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The Heart of a Pastor Blog
A Covenant for Pastors
1/30/2012 11:13:35 AM

Ministry today is more difficult than it has ever been. It seems that each day we hear of another colleague in ministry who has fallen into immorality, another who has burned out, another who has in some way weakened the credibility of those called to God’s ministry. Why is this happening in record numbers today?
I think that, amidst the hectic expectations that we encounter in “real” ministry, we often lose sight of the commitments we made when we first accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord. Perhaps the standards by which we promised to live when we followed His call to be His ministers have been overshadowed by exhaustion or carelessness. Whatever the cause, we in ministry more and more are facing a crisis of integrity, righteousness, and credibility.
I believe it is crucial that we regain our focus and recommit ourselves to a lifestyle pleasing to the Lord, to our congregations, to our families, and to ourselves. We pastors are joined together by a common call of God to feed His sheep, but we are also tied by a common commitment to purity, holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. This agreement transcends theological differences, denominational connections, and local congregational constraints. We are bound to one another by our calls and by the knowledge that one day the Great Shepherd will be the final Judge.
Several years ago, I introduced a concept I called the Shepherd’s Covenant®. It is a strategy for the moral, spiritual, and ethical protection of pastors based on the guidelines practiced by the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd’s Covenant® is built on the acronym G-R-A-C-E. Here are the basics of that covenant:



Genuine Accountability — There is a great difference between being cordial and collegiate. We need colleagues in our lives who will ask us hard questions and allow us to do the same with them. “Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1).


Right Relationships — Our ministries can only be effective when our actions and reactions toward members of our families, our colleagues in ministry, and the members of our congregations are pure. We must be clergy of peace. “Live in harmony and peace, and may the God of love and peace be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).


A Servant/Shepherd’s Heart — The example that the Good Shepherd gave to His followers was in the first place that of a servant – the towel, the basin and a sincere willingness to be humble (John 14) – and in the second place that of an overseer who carefully watches his flock. “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15).


Constant Safeguards — We must be vigilant. To put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10) is not merely an option. It is a necessity if we are going to successfully obey the command of our Lord to flee the various onslaughts of Satan.


Embracement of God Intimately — The deeper one’s relationship with God through His Son Jesus, the more successful he will be in living a life above reproach and setting an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). An intimate relationship with Him makes it all possible. “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).

While this new year is still young, look at the first of these elements. How are you doing with accountability — genuine accountability?
  • Do you meet regularly with a colleague?
  • Do you really engage and challenge one another?
  • Do you pray for and support one another?
You need your accountability colleague — your colleague needs you! I realize accountability relationships are fluid, but they are very worthwhile. If you are having a tough time finding someone, select a pastor in town who has an assignment similar to yours and ask him to join you for a coffee break. It is amazing how productive those times can be. Honest, the members of the clergy that most often find their ministries in jeopardy are those who have no accountability. So, how are you doing?

‘‘A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).

The Sanctity of Human Life: Preaching Compassionately
1/23/2012 12:54:13 PM

Last Sunday was Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. I hope you remembered and mentioned it in your message. I also hope that your church was able to take advantage of the information and audio/visual aids provided for you by organizations like Focus on the Family (

I noticed an interesting twist on this very important observation that is being recommended by my former coworkers at Focus on the Family for this year. Here is a brief explanation from the Parsonage Web site:

Often, because the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade occurs in January, when we talk about the sanctity of human life, we tend to focus on the beginning stages of life. Of course, if life is not protected from the beginning, there is never any other stage of life to protect!

But we must not forget that Scripture clearly teaches that, from the very first heartbeat to life’s final breath, all life has dignity and value that is God-breathed.

That’s why, when we talk about being “pro-life,” we aren’t primarily talking about a political issue. It’s a worldview ... a life-view. It’s a way of looking at each human life that transcends culture, class, race, age, and opinion. When we look at our fellow human beings as God does, we realize that we are all uniquely created in the image of God.
For this reason, this year, Focus on the Family will feature four themes ─ one per quarter ─ to raise awareness of the sanctity of human life at all stages, as follows:

     Quarter 1: the child in the womb
     Quarter 2: those with special needs
     Quarter 3: the elderly
     Quarter 4: orphans

When we begin to see others as God sees them, we’re moved to care deeply for those created in His image. We will live each day in a way that honors our Creator.

This is what it means to be pro-life. This is why we need to be a voice. Will you
be a voice for life?

So, my colleague, what do you think? Would you be willing to follow a similar schedule among your people?
In our book, They Call Me Pastor, Neil Wiseman and I wrote, “When you raise your voice to speak with such tenacious authority about the evils of abortion, be sure to lower that same voice to speak with great compassion to those who have been damaged by sin, assuring them there is healing, forgiveness, and mercy. ... Tell them that coming to God is the answer to the crushing anguish they carry.”
A veteran minister, who had been a pastor for nearly a lifetime, said, “I never deal with any sin without getting a tear in my eye. A tear of sadness for the consequences I see in a sinner’s life. A tear of joy that no sin is too great for a Savior to forgive. And a tear that God, by grace, kept me from the same sin.” Never preach against the threats to the sacredness of life without a tear in your eye.

