Why Every Pastor Needs a Pastor

In the Fall of 2018, I began reaching out to pastors. I was discouraged and knew that other pastors just might need as much encouragement as I did. I was right. After receiving some pretty heavy prayer requests from pastors, I asked God if He could allow this to become a ministry. He did that through a ministry called Standing Stone. As I have been doing this, I have discovered exactly why every pastor needs a pastor – someone who will safely shepherd their soul.

Pastors are so prone to temptation. It is easy for us to think of pastors as those who close themselves in a prayer closet with a glass of water and don’t come out until they have spent all day with God in prayer and Bible study. While I would have loved that, it wasn’t achievable with the demands of three weekly services, visitation to the sick and others within the church, counseling sessions, committee meetings, etc. It is easy to self-medicate when stress hits. Some pastors have turned to gambling, pornography, extramarital relationships, food, and many other things to cope. The sad part is that many get defeated by these things. They needed some soul care way before it ever got this bad.

Pastors are isolated. You might think, “How can a pastor be isolated when he has so many people to minister to on a weekly or even daily basis?” Many of those receiving ministry will only communicate with the pastor when a need exists. Otherwise, pastors often hear from no one. What about friends? Many pastors have no time for friends. I always tried to have good relationships with other pastors, but that is often unsuccessful because pastors can be so competitive. Pastors of higher profile will often not associate with the “lowly” pastors who lead smaller churches, or they will try to steal another church’s members because they feel like they have something better to offer. I do my best to advise pastors to develop friendships with people who are not pastors – people who will be there for you when you have nothing to offer them.

Pastors struggle with pride and other cancerous attitudes. Here is one that I struggled with. Early in ministry, I didn’t want people knowing I didn’t know what I was doing. I was trained to a certain degree, but I tried to cover my insecurity. It didn’t work to well, but I tried. After I gained some years of experience, I thought I had something great to offer people. I have learned that all I can offer is what God offers others through me to them. Some of the isolation I experienced was because I did not surround myself with the help of others. I didn’t want to be under the control of others, so I would often plan things without consulting others. I could have been much more successful had I worked the people in place than around them. After many discussions with other pastors, I know my story is not the only story like this.

Pastors get hurt just like anyone else. Many would say, “You must be forgiving.” While that is true, hurt must be processed. I discovered in the midst of this pandemic that I had past hurts I had never processed. They came back with a vengeance, but God has been so gracious. Pastors deal with betrayal, abuse, depression, anxiety, and so many other painful things like everyone else. The journey to healing is just that – a journey that takes time.

I have discovered that God has opened some great doors for me to be a pastor to other pastors. It has been beneficial to me that I am not on permanent staff in a church. I am not “the competition”. I’m just a guy who wants to pour my life into ministry leaders because I know their churches are at stake if I don’t, and I can’t let pastors become casualties if I can help it. If you are a pastor who is struggling, please contact me at Matthew.w@standingstoneministry.org. I would love to assist you.

The Church Never Closed

The reopening of the church has been a very hot topic among pastors and parishioners alike. I see daily remarks on social media. Some churches are continuing online while others are continuing drive-in services. Some churches never stopped meeting, and others have already resumed corporate worship services. The criticisms of what churches are doing is disheartening, and the sad part is some of this hatefulness is spewing forth from the mouths of pastors. That’s a subject of another post. The bottom line is that the church never closed.

You might read “the church never closed” and scratch your head. Some churches have completely ceased ministry during this time, and that is sad but many have streamlined while still continuing to function and operate within their biblical purposes. That’s awesome!

What I have seen during this time…

The gospel is not hindered. People have still made decisions for Christ and have even followed in baptism during this time. Churches are reporting high numbers of online visitors through Facebook and YouTube. That’s a great thing!

Churches have been more determined. Pastors and church leaders have worked hard to accomplish ministry during this time. There has been little rolling over and playing dead.

