Weaknesses, Résumés, and the Pastoral Search

In the last week or so, I’ve seen a couple posts/writings on “weakness.” Each of them encouraging because I’d been thinking about the subject. Not in a vacuum of course, but while also thinking about the necessity for God’s strength in life and ministry.

So yes, I think about doing ministry again. We pray about it. I’ve asked a few friends to pray about it for us. We fear it like we fear God. And think about it some more. And struggle to talk about it. So we pray a little more. (Please don’t read into this more than necessary, we are thinking and praying, not planning. We are very unsure but feel the need to consider returning, if only because we feel often like we are in the belly of a whale.)
Just the other day I looked at pastor job postings. Bethany did it first. Nearly all of them had their must-haves and their requirements and such. You know, some postings were admirable and a couple were actually moving.
But most were just like postings for insurance companies and banks in one particular way. They were interested only in how a person’s strengths could help the church. Don’t get me wrong, this is reasonable. I don’t even think its wrong.
But I can’t help but wonder about weakness.
Where does weakness fit in? Where does the weakness of a candidate and even the weakness of a church fit in? Is this even on anyone’s radar? And does anyone see the weakness as a way for God’s strength to be made manifest?
Maybe.
I confess I’ve imagined sending in a résumé of weakness. One that details all the reasons not to consider me. “Left the ministry and swore to never return. Has lived in the belly of a whale for about two years and smells like fish and seaweed. Has children the Vision Forum would be appalled at. Has most likely teetered on the edge of the dark chasm of depression. Has no money. Owns three vehicles, all have a check-engine light burning bright.” You know, things like that.
Every search committee and church knows every candidate for a position has weaknesses. They will even ask about them at some point. And discuss them. But will anyone see them the way Paul saw them?
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)
Paul…and God, seemed to think the weakness he had, whatever it was – physical, emotional, spiritual – was something to boast in. And Paul did so, not to be contrary or to excuse behavior but so that “the power of Christ” would rest upon him.
Now I don’t know all the implications for this in ministry, but as I think about going forward and praying about pastoral work possibly one day in the future, it strikes me as being at odds with the prevailing wisdom.
The prevailing wisdom and practice is to treat résumés and interviews in the pastoral search process like a first date. On a first date you do everything you can to impress the other and you do everything you can to hide weakness. You borrow your parent’s Audi instead of picking a girl up in the ’79 Chevette with no reverse. You go to restaurants you would normally not go to. You spare no expense. You dress in clothes reserved for special occasions. You put your best foot-forward and keep all things negative at bay. It’s usually only later, you let your guard down and allow weaknesses to show.
College students do this in dating and churches and pastoral candidates do this in the search process. And it’s understandable. It’s reasonable. And we’ve all done it, in dating and in the search process.
But Paul’s words give us something to think about, don’t they? While all this first-date behavior and thinking is reasonable, Paul’s conviction about the place of weakness in his life and ministry may be a help.
Pretty much everywhere I went to work in ministry I soon found out that each congregation had glaring weaknesses no one felt the need to discuss with me but these weaknesses brought about constant issues that were at the forefront of the life of the congregation.
And my own weaknesses showed up pretty quickly too.

How do I go forward? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe you know.

My tendency is to be embarrassed of my weaknesses. I want to smooth over the craggy edges and obscure the dark valleys from view. But I also want to believe my weaknesses can deal a blow to my conceit and make it possible for the power of Christ to rest upon me. And if I ever return to the pastorate, is there any other power I’ll need?

More tomorrow in a few days…

A Former Pastor’s Regret

There’s nothing to applaud here. Applause should be reserved for the pastors who have seen this and pastored accordingly. I’m sure some do it by instinct. I was not among them and that’s why there’s regret.

I never really understood the difficulty of living the Christian life in the real world, outside of vocational ministry. My experience of working outside vocational ministry was in part time jobs and one full-time on the way to Seminary. So that may be part of it. But I’m not sure I can lay the cause at the feet of ignorance alone.

Loving the people I ministered to seemed secondary. I would have never admitted it but that’s most likely part of what was the problem. I wanted to see them do things that justified my ministry more than I wanted to love them.

I did love them. It’s not that I didn’t. But I’m not sure it bothered me when I didn’t show it or feel it.

And so I was not very compassionate about the difficulties of living out the Christian life when you’re not a pastor. 

It would not be fair to say I would do this or not do that. But generally speaking, I’d like to think I’d be more gracious about what they did with their time and money. I’d like to think I would be more tender in my speech. And I’d like to think I’d be slower to speak and quicker to listen.

But again, I can’t say I would do those things.

Now that I’m working in a bank, these regrets are easy. It’s easy for me see the struggle because I’m in the middle of it. I can understand wanting to stay home on a weeknight with my family. I can understand the need for a word of peace instead of having my toes stood upon. I loved stepping on toes more than comforting the heart. I should have been more patient with the bruised reeds.

It’s easy to say that now because I am one. I’m in a job I’m terrible at and my days seem long and repetitive. My comforts are lunch, instant messages, and conversations with the security guard. How many people did I speak to, counsel with, and preach at who struggled as I do now?

I just wanted to hit home runs as a teacher/preacher.

A pastor’s job is hard too. And I always wanted people to see that. I just wasn’t all that in tune with the difficulties of those I was pastoring. I saw the dangers they needed to be aware of. I saw the temptations. And I could see their faults in technicolor.

