Saturday, June 28, 2008


June 27, 2008

Ah, bring on the life of a musician, a life packed with exotic travel, bright lights, high acclaim, and wondrous applause! Such were my dreams when, fresh out of high school, I dashed off to music school with stars in my eyes, adventure in my heart, and romantic mush occupying the place where my brain should have been. After joining the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra it didn't take long for me to realize that the life of a musician had very little in common with my dreams. In reality the work was extremely hard, the stress level was intense, and most of the conductors were intolerant, slave-driving perfectionists. I grew weary of long, smoke-filled bus trips to tiny communities on the back roads of Arizona and playing in noisy gymnasiums for audiences who had no appreciation for classical music. I loathed waiting in ballroom kitchens for the orchestra's cue to entertain some company's banquet only to have our performance accompanied by the clanging of dishes, inebriated dinner conversations, and people excusing themselves to go to the bathroom.
And then there was the pit; you know, that area in front of the stage, below audience level, where the orchestra sits while accompanying operas, ballets, and musical theater. Most musicians hate the pit. It's usually very crowded, not well ventilated, dimly lit, and well hidden. The pit orchestra is rarely seen; it's not supposed to be. While the stars parade on stage, the musicians perform out of sight. While the ballerinas twirl in the spotlight, the musicians toil in the dark. While the "prima donnas" sing to the admiration of the audience, the musicians surrender to anonymity. Hopefully, if the stars of the production are feeling gracious during the curtain calls, they will call for the house lights and acknowledge the orchestra. Other than that, the most you usually see of the musicians is the back of the conductor's head and his baton.
I used to wonder why we had to wear our formal uniforms (tuxedos for men) if we were never really seen. What was the point? Once, in a fit of rebellion, while playing in a community production of "The Music Man" (not involving the symphony), two of us decided to show up in the pit dressed in our tuxedos from the waist up. But from the waist down we were wearing tattered shorts, gym socks, and old sneakers. Since the audience couldn't see us what difference would it make? Considering the fact that our twosome consisted of the concertmaster and the principle cellist, we were quite certain the conductor would be forced to go along with our mini revolution. Our fellow musicians laughed hysterically. The seasoned conductor, however, was not amused and his discipline was severe. We were not allowed to perform with the orchestra that night, even though I’m sure their performance suffered. The lecture he gave us before our departure from the pit had something to do about being part of a team, playing as one, and not causing any distractions.
"It's not supposed to be about us!" He bellowed, shaking his baton for emphasis. "We're working down here to help what happens on stage be the best possible performance. You may join us once again when you learn you are not the stars of this production!"
Evidently that cranky old conductor had no sense of humor! Fortunately, God does, and He tolerates much more of our rebellion than we deserve. But when our heavenly Maestro does discipline us it should serve as a reminder that we are not to be in the spotlight. That privilege is reserved for only one, the only begotten Son of God. This production, the church, has only one star. Of course He is also the composer, lyricist, director, producer, and benefactor. The rest of us are to humbly take our places in the pit and provide the accompaniment for His performance.
This admonition might be easy for some to follow, but what if you are called to a position of leadership in the church? How can you perform on stage and yet direct the attention to Jesus? I remember one particular worship service many years ago during which I was up front leading the praise and accompanying the congregation with my guitar. Regrettably, I was having far too much fun displaying my talent. Suddenly, one of the strings on my guitar broke.
No problem, I thought to myself. I’ll show these people that I can play the guitar with only five strings.
Less than a minute later another string snapped. In humiliation I finally bowed to Lord’s discipline, set aside my guitar, and finished the service a cappella. Since that time I have always made it a part of my routine to pray before any performance, whether sharing by music or by word, asking that the glory will go to the true star, Jesus Christ. And during every performance the Lord will arrange for some little glitch to take place, something to remind me that I’m not perfect and I’m certainly not the star. When the mistake or malfunction occurs I just smile and thank the Lord for giving me the privilege of accompanying His performance.
Any time we stand before others in any leadership role in the church we must realize that our purpose is to direct the attention upward to where the real performance is taking place. All ministries in this life are to be carried out in the pit. The stage belongs to another. The work is hard, the stress level intense, and our conductor, the Holy Spirit, is certainly a perfectionist. He may often lead us to places we'd rather not go, to perform before audiences who do not appreciate us. But always, ALWAYS, the stage, the spotlight, and the glory belong to Christ!
“…all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” – Colossians 1:16-18. “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” – 1Peter 5:5.
That last Scripture describes part of a servant’s uniform. Yes, as a member of the Lord’s orchestra we have a uniform and yes, it does matter. "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience...And over all these virtues put on love..." – Colossians 3:12, 14.
Though we serve in the pit we are not totally out of sight. The world pays far too much attention to us while ignoring the true performance. When we leave part of our uniform at home it can distract attention from the true star and spoil the entire production. We must remember we are part of a team, playing as one. No individual’s performance should upstage the Lord. We serve merely as anonymous musicians laboring in the pit. It's not supposed to be about us. We're working down here to help what happens on stage be the best possible performance.
So what's our reward? "When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." – Colossians 3:4. Rest assured, my fellow pit-dwellers, we are accompanying a gracious star who one day, at the last curtain, will call for the house lights, invite us up on stage with Him, and acknowledge our labor......while all of heaven applauds!

