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                         Inner-View #39 ...

Practical Guide for Life and Ministry, A: Overcoming 7 Challenges Pastors Face

Phil Miglioratti interviewed David Horner
Practical Guide for Life and Ministry, A, David Horner, 978-0-8010-9195-7

PM ~ David, you write that you began this book ten years ago - How is it different today than what it might have been had you completed it ten years ago?

DH ~ It's amazing what looking back over ten years does to one's perspective! Many of the issues I wanted to address back then emerged from previous years of experience and shaped to basic categories I knew had the potential to throw my life out of balance. That summer in 1998 when I took about three weeks away to write the outline for the book, I had no idea of knowing how much I would need these principles over the next few years.

As I mentioned in the book, ministry took some hard turns as the Lord refined me through the fires of adversity. Many of the ideas and concepts I included in the initial outline were fleshed later out in real life circumstances. I did not have to rely on stories about the experiences of others in illustrating what I was learning during that time, whether for good or bad.

There is no way I could have known how pertinent these sections on challenges pastors face would be in my own life if had I completed the book before I had been through some of the struggles myself.. Like the Lord often does, He prepares us in advance for what is coming. By having this book in process, the lessons contained in it were valuable beyond words for me as I saw the benefit from them in a very personal way.

PM ~ Most "practical guides" are filled with lists and step-by-step instructions. Your book is laced with words like wisdom, discernment, cultivating, developing, fighting, seizing, running. Chapters include "Owning my mistakes" and "Coming out of the desert." You seem to approach life and ministry (and the challenges they bring) differently than others ...

DH ~ As you noted, I am not sure the term "practical guide" best conveys what I tried to communicate. Hopefully it is practical and does serve to guide our thinking, but I am more inclined to explore the Scriptures for biblical principles and wisdom than a summary of "how-to's" which might suggest that following Christ can be reduced to a series of lists. I hope that is not that different from how others approach life and ministry! I am convinced that walking with Christ cannot always be boiled down to practical terms. There is a need for reflection and contemplation, a time for being still in the presence of the Lord and allowing Him to speak. If those elements are missing, we become Christian technicians checking off our list of "must-do's" instead of relying on and seasoning of our lives with the Word of God so that the flavor of who we are arises from a relationship, not performance.

Now don't get me wrong, there is a very practical side to these things and I am glad when I find it. But like most everyone in ministry, I long to know Christ more and want to cultivate a desire to please Him in all things. That is what fuels my passion to keep my life in a balance of obedience to Him at every point.

PM ~ Why do you label the challenges pastors face as threats? Are you concerned for your pastoral colleagues?

DH ~ The underlying premise of the book is that life and ministry tend to be full of situations that throw us out of balance. I tried to identify those special challenges that tend to threaten our equilibrium, unseat us from the saddle or knock us from the high-wire—pick your own metaphor!

I am very concerned for my pastoral colleagues and for all who pursue ministry. From what I have seen and experienced, there are more models of unbalanced living than there are of stable, balanced ones. Somehow the idea that passion for ministry must lead us to be extra obedient in some areas to compensate for our negligence or disobedience in others has gained wide acceptance. Many pastors are trying to be God's best as a ministry leader but doing so at the expense of their biblical responsibilities in the home. Others are effective at doing ministry but failing to grow the intimacy of their relationship with Christ.

The danger or threat, as I understand it, is to reject the tension between the two and try to excel in one area and pray for grace to cover the others. God never calls us to be disobedient in one place in order to prosper in another. That notion threatens the balance of pastors, young and old.

PM ~ You do not isolate prayer as a topic but it seems to me each chapter is ripe with praying potential. Please give us a sentence or two on how a pastor might apply prayer to each of the seven challenges in your book.

DH ~

1. Juggling the demands of your calling: Knowing your calling is from the Lord requires wisdom we do not naturally possess. Therefore, James tells us that if we lack wisdom to ask for it. If you are struggling to refine your understanding of your calling, ask the Lord to help you discern between what He has placed before you and all the other ideas clamoring for your attention.

2. Sharpening the focus of your vision: Without vision the people perish, so it is important to make certain our vision is Christ-centered, biblical, large enough for God to get the glory, clear enough to be understood and compelling enough to engage the hearts of others who will follow your lead. Therefore, Jeremiah says that those who would speak a vision from the Lord must "stand in the council of the Lord" and listen for Him to speak. Pray, then, that each point of your vision matches His calling and character.

3. Gaining balance by building teams: As we stand before the Lord in prayer, we are made immediately aware of our dependence on Him. Apart from Him we can do nothing and prayer serves to reinforce that reality as our finitude comes up against His infinite nature. To move from that perspective to the idea that we are sufficient in ourselves violates the biblical design of being a part of the body of Christ. So we pray that God will place us in teams of Christ-like, gifted people who will join us in seeking His best.

4. Cultivating genuine humility: Knowing our own hearts to be susceptible to pride, we pray that God will use whatever means He chooses to remind us to humble ourselves so that He can exalt us Himself if ever He chooses to do so.

