019 The Greatest Challenge in Pastoral Ministry- Tim Brown
Announcer: Poimen Ministries Podcast Network: Strength for Today's Pastor. Here's your host, Bill Holdridge. Bill is the director of Poimen Ministries which is a team of former long time senior pastors who are available to strengthen pastors to strengthen churches.
Bill: Welcome to today's episode of Strength through Today's Pastor. I am really excited about this conversation. I have Tim Brown with me. Tim is the Pastor of Calvary Chapel Fremont, California and he and I have been friends for a long time. Tim, welcome to the program. It's really great to have you.
Tim: Thank you, Bill. It's good to be with you.
Bill: Yeah, you've been in ministry for a long time, going all the way back to 1973.
Tim: In one capacity or another: a youth pastor, assistant pastor, senior pastor. Since 1973 I've given my life and myself to ministry.
Bill: Wonderful! Well that gives you lots of years going back to speak on today's subject. We're going to be talking about keeping the pastoral heart fresh. And Tim, you said something on your website I liked. This isn't totally related but a little bit. You said on your website, "We want you to figure out what Jesus wants you to do and then do that." You are speaking of course to people that are visiting your church or who are a part of your church. What a great statement: "We want you to figure out what Jesus wants you to do and then do that." How did you come up with that one?
Tim: Well, I have been frustrated since the 80's with the whole emphasis on “what’s your vision statement, what your mission statement?” And, Bill, for the life of me, I still don't know what the difference is between a vision statement and a mission statement. You know, all of these churches that are trying to come up with a vision statement that is unique to them and what not. And those things just frustrated me because when it all boiled down; they all said the same thing.
And I thought, "Well, what are we really about?" And I just thought about Ephesians 4 and the ministry equipping others for the ministry. You know what; I don't have a vision for your life apart from what Jesus has for you. I mean I could tell you God loves you and I have a wonderful plan for your life. But I believe that God loves and He has a wonderful plan for your life. And so we want you to discover what Jesus wants you to do and do it. We will help you in that. We will support you in that.
My vision isn't institutionally based. It's individually based. I don't want to have an institutional vision that I want you to serve. I want you to have the vision of Jesus. And again, this is off topic but just going to the Book of Acts now with the church. Phillip goes up to Samaria. I don't know if the church in Jerusalem had a vision for Samaria or for Ethiopia. Certainly they didn't have a vision for the Gentiles because when Peter came back to Jerusalem in Acts Chapter 11, there were those who took issue with him. They argued with him because he had gone to the Gentiles.
You know that's not part of our vision statement, that's not part of our mission. But it's a part of the mission of Jesus, obviously. And I think sometimes the vision and the mission statements of the church can be ministry limiting. We just want to release you. We believe you can hear from God and we want to release you to what the Holy Spirit wants you to do.
Bill: I share your frustration with the vision mission statement thing and it took a while but I finally landed on the Great Commission as being our vision-- it has to be. If it's not that then we're not having a biblical vision.
Tim: I have settled on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. To love, the goal of our instruction is love. The greatest is love and the still more excellent way is love. And so to love and to go. And so that kind of comprises my vision. However Jesus releases you to love and to go. We want to get behind that.
Bill: Yeah, that's great. That's freeing-- I think a lot of guys (and any of us can fall into this), are too consumed with trying to do whatever we can to build our church and making an institutional thing. That's a great way to put it. Thanks for that.
Well you had stated that you have challenges in ministry. Of course that's no surprise that you have challenges. There's no surprise that I have challenges and that any man who is called as a pastor has challenges in ministry. If we were to ask anyone listening to this episode today, what are your greatest challenges? There'll be a lot of varied responses but you said, "The greatest challenge that you face as a pastor and as a Christian isn't in keeping your heart pure but in ____" Go ahead and fill in the blank.
Tim: Oh in keeping my heart in my mind fresh; and though those can be related issues, they can obviously separate issues also. So again my greatest challenge is to keep my heart fresh. What I mean by that is freshness can be accented by its antonyms. One of the antonyms of fresh is to be tired, which means lacking energy. One of the antonyms is stale, which means you're no longer new, you're no longer exciting, you're no longer interesting, you are no longer able to perform well or creatively. And you're also no longer alert, you're inattentive.