Ministry has become more personal. Handwritten notes and phone calls have picked up. Some pastors who don’t see this kind of ministry as part of their role have been doing this.

Outreach has still been happening. I have seen churches do disaster relief, food distribution, and other forms of community ministry while following the guidelines of social distancing, masks, etc.

The church has not closed and it will not as long as the redeemed are still alive. Your perspective will hinge on one thing. Do you define the church as this…

Or this…?

Cross-Cultural Ministry Thoughts

A few weeks ago, I was invited by a pastor in Kenya to speak on the subject of “Team Leadership” to some of the leaders in his church via a Zoom call. I typically don’t turn down an opportunity to speak and teach God’s Word, especially when I can actually speak on a subject to relates to one of my masters degrees. I fulfilled this opportunity today at 1:00 pm (8:00 pm in Kenya). We finished about 10:00 pm their time. I was blessed by a few things (actually more, but I will mention these).

These people were much more interested in learning Scripture than many I have observed in the American church. I spoke for approximately 50 minutes from a biblical and practical perspective, and they were not in a hurry to go. We continued for nearly another hour with questions and discussion from the people involved. I was disappointed to see the time end.

They were more eager to be biblical than “relevant”. I’m honestly tired of hearing these cliche American church phrases like “relevant”, and I have been guilty of using them. We discussed things like conflict, confrontation, correction, and church discipline. Most churches I know won’t touch these things because they’re scared. These topics won’t pack the house, but they’re 100% biblical. It wouldn’t hurt us to be a little more biblical.

They are people of prayer. One by one, they mentioned how they pray for America. One man mentioned how much other countries look at America because they see us as a beacon of hope. They are praying for our presidential election in November. How many of us who live in America are praying for our election and see how serious it is?

These brothers and sisters challenged me. Some people may not have taken 2 hours of their Sunday afternoon to accept an invitation from a pastor he met on Twitter to teach people he doesn’t know. I saw it as an opportunity from God, and I’m so thankful for this open door. God moved through me as He always honors His word. I haven’t taught like that in a long time, but I would do it again and again if God so opened the doors.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ, never think for one second you are too good for a certain opportunity. People need the gospel, and you may be the only one who will deliver it. Don’t be disobedient and miss a God-given opportunity!

Thoughts on Pastoral Suicides

In light of what has been reported by some as another pastoral suicide, I have received quite a few messages about why this might happen. I will give you a glimpse into the pastor’s mind. Hang with me for a moment.

It is easy for a pastor to find his identity in his job as a pastor. I did. As a man, I allowed success to be determined by how many were in attendance, how many people were actively involved in various ministries, etc. When my work was criticized, I took it very personally. Often, I took it way too personally. I allowed myself to believe I was failure. That spirals into long bouts of depression. You begin to question if you do anything right. You feel an intense responsibility, wondering if you have failed the people God has entrusted to you and that you have ultimately failed God.

Some might read this and think, “A pastor should be more spiritual than that. That’s what a pastor gets for taking his eyes off Jesus.” Meanwhile, that same pastor will walk through fire with you and withhold such judgment toward you when your world is falling apart. Pastors are human…they are people JUST. LIKE. YOU.

What do I recommend to those who are not in church leadership? Extend the same grace to pastors and staff that God extends to you. Speak words of affirmation to your pastors. You may think, “They have been called to give.” Here is my question – How will they give from an empty tank? Your response might be, “Well, Jesus should be filling His tank.” The truth is, Jesus should be filling yours too. While Jesus is all we need, God also designed us to thrive in community. Let your pastors in to be part of that community too. It could make a difference between life and death.

Leftovers, Anyone?

Some of you who read this are finicky and would never eat leftovers. I am not included in that number. I grew up with a grandmother who wasted NOTHING! The artist in her found a creative purpose for EVERYTHING! I picked up on some of that…at least not wasting leftovers.