5. Learning to grow through your troubles: While we are not inclined to ask for trouble, neither should we shy away from it. Peter tells us not to be surprised when painful trials come our way but to see them as God's way of revealing His glory in us through them. Therefore, we pray that as troubles come we have the eyes of the Spirit to see them from His perspective and not be afraid or anxious. Instead, give thanks for them and in them because they represent another opportunity to trust the Lord and grow.

6. Facing the inevitability of change: Since change comes with the territory when we commit our lives to follow Christ, we pray that we will develop the ability to see change with an openness to go anywhere and do anything that Christ sets before us. We also pray that we will not be quick to race off after unhealthy change nor stubbornly resist healthy change and have the discernment to know the difference.

7. Combating spiritual dryness: Early detection is beneficial not only for certain types of cancer but in recognizing the symptoms of spiritual dryness. Our prayer should be that the Lord would give us sensitivity to His Spirit so that when dryness begins to set in, we will see it for what it is. Then we can pray that the Lord will show us how to overcome it, how to avoid the factors that have produced it and what He has already provided to refresh our hearts.

PM ~ Please comment on these statements in the book ...

DH ~

"Not all mistakes are sins" – Genuine guilt needs to be addressed with confession and repentance because the guilt arises from those times we have fallen short of the glory of God. Yet there are other mistakes that we make that arise from ignorance (we offend someone by calling them by the wrong name), miscalculation (we budgeted only half as much as we needed for the new copier), misguided enthusiasm (we got excited and failed to consider all the implications of a course of action—we committed to give every six grader a new Bible when there were ten sixth graders but the church now has over a hundred sixth graders and the cost is exorbitant!). So every mistake is not the result of sin, but could be attributed to any number of other factors.

"We have lost a real sense of God's presence in our lives" – The reality of God as the Lord who is a living, real Person gets lost sometimes when we treat Him as a remote Deity who is powerful and wise and ever-present but not near enough in our experience of Him to be personal and intimate. We believe that He is and intends to be, but in our haste or neglect we miss Him and fail to connect with Him in a meaningful way.

"Sound doctrine and orthodox biblical theology have satisfied the appetite of your mind but never penetrated the hunger in your heart to know, love and serve God" -- Being informed about God and having knowledge in our mind, even when it is true and accurate, is never intended to be substitute for loving Him and knowing Him personally. Like the previous statement about the loss of a real sense of His presence in our lives, our knowledge can become academic and impersonal, theoretical and technical. God calls us to know Him in such a way that the "surpassing value of knowing Christ" leads immediately to loving Him. Curiosity about God and a hunger to know and love Him are different longings. He wants us to understand and know Him, to love Him and seek Him, to draw near to Him and walk with Him. Only an intimate relationship with Christ will satisfy the deep hunger in our hearts for God.

"The indispensable quality of humility" – Humility is not optional for those who follow Christ, nor is it reserved for some upper level course in discipleship. To walk humbly before God is to know and experience the wonder of grace—unmerited favor poured out unconditionally from the heart of an awesome, holy God upon a fallen, unworthy creature, a sinful person. No one can stand in the presence of God and maintain a prideful spirit or pretend to be deserving of His good mercy. Therefore, humility represents the normal state of a transformed heart and is "indispensable" in anyone who desires to manifest evidence of the power of the gospel in their lives.

PM ~ How does a pastor begin moving toward a balanced perspective on spirituality and the challenges of ministry?

DH ~ Awareness of the dangers threatening his balance usually starts a pastor on the road toward recovery of this important aspect of his life and ministry. For those who do not realize how easily they can be neutralized for effective ministry by imbalance in their spiritual lives, no move toward balance even occurs to them. But for every pastor who has sensed that life is spinning out of control by forces over which he has no control, the starting point for gaining and maintaining balance is identifying the primary problem areas threatening his equilibrium. Once the problem areas are identified, solutions arise through prayer and careful study of the Scriptures, through reflection and wise counsel from veterans of the same conflicts. The key is never to accept imbalanced living as the status quo for people in ministry. God calls us to faithfulness in every area of our lives and has promised to provide everything necessary for that to happen.

PM ~ David, please write a prayer pastors reading this can pray that gets us moving toward balance and away from the threats of life and ministry.

DH ~

Great and glorious God of all wisdom,

Merciful Father and Gracious Savior,

Awaken my heart to the completeness

of your design for my life,

in your provisions for my success,

of your calling for my ministry.

There is no want for those who fear you,

no slighting of those who follow you, and

no indifference toward those who trust you.

Your ways are perfect in conception and in execution.

Therefore, when I am feeling overwhelmed

By the weight of my responsibilities,

By my personal insufficiencies,

By a nagging sense of failure,

I will remember that you called me and

that you sustain me;

that you have promised me and

that you have provided for me.

Then I will come to you and call on you

to restore me

to a life of balanced obedience

to the freedom of a confident calling,

to the joy of a Christ-centered priority in all things.

Thank you for the perfect sufficiency of Christ,

for the fullness of His grace,

for the privilege of being His bondservant.

May I never begrudge this honor of service,

Complain about the busy-ness of ministry, or

Act as if your glory depended upon my effectiveness.

Take my life and ministry and
hold me securely in your hand.

Set my feet on a rock that cannot be shaken,

Secure my stance with a balance that cannot be threatened.

I take my stand in Christ, dearest Lord,

And rest in the stability of His power. Amen.


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