by John Schmidt
The Los Angeles Times printed a special report last year that stated, “People are leaving the ministry in droves because it’s too difficult.” Their research is accurate. Greater numbers of those who felt called to put themselves on the line to shepherd the flock of God have stepped aside from leading. There are varying surveys that state that thousands of pastors leave the formal church annually. This is alarming and dangerous to the spiritual fiber of our nation.
Spiritual leaders are prime targets in these last days. The Bible tells us that if you strike a shepherd, the sheep will scatter. Entire congregations can be wiped out with a single blow to one shepherd. For this reason they are the number one public enemies on Satan’s hit list. Like the classic “Far Side” cartoon, pastors are born again with an unfortunate bull’s eye shaped birthmark emblazoned on their back. It is constantly sought out by the powers of darkness. Corresponding with this gigantic loss of shepherds, new studies are providing growing evidence of a great loss of churches also. A study in “Exit Interviews” by Hendricks shows the appalling results of the loss of ministers is that there are now 53000 people that are leaving churches weekly and are not coming back. George Barna’s research sadly declares that we are losing one percent of our churches in America every year, as godly warriors depart from the battle arena. As shepherds leave, sheep leave. The LA Times’ report indicates that the Anglo pastors are being especially hard hit as they minister to the affluent who, in their consumer mentality, have higher expectations of being served.
In the 30 years of ministry that I have had the privilege to serve, radical changes and unreasonable expectations have taken root that catapult this great exodus. The pastoral role moved from simple shepherding to being CEO, CFO, resident lawyer, visionary, program manager, God’s perfect counselor on all matters, fidelity fixer, facilities superintendent, perpetual committee member, human resources director, successful fundraiser, par excellent communicator, career advisor, marketing supervisor, politician, spiritual example, masterful preacher, artful teacher, community leader, welfare administrator, contractor, organizational appeaser and too often people-pleaser. Ah, and oh yes, perfect spouse, and perfect parent with perfect children in the perfect home.
Now add the vast array of parishioners. While the majority of believers are honest and loving, there is a growing company in the discontent category. A modern contingent of last day human beings are placing new stresses on the godly leaders. Pastors today minister to people who are genuinely heathen. Some, raised in dysfunctional environments, were badly abused and never healed. Without God’s healing hand certain ones become victims who look for revenge on the leaders of society. Pastors are sitting ducks.
And don’t leave out our own home grown hypocrites, many who have truly risen to the level of Pharisee. These individuals devour positions of power without the need to live the life of Christ on a daily basis. Blanketing their own sins in a religious spirit, they are quick to judge and are skilled at group manipulation. Hard to move, hard to change, they hinder the progress of the tender shoots who would love to follow God. Whatever the cause of their internal pain, their uncontrolled anger, there lurks just below the surface a violent willingness to bring down those in authority.
The picture isn’t complete without at least a dishonorable mention of being given to the demonic stirrings in congregational life. Spiritual leaders wrestle not against flesh and blood, but the powers and strategies of Hell. Most of the muck that is tossed in mud slinging has its origins in the primordial goo of the cesspool of Satan. Innuendo, lies and elaborate scenarios of wrongdoing are constantly concocted and thrown on the walls through uncontrolled tongues of gossip. The Evil One has ruined more lives of honest and faithful leaders by masquerading as an Angel of Light and getting people to believe lies as truth, than by any other means in Christian history. Rumor, not truth, is the enemy. The Father of Lies is well aware of the power of his choicest weapon. It is the dagger plunged deep that assassinates the soul of God’s messengers – too often thrust by the closest confidants in unsuspecting moments– “Et Tu Brute” (Psalms 35).
This soul death is the work of evil spirits. Many a pastor hobbled away from his serving and could not rekindle the passionate fire of God’s calling again for just such a cause. The flame was snuffed out by the mocking “ahas” and condemning smirks of Satan’s hordes who gleefully turn their attention to the next in line to be devoured.
Long hours of work coupled with unending demands leave open the doors of discontent. It is one of the lowest paid professions, requiring considerable education and the expected ability to do most everything you can imagine in a thankless world. As one survey showed, pastors are “the most occupationally frustrated people in America.”, with 70 % having no close friends and low self esteem. Is it any wonder that many walk down the wrong avenues to feel appreciated and loved? They are overworked, underpaid, serving with little respect in society, vulnerable to the unlovely, and a constant target of evil. Many ministers break under such burdens. Anyone could.
If you remove one pastor and cause a church to scatter – then another and yet another, corruption seizes the land. “When one minister disappears from the radar screen, there is always another to stand in his place.” Or is there? Each servant is as unique as a spiritual snowflake. What crystallizes in them is a one of a kind insight into God. A “Minister of God” is so rare, so valuable that they should be treated as a diamond in the rough. There is no way to replace even one gift of God.
How do you measure a minister’s worth? Are they to be measured on their skills, education and achievements.? I think not. Are they to be gauged by “getting the job done.” No. They are not to be evaluated in human terms at all.
