THRIVING IN MINISTRY
Dwell on These Things | John Stange
This content is written for Talanton Church Services. Church Planting Planning | John Stange
Every week on the Thriving in Ministry Podcast, we interview pastors on what it looks like to create margin in ministry. I am Kyle Willis, Founder of Talanton Church Services, and as always, I am joined by Dr. Dace Clifton of DailyPastor.com. Talanton Church Services exists to help church leaders create margin in ministry by providing church staffing solutions.
Because the things you're preaching to your own heart are going to come out in what you say from the pulpit, it's going to sneak out one way or another, it's going to come out in the conversations you have one on one with the people in your church. It's also going to come out in the way you lead your team. You're going to leave them the way you understand that you're being led. So if I understand the mercy and the grace and the victory that Christ has shared with me. I'm going to lead my team with that kind of mindset and it's going to create a culture of that in the local church.
Kyle Willis: John Stange is the lead pastor for Core Creek Community Church in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, as well as the adjunct professor at Cairn University, where he teaches courses on Counseling, Theology and Church Planting. Stange he is a certified speaker, trainer and coach with the John Maxwell Team in is also the director of the National Mission Board, a ministry focused on church planting and church health. He has three podcasts, he's the author of the new book, Dwell on These Things, which released yesterday. Pastor John Stange, welcome to the Thriving In Ministry podcast!
John: Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
Kyle: We are excited that you are with us today and we're going to talk about your new book, but as we interview pastors every week we're excited to talk to yet another one - we have not had a pastor from Pennsylvania on. So, you're the first.
John: All right, representing the state of Pennsylvania, no pressure.
Dace Clifton: I've only been to Pennsylvania a few times, but what I recall, it's beautiful. And that's kind of one thing that I think maybe we southerners, or at least me from the deep south, don't realize how beautiful parts of Pennsylvania are. So you're proud of your home state there, John; tell me a little bit about it.
John: Yeah, absolutely. I've lived in three primary sections of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is kind of big, and it probably surprises people when they're driving across it wide ways how long it takes to actually get through the state. I've lived in the northwest part of Pennsylvania, I've lived in the northeast and now we live in the southeast, and the weather in the southeast is the best part of the state. If you're going to live in Pennsylvania you live in the southeast (and this is my opinion by the way; people from other parts are going to be like he's lying, it's not true) but I've lived in three of the four different corners, and the southeast gets a little bit of that southern weather pattern, we get like Virginia weather and it’s almost always the warmest part of the state of Pennsylvania, which I like.
Dace: I like the sound of that because as a non-Pennsylvania person, I would say you’ve got Arctic and sub-Arctic but no, you're saying it actually gets warm there, to some degree.
John: Oh yeah, we went the past couple years without any snow. This year was the first year in the past few years we had snow.
Kyle: Let me ask you this. How close are you to Scranton, Pennsylvania because I'm a big fan of Dunder Mifflin in The Office.
John: You're going to love this. I am presently two and a half hours south of Scranton. However, the majority of my family lives directly in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and when my ancestors came over on the boat, they settled in Scranton. I grew up working in Scranton, at my father's grocery store – Stange’s Market on Cedar Avenue in Scranton, Pennsylvania. You know that sign at the start of each episode of The Office where it says “Welcome to Scranton”? I used to drive past that sign every day. They finally took it off the highway because too many people were putting themselves in dangerous spots to take pictures with it, and they put it in the mall. It's actually in the mall now in downtown Scranton so you can get your picture with it without getting hit by a car, which was very nice of local government to do that.
Dace: That's one decision government got right. That's awesome. Yeah, good for them.
Kyle: At Stange’s Groceries, did you sell beets by chance?
John: But, from, from Schrute Farms? We sold beets, but I don't believe we had any from Schrute Farms. But there were plenty of customers that came in that looked exactly like most Mose.
Dace: When Kyle and I get together, the way that conversation usually happens, or in person like “Hey, have you seen this obscure part of The Office?” “No, I haven't seen it.” “Ok, hang on. We've got to watch it right now.” I think that's happened a time or two before. I know it's happened once at least.
