Category Archives: Pastor

Your gauges are broken

One of my first cars had a broken gas gauge. It was extremely frustrating! There was no way to objectively measure how much gas was in the tank at any given time. This was definitely an inconvenience but, in Canadian winters, it was also a major safety consideration. Consequently, I embraced the axiom, “it costs the same to run the car on the full half of the tank as it does on the empty half.” I think there is truth in this for today (especially for pastors).

In these Covid-19 days, your gauges are broken. Your patterns of behaviour, routines, and rhythms have all been disrupted. What you have formally used to judge how you were doing personally (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) are no longer reliable. Consequently, you are probably doing worse than you think in some areas and better than you think in others. Don’t trust your broken gauges and assume your tank is emptier than you think!

Additionally, you need to ignore former gauges you used to judge your perceived pastoral effectiveness. If you don’t, you may show up on Sunday and, as you survey the socially distanced and largely empty room (if you are meeting in person), feel like you are failing. Or, in the absence of physically seeing the sheep that you shepherd, you will falsely believe you have lost them all and panic. Remember, your pastoral effectiveness gauges are broken. Don’t trust them. Instead, look to Jesus and just be faithful. Be faithful and know that is enough. In fact, that has always been enough! Maybe the pandemic will teach us to re-evaluate our perceptions of success and the gauges we use to measure it. Maybe we will recalibrate our gauges and simply focus on being faithful to Jesus and the calling He has placed on our lives.

As you serve with broken gauges, embrace the maxim I learned from my car with the broken gas gauge: drive with your tank half full rather than half empty. Keep your tank full by: Rejecting comparison – this is more important than ever. Giving yourself grace – lots of it. Breathing deeply – repeat regularly. Resting well – more than you think you need. Loving deeply – your family, friends, and church community. Leading boldly – this is the season for it. Loving other pastors – and letting them love you.

Remember: your gauges are broken, and no one knows when the new ones will be in stock.

The Pilot and the Preacher

On multiple occasions, I have attempted piloting a virtual aircraft with a computerized flight simulator.   Although these have taken place in different places, environments and contexts, they have all ended with the same predicable result – virtual destruction.

Unlike the perceived simplicity of flying, it is a complex reality with complicated instruments, controls, aerodynamics, gravity, weather, etc.  What on the surface seems simple is, in reality, quite complex.

As someone who has preached regularly for years, I’ve learned a number of important things in the process.  I want to share them here using the metaphor of piloting an airplane.

Flight Check List
Any pilot, when preparing for takeoff and the upcoming flight, has to meticulously prepare for the journey.  They file flight plans, check gages, brief their crew, study their plane, know the weather, etc.  They meticulously prepare!  The same must exist for the preacher.  The biblical communicator must know the Scripture he/she is preaching from (biblical exegesis), interpret it effectively (hermeneutics), study their unique context (cultural exegesis), and consider the best possible route for their sermon (methodology), etc.

To preach meritoriously, one must prepare meticulously.  

Air Traffic Control
When a pilot prepares for take off, is in flight and prepares to land, he/she must be in constant communication with air traffic control.  The same must be true for preachers as they pray before, during and after the preaching journey they take with their congregation.

To preach effectively, one must pray endlessly.

Take Off 
One of the roles of an effective pilot is to prepare the travelers for take off, telling them to buckle up and preparing them for the journey ahead.  The same is true for the preacher.  As the preacher prepares to take off, they must communicate to the congregation, and prepare them for the journey.  This will be different depending on the preaching methodology used, but the same principle exists regardless.  The effective preacher invites the congregation to enter the journey ahead with preparation, expectation and anticipation.

I must be noted that the pilot, as with the preacher, is only effective if he/she knows his/her passengers, understands them and even, I would suggest, includes them in the planning and preparation for the journey ahead.

To preach commendably, one must commence communally.

Aware of Passengers
As a pilot constantly keeps aware of the state of his/her passengers through the journey, the same must be true of the preacher.  As the preacher journeys through the content of the message, he/she must keep the congregation engaged and aware.  This is not to suggest that the goal is to keep the passengers comfortable but the preacher must be constantly aware that he/she is not taking this journey alone!

To preach well, one must know and be aware that they are not on a solo flight.

Sometimes a pilot will have to fly through turbulence and when they do, it is helpful and imperative to have people put up their tray tables, buckle-up, and prepare for the rough, and often uncomfortable, ride ahead.  The same is true for preachers.  There will be times when the preacher will preach through difficult texts and/or difficult topics.  When this is the case, it is helpful to let people know what is coming, to be prepared for it and journey through it together.  Personally, I have found I can preach on very difficult topics if I prepare the congregation for it.  If I let them know that turbulence is ahead, there is, in my experience, a collective desire to work through it together, allowing the opportunity to pilot through difficult passages and topics together.  This is where I find it helpful to remind the congregation that we, together, submit to God’s authority and discern truth together in community under the leading of the Holy Spirit.

To preach successfully, one must preach through turbulent topics securely.

For pilots, the one area that is often the most challenging, memorable and exciting is the landing.  If there is going to be a problem, there is a good chance it will be in the landing.  This is the area where, in my experience, most preachers struggle.  In many cases, preachers look to approach the runway and land “on a wing and a prayer.”  They pour hours of preparation into the take off (introduction) with the false assumption and fleeting hope that the landing will take care of itself.  Good preaching should end the journey of the sermon with a distinct ending that calls for a response and leads to mission.

To preach sufficiently, one must land the sermon steadily.

It is my usual practice to do a benediction at the end of the service.  This is when I give a charge to the congregation as they engage the world on mission.  I always end by calling people to “GO in peace” because, like a pilot who greets people as they leave the plane, I know as people will engage their world, the scripture we journeyed through will collide with their circumstance in challenging ways.

To preach effectively, the exit is engaged intentionally.

When it comes to preaching there are different kinds of pilots with different piloting skills and abilities.  Some are stunt pilots who are extraordinarily gifted in their ability and people come in droves to see them in person or download their podcasts.  In addition, there are private pilots who faithfully serve smaller churches as well as commercial pilots who serve larger churches.  All follow the same process with different contexts and all have vital importance.

If you preach… Keep learning.  Keep growing.  Try new things.  Get better at your craft, art and skill!

If you are a member of a congregation… Recognize that what might seem easy is, in reality, quite complex and, like flying a plane, when done well is not just a skill but also an art form that takes years of practice.  Therefore, pray for your pastors, encourage them and invest in them!

I’m A Pastor – The Awkward Silence

Inspired by a conversation with my doctoral cohort, I created (“created” meaning I used a website where I typed dialogue and it created the movie for me) the following short video about the, all too common, awkward silence that follows in casual conversation when people discover you are a pastor.

I have experienced this more than once myself.  You meet someone in public (line at the grocery story, airplane, community event, etc.) and begin a casual relaxed conversation until the inevitable question of what you do for a living arrises.  This question, for most people, is innocuous but in our culture, for a pastor, this is often a “conversation killer.”  Whether it is because people begin thinking through everything they have just said through a reverse filter or if it is because of some other reason, the phenomena exists and it is awkward.  I am sure there are sociological and spiritual reasons why this occurs and that there will be lots of opinions it (feel free to share them here).  Regardless, all pastors can agree that the phenomena exists, it is awkward and it is all too common.