Bill, just another child of God serving in the pit

Friday, June 20, 2008


June 20, 2008

The pre-dawn stillness is shattered by the hiss of air brakes, the roar of truck engines, the whine of hydraulic lifts, and the clatter and clang of dozens of bottles and cans crashing into each other with all the vociferous clamor of a hundred overactive, rhythm-challenged adolescents turned loose in a cymbal factory. My heart pounds wildly, my body recoils, and my mind tries to process the sudden journey from peaceful slumber to startled consciousness. A few seconds later the vexing disturbance recurs with increased volume and I am suddenly, painfully aware of the annoying source. It is Tuesday morning—trash day. The garbage truck has found our street. The waste wake-up service has arrived. The refuse industry's revenge on late sleepers has begun!
The untimely arrival of a heat wave, which forced us to leave all the windows in our home wide open, serves to amplify the early morning harassment. The syncopated symphony of tormenting percussionists passes on down the row of waiting trash receptacles only to return five minutes later on the opposite side of the street. Any attempt to fall asleep again is thwarted a few minutes later by a second parade of earsplitting mayhem (the recycle bin requires its own truck), followed shortly by a third (likewise with the green-waste bin). Of course the second and third parades also enjoy their own irritating reprisal as the disquieting procession returns to service our neighbors across the street. Whoever dreamed up this sinister sanitation system was obviously some early rising sadist delighting in daybreak disruptions.
As I sit on the edge of my bed in my pre-coffee, dazed delirium, I find myself longing for the good old days when a garbage truck required a crew of three people, one driver plus two men riding on the back. The truck would pass by only once down the middle of the street while the outside crew dismounted, picked up the trash cans on both sides of the street, emptied them into the back of the truck, and carefully returned them to the curb picking up any escaping article of refuse and tossing it in with the rest of the trash. When it was time for the truck to pull forward the two men would jump on the back of the truck and signal the driver to proceed. The signal usually consisted of a sharp whistle or a shout. Although it was still annoyingly loud it never reached the decibel level of our modern trucks and it was all over in a matter of a few seconds.
One such crew I remember included a man who would signal his driver not with a whistle or a shout, but with a song. In fact, he was constantly singing. When his voice got noticeably louder, the driver would know it was time to pull forward to the next house. The singing took the edge off the early morning wake-up call. It is difficult to get angry at someone who can carry a tune while he's carrying your trash. His voice was no operatic marvel, yet its beauty was enhanced by the contrasting ugliness of his surroundings. His song seemed strangely out of place in such an occupation and so alien to my usual morning moodiness. While I was greeting the morning with a scowl, he was greeting my garbage with a song. While I was vegetating over my morning coffee, he was vocalizing over my discarded coffee grounds. While I was crying over my lack of sleep, he was crooning over my abundance of trash. While I was regretting the early reveille, he was rejoicing in the rubbish.
I am uncertain as to the nature of his song for his language was foreign. I suppose his lyrics could have been cursing his job along with our trash, but his voice sounded far more like a blessing than an irreverent oath, soothing rather than swearing, praise rather than profanity. I wouldn't be surprised if his intended audience was more heavenly than earthly. Who else besides a grateful child of God would have reason to rejoice so consistently amidst such a fowl environment? His sweet song is a beautiful testimony that the attitude of our hearts need not reflect the reality of our circumstances.
I have often thought of the blissful tune of the salvage psalmist during times when I've felt surrounded by the refuse of life. A job I thought was secure is lost. An income I counted on never materializes. A friend I trusted in proves unfaithful. A loved one I cherished is taken from me. A Christian brother wounds me with hurtful words. My team loses the championship. My favored candidate loses at the polls. My desk is piled high with bills my bank account can’t cover. At such times I am tempted to sling the garbage of anger and sorrow rather than sing the glory of God. But if a trash collector can rejoice in the midst of the world's rubbish, why can't I?
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” – Hebrews 13:15. Does that really say “continually?” “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 5:19-20. Does that really say “always?” And does it really mean “everything,” including Tuesday morning trash pick-up? "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." – Habakkuk 3:17-18. I wonder if Habakkuk ever worked as a sanitation engineer. I could certainly picture him singing praises in the midst of a wagonload of trash.
May I inquire as to the nature of the tune you are singing? Are you railing against the refuse or rejoicing in the rubbish? Are you bringing glory to God or bitterly complaining over the trash that surrounds your life? Are your neighbors edified by your song or are you adding to the annoying din of an accumulating heap of garbage in your community? Does your tune change along with your circumstances or does it reflect a sacrifice of continuous praise? The next time you find yourself down in the dumps, startled by a deluge of life's garbage, just listen for the sweet song of the sanitation singer and join the joyful chorus! "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" – Philippians 4:4. Does that really say "always?"