Kyle: Well, John, it's great to have you on the show and I'm excited to get right into it. You've got a lot of things that are going on and some great things that are releasing and have released and so we're going to get to your book and I’m really excited to talk about that but let me ask you this question. Pastors are great storytellers and I know your new book contains a lot of your personal stories to illustrate the content there and the truths that you're communicating and so, could you take some time just to share one of your, your favorite stories.
John: So, a few of them are in there but this is one that my kids enjoy when I share, especially because my two oldest are in college now and they actually go to the same college that my wife and I went to. But I remember our annual homecoming every year at the University. One of my friends had been trying to win things at one particular booth and he won a bunch of goldfish like you can typically win in a carnival booth, and he had no place to keep them in the dorm so they almost instantly died. He took all those fish, and he decided it'd be funny to stuffed them in my on-campus mailbox for me to discover the next day. So I opened my mailbox and it's filled with dead fish. And I remember thinking, “This is disgusting. My mail is going to smell like this for weeks. How am I supposed to even clean this out?” I was so irritated. But later that day I was driving my car and I actually hit a squirrel. And it was very much accidental. It didn't occur to me at first but then after I pulled away, I was like “Wait a second.” I went back, I got the squirrel, and stuffed in his mailbox. It became such an issue on campus that the university president closed student access to the mailboxes until somebody came and confessed who did it. So I had to go and I had to come before the President and confess it, and he said listen, “My big problem here is that that's a federal offense. You're not allowed to mess with mailboxes. So here's the deal, next time you want to prank your friend with a dead squirrel, stuff it in his pillow or send it to him in the mail where you pay postage.” Then he said, “All right. Have a good day.” And that was it. No repercussions, nothing else and the rest of the time I was a student there every time I saw him in the hallway, he'd look at me and he'd say, “Hi, John”, and I can always tell he was thinking about that moment, but he knew my name, and it cracked me up. And so yeah that's how I developed a friendship with the university president. But he was very gracious to me, very merciful.
Kyle: He pulled out that federal line on you?
John: He did!
Dace: A friend of mine was a US Postal Inspector so they investigate mail crimes and all of that type of thing. And so, I'll have to ask him about that. It's interesting - I won't ask you what year that is but I just almost wonder - the statement that would be said “this squirrel died of natural causes”. We didn't kill the squirrel and put it in there; it was a tragic unfortunate accident…
John: I think the statute of limitations has expired. You know, I'm free to confess it audibly and in the book.
Dace: That's a good point to make right there. Maybe there's several podcast episodes that need to be had on the things that have already had the statute of limitations passed.
Kyle: Yes, since we're talking about statute of limitations and hitting things with your car….I did hit a skunk while I was in college, and we put it right outside the girl's apartments in the bushes. (Shout out, Matt Burton! Thanks for doing that.)
We’ve got Pastor John Stange on today and we could talk funny stories about beets and skunks and squirrels and goldfish all day long, but pastors and church leaders, we want you to hear from him. He is the author of the new book that releases this week, Dwell on These Things and so we're just so excited to talk to John Stange today, and let you hear from him on how to create margin, so how are we prioritizing first things first, how should pastors stay healthy and avoid burnout and how can they lead effectively in their ministry. But before we get into that Pastor John, I want to ask you….do you have a life verse, or a part of Scripture that you've been thinking through recently?
John: Lately my mind has been very focused on Philippians 4:8 and that's even where the title for Dwell on These Things comes from, so I'll share Philippians 4:8 with us. It says, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy, dwell on these things.” That's a verse that means a lot to me. It's something that, I think, encourages me to keep my mind in a healthy Christ-centered space, so that I'm not focusing on things that are hurtful or unhelpful or unholy, but rather thinking on things from the perspective that Christ ultimately inspires and, again, that particular versus the inspiration behind the entire book.
Kyle: Before we get into those four questions, we do want to take a quick minute and talk to John Stange about his new book and so congratulations on your new book, it released yesterday, May 25, Dwell on These Things. Congratulations, John, can you tell us what it's about and what motivated you to write on this topic?