And so in keeping my heart fresh means I want to keep my life and my heart energetic, creative, alert, and attentive to the moment. Because I think like, you know, it's easy to slip into the routine of life in the ministry. And boy, I can go into automatic pilot so easily. And when I do that I'm not alert, I'm not creative, I'm not energetic, I'm not as I should be in the home or in the church. And so the rhythms and the patterns of life, the rhythms and the pattern of ministry become predictable. So my challenge-- and I think everybody's challenge, it's in the ministry, is how do I keep fresh in the face of predictability?
Bill: Okay so before we go into that more deeply, Tim, what does it look like for you, or maybe you know about others, what does it look like to go on automatic pilot? I know it's a lack of freshness but how does that affect things like your one-on-one ministry? How does that affect things like your church programming, development? How does it affect things like your sermon prep and delivery? Maybe you could talk about that a little bit.
Tim: Yeah, well let me start in the counseling aspect of ministry. Boy, you know when it comes to moral counseling, career counseling, and individual difficulty that people have; it seems to me that though everybody's problem is unique, they fall into predictable patterns and rhythms. And so I can begin to hear a couple talk about a difficulty, a challenge that they're facing and I automatically pigeonhole it into a certain category.
And I no longer listen for the nuances because it seems to me like the rhythm of what they're saying and the pattern of what they are articulating to me is predictable. I've seen this before. I've heard this before. Then I am no longer alert to the nuances so that when I begin to address them I get to look like, "You haven't heard a word we've said, have you?" And I realize then, boy, I'm not fresh in the moment here. So I want to be fresh whether it's the one-on-one ministry or the counseling ministry. I want to be alert to their hearts.
They long to be pastored and to be loved. And when they perceive themselves as just another rhythm and a pattern in the pastor's life, it can be discouraging on their part. And so I don't want to treat them like a number. I want to treat them meaning just as something that's easily digestible. I want to be able to hear them and digest everything they're saying in a brand new way. So that's one way in terms of people interactions. And I think it's important for the pastor to keep sharp in his skill set when it comes to interactions with people. I'm 66 now and so after so many years in ministry, it's easy to recognize patterns and rhythms. In one way that's helpful, and another way can low me into an inattentiveness.
When it comes to sermon preparation, it's easy. And I think especially now with, you know quick copy and paste, to fill your sermons with information that really doesn't convey revelation. It's information about the text that doesn't convey the revelation of the heart of God. And whether it's click and paste or whether it's just reading books, it's easy for me-- and I'm going to speak personally here, to convey information without a real sense of the urgency of the voice of God speaking in the moment.
Bill: That really takes away from the anticipation and excitement about getting into the pulpit, doesn't it?
Tim: It does. It does and I want to be fresh in the pulpit. I think we've all heard men who may seem energetic in the pulpit yet their message is just their Wednesday night study they put in the microwave for that pastor's conference or for that message. And it doesn't bear the freshness of just right out of the oven of their heart before the Lord, and that's what I want every time I stand before the people God has given me to serve.
Bill: Well, you know, somebody's listening to this, a pastor, and he's thinking, "Oh boy! I think I'm pretty stale right now." And I know your heart, Tim. You are a lover of pastors, a lover of people, and you have helped so many guys, including me, over the years and times of difficulty. But what would you say to that guy who, right now at this point in the podcast, is starting to think, "Man, I'm discouraged. This is really discouraging so far."?
Tim: Forgive me; I don't want it to be that. But I think there are obviously solutions or approaches to keep the heart fresh. For me there's two main ways. Number One is communion with God. Daily communion with God which is-- I mean it's just the basics: worship. To me, I even stand with my arms raised to God. I thank Him for who He is. I praise Him even from the difficulties I'm going through and the way that He's shaping me and molding me through it and just getting hold of God in the present for me.
There's meditation, whether it be through the message I'm preparing for that, a Sunday or Wednesday or another study, or just text that happens to be something I'm having devotions in. Just a deep, deep slowing down and thinking on a word, on a concept, and just going slow. One of the words for meditation in the Hebrews is “to chew the cud.” We know the cow would eat the grass, consume the vegetation, and chew it. It would go into stomach number one, regurgitated. Chew it some more, going to stomach number two, regurgitated. Chew it some more, into stomach number three-- and this is the picture of meditation. Just so thoroughly chomping into something that you're going to draw everything you can out of it.
And then another discipline for me is just being silent before the Lord. I find I have so much input, whether it be through the computer, whether it be for social media, whether it be for books, relationships, TV. There is constant, constant input. I just need to be quiet and silent before the Lord. And I find that to be rejuvenating and that's one of the ways I keep myself fresh.