What does God think of leftovers? Is He blessed and pleased when you slap something together and say, “Here God! I hope you like this half-hearted sacrifice”? Here is what one verse says, “Then King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing.”” (‭‭I Chronicles‬ ‭21:24 NKJV)

Malachi 1 addresses this more in depth. ““A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ “You offer defiled food on My altar, But say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the LORD is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “But now entreat God’s favor, That He may be gracious to us. While this is being done by your hands, Will He accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts. “Who is there even among you who would shut the doors, So that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain? I have no pleasure in you,” Says the LORD of hosts, “Nor will I accept an offering from your hands. For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you profane it, In that you say, ‘The table of the LORD is defiled; And its fruit, its food, is contemptible.’ You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it,” Says the LORD of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?” Says the LORD. “But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished— For I am a great King,” Says the LORD of hosts, “And My name is to be feared among the nations.” (‭‭Malachi‬ ‭1:6-14‬ ‭NKJV‬‬) 

These people were bringing God unacceptable sacrifices, and God was not pleased. He does not want your junk; He wants your best! Leftovers might be great for me, but God demands and deserves a higher standard. If you have been giving God your junk, today is the day to change it all and begin giving Him your best.

2020 Best Year Yet? I Want a Refund!

Many of us moved toward 2020 with great anticipation. We had these great plans and dreams we wanted to see come to life. What did we get instead? The most volatile political climate of my lifetime and a virus that has done so much heartbreaking damage to people. Everyone from those in quarantine to those diagnosed with COVID-19 would love to either rewind time or skip to us being on the other side of this.

I’m not going to speak prophetically and say this is God’s judgment or spew out the latest conspiracy theory. Over the last several years, I’m the one who has been the one providing empathy to those who are hurting. I can also be the cheerleader who is on the sidelines cheering on those who wonder if they can make it to the finish line.

One biblical promise comes to mind. I have clearly seen God at work in so many ways around me. I have seen people grow by leaps and bounds in their faith. I have watched others learned difficult lessons through major life transitions. They know God promised them He would do a new thing as seen in Isaiah 43, but it has yet to come to pass. It is so far in the distance that it almost seems to be an illusion. While it seems impossible, God promises to finish what He starts (Philippians 1:6).

I know you’re discouraged. I know you have lost hope. My prayer for you is that God will personally reassure you that He is working all things together for your good. Just keep walking in faith. The old songwriter sang it well: “The darkest hour means dawn is just in sight.”

Willing to Serve without Terms and Conditions

Over the last several weeks, I have really reflected on my willingness to serve God in various capacities. When I was younger, not divorced, and didn’t have some of the life circumstances I currently possess, I could be pretty choosy about where I served God. I could be more particular about location, church size, salary, and many other things. The bottom line is this – I gave God terms and conditions on where, when, and how I would serve. Circumstances don’t allow me to be so selective now.

You may ask why I was so selective. It was very much selfish. The biggest reason was my fear of experiencing church hurt once again. I told God I wouldn’t serve a particular church because it was notorious for eating pastors alive, and I knew they would have a good time with me, considering how much meat is on my body😂. Seriously…There was an arrogant part of me that wanted a church of a certain size, worship style, and mindset. Even then, the risk of being hurt still exists. Why? Churches are full of people who end up hurting people. Not everyone intends to do that, but it happens.

Here is my point of surrender. Several divorced and remarried pastors expressed this to me. They said that, on this side of divorce, only the troubled churches would call them to be their pastor. One pastor said of his first pastorate after his divorce that “they would have called Lucifer to be their pastor because they were so desperate”. I finally came to the point of being willing to serve these troubled spots if God calls me to do so.

As of now, I am fulfilling an interim worship role at my church and am in the support-raising stage for Standing Stone Ministry in addition to my day job as a hospice chaplain. If God would redirect me to pastor a struggling church, I’m now willing to do that. The terms and conditions I gave God are now out the window.

How would I apply this to you?