John: Thanks, I'm really excited that it's finally out because this is a book that has taken a little while to actually see sunlight here, but Dwell on These Things is the type of book that I hope somebody will read and not just learn something, but actually do something. So it's written to be a 31-day challenge to start talking to yourself differently and, specifically, that you would talk to yourself like God talks to you. One of the things that I've noticed over the years of being a pastor - I've been in full time pastoral ministry for 23 years and for a couple of years prior to that I was in part-time pastoral ministry. In my role, I get to preach and teach and talk to lots of people but I don't get to talk to them as much as they get to talk to themselves. And I'll tell you when I'm putting together a sermon or when I'm teaching a lesson or a Bible study, I'm always trying to point people to the Gospel. I'm always trying to point people to Christ, to help people as best as I can to realize that Christ is the solution, but I get these brief snippets throughout the course of a week where I get to share that, and each of the people that I have the privilege to minister to…I'm only speaking for a minute and they're speaking to themselves the rest of the time and what I've discovered even just in the years of counseling people as a pastor, people are telling themselves some very terrible things that don't line up with the gospel, that don't line up with the overall teaching of Scripture, and they preach these things to their hearts, like, those things are true and it demoralizes them and it discourages them, and it actually becomes a tool that I think Satan uses as a form of accusation to get into believers’ minds and pastors’ minds and other leaders’ minds, and it ends up discouraging them from the work that Christ is invited them to do and called them and equipped them to do. And so instead of dwelling on healthy things, they're dwelling on unhealthy things and failing to preach the gospel to their hearts and so it's a book that's trying to change that mental conversation, and point it Christward, yet again.
Dace: John, that's awesome. As I was looking at the content of your book, in preparation for our time together, there's a thought that kept coming up in my mind and it's from one of my mentors and coaches and he probably ripped it off somebody else - or you may have come up with this originally - but he says “Feelings cannot be the determining factor, only truth. Until feelings are confronted with truth, feelings will continue to dominate and chaos will reign.” The context of that he says, we've got to confront lies with truth, biblical truth, so that chaos can stop. So is that kind of in line basically with your direction of really what you're calling us to do?
John: Yeah, absolutely. Confront the lies with the truth, point our hearts right back to the gospel and understand that we need to marinate on that truth. We need to preach that truth to ourselves. The book was initially called Talk to Yourself, and we decided to refocus it and rename it Dwell on These Things and actually take the direct instruction from Scripture and use that as the title since we talked about it so much. In the book, it's exactly what you just said the idea of taking the truth and using it to confront the lies that we're often so tempted to believe.
Dace: One follow up to that, it's interesting and we've covered a little bit of this on other episodes but just the fact that pastors are not exempt from this. We just have other lies that are maybe weirder than even our people, you know….. Kyle, would you agree?
Kyle: Outside of ministry, we would look up to our pastor and say, “They don't deal with this. They're closer to the Lord or they've got a tighter connection.” And I think the difference for pastors is, you're like, ”Hey, I'm supposed to be this example and maybe you feel like a fraud if you had these negative thoughts and we've spent a lot of time, and we'll get to it maybe in some sense later on in this episode, but you know sometimes there's even just biological things that go on. And so I think the initial frame or the initial thought that many pastors have if they have negative thoughts…rather than dwelling on the good things and redirecting us to the gospel, sometimes it can be like, just discouragement. It can be a heavy thing and I love the direction of the book which is to dwell on these things and those things being the gospel and who Christ, who God, says you are and what you've been purposed to do.
Dace: Let me throw this out and just kind of get some confirmation or direction from John. So, going from that point, John, would you say probably that most, or a lot, of the lies that pastors believe would be in finding our identity in some measure of our platform? Our platform, our church, our ministry, our following, our downloads, whatever the case…would you agree with that or disagree?
John: I would definitely agree, and there's a lot of pressure on pastors to find a sense of identity or a sense of worth or validation through those things. Because the world measures things in numbers, and so that creeps into the church in a variety of ways and pastors, even when they gather together sometimes can fall into that trap of measuring one another by their numbers. “How's the church and what we often mean by that is, how well is your Sunday attendance going and is it picking up again? What does it look like? What are the finances looking like? How many campuses do you have? How many services you got going?” It's always a number; it always has to be a number.
