Sometimes it’s better to say nothing, right? That’s what I’ve heard. My mom told me the same thing your mom told you: If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. Paul gives us a little more developed version of that: ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’ (Eph 4.29)
And then there are the Proverbs:
When words are many, transgression is not lacking. (Prov. 10.19)
Or how about this gem:
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Prov. 17.28)
You could also add pretty much the whole third chapter of James to the discussion as well. If you don’t have anything to say, just don’t say anything… right?
Having Nothing Good to Say Is Not Innocent
While it’s clear that the New Testament commands me to watch my words, it also tells me to redeem my words. There are many commands in the New Testament that — if I’m going to obey them — require me to actually have something to say.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3.16; cf. Eph. 5.19)
Many pastors I know have a love-hate relationship with reading and writing. We love reading and we hate that we can’t read more. For the most part, that’s across the board: though there are exceptions, most pastors love reading soul-invigorating, heart-stirring, theological-reflection-inspiring books.
Writing, on the other hand, creates a little more of a divide. While some pastors seem to find all kinds of time to write (some even blog everyday, and write books on top of that!), other pastors can’t seem to scratch out the time, and others just don’t want to.
Lately I have been reflecting on the pros and cons of writing in the life of a pastor as I try to discern whether or not God is calling me to do more of it. Because I haven’t been convicted of my need to write I hardly ever make any time for it. And yet, I always seem to sense a unique blessing in my spiritual life and a help to my pastoral ministry when I devote more time to writing.
But is that just feeling-level hoogly? Am I just putting too much weight in sentiment and what I feel when I write? Is my writing what will really benefit the people of Grace Fellowship Church the most? Those are tough questions. That’s why I’m so thankful that in the most recent edition of Themelios Peter Schemm Jr. has taken the time to write-out some very convincing reasons why pastors should write.
In his very helpful article, Schemm answers at least three questions that I think every pastor would do well to think through for himself:
1. Why would I write when I’m no Augustine or Luther or Calvin or Lewis? Will anyone care?
Surely this is one of the first things I have to work through in my heart. I’m no Sproul or Piper or Challies. Why write when it’s unlikely I’ll get published and even more unlikely that anyone will read what I write, even if I did get published? Schemm answers in two ways:
I am not suggesting that every pastor ought to publish journal articles and books. I am suggesting that pastors write. Writing is a spiritual discipline that holds promise for all pastors. This should not, I think, be said of publishing.
This is a busy study week for me. In the Lord’s providence I’ll be preaching three very different messages over the next few days, so I’m studying lots in preparation.
Tonight as I finished working my way through another commentary and compiling notes I had a funny thought:
Even on the most productive of days, a pastor often has nothing tangible to show for all his labour.
I worked hard today. I laboured to stay on task, I made my way through a lot of material, and I think I understand the word of God better. I think I’m better prepared to teach God’s people what they need to hear from God.
But there’s nothing yet tangible to show for it. Nothing in the world (apart from a few files on my computer) are any different now, despite a full day of work.
By Whose Standard?
Honestly, that can be a little discouraging. By way of comparison, I could spend 30 minutes pushing a lawn mower and it looks like I’ve done something productive. But now I spend an entire day at a desk, working hard, and it doesn’t look like I did a thing.
Imagine for a second that you’re inept in the kitchen (for some of us, that’s not much of a stretch). Picture this: you need to make one cookie. It has to be in a specific shape. Thankfully, you have the right cookie cutter and the right ingredients. But one problem remains: how do you make just one cookie?
Of course, since you don’t know how to make just one cookie, you find a recipe that makes a dozen. You make the dough, roll it out, and get ready to use your cookie cutter.
But which part of the dough do you use? Which part is the best? That’s your first tough choice. So you pick a part that you think looks the best.
But that leads to your second tough choice: what in the world do you do with all the extra dough?
These are some of the tough decisions that your pastor needs to make every week. We study a text all week, examining historical backgrounds, thinking about the linguistic realities of the text, placing it in its canonical context, figuring out where the truth fits in our systematic theology, studying what experts have said about this text, and thinking hard about how it applies to ourselves and others in our congregations.
My family just returned from a couple weeks of vacation. It was a glorious opportunity to play, to sleep, to relax, to read good books, to spend time together — in short, to rest. What a blessing to be able to experience something of the balance that God intended when he established the rhythm of the universe in creation: day and night, work and rest.
It is one thing to preach about this harmony in Genesis 1 (as I did a few months ago) and another thing completely to experience it. God ordered his creation in this way, work and rest, and it continues to function in the same way through all the generations of humanity.
I’ve been thinking, however, about the need for continuing this balance on a micro scale (day & night, week & weekend), as well as on a macro scale (work 49 weeks & get three off). It seems to me that failure to attain true and meaningful rest in the midst of labour is one of the main reasons why pastors burn out so frequently.
It’s not hard to see why. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the pastor’s work is never really finished. There is always more to study, more people to meet with, more to pray about. Things are never organized enough and long-term vision has never been developed enough. That’s to say nothing of the constant, urgent demands on a pastor’s time because of genuine problems in people’s lives.
So pastors often do what the world does. We read time management books and strategize. We come up with systems to ‘get things done.’ We work harder and harder to be more productive in the hopes that we’ll somehow attain that ever-elusive moment of rest when everything is finally done.
But it’s never done. And that’s the thing. If we wait for things to be finished before we rest, we’ll never rest. And we simply can’t sustain that. And that’s not the way we’ve been designed to live.
I’ve Always Hated Summer Reading Lists
I always read other people’s summer reading lists and immediately feel guilty and dumb. Guilty because I don’t read nearly that much (especially not in the summer) and dumb because I don’t read at nearly the same academic level or with the same proficiency as them. Then you throw into the mix the fact that summers have historically been one of the busiest seasons for me, and therefore I don’t have much time to read, and I feel even worse. So typically I respond by refusing to come up with a summer reading list. Mature, right?
Anyway, this year my schedule is a little different through the summer and I’m trying to deal with some of the obvious sin in my heart of wanting to measure up to the intelligence of proficiency of others. So I’ve actually planned some reading to do over the next little while and I thought I’d share what my plans are here. I figure this will give me some accountability and hopefully some benefit to one or two of you who might be looking for something to read. (Or, you might just even be encouraged that there’s someone else out there who is happy to just read simple books.)
January 16, 2011 was a monumental day for us at Grace Fellowship Church. It was our first Sunday together officially holding a Sunday worship service. As of this past Sunday, June 17, 2012, we have met on 75 Sundays now. I simply cannot believe how gracious God has been to us.
Here are some of my reflections.
God clearly loves his church …
He must. He continues to build it. We have seen slow, but steady growth through the entire time. And almost every person that comes has a story that makes me think, ‘Wow, God must be in this.’ We’ve had young people, single people, married people, young families, middle-aged people, and even retired people, from all different races join us. God is building this church as only he can.
I can’t describe or quantify what God has done or what we have felt in planting this church other than saying that we have sensed the divine smile every step of the way. Even when we’ve had to do hard things. And it’s not that we’ve done everything right; it’s just because he loves his church and he wants to prove it over and over.