Bill: Do you, after you have your quiet time in the morning-- I assume that's when it is, do you, after that time, reflect at all on what happened in the last hour, hour and a half? Whatever the length of time it is?
Tim: Not necessarily, I reflect in that time but afterwards I'm off to whatever I'm off to.
Bill: Right, right, right. I get it. Yeah, one of the things that's helped me in my own refreshing time-- and this has been in the last probably six or seven years, especially is when I've been reading the Bible, I've been reading it out loud. That's really been helpful in a weird way and I don't know if this works for everybody but for me, what it does is it causes me to reflect more on what I'm reading. I'm hearing it audibly, I'm reading it with my eyes, and I am able to now speak to the Lord and pause with it anytime I want to, about a particular point that I'm reading a particular narrative or an epistle, whatever it might be. That's been very helpful for me too.
Tim: Well good, yeah. I think a guy just has to find what it is that is going to keep his heart fresh and encamp on that.
Bill: Yeah, yeah, that's great. We're all wired differently, that's for sure. But it's the same God. That's wonderful! So talk about the second way.
Tim: Well, the second way-- first of all, communion with God, and the second one has many components but it's being content in God. Meaning that God has given me a lane to run in and I need to come to a place within my own being where I can say with the psalmist, "The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places." And there are so many now-- situations and circumstances that would apply. For example, I've discovered that church health is more important than church size.
When I stand before God, God is not going to say, "I have this against B. Tim that you only have 200 people in your church and what's up with you?" He's not going mention the size to me at all. When I read the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, "These aren't about the size of the church. Jesus is concerned about the health of the church." And that's what God has made me responsible for. I'm responsible for the health of the church not the size of the church.
When I started going to Bible College in 1972, the church growth movement was just getting underway with Donald Mcgavran and Win Arn in the Fuller Institute and I still have a bunch of books on my shelves with those kinds of studies and emphasis in it. But I've come to the conclusion; I don't have a clue how to grow a church. I just don't know how to do that but I know how to keep a church healthy and to make a church healthy. And that's what I am responsible for. I can't do anything about the size but I can do something about the health.
"But its preoccupation with the size that robs my soul of freshness." And so I need to look at those that God has given me and say, "Blessed as well pleasing in your sight, O God, the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. Thank you so much, Lord, for these that you’ve given me to serve."
Tim: "And be thrilled with what God has given me and not be upset with what He hasn't." But that preoccupation with size, that'll rob my soul of freshness. That'll get me discouraged real quick.
Bill: I love that statement you made, "With what God has given me." And if God has cleansed that why do we call it common? You know?
Tim: Yeah that's right, that's right.
Bill: Good, good.
Tim: To His present people in the sight of God. You know Nehemiah has building the wall and the people's roundabout were ridiculing it and scorning him for the work. And I think it was Sam Vallejo, Tobias or both of them, that said to Nehemiah, "Hey, come down and meet us in this valley somewhere." And Nehemiah said, "I cannot come. I am doing a great work." And I would say to pastors, "Whether you have 10, 20, 2,000, 5,000, you are doing a great work." He and Sam doing the big work. He said I'm doing a great work. Then if you pour Jesus into someone else, that is a great work and you have to be commended for that. You are not to be distracted from that because that is what God has called you to do.
Bill: I remember that conversation, Tim. That was like 25 years ago. You and I are sitting in the basement of the church that we were renting and we were having a conversation, and you shared that with me.
Tim: Oh did I?
Bill: Oh yeah, because you were, I think, freshly in Fremont and from South Valley Chapel to—
Tim: No, no-- I wasn't fresh--
Bill: -- San Jose and then in-- oh, you weren't in Fremont?
Tim: No, we had just affiliated with Calvary Chapel back in 1985, that's when I began to get to know you.
Bill: Oh okay. Well I'm talking about like the mid early 90's. Anyway, I remember that conversation very well and that whole-- that idea, "I'm doing a great work", that really, really helped me. And as you were saying that, I felt or sensed the Lord saying to me, "Bill, you've been thinking of yourself as a single A pastor. You're not single A, you're not double A, you're not triple. You're major leagues.
Tim: Yeah, there we go.
Bill: Because you were seeking to fulfill the great commission. It doesn't make any difference how big the church is.
Tim: That's right, that's right.
Bill: Yeah, that's so awesome.
Tim: You're the majors, Bill. Praise the Lord. And that particular word from Nehemiah has fed my soul all these years also.
Bill: Yeah absolutely.