Don’t be so arrogant to think you’re above any particular assignment for God! God has a way of humbling us and showing us who is really the important one. Hint: it’s not us!

Don’t let the possibility of hurt stop you from doing God’s will! I’m faced with the reality of hurt feelings every day. Your spouse will hurt your feelings. So will your kids, coworkers, people at the grocery store, and so on. That doesn’t stop us from facing our family or going to work. Hurt is inevitable! We simply must learn how to process it.

Rather than giving God your terms and conditions, give Him a blank sheet of paper. Trust Him enough to direct your steps. He is loving and won’t leave you alone. It won’t be easy, but He promises His power and presence. I can assure you that you won’t regret obeying His plan. He knows best!

Is Partial Obedience Enough?

I was reading I Samuel 15 the other day, and something jumped out at me. It’s a principle that we see on multiple levels. Children are great at doing this. Adults have been known to do this too. The thing I’m talking about is “partial obedience”.

Partial obedience happens when we choose to obey one part of a command and disobey the other. The tendency of human nature is to try to find a loophole. There is a problem with that. We do not have the authority to pick and choose when it comes to the commands of God.

In I Samuel 15, King Saul was guilty of partial obedience. He followed part of God’s directives while blatantly disregarding the others. His thought was the end justifies the means. Does it really? Not if it violates God’s truth.

Truthfully, partial obedience is really disobedience. So is delayed obedience. What is God telling us to do that we picked only the parts we want to do? Is there something God told us to do that we have delayed? There are consequences to disobedience. Personally, I would rather experience the fulfillment of knowing I did God’s will in God’s way.

If you have been walking in disobedience, it’s time to seek God’s forgiveness and start walking in obedience. Don’t delay!

Thoughts on Recent Tragedies

These pictures are scenes from around our little town of Seneca, South Carolina. It seems that, at every turn, we are bombarded with disaster. A few weeks ago, COVID-19 began shaking our nation after affecting many lives in other countries. As we are still processing the deaths and life changes stemming from this virus, many areas like ours were hit with a tornado.

What can we say to all of this? We would be lying if we said this has not affected us emotionally. At the foundation of both the virus and the storm, these tragedies are about people. Forget the politics. Forget opinions. Forget anything else. Let’s think about people who are hurting from loss. While we do think about things like isolation and economic hardship, we think about something deeper. We think about people who are grieving loss. The loss of loved ones. The loss of property. The losses are innumerable.

One thing we haven’t lost – our great Lord! He is the One who brings us hope in the midst of our hurt. He carries us when we are too weak to move forward. He is seen as people in our community unite in heart though they cannot be close in proximity. He is seen as people are coming from out of state to help clean things up. We don’t have to look far to see Him, and we don’t have to work very hard right now to listen to Him. He is speaking! Does He have our attention?

Can I Edit My Life?

Have you ever wished your life was like a Microsoft Word document where you could cut parts of your story and paste them into someone else’s life or just highlight and delete portions and leave mysterious gaps so you wouldn’t have to face that those things ever happened? I have. You have maybe left certain places you lived off your Facebook profile because of the painful memories that are associated with that place or removed every memory of a painful relationship because it seems easier to pretend that the relationship never happened than to face the pain and trauma it may have brought to your life.

We all have our defense mechanisms. One thing I have learned – you will eventually have to process the pain and grief of those traumatic times of your life.  Pastors and families often take years to heal from being fired from churches. If they weren’t fired, many were treated horribly and left feeling useless in God’s kingdom work. Wives or husbands were dumped for “something better”, only to deal with the feeling that they were used and unwanted while the other spouse goes on without a second glance. The list goes on.

There is a Healer, and His name is Jesus. I have learned personally that the healing process never happens as quickly as we would like. That does not mean that God is absent. You may not be able to cut and paste or highlight and delete in real life, but I can assure you that there is a point where the hurt and the Healer collide. I pray that the song below will minister to you in your brokenness and give you hope and strength to move forward.