Why Pastors Must Accept and Live Within Their Limits


People have limits too; it's just that we don't often go through life with that in mind, Chisholm writes. (Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

We see them all the time. They are everywhere in town and easily visible when driving on streets and highways. I'm talking about speed limit signs.

These symbols that appear on the side of the road are often interpreted as "suggestions," as we don't often press to drive exactly the speed that appears in black and white.

People have limits too; it's just that we don't often go through life with that in mind. One of my favorite Clint Eastwood quotes from his "Dirty Harry" character is "A man's got to know his limitations."

Being a local church minister is tough. One of the more difficult aspects of this kind of work is realizing what your limitations are and then living within them.

It doesn't have to do with how much faith you have, but rather with awareness that human beings only have a certain stress level threshold before problems arise.

Each person responds differently to stress, and some of us are better at it than others.

However, pastors and others in vocational service can get so discouraged that depression can set in.

Even worse are the discoveries that seemingly healthy people have taken their own lives because of the pent-up frustration and despair.

Another challenge is that no matter what you do, there will be disappointment. You will disappoint some people because of what you do, others because of what you do not do, and still others who aim a continual beam of disappointment in your direction.

Many ministers have something within that wants to "fix" what is wrong. Of course, that doesn't always work, which can be terribly frustrating and painful to realize.

Peter Scazzero, founder and teaching pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City, wrote recently, "Limits are one of the most counterintuitive, difficult truths in Scripture to embrace. They fly in the face of our natural tendency to want to play god and run the world."

He continued, "Yet it remains a steady truth that we return to, over and over, in our role as leaders under Jesus. Yet God reveals himself to us, and to the world, through limits in unique and powerful ways - if we have eyes to see."

I follow trends in ministry and Christianity in general. There's already been a lot written about the latest Pew Forum research findings about the demise of the church.

I didn't find anything particularly new, other than a reminder that the church needs to do a better job at communicating the faith to the next generation.

As I was preparing a sermon for Pentecost Sunday from Acts 2, I've thought about the reaction of the crowd to the disciples upon the arrival of the Holy Spirit. "Aren't all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is that each of us hears them in our own native language?"

I am trying to get a better handle on the problem the church is having, namely that of speaking to our culture and this generation in a language that is understood.

Millennials (not to overuse that demographic) need to be addressed in a language with the gospel that is relevant and practical.

The institutional church has struggled with this reality, and I am slowly and reluctantly coming to the realization that the church is choosing to respond with this mantra: "We don't care." That's tough to say, and I hope I am wrong.

One of the other challenging aspects of ministry is taking time with people in their darkness and pain, and then having those people tell you that they are leaving because their needs aren't being filled.

There also are people who come into the fellowship for the same reason.

Darrell Guder, professor of missional and ecumenical theology emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary, put it this way, "For many people in North America, the church is a place for individuals to go passively to receive goods and services."

I translate that to mean that many of us are accustomed to "having our needs met" and if we don't, then we leave for another church.

There are so many good things to accentuate about life as a community of faith, but these issues bother me more than they probably should. Maybe that's a sign of caring about people and what's going on.

I am grateful for Scazzero's reminder that I can only control certain things and how people react isn't one of them.

There's always something for someone to be upset about. If ministers seek to control what can't be controlled, they will lose a grip on their own emotional health.

The Holy Spirit came upon those disciples with power and in such a way that their witness changed the world. My desire is that the same power will help ministers and congregations to live boldly today.

Congregations should gather each week asking God to forgive their failures and allow them to live with their shortcomings.

Pentecost Sunday offers an opportunity to do so, praying for the ability to trust in God with no limits while acknowledging our own weaknesses (limits) and trusting him with the rest.

Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ChisholmDanny.

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Tags: Danny Chisholm, Leadership, Limitations, Pentecost Sunday, Vocational Ministry


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