A Note to Frustrated Ministers

More and more I am noticing that there is a slew of ministers who want to take up the role of prophet…that is, speak words of rebuke and correction to those they minister to. Too often today through social media and on blogs we get a front row seat to ministers complaining about things, complaining about the church or the worship or a perceived lack of relevance or people who just won’t listen or respect their authority. As I read through Paul’s salutation and opening prayer in Philippians 1 I don’t get any of that. It isn’t because the Philippians were perfect and it isn’t because Paul’s list of things to call them on the carpet on was empty. It was because first and foremost, before any of the exhortations, admonitions and calls for change Paul plays the role of the pastor (doing the pastoral work of loving and encouraging them) and tells them how much he loves them.

There is a real push in today’s world for every preacher to be a prophet. Change is a lot more exciting than being stuck in neutral. Drama is more entertaining than status quo. It is tempting to be the person who gets to call people out, tell it like it is and seem like the only person who has a vision or direction for something. That gets you a lot of attention and you will find that when you do that on social media a lot of commiseration takes place among fellow frustrated ministers.That is unfortunate.

In contrast to all of that, take note of how Paul starts his letter to the Philippian Christians,

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

Those are words of grace and truth. Those are words of genuine care and concern. I am afraid that today we have some ministers who are bitter. Some who in the guise of being bold are really just demonstrating their own insecurities. The truth is, if you have been a part of a congregation for more than 5 years and the culture is terrible, then maybe it is time to take a solid look at your own ministry, your own attitude and your own voice to see if you might just be contributing to the very culture you feel called to rebuke.

Before you have the right to be the prophet you have to be the pastor. What I mean by that is this, until you have walked with people through the difficult times, demonstrated patience when things weren’t going well, and developed enough respect and mutual affection with the congregation, you really don’t have room to speak in the voice of the prophet. Never forget, there is a big difference between true prophet speech and just airing your own frustration. The first is something said because you believe God genuinely put it on your heart to say. The second is selfish and often does a lot of unintended damage.

If you are frustrated, the best course of action is not to air it out with those who will agree with how terrible things are. You really need to talk with someone who can pray with you and help you navigate the tension and frustration you are feeling. The last thing you want to go through is burnout…there is too much at stake and too many casualties to fall out along the way. Often, there are more casualties from a disgruntled minister who hangs on than one who knows it is time for a change and makes the shift.

8 Responses to A Note to Frustrated Ministers

  1. Hank says:

    “More and more I am noticing that there is a slew of ministers who want to take up the role of prophet…that is, speak words of rebuke and correction to those they minister to.”

    It’s not like that where I go to church bro. We definately don’t have that problem.

    • Avatar of Matt Dabbs Matt Dabbs says:

      Hank,

      I have been incredibly blessed to have worked with some great ministers both at Northwest and now here at Westside. This is more something I hear in social media than anywhere else.

  2. Hank says:

    I wonder what is worse, frustrated preachers constantly speaking words of rebuke and correction. Calling people out, telling it like it is and letting people have it. Or, on the other hand, practically refusing to speak words of correction and rebuke. Refusing to call anyone out, tell it like it is or letting anybody “have it”.

    The Philippians passage you reference are certainly words of grace and truth. They are words of genuine care and concern, no doubt.

    But aren’t the manifold instructions of Paul to preachers to “reprove and rebuke” equally words of grace, care and concern?

    I just feel there is as much of a need to call out sin and exhort the church to repent today as there ever was before. I guess my question here is that do you believe a preacher can speak strong words of correction and rebuke without coming off as bitter and/or frustrated? Or, should such “preaching” simply be avoided so as to appear more full of grace and truth? Does that make sense?

    I just wonder if there are just as many preachers in our churches who constantly “correct and rebuke” as there are who refuse to. Who never have or haven’t for years and years.

    To me, every preacher ought to make it a point to cover it all. I suspect you feel the same. Or, have I totally missed where you were going here and am not even talking about what you were. Were you referring only to social media and not even talking about sermons preached?

    Either way, love you bro!

    • Avatar of Matt Dabbs Matt Dabbs says:

      Hank, you basically just wrote everything I was going to say in my follow up post! I think of it as prophet (words of challenge, rebuke and reorienting people back to God) and priest (the pastoral function). We need ministers who do both and know when each role is called for.

      • Mark says:

        I am hearing more and more (through social media) younger people call for the role of pastor to return. The pendulum swung too far towards preaching with no pastoring and now there is a call to move it back to back toward the middle. I know that many don’t like the tile or word pastor because that is what the baptists called their ministers but the role of pastor originated long before the baptist church began. Some people have been asking for a discussion of what is being taught in cofC seminaries (especially M.Div. programs) regarding pastoral care because it seems that seminaries have been producing preachers, not pastors who were taught how to care for people. Also, there is a call for seminary students to have to work in a real ministry. (Chaplaincy, congregational, etc) for a period of time before being awarded their degree. Some clergy who have been chaplains know far better at how to care about people than those who just learned the bible from classes.

        For example, a man gets drunk and gets in a fight and winds up in hospital with a stab wound that is life threatening. The nun in the hospital knows there is a time to pray for him and sit with his family and console them before trying to get him help for his drinking problem. But if she just criticizes him for alcoholism he will not listen to her. She will likely tell him that he is lucky to be alive and should he get stabbed again, he might not be as lucky the next time. Then she offers to get him some help. This type of knowledge can only be learned on the job.

  3. Mark says:

    But how many times can you rebuke the people before they begin to not listen to anything you say? I have heard too many ministers/preachers rebuke the congregation especially the younger people at every opportunity. I know the cofC does not have confession, but it reminds people that there is a mechanism for admitting faults and receiving assurance of pardon. A really good minister/priest can rebuke people without resorting to lambasting and criticizing them and condemning them to hell. There is a large difference in mentioning hell and condemning everyone in attendance to hell. It takes some diplomacy to rebuke well, but it is something that needs to be done correctly and respectfully. It applies to whomever is speaking it as well. Some who rebuke the loudest and lash out at the congregation tragically don’t consider themselves to be sinners as well. Some will not like that I mention diplomacy and say that it waters down the message but the choice of language will either keep your congregants listening to your message or turn them off immediately. You want people to listen to what you are telling them not start ignoring you after the first two sentences. A little bit of rebuke goes a long way. One or two sentences is sometimes sufficient.

  4. John says:

    I believe the minister that can rebuke in a healthy way is the one who can tear open and expose his or her own heart while using the word “WE”. Of course, such honesty is not common in the pulpit, and the disarming affect can actually make some listeners more angry than if the minister was pointing a finger and saying “You”; but it keeps whispering to them long after they have left the building.

  5. Mark says:

    It is why when the confession is said the priest says it too.

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