The fight for life is an ongoing battle. Even if you do not feel comfortable addressing the issues of life from the pulpit, I pray you are finding ways to assist your congregation in remembering that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God has something in mind for every one of His creations — those that have been born and those who are yet to be born.
I especially want to urge you to personally visit your local pregnancy center to see and better understand their vision for the unborn and their frightened parents, and how your church might fit that vision. For more ideas, read BeAChurchLiaison.pdf.
“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:15-16).

The Necessity of Dreams
1/16/2012 11:13:22 AM

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accomplished many things in his much-too-short life, and he initiated many more — some of which continue to blossom today. His most-remembered moment came on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he delivered his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C.

That speech had a particularly important impact on African Americans from that day to this as they have strived for and largely achieved the same opportunities, freedoms, and successes as those with whom they live throughout this nation. Its essence has also inspired so many others through its message of optimism in general.

I think that includes us, my colleagues. A wise old preacher was right when he told two young beginning pastors, ''A pastor never achieves more than his dreams."

That's an important starting point for ministry in every generation. Every pastor needs dreams that are passionately focused on the gospel and its supernatural effect on people who make up the congregation he or she serves.

So much depends on the combined dreams of pastors around the world.

Think of the needs: perplexed persons, dysfunctional families, indifferent churches, deteriorating neighborhoods, and a rotting society. Think of the possibilities: thousands of ministers representing an incredible force for setting direction, restoring purpose, and calling the world back to God.

What is the impossible dream you think about, pray about, and talk about? Begin to live that impossible dream. Reveal it to someone. Write it down in your Bible, and believe God for it!

"You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it" (John 14:14).

Don't Give Up in Hard Times
1/9/2012 12:13:37 PM

Assuming that all of the prognosticators were correct, I was planning on talking this week about Tim Tebow again and emphasizing that, even when you lose, you can get through it because you know that God is still with you. However, as you certainly know by now, Tebow and the Denver Broncos pulled off one of the great upsets of post-season history by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday on the first play of overtime — with a long touchdown pass.


Not to be deterred — and assuming that the Broncos will not make it to the Super Bowl, making this analogy eventually work — I have decided to say what I was planning to say anyway. There are four NFL teams who played this weekend for whom it applies today, in any case.


The work that you and I have been called to is filled with disappointments and "emotional speed bumps." But our directive is to continue loving and serving God and His children in spite of setbacks and missteps. We are never the healer — God is. We are neither the judge nor jury — God is. But we are His agents for change, and we must never grow weary of trying. Why? Listen to the apostle Paul: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:9-10).


I can honestly tell you there have been times when I have been weary in well-doing in spite of the Scripture's admonition not to give up. I have wondered, as you have, if there was strength sufficient to complete the journey. But I labored on, resisting the temptation to give it up, knowing inside I could not reject the call that our Lord had placed upon my life.


No doubt you have used the familiar phrase in Matthew 11:28 many times: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Have you read that passage lately? What does it mean to you?


May I expand that question and provide you with at least a glimpse into the words of Jesus? To me, it says: When faced with the pressures and challenges of our assignments, the Lord asks us to surrender to His loving yoke and experience His perfect rest, His strong arm around our shoulders.


So, hold your head high. You're doing a great work, and there will be many who join you around God's throne because of your faithfulness.


"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30).

Every Day Is an Opportunity
1/2/2012 12:13:31 PM

This is the first week of a new year. What do you plan to do in the next 365 days? What will you determine to accomplish? A lot of people make resolutions for the new year. I don’t do that because a resolution is more of an end than a means to reaching that end. Without a plan, a resolution usually becomes a wish or hope instead of a strategic reality. And a plan for the new year will involve a plan for each day.


Do you begin each day with a purpose in mind? Do you have goals for each day, or do you just start your day with no specifics in mind? When we have a plan, we have strategic steps for accomplishing something. And, as believers, we know that God must be an important part of that plan. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14).


Each of us must surrender our plans to the Lord each day. He will orchestrate the day, but He needs to know we are workers who are diligent and productive. In fact, if we know what should be done and can be done to God's glory, and we fail to seize the opportunity, we have failed God. James calls it sin: ''Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins" (James 4: 17).


My colleague, today will pass by quickly. When the day is over, what will you have contributed to the greater good, and how will you have embraced God's plan? The ministry is one calling that can be easily shortchanged. Please do not make that mistake. Your contribution is much too important.


"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men" (Ephesians 6:7).

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