Barnabas Factor expands to Africa!
I am a survivor. Many pastors are. Unfortunately, some of them do not survive painful experiences in ministry, and head for the sidelines. Sometimes, others have to drag what's left of them off the field of play. I am not an expert in counseling. I do not have fancy degrees that qualify me to teach pastors. But in the experiences, which God has sovereignly allowed me to experience, He has called me and equipped me with what I refer to as a "brokenness" call. A brokenness call comes from surviving extremely challenging times, in the midst of which, God turns your attention to others who are also suffering. My new life verses are II Corinthians 1:3-4 (TLB): "What a wonderful God we have-He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does He do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us." This call came to me in the midst of some heart-wrenching ministry experiences in 1990, and the burden I have for pastors has been with me ever since. It is shameful that pastors and Christian leaders are treated badly at all, but it certainly happens! But the fact is: Christian leaders having to deal with difficult people is nothing new. The New Testament is full of stories of dealing with tough customers that tend to make like rough on spiritual leaders (Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 3:1-5; II Cor. 10-11; Gal. 6:12-17; and on and on). A 1991 poll by Fuller Institute revealed that 80% of pastors believe that pastoral ministry has affected their families negatively; 33% say that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family; 75% report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry; 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month; 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job; 90% feel they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands; and 70% say they have a lower self-image than when they started in ministry. I want to focus on prevention much more than cure. I believe that there are at least four strategic areas where pastors and Christian leaders need help, to remain healthy and functional in the ministry during this new millennium.
The need to experience the love of God in a deeper dimension
One of the greatest gifts I received in 1990 was to experience more and more of the love of God. I can imagine people saying, "Surely you knew of God's love before!" And the answer is, yes, I did, but knowing something intellectually and experientially are two different things. My pride was crushed back in 1990 and I was crying out to God. I had to have His love in greater measure or I wouldn't survive! The God we serve has an endless supply of love, and He is more than willing to pour out more of it on us! All love comes from God (I John 4:7). As I searched the Bible, new verses just popped off the page. "Blessed is the Lord, for he has shown me that his never-failing love protects me like the walls of a fort!" (Ps. 31:21 TLB). "Many are the pangs of the wicked, but the steadfast love of the Lord surrounds the one who trusts in Him" (Ps. 32:10). And this verse has come to describe the normative life of a pastor equipped to survive: "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God lives in him" (I John 4:16). God will turn on the flow of His love in a greater degree as pastors rest more in the finished work of Christ as it applies to their individual lives. Many pastors preach "grace" but seem unable to let it apply to themselves. Those of us in ministry have a difficulty separating ourselves from our work. We might as well be described as "human doings" instead of human beings. We must find a way to be constantly refreshed by the reality that God (through Christ) totally accepts us apart from anything we will ever do for Him!
The need to develop significant friendships
The earlier survey by Fuller also revealed that 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend! I am privileged to have some world-class friends-friends who know everything there is to know about me, and still love and accept me! Back in 1990, I called three other pastors to walk with me through what I knew would be the fight of my life. On a weekly basis "the gang of four", as we became known, would meet. It really was a "Tom Salter support group". They literally helped me to survive my tough times. Everybody needs friends. The Apostle Paul said (in II Corinthians 7:6) "But God who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus". That verse tells me that God is in the business of bringing comfort and that His strategy usually involves using other people (I would say---close friends). I believe that in-depth friendships are a way for God to channel more of His love into our hearts. They also provide accountability, stress relief, and just plain enjoyment.
The need to survive spiritual warfare through a stronger prayer covering
If I had to prioritize these needs, this would clearly be number one! Spiritual warfare is one of the greatest areas of danger, and least understood by many pastors, not to mention the average parishioner. Klamath Falls, Oregon, was a "wake-up call" for me in that regard. Not long after my arrival there, in 1987, I received a letter and later phone calls from a man who identified himself as the head satanist in town. I could tell you stories of all that we experienced that sound like fiction, stories that would rival anything Frank Peretti has written. One of our elders' homes was broken into and a curse planted. Satanists visited our services. One published warfare expert said that an Oregon State Policeman told him that Klamath Falls was a "hotbed of satanism"! What pastors don't know in this realm can and will hurt them. My mentor in this field, Dr. Ed Murphy, has provided wise counsel, which helped to equip me. But the fact remains, whether or not the average pastor or Christian leader deals directly with satanists (and they are in more cities than we might think), everyone in ministry faces stress, and hardships, and we all need to strengthen our "prayer shields", a term coined by C. Peter Wagner, in his excellent book of the same name. I have a powerful message that I like to give in churches to spur parishioners to organize a prayer shield to uphold and surround their pastor in prayer. It's this simple: if we pray, we win! But if we neglect to pray, even though the final outcome of the kingdom in guaranteed, there is no guarantee that we won't become a casualty.
The need to express a greater unity in the Body of Christ
Pastors need to hang out with other pastors! It grieves my heart that so few pastors hold this as a core value. Most are committed to "do their own thing", and of course we must tend to our own flocks. But all of the above needs are in some dimension met when we get together with other pastors to pray. While I was in Klamath Falls, I helped organize four "prayer summits" (extended times of prayer for pastors in a retreat setting). They were awesome experiences! And that undergirding of regular prayer led to wonderful expressions of unity between our churches. Psalm 133:3 declares that God will command a blessing in the context of unity, and many contemporary examples, like Modesto, CA, and Colorado Springs, CO, give us powerful testimony of what can happen in the context of a God inspired unity in the larger Body of Christ. It is wonderful!
Other additional topics
In consultation with other ministries to pastors across the country, we also want to devote more attention to issues of balancing one's life while in ministry. Most pastors feel the tug-a-war between ministry and family, and most often, family loses. A vital priority for any pastor who wants to "go the distance" is to pay attention to keeping his marriage vibrant, and children nurtured. In addition, attention must be paid to time scheduling issues to ensure that all of the topics mentioned get adequate time devoted to them. One short-coming for many in ministry, is inattention to physical exercise. In our updated tape series, this matter is addressed. Also, all those in ministry must have a strong sense of "calling" to endure during the tough times.
All of these topics are addressed in an eight-tape series of messages, largely done by Tom Salter and others with a commitment to our ministry objectives.
By Tom Salter