Below is a great article on how to talk to someone who has experienced and is living with suicide With the death of Rick Warren’s son this will probably be a hot topic in many circles. This article does a great job give advice on how to talk, interact, and offer support to those who are dealing with the suicide of a loved one.
In one of my files I have a great sermon that a minister preached at the funeral of one of his church members who died of suicide. In it he says, “In that moment _________ lost sight of the promise that was made by God at his baptism, but today we can rest assured that God has never forgotten.” That has always stuck with me and if or when I am called upon to do a service like that, I will be quoting that exact phrase.
All pastors should be prepared and ready for when this happens in our congregations. Chances are it will if it hasn’t already.
Here is the final post, part five, of this series, Avoid Becoming the Pastor You Swore You’d Never Be. Here are the other four posts if you are interested, Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV. From the pages of The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors, p. 25.
You are a person. (‘Fashion your life in accordance with [the] precepts [of the gospel of Jesus Christ]….) Putting “The Reverand” in front of your name does not remove you from the list of human beings. You eat, sleep, think of (and maybe act on) sex, get tired, and get bored.
- Be phony. You are holy only because Christ makes you holy. He – not we- is, after all, the perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
- Be one-dimensional. There’s more to life than church stuff. For example, what was the last book you read that had nothing do do with church? (This book, obviously, is an exception. Not only should you read it eagerly but you should also give copies to your 100 closet friends.)
- Have a life. That’s what Christ wants to give you abundantly (John 10:10b) That’s what Christ has freed you for. Know your family. Stay healthy.
- Relax. Play. Life is short.
- Find a time management tool that works for you. It might be a book, a program, or a persistent friend who will nag you to the glory of God.
Here is part four of this five part series on how to avoid becoming the pastor you swore you’d never become. This week we look at being a prophet. From p.24 in The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors:
You are a prophet. (“Leading the people of God in obedience to mission in the world, to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people…”) The best biblical understanding of ‘prohet’ is “one who speaks for another.’ Your prophetic task is to move yourself, your flock, and society into alignment with God’s will and God’s coming reign.
- Assume that you are a prophet just because you have been run out of four churches. An effective prophet will choose her or his ‘fights.’ A common error for beginning pastors is to see all issues as being of equal importance. They are not. (See Romans 14:1)
- Worry too much about keeping people happy. The word ‘happy’ does not appear in the examination at ordination. ‘Faithful’ is a better standard.
- Identify those persons in your community who are not present when your congregation gathers. Ask: Why are they not here? Would Jesus welcome them? How do we show hospitality?
- Remember the Wesleyan tradition of social holiness. Help your flock attend to loving the neighbor who can be seen and then neighbor who cannot be seen. The ‘sacred worth’ of persons is not defined by sexual orientation, national boundaries, economic conditions, or gender.
“You are priest. (“Faithfully administering the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; by leading the people of God in worship and prayer…”) Ever since God set apart Aaron and his sons to be priests (Exodus 28:1), the people of God have understood that God calls some men and women to a representative ministry from the priesthood of all believers. It is like what happens at Christmas when the entire family receives a gift but asks one member of the family to open it. Sacraments are finally about the work of God.DON’T· Think you are especially pure and holy because you have sacramental authority. Robes and albs and stoles do not make you better than anyone else; they are sings of what God is trying to do through you. (LOVE THIS!!)
· Hesitate to offer prayers in homes, hospitals, highways, hedges, helicopters, headquarters (and even places that don’t begin with ‘h’). It is better to leave a situation mumbling to yourself, ‘I wish I had not prayed aloud’ than to leave saying, ‘I wish I had prayed aloud.’
DO· Find times when you can worship and receive the Eucharist under someone else’s priesthood.
· Make the sacraments life regularly (John Wesley said ‘constantly’) available to your people.”
You are pastor. (“Exercising pastoral supervision of the people committed to your care, ordering the life of the congregation, counseling the troubled in spirit…”)
The word ‘pastor’ can mean ‘shepherd,’ one who watches over the flock, the congregation. A shepherd learns to recognize cries for help (even when they sound like anger); a shepherd offers gentle redirection for a lamb going astray; a shepherd organizes life within the sheepfold.
- Underestimate the tools of your trade: The Word, prayer, and the sacraments. These are not second best. Few physicians, counselors, or gurus offer these life-giving things.
- Think of the pastor’s office as a chance for you to do your own thing. The ordered life of the church includes disciplined accountability. In the United Methodist Church, this includes the authroity of The Book of Discipline.
- Remember the difference between whom you serve and for whom you work. You serve a congregation, but you work for God.