Dace: To that we say, “Don't do it! You can't go down that road. It will lead to a dry well.”
John: There's always somebody that's got one more of this or one more that, whatever metric you're trying to use. I mean, why torture yourself? Just be faithful in the field that the Lord's entrusted to you. You're a temporary steward of it for a brief period of time, and then he's going to entrust it to somebody else. Don't sit there and make your brief sojourn in that ministry in that field miserable because the whole time you're just comparing the field the Lord's entrusted to you to somebody else's field. It's just not a wise approach to ministry.
Kyle: Yeah I think that's exactly right, John, and I have a callback to an episode from a few weeks ago with Chad Missildine. He talked about sometimes pastors experience maybe a lack of joy, or a leaving of joy in ministry, because they're looking at some of those metrics and we would call it fruit but in fact it's just a comparison game. And so Dace, let me kick it over to you. We ask pastors the same four questions every week, so why don't you start us off with number one?
Dace: All right, John, the first question of the day is, what do you do to create margin in both your personal life and your professional life?
John: So I used to stink at this, and I'm just going to be honest with you, and just say that this has been a learned trait, but it's not something that over the course of the 23 years that I've been doing this full time, I started off understanding. Because I didn't feel like I could give myself permission to create a whole lot of margin, especially when I was new, because I was so young in ministry. I was trying to impress those that were older than me and I thought that I had to impress everybody by working and working and working more. And the truth is, that's very counterproductive. So one of the things I learned, basically the hard way, was that if you don't put something on your schedule, it's not going to happen. So your good intentions don't result in vacations, your good intentions don't result in days off. And I remember at one point, talking to my wife, and telling her that we were going to take a vacation. And she didn't believe me. I didn't know she didn't believe me. I just assumed she believed everything I said. But she told me later she didn't believe me. Because that hadn't been our pattern, and then when I told her that I had paid for the hotel and all that, she said, “Wow, you actually paid money for the hotel, you reserved the hotel?” and I said, “Oh yeah, I want to make sure it's good to go once we drive down to Florida.” She's like, “Oh, so this is real then?” I said, “Well, yeah, of course it's real.” She said, “Well, I'm just gonna tell you until you paid money for something, I wasn't convinced that it was real.” Because we weren't taking vacations at that point. We had four little kids at that point, which obviously made things a little bit more complicated too. But we didn't have a good system for it.
And so what I learned soon after that was - I actually remember even saying to her on that vacation once I felt so rested and clear-headed and felt like I’d just pressed pause on all the things that were stressing me out, I literally said to her, “So this is why people take vacations?” And she said “Yeah. It seems to work out okay.” So we made it a pattern. But soon after that, I decided I need to switch a variety of things up because I was doing too much and trying to take too much on and not taking time off.
So I scheduled a variety of things. The first thing I scheduled was Monday night was family night. No interruptions. But you know unless there's an emergency - there's always a potential for an emergency and everyone understands that, but emergencies happen what, like once or twice a year? We're not talking every week. So Monday night, we're going out to eat, we're doing something fun. And that's what we would do every Monday night. Friday night is date night. And we guard that. You know that's a time for my wife and I. We used to do it Wednesday night; we switched it to Friday night. We go out to eat, we'll take a walk together, get some ice cream. It's rather nice. I take Monday off, just so I have a guaranteed day off, and I tried to take Saturday off too, although Saturday is kind of iffy. So sometimes Saturday ends up being like a half day off or maybe not a day off at all, but I feel like if I have kind of a buffer day in there if I don't get the Monday, maybe I get the Saturday, or some weeks I actually get both. It's just amazing how it works that way. And then once a quarter, I take some kind of vacation with the family and it doesn't have to be complicated. In fact, most of our vacations are not complicated and not expensive. Usually what ends up happening is we rent a cabin someplace different based on the season and we drive there and we hang out, we walk through the woods and my sons go fishing and we just we relax, and we don't schedule a whole bunch, but for us the big part has been putting it on the schedule, and then committing to it and not breaking it and then we have the accountability in our in our household, where if anyone dares try to break it, we all get on that person's case. it's like, “what do you mean you're not coming on vacation?” You know I have older kids now and it's like, “No, you're coming on vacation.” “What do you mean we're not going out Friday night?” I wouldn't even dare suggest that, by the way, that's just a hypothetical statement. My wife would execute me on the spot if I broke that commitment, and I wouldn't dare. She's very nice person, but you don't mess with date night. So that's how we do it; we've got to make sure that we've got it on the schedule, and that we hold each other accountable to actually follow through with it. And once we did that, margin appeared, and made a huge difference on the quality of our relationships in our home, and also on my motivation and energy level in ministry. Big difference.
