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Hope For ‘Failing’ Pastors

All sorts of jobs have particular pressures today. My work as a minister certainly has. There is all sorts of pressure against whatever might be regarded as failure:

* In the light of numerical church decline, many churches are looking for a hero to ride over the horizon and come to their rescue. I have seen Methodist profiles where circuits explicitly seek a minister ‘with a proven record of church growth’.

* In a culture where we are increasingly regarded as employees in principle, even if not (yet?) legally – appraisals and reviews, ‘letters of understanding’ about new appointments – people think they can have their say, and if they don’t think ministers are meeting their expectations – whether they are reasonable or not – they turn the screw.

* It is seen in other professions. Politicians think they can harvest extra votes by more quickly dismissing ‘failing’ teachers.

* Alongside the above reasons, there are cases where a minister has behaved in a manner unbecoming of their calling, and the church authorities have glossed it over.

* The opposite has happened: a congregation has been allowed to get away with bullying its minister, and the church hierarchy has been more interested in preserving a fictional facade of niceness that a wounded minister limps off elsewhere, or maybe is lost to the ministry.

* As implied in the last point, there is a culture of ‘pretend’, if not of outright dishonesty, that pervades too many churches, which makes it difficult for people, ministers especially, to be open and vulnerable about their fears.

In the light of all this and more, an American pastor called J R Briggs organised a conference last year called the Epic Fail Pastors’ Conference, and he’s doing the same again this year. It’s in the USA, so my expenses won’t quite stretch, so I won’t be there (although apparently last year one delegate flew from Australia). They are deliberately not meeting in a flash convention centre in a fashionable city. They aren’t announcing any big names. Much of the schedule is taken up with ‘time together’.

I nearly typed that I wished them a ‘successful’ conference, but that would open up an interesting conversation about what truly constitutes success. But I do wish all the participants healing, hope and peace.

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Brennan Manning On Failure

Failure. Now there’s a word for this blog lately. Nothing except links since 5th December. There are reasons, but best not mentioned publicly. Even my pre-Christmas sermons are not here. In some cases, I wrote one and changed to an old one on the spur of the moment.

Anyhow, by way of dipping my toe gently back in the water, a couple at church gave us a beautiful book for Christmas. Lion And Lamb: The Relentless Tenderness Of Jesus by Brennan Manning.  I’ve been savouring chapter 4, ‘The Affluent Poor’. It’s the chapter that contains the words

we were created from the clay of the earth and the kiss of God’s mouth (p 55)

that Julie Miller read, recounted to Emmylou Harris, and which became Emmylou’s remarkable song about God’s longing for humans, ‘Here I Am‘, on her CD ‘Stumble Into Grace‘:

But it’s a passage three pages later that has stayed with me. Here goes:

Children have no past. They abandon themselves to the reality of the present moment. The one who is childlike is not surprised that he often stumbles. He picks himself up again without discouragement, each time more determined to get where he’s going.

I saw that in action last week.  As compensation for not having a summer holiday this year due to our August move, we took them to Lapland UK. Part of the experience was half an hour’s ice skating. I say ice skating, the surface was synthetic in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the event. Rebekah has ice skated once or twice before, with older friends. Mark – this was his first time. Usually he displays my cautious traits, but he went on the ice without hesitation. Five times he fell down. Five times he got up and continued, sometimes with the help of his sister.

They say that failure is not falling, failure is only when we do not get back up after falling. Brennan Manning is someone who knows about that. Despite his faith, he ended up an alcoholic. But God lifted him up and gave him a wonderful appreciation of grace and ‘the fierce love’ of Jesus.

In the summer of 2009, I felt like not getting up again. I was close to quitting the ministry, or at least coming out of it for a few years. I couldn’t say anything about it here on the blog, and I still wouldn’t go public about the causes. I’ll only say that moral failure wasn’t involved – just to prove that at heart I’m probably a Pharisee. It was other people, notably my Chair of District, who helped me to my feet again, and enabled me to find a more fruitful place.

Thank God for the people he uses to lift us up when we fall.

Thoughts From P G Vardis

What do you make of this quote? Is it faith or just the power of positive thinking?

India missions leader P G Vargis wrote recently:

“Put yourself in a growth environment. Certain fish grow according to the size of the environment. Put them in a small aquarium and they remain small. It is said that if you put a baby shark in a small aquarium of 6 inches the shark will grow to that size only. Release it into the ocean and it will grow to their intended size. And you are the same! If you spend your time with the wrong crowd in the wrong place doing the wrong things, you will never experience growth.

“I do not criticize other servants of God. So I do not associate with those who criticize others. I believe in success and so I do not sit with those who always talk about failure, attacks and persecution. I associate with people who talk about opportunity, success, result, victory, peace, growth and mega churches. And I let these qualities rub off onto me as I also try to do this to them.”

From the Web Evangelism Bulletin.