Bill, a child of God learning to rejoice in the rubbish

Saturday, June 14, 2008


June 13, 2008

The steady rhythm of native drums heralded his coming. BOOM—boom—boom—boom, BOOM—boom—boom—boom… Around the campfire in the early evening’s waning light a large group of young boys sat cross-legged, huddled together in wonder and excitement over the beginning of the sacred ceremony. Each youth was lost in a confusing jumble of conflicting thoughts.
What if I am chosen? What an incredible adventure it would be! But it would also be unbelievably scary! Am I up for the challenge? What if I can’t do it? It might be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It would be so hard to leave the warmth of the fire and the fellowship of my friends. But what an incredible adventure it would be!
Suddenly a lone figure clothed in native dress entered the scene and began to dance energetically yet solemnly around the fire. He was clad in buckskin from his neck to his moccasins and sported a feathered headdress that dangled nearly to the ground. Tiny bells on his moccasins kept time to the rhythm of the drums along with the clatter of his beaded breastplate bouncing against his chest. In one hand he carried a small, flint hatchet and with the other he was clutching a spear the shaft of which was completely lined with feathers. He was half crouching as he moved in deliberate, slow circles twirling the spear in a large arc over his head as he made his way around the campfire. His eyes were wild and penetrating, as though searching for something critically important, and his face was painted for war.
The eyes of every boy were transfixed upon the dancing warrior. With every beat of the drums their hearts seemed to leap out of their chests. Fear along with excitement permeated the atmosphere, the tension alternately rising and falling based upon the dancer’s proximity to each youth as he repeatedly circled the fire. Finally, just when the youngsters were about to burst with anticipation, the drums suddenly changed to a much slower, more even beat. The dancer followed the undulating accompaniment and began to step, toe-heel, toe-heel, around the circle staring into the faces of the mesmerized youth.
Eventually the dancer raised his spear toward the heavens and the drums ceased entirely. Slowly, carefully, he lowered the spear until it rested above a young boy sitting near the front of the circle. Deliberately, religiously, the warrior tapped the boy on the shoulder then withdrew his spear. Immediately, the youth stood up and left the assembly. Again the drums began their slow, even beat and the warrior continued around the circle until he stopped in front of another youth. Again the spear tapped the shoulder of the chosen lad who rose and left the fire. The scene was repeated several more times and each boy who was chosen immediately left their comrades and disappeared into the night.
When the last boy was chosen the dancing warrior toe-heeled out of the circle and stole away into the forest. The remaining boys, the ones not chosen, were left to wonder what it would’ve been like. Once again their minds were filled with conflicting thoughts. There was relief that they would be able to stay by the warmth of the fire and enjoy the camaraderie of their friends. But there was also the letdown of knowing others were experiencing the adventure of a lifetime, an adventure they were not invited to join.
The spectacle which had just transpired was called a “tapping out” ceremony and for centuries it was an annual occurrence among many of our Native American tribes. This particular event, however, was a re-enactment, a yearly ritual for a gathering of boy scouts in the mountains of southern Idaho. As a young boy scout I always looked forward to the annual, Memorial Day weekend “jamboree” as a chance to go camping with my friends, show off the skills we had learned during the year, and escape into the mountains after an insufferably long nine months of public school. The “tapping out” ceremony would usually be held during our last evening together.
Although it was never stated publicly, I’m quite certain the boys who were “tapped out” had requested the honor, were trained for it, and recommended by their scout masters. The privilege was reserved for the oldest, most mature youth. But we were all given the impression that anyone present at the ceremony might be chosen, so there was always an air of uncertainty which accompanied the event.