Kyle: I absolutely love what you're sharing there has we’re talking to John Stange, the new author of Dwell on These Things. But, Pastor John, what you're saying there has been echoed really time and time again during this podcast. I can think, Dace, as we talked to Mike McDaniel, you know he was talking about these chunks of time that he protects. Some of these guys have really just said, “Hey, my schedule is really what drives me and I know there's going to be emergencies, I know there's going to be this, but Dace, you're a big fan of the schedule. And so I think that is a huge way to create margin. If you're listening to this and you're saying, I'm feeling overwhelmed. By putting it on paper or in Evernote or in Google Calendar, that's really going to help to protect and, frankly, may be the first step for you just to realize how much time you're actually spending on something. So someone may say, Hey, I've got an hour to do this and they look up and it actually took them three hours. If you're not scheduling your time, that will absolutely happen.
Dace: To John's guidance there, I think that's some sage counsel. And all I can say is, this is the way, this is how you do this. I don't know of any younger pastor (no offense to our younger pastors, and you could be 50 years old and be a younger pastor because you’re just getting started), I don't know of any newer pastors that I've ever met that have walked in this. This is something you've got to learn, this is something you've got to iron out in your own life. Now you can get a handle on this a lot earlier and avoid a lot of the pitfalls, the burnout and the challenges, if you'll take this wise advice. So John, thank you.
Kyle: Thanks for sharing your experience there and so I'm going to tap into your 20 plus years of experience in ministry and ask you our second question which is, how do you stay healthy and avoid burnout?
John: So, it, some of it comes back to what I just shared. As far as the schedule, that's a big part of it because it allows me to have, you know, as you use the word margin, allows me to have some flex time where I can do a variety of things and so something that really helps me is having diverse interests, and friendships that are outside of realms where I'm responsible to lead. So making sure I have friends that I don't also have to lead or oversee, but then also having hobbies. So, one of my big hobbies is obviously writing books but I also like podcasting. We wouldn't be having this conversation now and establishing a friendship if I didn't take the time to invest some of my time in some of those things and it allows me to just become introduced to a variety of interesting people and develop new friendships and all of that. Even later today, I'm going to be getting together with a variety of people that do podcasting and authorship and I'm not in charge of any of them. I'm not responsible for any of them. We're just getting together as friends, we're going to enjoy a meal together, we're going to share ideas together and having a life outside of my labor. Having a life outside of my work is something that absolutely has been helpful to me, and I'll tell you, there's pressure on pastors not to have that. Some people think that the only thing you should do is focus on your ministry vocation, and obviously your ministry vocation matters and it's extremely important, but I've even had people criticize me for the time that I spend with my family because they felt like it was taking away from when they wanted me to be available. I remember years ago somebody scheduled something for Monday which, first of all, I take Monday off. Everybody knows that. It's very easy day for me to take off with our church schedule because there's really nothing going on that day, everything just wound up on Sunday and people all seem to want a break. And so I take Mondays off and I'd carve out time for family time. Well, somebody got the idea to start scheduling something for Monday and I said, That's fine, you can schedule it for Monday, as long as you want to be there but I'm not going to be there for it. My commitment is to my wife and my kids. I'm going to have to answer to them long after you get mad and leave some day (which eventually this person did anyway). Could you imagine if I sacrificed that rest time and then also that fun time with my family, for someone that just basically was looking to criticize and create conflict? I think it's just not worth it and so you’ve got to draw the line. You’ve got to have a life outside of what you do as far as your ministry and as far as your vocation is concerned and I think that there's good balance there. We both end up thriving, as a result.
