Where were the Francis Chans and the John Pipers ten years ago? It’s so ironic when I reflect upon the nature of pastoral calling Piper is one example of ministerial Sabbath buzzing through the blogosphere. The passionate pit bull in Minneapolis played a huge role in my departure from America to pursue missions at a break neck pace. God’s sense of humor manifests once more.
I would have loved the public example of balance and freedom to draw upon as seen by the recent decisions by Chan and Piper. My gut impulse felt it was okay to take a break (Piper). There are seasons of pastoral ministry (Chan)! Oh, for a time machine to know what to say and how to say it! Instead, I have grappled with many questions about my calling in life and have mounted up ample frustrations with the practical theology which depletes our pastors nationwide.
I recall vividly the inner wrestling and lack of clarity about the question presented by the pastors at a small southern California church.
“Michael, do you feel called to be a pastor?”
“I don’t really know,” I sheepishly retorted.
In my honest uncertainty, I asked for some time to reassess this question and search my soul. Was I “called” to be a pastor? What is a calling really anyway? I felt that it was my duty to figure out what the Biblical calling entailed. So as a good fundamentalist, I scoured the Good Book and looked up every reference on pastoral ministry, church leadership, and calling to ministry. Of course, I took the liberties to make the Scripture conform to my perspective in order to translate what I should have known all along. No one chapter or verse assuaged the doubts or erased my deepest fears. But, I had to present something, right? My own sense of personal identity would be inadequate. There had to be a textual indicator. So, I fasted, prayed, read, fasted, prayed, read, wrestled, doubted – you get the idea. How would I respond? Calling. Is that the best way to consider a heart that wants to reach out to the hurting. A heart full of compassion for the poor. A heart that looks to benefit the Church as a whole body.
Going back to the Scriptures, to my surprise, I found a variety of roles in which the early Church operated that no longer had significance in my local church. As a young, single man on the mission field I identified more with the apostolic and prophetic ministries in the early church. But, I didn’t really know if I was a weekly message deliverer – aka a “modern day pastor.” I had public speaking experience in a variety of churches. Denomination did not really matter to me. I just wanted to share a unique word on a Sunday morning with a group of people. Hopefully we both would be refreshed and challenged in the process. This was where my calling appeared most evidently. I felt like I belonged there, but we did not have a staff position for persons like me. I did not fit the assistant pastor mold or the mold did not fit me.
As I searched my heart and attempted to find a clearer answer for my pastoral board, I faced even more questions about the way church is done in America. If the early Church had many positions of leadership, why have we boiled down the focus upon one, or two melded together into one? The pastor-teacher function is most prominent in our local churches today, so what could be two distinct individuals or groups of individuals, now boils down into one person. One ego. One celebrity. One cult of personality. It makes perfect sense in our individualistic, rationalistic society that we value the thoughts of one person over the entire congregation in our weekly meetings.
But I look at the Scriptures and I see there were many persons involved in making the Church function on a regular basis. There were the apostolic, itinerant ministers like Jesus. There were the prophetic individuals who had a word in season at one particular time and did not have to continue weekly messages or contributions. There were pastoral figures who had leadership abilities. Notice this next one: there were distinct persons known as teachers who were gifted at instructing members. There were also those who brought new members in. I imagine that these evangelists were nothing like the ones seen on television today. We do not know their names, we do not see them in a prominent place, and we do not attribute to them a pompousness that repulses the unchurched.
Chan and Piper are distinct reminders of why our current system needs to be discussed and revamped.
Piper has been productively, passionately laboring, speaking, teaching, and writing for decades; he finally reached a point as an individual – whose successes are remarkable – that Sabbath rest is necessary. Listening to him in my early missionary days, I still hear his shrill, intense voice calling an army of youth such as I to go do the hardest work in the hardest places. I chose Uganda among Sudanese refugees. These persecuted believers had experienced some of the most atrocious acts of violence since the Holocaust. I pushed, I pressed, I did all that I could to embody Piper’s message of the one who would die for the gain of Christ. (I nearly died a few times.) God mercifully spared me despite me. I believe part of His calling now is that I can deliver a message that Piper finally gets. Pastors are people, too.
Israel had an annual Sabbath as a nation and their collective disobedience to let the land rest one year out of seven brought forth their exile from the promised land. I see this as a principle and a warning to leaders today. There must be a Sabbath rest in our ministerial lands. Pastors need a break from their churches, and churches need a break from their pastors. The burn out that is so common among contemporary pastors illustrates the wisdom of the Scriptures. A team of leaders working together, sharing the load, just as the early Church embodied, is far more profitable and efficient. Burn out is less frequent when the individual becomes a collective. It’s just plain statistics and math. Sharing the load is not compromise or failure. Look at Piper, even the great man himself needs to stop at times.
Chan is a rapidly rising superstar. Notice when he chose to move on. Not at the decline or the slightest sign of slowing down in his popularity. He left his position during the ascent. His choice to move on baffles countless young seminarians who would dream of being in his position. All their studying, hoping, praying, dreaming to be like, well, like Francis Chan. He’s a great example of making it to the top, right? Uh, oh! He did what? How could he hand it over? How could he entrust all of that to someone else? I suggest he got the Biblical vision of ministry and saw that no one pastor is really called to shoulder the burden. No one personality is big enough for hundreds or thousands of people to be directed by and led into maturity.
He got it. Thank God for Francis Chan. This is one of the best examples of the second principle I felt down deep all these years. Ministry can be a season or there can be seasons of ministry.
I have not spoken from a pulpit in five years. I am not a missionary. I am a married man with a beautiful three year old boy. My church consists of three members if you count myself. And even in my little sphere of influence I share the leadership with my dear wife. Even in a church of three I need a partner.
So, we consider Piper and Chan. Calling all pastors! Calling all pastors! It is okay to rest. It is okay to share. It is even Biblical.