What was the reward for being one of the chosen few? The “tapped-out” ones were sent out of the camp to spend a night in the wilderness—alone! They packed up their knapsacks, grabbed their sleeping bags, and headed out into the forest. No two of them were to be together. They built their own campfire, cooked their own food, and stayed by themselves until the following morning. When they returned they were officially welcomed into the “Order of the Arrow.” For having survived the harrowing ordeal their only recognition was the privilege of wearing, along with the rest of their scout uniform, a white sash embroidered with the symbol of an arrow. Of course they would always carry with them the knowledge that they had conquered their fears and, at least for one lonely night, tamed the wilderness. It was a scout’s rite of passage, a sign of his courage, and proof of his entry into manhood.
Although the ceremony was supposedly patterned after one handed down from the original inhabitants of our country, I’m not certain how closely it resembled the original Native American version. I do know that, depending upon which tribe you research, the young braves were required to spend much more than a single night by themselves. Usually the rite of passage would last for at least one full moon cycle and often the wilderness would swallow up the life of some of the boys. But those who lived through it would return to their village with a hero’s welcome and be given the full rights of adulthood. To symbolize how completely their lives had changed they were given new names based upon the stories they told of their adventure.
For us, though, one night alone in the woods was all that was needed to impress others with our manhood. As a boy scout I often dreamed of the time when I would be chosen to turn my back on the camp and brave the wilderness. Unfortunately, our scout pack broke up for lack of any adult leaders and I never got a chance to wear the white sash. I did, however, finally experience the thrill of being “tapped out,” called out from my comfortable campsite, and sent away from my friends. I just had to wait about forty years before I received the honor.
My “tapping-out” challenge was given very unceremoniously by the Holy Spirit at a time when I was experiencing severe doubts as to the relevancy and effectiveness of the institutional church. After being bounced around from one ministry to another and forced to resign from a church I had pastored for over three years, I was determined to plant a new congregation, one which would be free from the restrictions of past traditions and capable of tremendous growth. However, three years into this new endeavor, a lack of funds and a diminishing attendance had our church on the verge of closing down. I was grief-stricken and at a loss as to what to do.
As I look back on it all now I realize the Lord had been tapping me on the shoulder for years. I just didn’t recognize it as a special honor, nor was I up to walking away from the warmth of the brotherhood I had enjoyed all of my life. For some reason the adventure of being cast out alone into the wilderness had lost its appeal. But the time came when I could no longer ignore the weight of His spear. This overly cautious, spiritually hard-of-hearing, immature child of God finally paid attention to the Spirit’s call and followed Him into the wilderness, out away from the institutional church, and into His harvest field. As the poet once said, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I have discovered that the wilderness is not all that frightening, especially considering I have never really been alone. The Lord has always traveled with me, protecting me from the dangers of the wild and providing for my every need. He has replaced the fellowship I left behind with new comrades, wilderness warriors bound together by a depth of relationship that can only come from waging spiritual warfare side by side. And He has replaced the warmth of previous campfires with a blazing inferno that burns deep in my soul sparking wildfires everywhere I turn. For the first time in my life I believe I am finally coming of age as a Christian.