The great prophet Ezekiel had a message for Israel. He was to lay around – and do nothing but stay on his left side for 390 days and another 40 days on his right side while eating dung (Ezekiel 4:4-6). How do you measure his pastoring skills? According to 2 Peter 2:5, Noah was a righteous preacher. Yet he had no converts after 100 years of preaching. Was he a bad preacher? Jonah refused to take the message of God to Nineveh and only reluctantly spoke it after being thrown up on its shores with God’s ultimatum. After his nation saving sermon he sat under a tree regretting his action – being mad at God. Would you consider him to be an accomplished spiritual leader? But these three, the lazy, crazy prophet, the zookeeper/desert boat builder and the whining coward, are considered giants in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps our method of judging spiritual leaders is flawed.
Could it be that we are judging spiritual leaders on the scales of human understanding? Has the methodology of corporate evaluation replaced the wisdom unveiled by spiritual discernment? I want to address this subject at another time. The deplorable treatment of the Lord’s Shepherds saddens God, even angers Him. These servants and their message are being rejected, much like the Old Testament Prophets just before the Captivity.
It is time for a Believer’s Revival. We need a Revival of Respect and Honor in the Lord’s ministers – His Anointed Shepherds. Rediscovery, restoration and re-investing honor in the gift of shepherding is vital to a great spiritual reawakening in America. This nation has aligned itself with the works of darkness and has become so adept at tearing down that it has misplaced its tools of building up. The rebuilding must begin at home with the family. It is in these incubation chambers of society – the living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms of the saints –that true respect for shepherds is formulated. Here, the Holy Spirit has His most profound influence. What goes on behind these closed doors determines the effectiveness of church leadership. For it is behind the cloistered walls of these private homes that either the most stinging condemnation or the most precious aromatic fragrance of blessing the shepherds of God’s Kingdom takes place. It is either the labor room of gossip or the “ground zero” of honor. Our homes are the altars of Revival. At these altars the shaping of human lives into great men and women of God, who highly respect God’s called out leaders, is to take place.
I Timothy 5:17 says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (NAS)
Before we understand double honor, it might be wise to define honor. So much disrespect reigns from home to politics that living examples of honoring someone have all but vanished. The meaning of the word is discovered in fixing high value to someone or something, such as your most valuable possession. After careful consideration, you choose to place the highest degree of respect on the man or woman of God and reverence them.
Respect means to give favorable regard to a person and to refrain from interfering with them. And to revere a person is shown by displaying tenderness of feeling with a profound admiration for them. You deem them worthy of your finest thoughts and actions. In sincerity and simplicity, you determine them to be deserving people, worthy of your care and concern, for they are gifts sent from God to guide you to the Savior of your soul. It is a heart matter first and foremost. Now that you have a picture of what it means to honor a shepherd in your heart, double it and you will come close to God’s definition of double honor. Do twice as much as you are planning now. You cannot respect His shepherds enough.
Verse seventeen especially indicates that double honor is to go to those who work hard at preaching and teaching. The Shepherd’s value is in their gift, not in their achievements. They are to be respected because God sent them your way to speak His words to you and to prepare you to do the work of the ministry. As the book of Acts indicates, everything possible must be done to eliminate any burden from the plate of the Shepherd, except prayer and the ministry of the Word. A good goal for any congregation would be to help the Pastor dedicate 85% of his time to these two vital functions of the church. This is why he/she should get paid well.
People must lower their expectations of him as a ” jack of all trades” and director of the church corporation. At the same time God’s people should raise their expectations of the shepherd in spiritual matters. Wouldn’t it be amazing to find your pastor on his face before God for you, instead of disturbing him out of his numerous staff and business meetings?
After true respect has been restored to your heart by the Holy Spirit, there are endless things that you could do to show your respect. They come naturally, for out of the abundance of the heart our mouths speak and actions form. If you want to bless a shepherd, be a faithful and zealous follower of Christ. Each time he speaks, really listen, take it to heart and start living it. Each minister comes with a message. Their message from God is far more important than their skill in delivering it, or the humor they use, or the manner in which they dress while presenting it.
If you would like to find practical ways to honor him, give him all of his nights off for a year to use as he sees fit. Restrict him to a forty hour work week. Advise him to give the rest of the time to his family. The Elders of the church can take the rest of the load. Maybe they should experience the weight of ministry for a season. Cut programs. Make a vow, not just a weak promise, to the Lord to never lift your voice in any criticism or be a listening participant in any negative gossip about the Shepherd, his family, or about any of the leadership of the church.
Since many problems stem from lack of money and lack of growth, make two additional goals that will change the life of the church. First, spend more time winning the lost than supporting the saints. Second, do not settle for less than 100% of the congregation giving 10% of their income to the Lord through your church so the minister can give all his time to ministering the Word and Prayer.
Double honor does have it price. The price is opening your heart to God and closing your mouth (and thoughts) to criticism. A Believer’s Revival concerning their shepherd would blast down the gates of Hell and throw open the windows of Heaven. Double Honor, not double disgrace, is the goal.