It saddens me each time I hear of another pastor who has lost his ministry. Sometimes they leave ministry due to burnout. Sometimes they have been hurt so deeply by the church they cannot continue. Sometimes they love the things of the world too much. Whatever their reason, they have abandoned their post. Scripture offers us a great contrast between two men in ministry... Demas and Mark.
Demas is only mentioned three times in the Bible. The first mention identifies him as a "fellow laborer" with the Apostle Paul (cf. Philemon 1:24). The second occurrence only mentions his greeting to the church at Colosse (cf. Col. 4:14). His third and final mention indicates he has abandoned the ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:9-11). My conclusion... don't be a Demas. ;)
Paul doesn't provide the details as to why Demas has abandoned the ministry. Perhaps a moral failure, the persecution was too great, or some other reason. Paul simply says that Demas' desires were a worldly focus.
The same passage that indicates Demas' abandonment (i.e. 2 Timothy 4:9-11) also indicates a desire for Mark to join Paul in his work, "for he is useful to me for ministry." There is a great contrast here between Demas and Mark. Mark abandoned Paul on his first missionary journey, but found redemption and ended strong. Demas began strong with the Apostle Paul but abandoned him for the things of the world. My conclusion... be more like Mark.
Ministry is hard work and your pastors need your prayers! Pray that God will protect them from moral failure. Pray that God will protect them from persecution. Pray that the church will actually be an encouragement to their ministry as opposed to a discouragement. If you don't want a "Demas" for a pastor, pray for him.
I am sitting in my hotel room in Louisville after a long day in board meetings with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. It was an exciting day of planning and coordinating as we look at what God has been doing and is doing across our state in the life of Kentucky Baptists. There is a growing desire to see a move of God in Eastern Kentucky with upcoming events such as "Hope for the Mountains." That desire grows from leaders within our Kentucky Baptist Convention who have partnered with those who have a heart for proclaiming the Gospel in that region. In fact, the buzz words that I hear frequently in Baptist life today is "Gospel Conversations." As we have discussion about training our church congregations in sharing the Gospel, it occurred to me the challenge we have before us in our churches. Because of our sinful nature, none of us need to attend a seminar on how to have "Gossip Conversations." Because it is our sinful nature, this is where people will naturally drift. In contrast, we must be intentional and offer training on how to have "Gospel Conversations." Unfortunately, many pastors are overwhelmed with putting out fires from "Gossip Conversations" that they will have less time to devote to training, equipping, and actually having "Gospel Conversations." The thought occurred to me... if we spent half of the effort into sharing the Gospel as we put into sharing gossip, we could win a community to Christ!
One of our KBC leaders shared an illustration that we naturally drift away from evangelism. He explained that if a pastor doesn't make a hospital visit that people will complain. He gave several examples of things that church members would complain about if the pastor does not do them (I could have offered a few more examples). However, no one complains if we don't knock on doors to share the Gospel. While there are a few in our church that would rather have Gossip Conversations over Gospel Conversations, I believe there are many more who are eager to covenant together for the sake of the Gospel and make Jesus the central focus of our conversations. Let's speak words of life, not words of destruction.
What were your conversations like today? Let's have Gospel Conversations NOT Gossip Conversations.
Below is a resource for your personal worship...
Sing or listen to the hymn "Wonderful Words of Life." I am praying wonderful words of life over my church family.
Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life;
Let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life.
Words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty:
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.
Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.
Christ, the blessed One, gives to all, wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the loving call, wonderful words of life.
All so freely given, wooing us to heaven:
Sweetly echo the Gospel call, wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life.
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify forever:
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE SONG.
Guarding my marriage and family are important to me. I have been in vocational ministry since 1993 and since then I have watched many pastors lose vibrant ministries because they forgot to minister to their own family. I said to my wife-to-be (1992) as I watched the pain she endured as a daughter whose parents were divorcing and her father lost his pastorate, that she would not endure that same pain as wife. Since then, I have set boundaries to protect my marriage and family.
Last week I learned of yet another pastor who resigned from his church due to a long-standing affair. This was the third brought to my attention this year alone! This one was especially painful because it was someone I have known for 20 years and considered a role-model for my own ministry. He was someone I had great admiration for and someone who had invested in my own life and ministry. As a fellow Gen-Xer, we appreciated the same things. My heart breaks for his family as they navigate the days ahead.
I don't believe any of these pastors woke up one day and said, "I think today I will become an adulterer and crush my family and destroy my ministry." No, we get there by making choices that open the door to sinful behavior until the day comes when we have lost our family and ministry. Success in ministry is not defined in terms of numbers or feelings. Success is not about he size of your church, or youth group, or worship team. Success in ministry is largely defined by the success of your family. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). All men would do well to memorize Proverbs 5:15, "Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well." If she's not your wife, she's another man's cistern!
Here are some safeguards that have allowed me to see my 25th wedding anniversary!
1. Guard your weekends as time with your family. I realize there are going to be some Fridays and Saturdays that ministry will demand, but guard those days carefully. My phone recently rang three times while I was having dinner with my wife in Lexington one Friday evening. I allowed the calls to go to voice-mail. The message was not a crisis, but simply a request for advice. I responded with a short text that simply explained that I would be happy to speak with them on Monday, but my weekends are reserved for my family. I make exceptions for crisis situations such as death, threats of suicide, or medical emergencies.
2. If you have a "day off" during the week take it. My day off is Fridays. It's easy for a pastor to head to the office to get caught up on some of the tasks that have been piling up. It's easy to find ourselves spending more time with our church than with our family. Some pastors have made the church their mistress. The church (the bride) already has a bride-groom (Jesus)! I have been on staff at multiple churches, but I only have one wife! She has been there with me every step of the way.
3. Never counsel someone of the opposite sex alone without accountability. I attempt to schedule all counseling sessions during office hours. However, when this isn't possible, I ask one of the other pastors to sit in one of the adjacent offices while I am counseling an individual. The office door remains cracked open the entire time.
4. Never have lunch with the opposite sex alone. I recently had a lunch appointment with a couple in our church. I was informed at the last minute that her husband would not be joining us. Simply ask to reschedule the appointment.
5. When making home visits, take someone with you. I usually ask one of the other pastors to accompany me during home visits. It's a great time of discipleship and mentoring and provides accountability.
6. Make sure your social media and communications have accountability. Group messages are best, but if you find yourself in a private text messaging conversation make sure you have accountability.
7. Find accountability with another pastor-friend. I have had the blessing of having the same mentor for about 30 years! We hold one another accountable. We've had tough conversations.
What safeguards have you found helpful?
Dr. Chris Dortch has been in vocational ministry since 1993. His blog is aimed to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."