Why am I sharing the story of my long-delayed, spiritual rite of passage with you? I am convinced that I am far from being the only one the Spirit is attempting to “tap out.” In fact, I believe He has a special calling for every child of God. He is asking each one of us to turn our backs on the comfortable and familiar, pack up our knapsacks, and follow Him into the darkness of the surrounding wilderness. Perpetually hanging around the campfire was never His desire for us. There are simply too many hungry souls to feed, too many hurting souls to heal, too many grieving souls to comfort, too many despairing souls to encourage, and too many lost souls to save. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23.
Listen! Can you hear the drums beating? The Spirit’s “tapping-out” ceremony is ongoing. Even now He dances in our midst. Even now He taps us on the shoulder with the tip of His spear. His eyes are wild and penetrating, searching for those who would be faithful to rise up and follow Him. And His face is painted for war. For some who have never before felt His touch it is the call to turn your backs on the darkness of this world and enter the light of Christ. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” – 1Peter 2:9. For others it is the call to turn your backs on the warmth of the Christian assembly and enter once again into the darkness of the world in order to bring the light of Christ to others who have yet to feel the touch of His spear. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” – Matthew 28:19.
For some of us that call may require walking away from the comfort and familiarity of the institutional church, not out of condemnation for its failures, but simply because we have been “tapped out” to fulfill a different ministry. If the statistics are true which claim 1500 pastors are resigning from their institutional church ministries every month in this country alone, then an incredible army is being formed, trained and equipped for spiritual combat, waiting for the day when they are called into battle. I believe that day has arrived.
Have you been bounced around from one ministry to another looking for the perfect church in which to serve? Have you felt somewhat out of place just about everywhere you have ministered? Have you ever been cast out of a ministry, felt unwelcome in a church or even asked to leave? Perhaps the problem has nothing to do with your lack of spiritual maturity, improper training, or inability to get along with others, but rather with the simple fact that you are being “tapped out” for an entirely different ministry. Perhaps you are part of that vast and powerful army the Lord is gathering for such a time as this.
Thousands of saints have been pounding upon the gates of heaven with the request found in Luke, chapter ten. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Luke 10:2. Are you one of the answers to this prayer? The words “send out” are translated from the Greek term, “ekballo,” which is most often rendered, “cast out.” It is a violent term and suggests that the process of “casting out” workers into the harvest field may not be all that pleasant. My guess is that most harvest workers, like me, are far too reluctant to leave the warmth of their home campfires and need more of a push from the Spirit in order to willingly follow Him into the wilderness.
Take courage, my fellow “castaways,” for what you may have thought was a cursed abandonment by your Lord may actually have been quite the opposite. You just may have been chosen for the honor of being “tapped out” for a special ministry. You will likely be inundated with conflicting thoughts.
What an incredible adventure this will be. But it will also be unbelievably scary. Am I up for the challenge? What if I can’t do it? This might be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It will be so hard to leave the warmth of the fire and the fellowship of my friends. But what an incredible adventure it will be!
Whatever happens, do not ignore the weight of the Lord’s spear upon your shoulder. You have been chosen as a special operations soldier, “tapped out” as a valiant warrior and charged with following your Lord into the darkness of this world, into the wilderness of His harvest field. It is among the highest honors bestowed upon His servants. It is an opportunity to exhibit your courage, faithfulness, and Christian maturity. A hero’s welcome is waiting for you at the completion of your wilderness sojourn. Rise up immediately and follow Him.