Tim: And I think there's another thing too that keeps me fresh. And it's the idea that character is more important than reputation. How others esteemed me, engage me and engagement-- and that's my reputation. But essence trumps image. I'm a little bit concerned when I see how image-conscious some of the churches are, with the whole concept of branding and what not. But essence trumps image. The preoccupation with reputation that robs my soul of freshness. And what I mean is, "I wonder what Bill thinks about me?"
"Why doesn't he invite me to come and speak at his conference?" And why this and why that, and why don't more guys seek me out kind of a thing. When I get preoccupied with reputation, boy, that's just the fast track to discouragement and that'll just bring my soul into lack of energy, lack of attentiveness, lack of creativity. And so when I stand before the Lord, the measurement is going to be character and not reputation. And so I wouldn't be that man right where I'm at.
Bill: Yeah, boy! What a great word. I think it was CS Lewis who said, you know a lot of people in the world was really only one person I can do anything about?
Tim: There you go, and that's me and sometimes I don't listen to me. There's a problem with that. Another area too where I need to remain content in God and where the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places is I'll put it like this. Is that the pastor needs to have the ability to feed himself. I'm blessed every week as God reveals himself to me in the study of the Word. I remember listening to John MacArthur quite a few years ago, and he said that someone had commented to him, "I bet the greatest thrill you have is to stand before God's people and to speak the Word." And John said, "Well that's a great privilege. That's a great honor. But the greatest thrill of my life is being in my office with the Word open and studying and God reveals Himself to me.
That to me is the freshest manna. I wish sometimes that whether it's Thursday morning or Tuesday afternoon I wish it could be Sunday morning right then. And I could pour out what God is pouring into me because it's just so fresh. And I know that when I give-- touched on it earlier, when I impart information without revelation, to me there's staleness in the Bible study. You know John Corers [???] and put it like this, "We should give the people what-- milk, meat, and manna." When there's not that manna, when there's not that, here is what God is saying to us in this passage today, when there's not that revelation of the heart of God."
That to me is a bible study that's lacking and when I engaged in that, my soul is not cut fresh. And so information without revelation-- information without receiving revelation, that drains my soul of freshness. And sometimes I put a study together and I'm just dissatisfied. I have all the information right, linguistically called to the historically theologically, I think, exegetically it's a jewel. But I am still looking for that revelation that should be encapsulated through all that. And I know that there can be some objections to that kind of mentality and approach but that is what I look for and long for.
Bill: We're looking for the boom in the text.
Tim: The boom-- you know, there you go. The boom. And I think another way for me to be content in God is to rejoice in another's blessing and success. You know, to be kingdom-minded and not just castle-minded. I've discovered that resentment of another brother's success, it robs my soul of freshness and I just need to-- if there's a brother that comes in down the road, whether he's a Calvary pastor or an extension or whoever it happens to be, and they just grow great guns just to say, "Thank you, Jesus that people are being impacted by You. The kingdom is expanding and it’s not about this castle that you’ve given under my charge. But it's about your kingdom." I want to be kingdom-minded and not just castle-minded.
Bill: I love that phrase, "To be kingdom-minded." That's just awesome. And you do that, I mean, that's who you are.
Tim: Thanks, Bill, and there's another area too where I am conscious-- that I am conscious of, that feeds into these dispersions of my soul and it has to do with me honoring the calling of God on my life. People ask me or they've asked me in the past, "How do I know that I'm called?" And my answer is, "You'll know." You'll know. I don't know how to quantify it. For me, calling-- it's an engine inside of me. It's like your heart is an involuntary muscle, your lungs are involuntary muscles. They just keep working whether you’re conscious of it or not.
For me, calling is an involuntary, spiritual muscle. It's an engine inside of me. There's a song by Casting Crowns and I forgot the name of the song but it talks about Ezekiel's dry bone. Here's the pastor who stands before his congregation driven by a calling on his life. I know we're supposed to be spirit-led and not driven but you get the point here. Driven, this calling drives me. I was talking to a guy about a year ago in the lobby or in the cafe of our church. He's an international tax attorney and he told me that there was a firm in Geneva that was putting together a package to hire him.
I said, "Are you going to move to Switzerland? He goes, "Yeah." And I asked him, I said, "How old are you?" And he said, "Fifty-six." You know it's obvious he isn't that old but I said, "This company would invest all that money and all those resources and you at this age?" He goes, "Listen, I am a valuable man. I am at the top of my game." He's an international tax attorney. He knows what will work in France that won't work in England that will work in Switzerland, that won't work in Luxembourg. He knows all the laws-- it's amazing what he's garnered these last three decades in this business.
