Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bad Discipleship & Pastors

Standing at the back door of the First Baptist Church, Washington, IL, Bill Sadler comes up in the greeting line. He looks at me and says "You've got the preaching down. Now work on all the other stuff."

It took me about 4 years to realize what that meant. I wasn't filling in as a deacon, or a Sunday school director. I wasn't trying to run the nursery. I was there to preach. And that's what I did. And if the people were to be trusted, I did it good. But I loved Bill and respected him. He'd seen more in his 80 years on this Earth than I could ever imagine. And Bill said "Work on all the other stuff."

What Bill was talking about was that there's more to being a pastor than being able to preach. I've seen this first hand. Men who congregations love and who do a great job working with people, but couldn't preach their way out of a wet paper bag. Yet, they were good pastors, just not great preachers.

About 4 years later, after talks with a close personal friend, I knew that I was not going to be leaving Southern and taking a church right away. Perhaps down the road, but not immediately. I had too much to work on. Of course, everyone has a lot to work on, but I had some issues that pastors shouldn't have (like I get tired of people really easily.) I was sitting in a 2 week class on the Gospel of Mark. We were having a bit of an informal chat in that class, as we often did, when the professor brought up something interesting.

We were talking about discipleship and he mentioned how many people who can speak and have doctrinal knowledge get "guided" (read: shoved) into the pastoral ministry. He was using himself as an example. He showed a desire for theology and scholarship in his home church, so his church attempted to get him to become a pastor. He went to Bible school, seminary and went on to get a PhD. He is now a professor of New Testament theology at SBTS. He teaches Sunday School, but he is not a pastor.

Those two incidents may seem unconnected. But Bill Sadler and Dr. Brian Vickers might as well have been best friends. What appears to happen in churches is that you have a young man who has a thirst for knowledge. They teach Sunday school, they're able to speak in front of the congregation without uttering "umm..." every three words, they don't drink and don't beat their kids, and the church decides these men are to be pastors.

What I realize now, is that is more of a reflection of the sad state of discipleship in American churches. If they were more focused on discipleship, I probably wouldn't have exhibited any more knowledge at the time than the average church member. I wouldn't have been a "stand out". There would not have been a push to have me preach more. They would have taken more time to get to know me, to see me with all my faults, and then judge whether I should be sent by them to seminary.

I'm so thankful that they did send me to seminary. I met some very Godly people there, who thankfully persuaded me to not go into full time ministry at the time. I can only imagine the pain and suffering I'd be inflicting on an unsupecting church. I can preach....

So Bill, if you're out there, I'm working on the other stuff.

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