Bill, a child of God “tapped out” for His ministry

Saturday, June 07, 2008


June 6, 2008

“Would you like us to lengthen those pants for you, sir?” asked the sales clerk politely.
“No thanks,” I responded while gazing at myself in the full-length mirror. “I’m a little pressed for time.”
However, as the improbable, unexpected reality of the offer dawned on me I began to have second thoughts.
“Did you say, ‘lengthen’?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, sir,” the clerk answered. “They look a little too short for you. If you’ll just let me measure them we can alter them here and have you on your way in ten minutes.”
“Well, if you can do it quickly I suppose I could wait for a few more minutes,” I replied holding my head up higher and proudly stretching my frame to its full, 5 foot 5 ½ inch height.
You must understand that had never happened to me before. Many are the times when trousers of mine have needed to be shortened. But until that moment no one had ever felt the need to alter my pants by making them longer. It was an entirely new experience for me which I found myself enjoying thoroughly. I savored every moment as I sat in that men’s clothing store waiting for my pants to be altered.
“May I help you with something?” asked another sales clerk.
“No thanks,” I replied. “I’m just waiting for my pants to get altered.” Then with an air of superiority I added, “I’m having them lengthened, you know.”
I was being fitted for a rented tuxedo needed for a wedding at which I was officiating the next day. Nothing could have put me in a better mood than realizing I was too tall for the pants that had been ordered for me. Adding to my joy was the knowledge that I was the same height as the groom. This would be one wedding where the pastor would actually be seen as he stood before the wedding party.
With my ego totally inflated I met the wedding party later that day at the home of the bride as we gathered for the wedding rehearsal.
“Did you pick up your tux?” asked the bride. “And does it fit?”
“Yes, I got it this morning,” I responded and then added with a dash of pride, “I had to have the pants lengthened.”
“Oh, that reminds me,” interrupted the groom. “I’ve got something to show you.”
He led me to a back room and proudly pulled out a pair of shiny black, patent leather shoes.
“I had them specially ordered,” he announced while slipping them on. “You can’t tell it from the outside but they actually lift up my heel nearly four inches. Now when I dance with my bride I can look her in the eyes.”
“And you can look down on the top of my head,” I retorted trying not to sound too disillusioned by the sudden rise in his stature. But then, after a gentle prodding from deep within my spirit, I began to laugh and explained to the groom my vain feelings about having my pants altered earlier that day. “I guess my ego has been brought down do its proper size,” I concluded with a grin. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to wear a pair of shoes which lifted me above the crowd.
Have you ever wondered why we spend so much time, energy and expense trying to be something we’re not? Or why our egos are so easily inflated, and can be so quickly crushed? Okay, I know we humans are particularly cursed with the sin of vanity, but shouldn’t it be different with Christians? Why is it so hard to be satisfied with the way our Creator made us? “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2. I suppose we will always struggle with pride when it comes to our appearance, but what about our spiritual gifts? Why should we look with envy on how God has gifted others? Why should we attempt to minister in areas where we have no gifts? Why should we rebel against how God has gifted us for ministry? And why should we insist on forcing others into ministry positions for which they are poorly suited, demanding they serve in ways God never intended for them?
When I attended seminary the church growth movement was sweeping across the kingdom of God. We were taught that numerical growth was the main objective for any ministry. “If your church isn’t growing in membership it isn’t healthy,” we were told. Tremendous pressure was placed upon pastors to do all they could to build up their congregation’s attendance. The success of any church was measured by its average Sunday morning worship attendance. Pastors of mega churches were hailed as heroes of the kingdom and went around holding seminars on “How To Grow Large Like Us.” For years I suffered under this false goal and the churches I served suffered as well. When spectacular growth wasn’t achieved I put the blame on our church board. In turn, they placed the blame on me.
Looking back at it all now I realize God had gifted me for an entirely different ministry. For all those years I was trying to alter my ministry to be something for which I was not suited. I am reminded of David when he was about to face Goliath. King Saul outfitted him with the royal armor but David soon realized that it wasn’t suited for him. Since Saul was a very big man and David’s stature was rather small we can surmise that the armor was way too large to fit the young shepherd boy. So David went back to what he was gifted at, the sling, and God enabled him to win the battle. “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s…’” – 1Samuel 17:45-47.