- Keep in mind the basics. People need what pastors provide – a word from God, prayers, dependable sacramental promises, and a church relationship that is lived out ‘decently and in [good] order.’ (1 Corinthians 14:40).
There is a ‘cute’ little book out there called “The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors.” It has a bunch of short, direct, informative, funny, and yet serious vignettes into the everyday workings of being a UM Pastor. As I rearranged my book shelf I stumbled upon it, and like many of the books I tried to place in the correct shelf, I opened it up and started to read a little.
The first vignette I came to that caught my eye was one titled How to Avoid Becoming the Pastor You Swore You’d Never Be and Become the Pastor You Always Wanted To Be. That caught my attention and as I read I felt some conviction. I’m a decade in and I have wondered this exact question. There have been times in this past year that I doubted my call, my self-knowledge, and who God really wants out of me. As I read through the five main points I felt some relief and thought I would share with the blogosphere. So here is post one of five and I hope they help someone out there dealing with the same stuff I have been through this year.
“1. You are a preacher. (‘Preaching and teaching the Word of God…by leading persons to faith in Jesus Christ…). Speech is more than ‘mere words.’ Words have the power to bind and to free, to kill and to riase up. In fact, Paul matches ‘truthful speech’ with ‘the power of God.’ (2 Corinthians 6:7). dangerous stuff in the wrong hands: the word translated ‘power’ is dunamis. Recognize our work ‘dynamite’?
Don’t – Force your own predeterminations into what John Wesley called ‘plain truth for plain people.’
Don’t – Let your walk stray so far from your talk that neither walk nor talk is recognizable.
Do – Talk about Jesus. It is his story, not yours. He is the faithful one. Preach like John the Baptizer who said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ (John 3:30)
Do – Take the gospel to your listeners by saying ‘for you.’ Remember to include yourself among the sinners being addressed: ‘for us’.” (p.21-22)
My Thoughts: There has been a rare moment in these last ten years where I have had the pleasure of actually participating in worship and was able to be preached too. There has been the rare occasion when I have been repulsed by what was being sad from behind the pulpit. The repulsion was the ‘show’ going on from behind it. During that time the preacher talked more about “I” or “me” than anything else. I constantly remind myself that when I preach it is not about me. One of the questions I ask my wife all the time is “do you think this illustration is okay?” I have found using personal stories help connect the congregation and myself. It is a good way to let them know more about me and my life experience but I always make sure the illustration points to God and not myself. If it points to myself it is usually in a self-deprecating fashion.
I grew up a person who was scared to talk in front of people and hated to read in public. I ran hard from my calling to be behind the pulpit every week. Yet I have to remind myself it is also the place I feel most connected to God. I feel that way because I am not up there on my own volition. If I had my choice I would rather run the sound booth and be behind the scenes. But God has called me to stand behind the pulpit and I do as I am called. I love the quote from John Wesley, “plain truth for plain people.” That is my calling in a nutshell.
In the blur that has been the month of May it almost escaped my mind that on May 11th, 2002 I graduated from Duke Divinity School. Ten years ago. That seems so long ago yet also just like it happened yesterday. Ten years ago I turned 25 in this picture, two weeks later I got married and then a couple months later moved to Mossley, England for a year. Since then I have had two children, got ordained and I’m finishing up my second appointment in the Western North Carolina Conference.
Looking back I have learned more than I can write about ministry and life in general. Yet I also would love to reach into this photo and have my 35 year old self talk to my 25 year old self. As one who is about to start his journey in ministry I would give myself the following advice…
Be Yourself – you are a child of God who has been given gifts in ministry, leadership, and preaching. All you need to do is stop being someone you think you should be and start being who God created you to be.
Causalities WILL Happen – not everyone will like you but that does not mean you are bad person. You cannot please everyone and most of the time when people are upset it usually has to do with them not you. Concentrate on the people who build you up and love you, not the people who would love to see you fail. If something calls for you to say you are sorry, than apologize and ask for forgiveness. If you did the right thing and people are not happy, that is them not you.
Take Care of Yourself – find time to disconnect and revive yourself. Yes, you are good at taking time off, but you are bad at finding things that fill you back up. Find hobbies, habits and activities that are fulfilling, exciting, and make your soul fill up and overflow. This will make it easier to give of yourself in your ministry and not feel empty.
Yes You Are a Preacher – growing up reading out loud, talking in front of people and public speaking sent you into a cold sweat but it gets better. You still get nervous every Sunday but not as bad as it was in 9th grade English class when you were asked to read a major part in a play and you kept stumbling over words. It is hard work and it takes lots of practice but ten years later and after preaching over 350 sermons you are getting the hang of it. Keep it up. You start to realize that preaching is an art form and you enjoy the creativity side of trying to keep people engaged, focused and coming away learning and feeling something. Work on being as transparent as possible. Preaching is not about you but God working through you.
