. He didn’t last long. No surprise there.

It can be frustrating to have a drop-in visitor or take a phone call when you’re deep in study. But spending time with people is rarely a waste of time. In fact, how we handle people’s interruptions can enhance or diminish our effectiveness as preachers and teachers.

Let me offer some suggestions:

First, if you work in an office environment, keep your office door open as often as you can. People will stop into the church office for a variety of reasons and often they will pop in. Sometimes it’s just to say hello. Other times those visits will lead to spiritual discussions and opportunities to pray with and for our people. Those are good times. Christ is present in those moments.

Second, recruit your secretary to help you. I was blessed with three different secretaries who were great at this. Generally, I wanted to be available if any of our church people dropped by. When I closed my office door, they knew what I was doing, so they knew if they could interrupt me or not. Occasionally a missionary would stop by to drop off literature as they sought support. In most cases, our budget prohibited us from taking on more missions commitments. But support raising can discourage, and I wanted to hear about them and pray with them whenever I could.

On other occasions someone would stop by to see me wanting to sell me something. My secretaries handled those drop-ins so well. They would take literature and promise that I would call the salesman if I was interested in the latest video that would double our church attendance and/or turn people into mature believers in 12 weeks. My sarcasm may reveal the fact that I rarely, if ever, returned those kinds of calls.

Third, don’t cram so much into your weekly plan that you have no time for people. If your church members see you rushing around, it will communicate that you are too busy for them. Slow down. Not every project has to be finished in a day. Spread your sermon prep over a couple of days so that if a day goes haywire, you aren’t up all night on Saturday night trying to cobble a sermon together.

Finally, consider taking your study off premises. I’m going to write about this at some other time, but if you find the office environment to be too full of interruptions – or even a source of temptation to draw you away from your work – get out of there!

When you spend time with your people, you are letting them know that you care for them. You are telling them you are interested in their lives, even in what might seem mundane. And you are telling them you are glad to be their pastor.

If your expectation was that you came to preach and teach, you’re right. But you also came to “wipe noses.” Ministry is about people. Expect them to “interrupt” your day and welcome the opportunities those interruptions provide.

Is ministry what you expected? How have you done at adjusting your expectations? Leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

A Minister’s Preaching, Part 1

(This is the first “real” post on For Younger Pastors. My plan is to post at least three times each week, with the post closest to the weekend speaking to the subject of Sunday ministry in general and preaching in particular. However, since this first post also coincides with the end of the week, we’ll go right to the topic of preaching. So here we go!)

Let me recommend a book to you. The Valley of Vision is a compilation of prayers written by the Puritans. It is edited by Arthur Bennett, published by Banner of Truth, and available at Amazon or Westminster Seminary’s bookstore.

I often used some of these prayers in public worship. While the language may be somewhat antiquated and needed to be adjusted, there were several that were perfect for preparing our hearts and minds for the Lord’s Table. But there were two in particular that came to have great meaning to me. In fact, I copied them onto half sheets and tucked them inside my Bible. One of them is called The Minister’s Prayer. I found myself turned to that often before I went up to preach. It expressed my desires and hopes far better than I could, so I would often pray this prayer:

My Master God,
I am desired to preach today,
but go weak and needy to my task;
Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth,
that an honest testimony might be borne for thee;
Give me assistance in preaching and prayer,
with heart uplifted for grace and unction.
Present to my view things pertaining to my subject,
with fullness of matter and clarity of thought,
proper expressions, fluency, fervency,
a feeling sense of the things I preach,
and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.
Keep me conscious all the while of my defects,
and let me not gloat in pride over my performance.
Help me to offer a testimony for thyself,
and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.
Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people,
and set before them comforting considerations.
Attend with power the truth preached.
and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.
May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted,
and help me to use the strongest arguments
drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings,
that men might be made holy.
I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness,
that I might be a pure channel of thy grace,
and be able to do something for thee;
Give me then refreshment among thy people,
and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way,
or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a redeemer,
or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end,
from lack of warmth and fervency.
And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.

