A Pastor’s Response: Where Is God When Life Gets Tough?

A Pastor’s Response: Where Is God When Life Gets Tough?

During my years as a pastor, the question I have been asked most frequently is “Where is God when bad things happen?”  The question may follow a devastating storm, an unexpected diagnosis, or a catastrophic event. The contexts vary but the query is the same. This question has perplexed and frustrated those afflicted with suffering, grief and pain. Theologians and philosophers have wrestled with scriptural texts and rational thought striving to make sense of the enigma. Pastors and counselors continually search for explanations that provide encouragement and hope for those scarred by raw human experience. In one sense, to attempt to respond to such a challenging question can seem arrogant or presumptuous. In another sense, the question begs to be addressed but is entirely too big to have a simple, singular answer. Religious clichés and slogans may offer momentary hope or comfort, but to the person who is hurting, “canned” religious answers seem hollow, shallow and often insulting. As a pastor, I only know to be transparent and confessional in sharing with my congregation how I am processing the question in hopes that my small insight might provide a little light for those dealing with the question from a dark place. 1. Life is not fair. I wish someone had taught me this when I was much younger. My early faith was predicated on naïve assumptions: God is good and life is fair. If I go to church, read my Bible, pray and try to keep the commandments, I will prosper and God will protect me. If I misbehave, bad things will happen. Now I would be inclined to...
Learning to Navigate Diversity

Learning to Navigate Diversity

One of the most enriching and fatiguing things about church life these days is the vast diversity within most local congregations. During some recent days of self-reflection and ministry evaluation, I spent some time thinking about why I feel more fatigued these days than I did a few years ago. There are likely many contributing factors including my age, my length of tenure, and what Paul called “the daily pressure of my concern for the churches” (II Corinthians 11:28). But it dawned on me that a part of this new mental fatigue is caused by the continual task of navigating diversity within the church, a phenomena for which I was neither trained nor prepared. To further process my notion, I started listing the ways the church is more diverse today than it was when I began my first tenure as a pastor. I quickly identified 10 areas of church ministry that illustrate this proliferation of diversity: Generational diversity: There are now 4-6 generations present on any given Sunday in many multi-generational churches. Translation diversity: Rather than one standard Bible translation, members of my congregation read a variety of different Bible translations, and I am sure there are a dozen or more different translations present each time I preach Racial and ethnic diversity: There are multiple races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds present within most congregations. Worship time diversity: Many churches have multiple worship services. Worship style diversity: Our church has two Sunday morning worship services, each involving a different style of worship. Curriculum diversity: Rather than a standard denominational literature, there are multiple curricula used by Sunday School and Bible...
Pastor: A Unique, Contextual Calling

Pastor: A Unique, Contextual Calling

While searching for a particular volume in my library, another book caught my attention. The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson, is an inspiring autobiographical account of what it means to be called to pastoral ministry and to live out that vocation in a unique community. This book has inspired me to reaffirm my calling with fresh perspective. While Peterson is known to many primarily for his popular Bible translation called The Message, his most significant contribution to my world has been his writings about pastoral work.  Years ago I read three of Peterson’s books about pastoral ministry:  Five Smooth Stones of Pastoral Work, The Contemplative Pastor, and Under the Unpredictable Plant.  In a church world that looks to the pastor to be the CEO, a chaplain-on-demand, or an ecclesial entrepreneur, Peterson reminds ministers and churches that a pastor is more like a spiritual director, a “soul friend” who walks alongside others pointing out what God is doing in their life. In a fast paced world, where a competitive consumerist culture has invaded the church, pastors are often expected to be an idealistic combination of captivating motivational speaker, savvy executive/administrator, and extraordinary counselor.  But the call to be a pastor is unique.  There is no other vocation like it. Veteran pastor Hardy Clemons reminds us that the church is to be “more family than corporation.”  Clemons reminds pastors and churches of their peculiar mission: Our goal is to minister: it is not to show a profit, amass a larger financial corpus or grow bigger for our own security. The ultimate goals are to accept God’s grace, share the good...
Is There More Than One Theologian in Your Church?

Is There More Than One Theologian in Your Church?

A few years ago, as I welcomed a first-time visitor to our worship service, he said to me abruptly, “I am looking for a church where the preacher preaches the Bible and doesn’t talk about theology and all of that kind of stuff.”  I knew then I was in trouble because I don’t believe you can preach the Bible or talk about God without talking about “theology and all of that kind of stuff.” As a Baptist who believes in the priesthood of every believer, I think that every pastor and every Christian should be a theologian in the truest sense of the word.  I propose that our churches will be healthier if our people are equipped to be good theologians. What is theology anyway?  Is it a discipline for sophisticated concepts and complicated descriptions of God?  Not at all.  Theology is a good word.  My esteemed theology professor in seminary, Dr. Fisher Humphreys, offered a simple yet practical definition of theology to his students: “Theology is thinking about God.”  And Dr. Humphreys continued that, “Everyone who thinks about God is doing theology.” There are many other definitions of theology.  Dictionaries generally define theology as the study of God.  Theologians Grentz and Olson say that “theology may be defined as the intellectual reflection on the act, content, and implications of Christian faith.” Dr. Dale Moody, long-time professor of theology at Southern Seminary, often described Christian theology as “an effort to think coherently about the basic beliefs that create a community of faith around the person of Jesus Christ.” Of course, there are different branches of theology such as systematic...
A Pastor’s Prayer for Pastors

A Pastor’s Prayer for Pastors

Gracious and Loving God, Today I come to you as a pastor praying for pastors.  I pray for all men and women from every walk of faith who are called into this peculiar and rewarding vocation of encouraging and equipping others for their journey. First, I pray for pastors to be encouraged. Although this work brings much joy, this work can also be highly discouraging.  I pray for those pastors who are right now living through the dark night of the soul, some experiencing darkness because of the challenges of their congregation, others experiencing darkness because of emotional depression, and still others experiencing darkness because of physical or spiritual fatigue. I especially pray for those pastors who are discerning whether to go to a new place of service, and for those pastors who have confirmed the call to stay where they are to seize the opportunities and tackle the challenges.  I pray for the energy of pastors to be revitalized so that pastors can dream dreams and have visions, and do their work with the right spirit. I pray for pastors to be faithful.  I pray for pastors to live in faithful covenant to their families, both their spiritual family and their immediate family, and to always distinguish their covenant responsibilities between these two.  I pray for pastors to be faithful to our calling, always discerning and following your missional initiatives, and to be continually engaged in dialogue with you. I pray for pastors to be anointed with a fresh dose of courage. These are stressful times and it is no time for your shepherds to be sheepish.  You...