Dace: Well, John, that's great advice as well. And would you agree that there seems to be a tendency with some pastors (and I would put myself at one point in this category) when you are driven, when you're “building a ministry”, planting a church, there is the tendency to let go of those things? You don't do it intentionally, but that's a pretty common scenario, would you say?
John: Oh absolutely, especially in the early phases of doing it. Even before we started recording here, we were talking about the fact that it's been 13 years since our family moved here to Langhorne to plant Core Creek Community Church. And in the early season of us moving here, there were a lot of things going on, things that needed to be done, and I didn't create as much margin during that season because I felt motivated to do those other things, but I also realized that wasn't a forever pace. That was a pace that is okay for a season. We agree as a family, we're going to push hard for a season here and then we'll cool our jets for a little bit here and give things time to grow and develop. But, yeah, there was definitely a season there. I think the problem is we don't treat those things like seasons, and when we treat them like basically just the pattern for our life and the pattern for our ministry, I think the end result is marriages get strained, in relationships with children that the kids feel neglected, and ultimately, we lose the opportunity to even do ministry. Eventually if we're not taking care of our home, that's going to show up in a variety of ways and before you know it, we'll be stepping down to do that in crisis, or maybe even being asked to step down to handle our household that we should have been handling all along the way.
Dace: Yeah, absolutely.
Kyle: In your book you talk a lot about a negative mindset and so I don't know if now's a good time to talk about it, or at the third question, but really the third question we always ask is, “How are you leading yourself, your team, and your church more effectively?” Can you talk about the impact of a negative mindset that you see so often in believers?
John: Yeah. So like I mentioned a little bit earlier, I firmly believe that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves continually. That needs to be something that is on our minds and on our hearts as we walk with the Lord in every context, because ultimately will we'll be able to respond to things in a healthier way if our minds and our hearts don't drift from the truth of the gospel. You can break the gospel down into the three essential characteristics or events. You have the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life for us that we couldn't live. Jesus died to pay for our sin, because we couldn't pay that debt. Jesus rose from the grave to defeat sin, Satan, and death. And so many of the false and unhealthy things in our lives come to our minds or develop in our minds because we fail to understand one of those three aspects and apply it to our lives. So many times, I'll meet pastors that really struggle with receiving criticism because they think that they need to be perfect and they don't like having their imperfections pointed out. And they're forgetting that Christ lived the perfect life for them, because they don't have the capacity to be perfect. And when you can accept the fact that you don't have to have the capacity to be perfect but that Christ is perfect for you, you hear criticism different. Because it's not an unhealthy expectation you're putting on your mind or on your life to have to be perfect, because Christ has already accomplished that for you. I think that's not my job; he ultimately is the one who does that for me. I trust in Him. He is the one who's perfect. When we think about pastors overworking, what are they doing is they're basically trying to sacrifice themselves for the cause or for the local church. They're basically, in a sense, killing themselves, to try and please other people. Well, Christ died for our sins. Christ is the one who gave himself vicariously for us. We don't have to repeat that, in the sense of trying to do his job for him. We can recognize that he has already done that, that the work that needed to be done on our behalf, was done by Christ and we can rejoice and celebrate in his work. And even the same when it comes to the fact that he rose from death. So many times we, we look at ourselves and we think, I just feel so defeated. I feel so discouraged. Things didn't work out the way that I wanted it to and again, in that moment we’ve got to preach the fact to our hearts that Christ shares his victory with us. We're told in Scripture that he's the first fruits of the resurrected and we're going to enjoy a resurrection like his. So the victory that He secured is a victory that He also shares, so we get to share in that victory. So why should I be walking around like someone who's constantly discouraged and defeated when the greatest victory that's ever been secured has been shared with me? And I didn't have to earn it, and I didn't have to be perfect to get it. Jesus did it all for me. And he just asks me to trust him. So I think that's a message I need to be preaching to my heart regularly, and I think that we as pastors would preach better messages if this was something that our minds were were dwelling on all throughout the course of a week. I think that we would lead our families, lead our teams with greater strength, and with greater clarity, if this was a message we're preaching to our hearts. Because the things you're preaching to your own heart are going to come out in what you say from the pulpit. It's going to sneak out in one way or another. It's going to come out in the conversations you have one on one with the people in your church. It's also going to come out in the way you lead your team. You're going to lead them the way you understand that you're being led. So if I understand the mercy and the grace and the victory that Christ has shared with me, I'm going to lead my team with that kind of mindset, and it's going to create a culture of that in the local church through you and through your team that's going to permeate all aspects of the ministry. What a great thing it is when Christ is the focus of everything that we're doing, even in the ways that we speak one to another.