I believe the church is filled with pastors who have spent their career carrying around the wrong-sized armor, striving to be something God never gifted them to be. The result is thousands of unsatisfied congregations and thousands of depressed ministers who are questioning their calling and doubting their Lord. Christian pollster, George Barna, has gathered some rather sobering statistics. “On average, fifteen hundred pastors in this country leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce. Eighty percent of pastors…feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors. Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living. Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.” Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong.
I believe we have been making the wrong alterations for the body of Christ, shaping it after our own traditions rather than according to the pattern we see in Scripture. Rather than expanding the kingdom by multiplying small groups of believers, the pattern we see most exampled in the New Testament, we are constantly trying to enlarge each local gathering into bigger and bigger assemblies. In the process we are reducing the need for every member to be highly involved in the work of the ministry. We are also losing the corporate intimacy necessary for spiritual growth.
In addition we have been forcing those who believe they are called and gifted for ministry to fit into our man-made image of what a pastor should be. We have greatly expanded their job description to include business administrator, staffing coordinator, real estate agent, fund raiser, motivational speaker, visionary, author, and community activist. It’s not that any of these activities are necessarily wrong for the church. They just require certain spiritual gifts which rarely turn up in those who likely committed themselves to the ministry in order to make disciples and lead believers to maturity in Christ. Tragically, when a pastor is immersed in these traditional, human-ordained endeavors, he or she has little if any time to actually shepherd the flock. We have taken the function of a pastor and transformed it into a CEO. No wonder so many are feeling inadequate for the task and burned out in their ministries.
So what is the solution? Like David exampled for us, we need to make sure the ministerial role of each individual Christian servant matches his or her spiritual gifts. Trying to force someone to “wear another’s armor” could end up being disastrous for both the church and the minister. In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul describes the ministerial team which Jesus gives to His church. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” – Ephesians 4:11-12.
The point here is that it takes a team of gifted individuals working together to help the kingdom grow in any given locality. In any church gathering, no matter what the size, there likely exists a plurality of these gifted people. Some theologians are convinced that every believer in Christ is gifted in at least one of these five categories of ministry. Unfortunately, we rarely see churches where everyone is using their gifts. They seem to prefer instead letting the brunt of the ministerial duties fall upon one individual or upon a tiny group of professionals.
Why do so many churches insist upon heaping unrealistic job expectations on their pastors? And why do so many pastors accept such impossible roles? I believe it has a lot to do with this thing called vanity. Many of us feel the need to appear larger than God has created us to be. So we spend our spiritual lives trying to make alterations on the outside, while the Head of the body is desperately attempting to alter us on the inside. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2.
I believe there are countless numbers of pastors out there who have been made to suffer by wearing armor which didn’t fit. Some of you have already given up and quit your positions in the church; others continue to plod along making alteration after alteration hoping to find the perfect fit for your personality and gifts while wondering why God seems to be so stingy with His blessings upon all your hard work. As one who has long suffered in a similar fashion I would love to hear from you. I would also love to tell you about the Head of the Church who hasn’t given up on you, but who passionately desires to redeem you from the world and from ministries where you don’t really fit in order to send you back into His harvest field as a gifted member of His ministry team charged with planting churches and expanding His kingdom. More than ever this world is in dire need of “giant slayers!” And as always, “the battle is the Lord’s.” I invite you to respond to this message.

Bill, a child of God, refitted for His service