If you work on the staff of Brentwood Baptist Church, you are subjected to several requirements and expectations. They are all written down and given to you during your on-boarding process. Most are what you would expect of any church staff position. For instance, all of your relationships should reflect the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Integrity should be the hallmark of all your dealings — personal and business.
However, there are two requirements that aren’t written down but are expected just the same. You see, I have a practice of walking up to someone who serves on staff and asking two questions. First, where are you reading in Scripture and two, what is Jesus teaching you?
Stammering to give an answer will get you sent home. That’s right. I’ll send you home. Why? Frankly, if you’re not doing ministry out of the overflow of what Jesus is doing in your own life, you are dangerous to the church’s work. Ministers don’t explode. We never lose control and run amok in our congregations. Pastors implode. That is, the pressure on the outside becomes greater than the pressure on the inside and the pastor collapses.
The inner collapse is usually accompanied by some kind of bone-headed decision that ends up with the pastor being fired. The pastor slowly loses control and starts to drink too much. They watch porn on a church computer. They have an affair that is easily discovered. When you hear the story, you almost think the pastor is trying to get fired.
They are. Somehow and in some way, they have to ease the pressure that is crushing their lives.
Pastors don’t know how to ask for help. They don’t know how to tell their churches that they are sinking. And worse, they don’t do a good job of taking care of their mental, spiritual, and emotional selves. Most pastors don’t have a close friend that can listen to their real struggles and challenges. Fewer still have a pastor or counselor. Few, if any, take any kind of spiritual retreats or have daily practices of spiritual disciplines. Given these realities, no one should be surprised that pastors quickly exhaust whatever spiritual resources they have.
That’s why I challenge our ministers about their reading of Scripture. I hope our ministers read a lot of books. I hope they’re life-long learners. Having said that, NOTHING replaces Scripture in the life of a believer.
The radical teaching of Christianity is that our Rabbi is alive. Jesus has promised that if we’ll sit down and pay attention, He’ll teach us just as He taught the twelve. Jesus promised that His teachings would become fountains of living water within us that will never run dry. Ministry, no matter how you define it, has to come out of the overflow of what Jesus is doing within your own life. Without that, a minister has nothing to give to the moment. Too many ministers show up to their congregations bone dry.
That’s why I ask the questions. That’s why, if I was your friend, I’d ask you the same questions. Where are reading in Scripture? What is Jesus teaching you?
Just so you’ll know that I don’t require something that I don’t require of myself, I’m currently reading the book of Joshua. Here is what I’m learning: God was working before Joshua came into existence and He continued to work long after Joshua was gone. Joshua didn’t start the work and he wouldn’t end the work. In the same way, God was working at Brentwood Baptist Church before I got here. I pray that He continues to work in this congregation long after I’m gone.
Like Joshua, I’m somewhere in the middle and, like Joshua, my calling is to make sure this middle moment lines up with what God did in the past and what He will do in the future. As I approach retirement, this has been a significant concept for me to meditate on and consider.
So, what about you? What are you reading in the Bible? What is Jesus teaching you?
Not reading the Bible? Not praying? Then stop what you’re doing. Find a quiet place and open your Bible. Read. Pray. Stay there long enough to learn something from Jesus.
Don’t try to do any kind of ministry before you do this. Otherwise, you’ll be worthless. Ministry always comes out of the overflow.