Dace: Wow, that's some powerful counsel there, John, and thank you so much for that. I know in one of my darkest and loneliest times of pastoral ministry a few years ago, what you're saying reminded me of a statement that a friend had me memorize. And that statement begins with “because of Christ's redemption, I'm a new creation of great worth” and then it goes on to say, “I'm deeply loved, completely forgiven, totally accepted by God, fully pleasing to the Father and absolutely complete in Christ.” And I don't know where he got that, other than the Bible….
John: I love it though, it's awesome. Excellent counsel,
Dace: My wife and I both…in fact, she had it on a sticky note on the bathroom mirror and it stayed there for over a year. It stayed there until I put it my pocket and carried it and lost it. But, John, I just really resonate and appreciate what you're saying and the counsel that you're giving I think is going to be powerful. We've got a heart for pastors here on the Thriving In Ministry podcast and so I just know that it's going to be some great counsel. John, what's one thing that you wish you had known earlier in ministry? Now you've served for now 23 years full-time and some additional time afterwards, what could have really revolutionized those early years?
John: So I didn't realize how much the early years of ministry were going to feel like some sort of ministry bootcamp. This is one thing that I frequently said to my wife during that time…I never remember somebody speaking disrespectfully or unkind to my pastors growing up. I just don't remember it, but I think it's probably I just didn't see it. I thought everybody was nice to the pastor. I thought everybody appreciated the pastor, and I thought, “Wow, I've never felt like I've had so many enemies, or so many arrows aimed directly at me, since I volunteered myself to serve in pastoral ministry.” I remember going through a season where I thought: Does literally everyone hate me? Why does it feel like I have no friends now? Everybody hates everything I do.
Obviously, that wasn't the case but it just felt amplified because critical voices seem to be so loud in our minds. Sometimes we'll hear twenty nice complimentary words and statements and just one unhelpful, harmful form of criticism, and the only thing we'll remember is that critique that came from a mean spirit in some respects, and we think that that's all there is. And so I remember early in ministry just thinking, “Boy, I used to think people liked me and now that I'm a pastor, I'm apparently I'm not very likeable.” That's honestly how I felt and I kind of had to readjust a lot of things in my thinking and try and maintain a soft heart while also developing a little bit of a thicker skin. Just to give you context, I first started pastoring full time immediately once I finished college. I finished college in May of ‘98, and I was 21 years old, almost 22, and June 1 of that year I was still 21. It was a month before my birthday, I was 21 years old, pastoring my first church full time. So, there are people in the church wearing clothing that was older than their pastor! And there I was trying to give them, you know, spiritual counsel and dodge a few bullets along the way but somehow it worked out but, yeah, the early years of ministry definitely felt like boot camp. If you can make it through the first five years, you can make it.
Kyle: Hey John, I want to ask you a follow-up question as we kind of start wrapping up here. Do you feel that when you look back on that timeframe, that it was more your negative self-perception of what they were saying or that you may have had people at a former church that were just mean and critical.