He goes, "I'm at the top of my game. I'm a valuable man." And listening to that I said, "You know what? I am too." I thought, well here's the thing-- and this might sound arrogant and I certainly don't want it to sound like that. It is what it is. After 40 years of ministry, Bill, I think I've got a few things figured out. Ministry for me is so incredibly simple. I used to lay awake at night, wondering what to do, and how to do it, and should I do it this way? And, "Oh, did I do it the right way?" It just seems so complicated.
But now it's just so incredibly simple. I can have a couple sit in front of me with the worst horror story of marriage you've ever heard. I know exactly what to say to them. I just know what to say. I can have area pastors call me and say, "Hey, I've got this difficulty, that challenge. I just don't know what to do." And Bill, it's crystal clear to me what they should do. And it's just so simple now. I think that would be true of anybody in any profession. Whether you're a carpenter or an attorney or things, you know obviously you learn the ropes of the trade and you learn all of the different ins and the outs. But right now, Bill, I feel like "Why would I want to retire?" I feel like I'm at a place where I can really begin to be of some help to somebody. So...
Bill: Yeah, don't retire, Tim. Don't retire. That would be bad. Don't retire.
Tim: I'm just really enjoying the ministry right now and I know that you've been big before on succession plans and what not. And we have one here at the church. If I were to fall over and died today, the elders know what to do and the church would go on. But we don't have-- we have a succession strategy but we don't have a succession plan. Meaning my replacement isn't in the wings being groomed kind of a thing.
Tim: To me, now this may sound strange but I think my best years are ahead of me.
Bill: Well good. I'm glad because why not?
Tim: Yeah, why not?
Bill: Why not? Why not you? Why not me? Absolutely. Lots of gas slip in the tank.
Tim: Now a world champion boxer might want to retire before he is unseated. But when he's at the top-- yeah, but I don't want to, in one way I feel like I'm at the top, meaning at the top of me. The top of my-- for lack of a better word, performance and skill set and abilities, etc. And so I'm just really enjoying the ministry right now.
Bill: Well that whole thing about going back to calling. I mean you know when God called you and you know you started the ministry back in 1973. You've been doing all these years and you know what God called you to do, and called you to be, and you know who you are. And you're just rejoicing in how God has wired you and what He's taught you in the midst of that calling and it's all coming together. The house coming together for years now but I mean you're really seeing it. That's not arrogance. I don't see that as arrogance at all.
Tim: Well I thought before, you know because you and I have been friends for so long. Oh, wouldn't it be great to maybe retire from here and be a Poimen guy. But then I thought about it for 30 seconds and go, "Yeah... nah." You know? It's just a-- not that what you do isn't important. Obviously it's of great importance. But it just doesn't ring my bell and what I hear in that is Jesus saying, "No." What I want for Bill, if I want him to remain until I-- coming in. What's that to you? You follow me. And you have to follow your path. I mean, again, I have to be content with the lane that He has called me.
Bill: Yeah, yeah, that's good. Well we've had a great conversation, Tim. I want to thank you for joining this conversation-- actually leading the conversation. It's been great and for those of you that just started listening towards the tail end of this, we've been talking about the greatest challenge that Tim has faced as a pastor isn't in keeping his heart pure but in keeping his heart fresh and he went into two basic areas of how that works for him. Communion with God-- number one, worship, meditation, being silent before the Lord. Secondly, coming into a position of or a place of satisfaction with the path that God has given him.
He has got a lane the Lord has called the Lord him to run in and the things that are under that and so often very helpful. And I'm just praying and hoping that this will be very encouraging, Tim, for all of those that are going to be listening to this and I think it will be.
Tim: Well amen. Praise the Lord.
Bill: Yeah, so thanks for joining us again today on Strength for Today's Pastor and we look forward to the next time and we'll be hearing from Pastor Tim next week as well on the subject of "Pastors Pasturing Pastors". And what that might look like, it's going to be really interesting. So God bless you, have a wonderful week in Jesus and the words strengthen you in your calling and in that what she has made you to be and what He has called you to do, and may He give you freshness in every area of life and ministry in Jesus name.
Announcer: Strength for Today's Pastor is sponsored by Poimen Ministries. You can find us at Poimen Ministries.com-- that's spelled poimenministries.com. If something in today's program prompts a question or desire to connect with us, or if you have a comment or a topic idea for a future episode just shoot us an email at email@example.com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until we meet again. May you continue to be a strengthened pastor.