It’s been awhile since I preached, but man those words still move me. May I work through this prayer with you in my end-of-the-week posts?

“My Master God, I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task;” 

Preaching has never come easy to me. In fact, when I was serving as an Associate Pastor, I preached only one time in a 23-year period. I taught classes, led groups, but I was perfectly content to let others on staff do the preaching.

That all changed in 2003. To make a long story short, our Senior Pastor had resigned and I asked our Elders if they would allow me to preach for a couple of weeks to see how it went. That was in early March. Those couple weeks turned into a couple of months and in November of that year I became the Senior Pastor. I spent the last fourteen years of my ministry preaching nearly every Sunday.

For many of us, public speaking doesn’t come easy.  In addition, preaching can be discouraging (Does my preaching matter? Does it make any difference? Is anyone growing?). Preaching can also be challenging (How do I best communicate this passage?). I had days when I wished I could ask my people, “Could you guys come back after lunch and I’ll try to get this right?” But I also had days when I sensed God’s hand in a special way.

I resonate with the words of the Puritan brother who wrote the words I quoted above. I believed that God wanted me to preach. But perhaps because it didn’t come easy, I was grateful for each Sunday that God gave me the opportunity to share His Word. Yet if someone asked me if I felt competent to preach, I would have said, “I’m prepared, but I’m a long way from feeling like this is a walk in the park.”

Of course, preaching should never be a walk in the park. But I suspect that it is possible to be so comfortable in preaching that doing it becomes almost second nature. And as a result, hardly a thought is given to the magnitude of the task or the consequences in the lives of people. Pray that will not happen in your life. Guard your heart against that way of thinking.

Whether you are preaching or teaching this weekend, you come “weak and needy to your task.” Whether you know it or not. Whether you believe it or not. If we fail to grasp this, I fear that our sermon becomes little more than public speaking.  We can do that without God.  But we can’t minister to the hearts of our people without God’s strength.

So before you get into the pulpit or stand in the classroom this Sunday, remind yourself that you are weak and needy, and ask God to give you strength.  

What makes you feel “weak and needy?”  I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Welcome to “For Younger Pastors!”

Maybe you’re in seminary, contemplating ministry. Or you’re new to the role of pastor. Have you been a pastor for a while? Then this site has been designed with you in mind. Welcome! Thanks for stopping by!

Let’s face it – there’s a lot that they don’t teach you in seminary. I spent over forty years in ministry and without question the entire time was a learning experience.

I want to say up front that I am not a ministry expert.  I haven’t pastored a mega church.  I haven’t written any books (but man, could I!).  I was an ordinary pastor in an ordinary church.

There were good times and hard times. But in both good times and bad times ministry is a challenge. I hope to share some of what I learned over my years.

I have a concern for young guys just starting out and those who have been pastors for a few years.  Some of you have no one to talk to. Some of you are facing challenges and you don’t know how to handle them. Some of you face opposition.  How do you keep from getting crushed?   Ministry isn’t easy.

Before I start posting, let me introduce myself. My name is Peter Bogert. I graduated from Northeastern Bible College in 1976. My wife and I served for about three years in a Baptist church in northern New Jersey. In 1980 we moved to suburban Philadelphia. Initially I worked as the Education Pastor.  In 1987 I added oversight of our elementary school to my list of responsibilities.  In 1996 our school closed, and I resumed my role as Education Pastor, focusing on adult education. In 2003 the church called me to be the Senior Pastor. I held that position until I retired in June of 2017.

Again, I am not an expert. But I am a listening ear and have a bunch of things I want to share in this blog. My goal is to post about 3 times a week. Some posts will be on dealing with “stuff.” Other posts will focus on being challenging and encouraging. If I don’t answer a question that you have, use the contact button and let me know how I can help. I’ll do the best I can.

Thanks again for stopping by! May God bless you as you serve him.