You Can’t Spell – yes you will enjoy writing but you still be the King of Typos. It is okay. You can surround yourself with people and technology that help you out with that. Don’t make your limitations or weaknesses be so scary that you don’t peruse writing as a spiritual discipline and way to connect your ideas with people.
Enjoy Life – you will meet some incredible people in these next ten years. Enjoy getting to know them and do not be afraid to make deep and meaningful connections. Those connections will serve you well in the future. Also every so often step back and look around at where you are and who is around you. You are blessed and give thanks and praise to God for that at all times.
Stop Worrying – One last thing 25 year old me, stop worrying about the future. Attempt to remember you are not in control, God is. Ten years from now you will celebrate your ten year anniversary with your wife who you love more deeply than you do now. You will have a son who is smart, funny, and so caring it brings you to tears just thinking about it. You will have a daughter who adores you and who’s laugh, eyes and smile makes your heart skip a beat. You will be use to moving because after this picture is taken you will have physically moved 7 times and be in the midst of your 8th. It is crazy, but it will all be okay. Not all of them are to new appointments, they are just all to different apartments/manses/parsonages. Remember you are called by God and learn to live as your favorite piece of scripture says, Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Oh yeah, those people around you in this picture. These are some wonderful friends, many of whom you still see or talk to on this thing called Facebook. And one last thing, yes you can wear contacts. Ditch those god-awful glasses already!
Lovett Weems has predicted that a death tsunami is coming, starting in 2018. Between the years 2010 and 2050 there will be an increase of 50% in the national death rate. Much of this is because of the aging out of the Baby Boomer generation. Weems predicts this will hit the UMC extremely hard.
This is a tweet I saw at the end of September;
@ScottMeier: “34,000 United Methodist Churches in the US and only 685 UM Pastors under 35. The #UMC needs to take this seriously.” He tweeted this while attending the Church of the Resurrection’s Leadership Institute. Then question arose, in the twitterverse whether 685 is out of elders, all clergy including local pastors, or just ordained ones (elders and deacons).
This got me thinking and asking the question, “how many clergy are really out there in the UMC.” Could I verify the 34,000 number of churches? Searching some stats online from the GCFA (General Council on Finance and Administration) it confirmed that there are 44,404 total clergy in the UMC as of May of 2011. Here is the breakdown:
Elders in Full Connection (EFC) = 31,406
Deacons in Full Connection(DFC) = 1,471
Probationary Deacons (PD) = 302
Probationary Elders (PE) = 1,850
Associate Members (AM) = 1,766
Full Time Local Pastors (FTLP) = 2,781
Part Time Local Pastors (PTLP) = 4,810
If there are really only 685 pastors under 35 (I cannot find where to verify that number and if anyone knows I would love to know, please share) here is the percentages against the different pastors within the UMC: only EFC = 2.18%; EFC + DFC = 2.08%; ALL = 1.54%.
By the time the death tsunami stops in 2050 the oldest young clergy today will be 74. This means these 2%ers will see dramatic, I mean DRAMATIC changes in the UMC in their careers. If 98% of the clergy are over 35, I bet even the majority of that number are over 50. (Once again this is my guess I cannot find an age breakdown of those 44,404 clergy anywhere) This means in the next 10-15 years there will be a retirement tsunami within the clergy. This has the potential of cutting the number of clergy in half by the year 2025. OMG!
Here are the questions that arise out this staggering percentages.
- If my thinking is correct and the number of clergy is cut in half in the next 10-15 years, it will leave around 23,000ish clergy to run the 33,814 congregations and 25,947 pastoral charges. Is this possible?
- Will there be enough clergy to sustain a dying church by 2050?
- Will all of these 685 (which, I am included in) hang around to pastor a dying denomination? (BTW: my answer is yes, I’m in for the long hall)
- Do conferences and districts have to switch their thinking about young clergy to produce the leaders our denomination will need? Example: The current system likes to place young clergy in smaller churches or charges to gain experience and then 20 years later they get placed in the size churches they grew up in (usually larger congregations). Will they be able to wait 20 years if the pool of clergy turns dramatically shallow? Or will younger clergy be forced, due to circumstances, to take a more active and demanding leadership role in the denomination/conference/districts? Are there ways our conferences/districts could prepare for that?
- Will the US churches be forced to move to a more “circuit” style (like the British Methodist Church) because there won’t be enough clergy to go around?
- Will pensions even exist by the time I retire when I am 68 in 2045? If there is such thing as retirement by then.
- Can we as a denomination survive?