Church Leadership

Pastors Most Powerful Answer

New pastors quickly learn that ministry life is full of big questions.

Questions that make you feel very small and insignificant. Questions that make God feel massively huge and almost out of reach. Questions that are so loaded and full of pain that they prime tears just to get the words out. Questions that have layers and layers of answers.

Questions in which the answers will define a persons walk with Jesus for years to come.

In those moments it is tempting to rattle off a pat answer. Or the denominations party line. Or what the board would rule as the right answer. Or something you read in a book. Or what you think the person wants to hear. Or a mechanical theological opinion.

My encouragement is that often times, the best first answer is simply… I don’t know.

Why did my dad die?

I don’t know.

Why did God chose me to get this disease?

I don’t know.

Was I born gay?

I don’t know.

Why did God allow my parents to divorce?

I don’t know.

Why can’t I have children and all my friends can?

I don’t know.

Why can’t the Cubs win the World Series or Brett Favre stay retired?

I don’t know.

Why did I lose my job?

I don’t know.

Why does God answer some people’s prayers but not mine?

I don’t know.

The list never ends. It gets longer and deeper every day.

Why say “I don’t know?

I’ve found that when someone comes to me with a big question like that they really do need to know the answer to that question. But my responsibility, and what is ultimately helpful for them, isn’t to give them “my answer.

I’ve found it most helpful in those situations to comfort, console, reaffirm, and point them to Jesus as the author, answer, and hope for those big questions.

With those questions I always point them to Scripture. I always make time to pray with them. I always follow-up later. I always affirm where the Bible is clear on a topic and where it isn’t. I always look in their eyes and say, “I do know this, that God always shows up. He always loves you. His ways aren’t always meant to be known by you.

But my first response is almost always, “I don’t know.”

The temptation

I bring this up because it is incredibly easy to pretend to have all the answers. As if, a seminary degree is permission to have all the answers. It makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel like you know what you are talking about. It feels good when people come to you with big questions.

But the role of a pastor is not to be the Bible Answer Man or to just to give the hard, cold facts. (There is a place for that, for sure. But an initial meeting isn’t it.) More often, our job to point people wandering the desert in their pain, sorrow, and longing to the Grace Giver. To the only answer to life’s hard questions. To remind them that no matter what, Jesus thought they were worth dying for.

Church Leadership youth ministry

Youth Ministry as Life Ministry

Photo by bipolarbear via Flickr (creative commons)

A few years ago I was talking to a senior pastor about youth ministry. In a moment of honesty he said something like this.

“I don’t get it. Tell me why you want to work with high school students your whole life. You’re qualified to be a senior pastor. You have all the qualities people look for in a senior pastor. And your teaching style moves high school students to a type of faith that most churches would love. Plus, you could be the boss and you’d make a lot more money. What don’t I see?”

The truth was that it took me by surprise because I’d never been asked that question. I’ve only been asked it’s annoying cousin, “When are you going to be a “real” pastor?

Here’s a summary of what I told him:

  • I love the process. In the 5-6 years that you have a student in your ministry you see them go from squirrelly middle schooler to mostly grown up.
  • I love that adolescents are moldable. The reason you can teach them radical truths and they will respond is pretty amazing. You just don’t see many adults looking for truth to move them.
  • I love the fun factor. When was the last time you’ve preached to adults and illustrated something by covering a kid in shaving cream or dunking for oreos in chocolate syrup. Like never. There’s a middle schooler in me that is highly amused by this kinesthetic goofy learning stuff. Adults just don’t go for it.
  • I love that it doesn’t end unless you want it to. Seriously, this is a beautiful time of year. I love the longitudinal factor of youth ministry. And I love the fact that you can chose to continue investing in some students while having a perfectly good excuse to move them out of your life. You can’t do that as a senior pastor, can you?

How would you have answered this question?