But what should have made me lean into my calling -their faults and needs and fears and struggles and pains – far too often all that was just fuel thrown on an already burning desire to control and change them.

So I regret it. I wish I’d known then what I know now.

The Confession of A Failing Pastor


(I wrote the following back in August of 2009, I was at my wit’s end emotionally. It was so bad, when we went on vacation to Birmingham to visit family, I was prepared to stay. Never to go back. I was right in the middle of despair. My guess is, a lot of guys in ministry get to that place and it is a terrible place to be. Accountants can experience despair and go do something else and it looks heroic. Pastors? No way. They are expected to rip open their shirts and reveal the S on the their chest. Bullets are supposed to bounce off and sermons just appear. All the while kryptonite is hurled at them through email, social media and meetings in coffee shops. I hope this is a help for other pastors.)

Whether I am failing as a student pastor or only perceived as failing is at this point moot. Well, maybe not entirely. But the effects are the same. Right? I mean, it is neither here nor there if the whispers are there, the discussions are going on behind your back and the arrows are flying. The truth of the matter is perhaps a very important thing for the Senior Pastor/Preacher/Lead Pastor and possibly for someone who oversees an adult ministry. 
Why? Because they trade in truth.

Me? I trade in bodies, numbers and pizza. And it is amazing that the decrease in that which I trade in is the reason I feel as if I am drowning. Usually, the abundance is the difficulty. Usually you drown in abundance. In my case it is the stark nature of the thing. There are not enough bodies. I am not doing enough. I do not care enough. When or what is enough? How would I know? When everyone is happy?
It’s like a hall of mirrors really. I went to one at the Alabama State Fair back in elementary school. To be honest, it freaked me out. You turn one way and you are fat. The other way shows you as remarkably short. Another turn and you are twisted beyond all recognition. And all the reflections make it very hard to actually get perspective on the distortions and see reality for what it is. Even when you find the exit…exhausted, have you escaped? Are you not still trying to catch your breath?
I vowed to never go back in.
Today I went to bed twice for short periods of time. Is this healthy? It felt healthy. When you are hungry, you eat. When you are cold, you put on more clothing. When you are tired – soul-tired – you lay down. 
Still.
Twice this week I am supposed to teach and for the first time in my ministerial life, I am not looking forward to it. This has never been the case before. I have always fed off the enjoyment of doing this. But right now I just want to hang out with Sam Adams and Billie Holiday. I just want to hang out with my wife in silence with small talk sprinkled clean by laughter. I want to watch my kids play and tickle them every now and then. Another nap would be welcome also.
Do I need a vacation? Am I burnt out? Maybe. The only path of sanity I can find is quitting. And I do not mean quitting this ‘job’. I am talking about quitting altogether. When you start envying the Fed-Ex delivery driver, something is not right. Can you quit for just a week or two? Perhaps I could start back then. But a few weeks of not being a “Pastor” (or at least what I am told that is) would be welcome indeed.
I used to talk about wanting to quit every week. That was very different. I knew I could not quit. The “call” was clear. Now not so much. Before, I could read something in the Scriptures or in a book that would drive me further in. Now what used to be fuel is retardant.
Not doubting my salvation is a great deal of help. The gospel is still good news. I don’t want to leave the “church”. I don’t want to leave my family. As a matter of fact these are the two things I want to run towards. Some may call it selfish but I want to be ministered to for a while. Emmylou Harris is singing My Baby Needs A Shepherd.
None of this is written for pity. There is cathartic help of course. But I really could find nothing like this anywhere. They are probably there somewhere. I did find some articles and essays about how pastors overcame their failures. Nowhere, though, did I find anything like a confession from a failing pastor in the midst of failure. 
“My name is Matt Redmond…not that Matt Redman…and I am a failing pastor.”

10 Lessons Learned From Eugene Peterson This Year About Pastoral Work

eugene

(Update: For obvious reasons, this is a very popular post. So popular, I have become a Peterson reference for dozens and dozens of men, mostly pastors. Most want to know where to start with his works because they are exasperated with what they have been sold as pastoral work. I used to tell them to start with The Contemplative Pastor since it is the book in most direct opposition to everything other way of thinking about the pastorate that is popular today. It is a quiet manifesto of insurrection. But now it may be good to start with his memoir – The Pastor I still get emails thanking me for the review I posted on amazon. Usually, it’s because a pastor thought his was alone. Now he knows he is not.

A word to young pastors…Read Peterson now. Eventually you will most likely thirst for his sanity and long to get off the hamster-wheel. I know most of you will not do it, you are drunk on trends and excitement.)

I’ve been slowly reading through Eugene Peterson’s books this year. I’ve learned a lot about being a pastor that is in direct opposition to the way I naturally think…and most people think, I would hazard. The following are ten of those lessons.

1. Pastoral Work does not look “busy.”

2. The hard work of a pastor is done in the quiet of study and prayer.

3. Most pastors are pragmatists because they have never seen any other kind of pastoral work done.

4. You will never get the job of pastoral work down to a science.

5. Read novels as a part of your ministry.

6. How-to sermons are rarely – if ever –  helpful.

7. Don’t listen to the conventional wisdom.

8. It is so normal for bullies to fill our pulpits we can no longer recognize the problem.

9. Pastors should not seek to be part of the super-spiritual crowd but seek to be normal – only more so.

10. God and his work in Christ are our subject.