John: It was both because when you think about it, many pastors when they're first starting out, when a church is willing to accept a guy, fresh out of college sometimes, it’s typically because they are in a little bit more of a needy state where they can't be quite as selective and picky. That's not always the case, but in my case it was. I didn't realize this, but I signed a contract to serve a church that had just gone through a church split. And so I had half the church that was really supportive of me and half the church that was really opposed to having a full-time pastor at that point, and then maybe a small group in between that just didn't make it any sort of commitment. But nobody really wanted to show what side they were on so people stayed quiet and people were just trying to simmer down from the recent conflict and I didn't realize this until I was already serving there and so I received an undue amount of arrows early on so that's absolutely true. But at the same time, there's also the piece where in your mind sometimes you make it worse than it is. Now I'm not going to say it wasn't challenging. It was also good though. I mean there's so, so many lovely people in that context, too. I believe in the sovereignty of God. I believe that he knows exactly what we need when we need it, and I don't have any regrets in that experience. I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to pastor in that context. I learned a ton because I was very green, and I needed those experiences. I needed to see what it was like to try and lead a church, peacefully, that had recently gone through a season of division, a series of problems. I learned a lot. It's helped me, all throughout the course of my ministry. I've been very grateful for it and I still have great friends from that church. But yeah it was it was definitely an interesting time and I'll tell you what, when my season of time serving there ended, some of those people - to their credit, I have to give them credit for this - came up to me afterward. I think this was my last Sunday there and apologized to me. They said, “You ended up coming here in the midst of a fight that wasn't even yours, and you did your best to lead, and we're grateful for you and grateful for what you did and we want to apologize for dragging you into some of these things because we know that wasn't really deserved on your part.” And I’ve got to tell you, I'm so grateful that that was said because it definitely has impacted how I think about that season when I look back. The fact that they said that, and they really ended it well….we kind of joked afterward. We thought, boy, if this started as well as it ended, this would have been a really different season of ministry. But it was very redemptive the way that that things culminated, so I'm grateful for the things that the Lord allowed me to learn. But, yeah, there was definitely internal conversation that needed to be worked through and there were some external factors that definitely factored into that. It was a mix of both.
Dace: Well, Pastor John, thanks so much for sharing that. And I get it. You and I have something in common and that is my first church also recently had a split right about two years before I got there and I just knew that six-week series on forgiveness was going to clear everything up, you know, and we should, by week eight, be rolling. It should be no problem, the past is the past, let bygones be bygones. I was wrong. It took longer -and we don't count it in weeks or months either. We're talking about years of ministry, praise God. But thank you so much for sharing that, and I too could echo a lot of those same things that, if you just give people a chance, you'd be amazed at what God can do over the long haul. Might take a lot longer than six weeks but praise God. John, let me just end with this - anything that we've missed or how can people connect with you and what you're doing ministry-wise, podcast and book?
John: Well guys, I, first let me just thank you for giving me the chance to join you today. This was a lot of fun and I truly hope that it's helpful for the pastors and church leaders that listen to your podcast. You guys are doing a great job. If people want to connect further, the best way to connect is my website which is DesireJesus.com. If they go over to the website they'll find a variety of things, things that I've written, links to my podcast. There's the chapter-a-day Audio Bible, there's the Dwell on These Things podcast, and there's also daily devotions with Pastor John. But the big thing right now, if people get the opportunity to check out the book Dwell on These Things, I’d love to hear their feedback and I truly hope that it will help them. It was written to be a useful, practical book and I truly hope that it'll be something that encourages readers in their walk with Christ.
Kyle: Thanks again to Pastor John Stange. As always, we hope that you've enjoyed this week's episode of the Thriving In Ministry podcast. If you want to check out his new book, Dwell on These Things by Waterbrook & Minolta, you can order it online, Amazon, wherever, go to DesireJesus.com, you'll be able to find it. We'll put a link to it in the show notes as well. Hey pastors, we want to encourage you in your efforts to press on in ministry, find the joy in the now.
Dace: Well that's right, Kyle, great to have you today, John. And be sure to subscribe, like, leave a review on the Thriving In Ministry podcast. Make sure that you stay engaged with us by checking out dailypastor.com, emailing us any show ideas or even complain…. firstname.lastname@example.org. Hey, God bless. Have a great day; look forward to seeing you soon.
Written for Talanton Church Services. Dwell on These Things | John Stange