Brothers and Sisters in Ministry:
A Mom left her two boys, ages 8 and 10 at home while she went to the corner store. When she returned a few minutes later, her two boys were standing with six of their friends in a circle in the living room totally captivated by what was in the center. As she quietly walked in and peeked over their shoulders, she was horrified at seeing a litter of baby skunks. In panic she screamed, “Run children, run!” And each of the boys picked up one of the skunks and ran.
Bruce Hartung talks about “Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS),” the effects of “left over” stress that builds up over time and remains even after the initial crisis has passed. The Coronavirus has been an unfriendly addition to our lives, lives that are already filled with the stress related work of doing ministry. Adding to that is the inability to use the tools we were comfortable with, further embedding in us a secondary stress that is real and can be damaging to further ministry. When the pandemic is brought under control, we will all breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t nonchalantly think it’s over. We will be facing new issues that at one time weren’t issues.
The world changed after WWI, “the war to end all wars.” It changed again when nuclear warheads were used, and again with the emergence of “free love,” and the “conflict” in Vietnam, and again with the introduction of Birth Control Pills and again with 9/11 and again with legalized abortion. They say it takes 2 ½ times longer to do the same ministry today as it did 20 years ago. And we kid ourselves that as Pastors we think we are “okay” and the little bundle of a “skunk” we’ve inherited is no “big deal.” It’s not selfish to take care of yourself and the needs of your family!
For the sake of your family, congregation, and future ministry, find ways to debrief, take some time off, ask your congregation to help, talk openly and honestly to brothers and sisters in ministry who are going through the same things. It’s time to “lay down our weapons” and let’s come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, and whatever you do, don’t pick up the skunk and add it to your collection of things you don’t need. Let’s rely on the strength of being who we, members of the Body of Christ totally committed to Christ as Savior and Lord. We can kid ourselves and simply go back thinking that nothing has changed. But the world before COVID-19 and after are not the same!
The Good News is God’s Word is as relevant today as it was before the pandemic, “the Word of the Lord remains forever.” Jesus is yet the same “yesterday, today and forever,” and we are still charged with the same mission, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Because of COVID-19 God has taught us some new ways to reach out and churches have learned some new ways “of doing business.” The devil thought he could use today’s troubles to discourage God’s Church. But the only thing I see it has done, is to re-invigorate today’s church and make us even more committed to be the re-energized Body of Christ living under the real truth “Christ is Risen!” “He is Risen indeed!”
By: Pastor Richard Izzard
For the last 10 years I have been trying to sway people’s minds about the Lily as a flower that represents the message of Easter. It’s beautiful, no doubt. To see our churches adorned with the trumpet shaped flowers heralding the resurrection of Christ is nothing less than awesome. After the serene days of Lent, and the growing anticipation of something spectacular heralded by the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem, and the faith building institution of the Lord’s Supper, and the excruciating agony of Good Friday, when it seemed as if for a moment sin and the devil had won. But then came the 3rd day and with the dawning of the sun, good news, exciting news, death dying news was announced, “Christ is risen, He is Risen indeed!” The Easter Lily might help bring to mind the dawning of a new day and Christ’s triumphant, but besides its beauty, it falls short in a number of ways.
The Lily is what is known as a “hot house” flower. It takes the right amount of water, warmth, soil and sun to cause it to bloom. Too much or not enough water, warmth, or sun, the Lily will not bloom, and will remain lifeless and dull until properly attended. So, I would respectfully suggest that another flower would be more qualified to represent the joy and the triumph of the greatest message of all, “He is Risen!”
The flower of which I speak comes out every year just around this time. As a flower it has taken a beating. We dig them up to throw them out, we stomp on them, and douse them with pesticides. Yet try as hard as we can they keep coming back. I’ve even seen them break through concrete and asphalt as if they are laughing in our faces, as they announce their undeniable and never dying spirit. The flower? The unbeatable and never to be denied dandelion.
As Easter people, we know that even if our sins were a thousand times worse than they are, they yet would be no match for the grace of God. No matter how much we are pushed, beaten down, run over and trodden upon, we keep coming back standing strong. Not even something as horrible as the Coronavirus can silence or defeat the message we preach, teach, and live. In fact, the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is available to us, daily, every minute, every hour. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57)
Pastors, called workers, lay leaders, people of God, stand strong, confident and unconquerable! And when you see a dandelion, remember He IS risen, and we are His people.
Pastor Richard Izzard
A bricklayer spent the day setting bricks high up on the wall of a two-story building. At the end of the day he was satisfied both with the quality and the quantity of the bricks that were set.
But that night a terrific storm with drenching rains and high winds struck the area. Afraid that the storm had done damage to his work the day before, he left for work early and was disheartened by the damage that was caused by the storm, both loosening and dislodging some of the bricks.
He began the repairs by first building a pulley system that enabled him to hoist up and let down a barrel once it had been filled with the damaged bricks. He began by raising the barrel to the place of damage, tying it off below and then climbing to the top of the wall to fill the barrel.
Everything was going as planned until he climbed down to release the rope and lower the now filled barrel. It was then that he realized the filled barrel was heavier than he was, and while still holding the rope, he was instantly pulled off his feet and headed up at a top rate of speed. Unfortunately, he met the barrel coming down causing the first of his cuts and bruises. When he reached the top, the barrel hit the bottom and in doing so spilled its contents, which now made him heavier than the barrel causing him to come down, at a high rate of speed, hitting the barrel causing even more cuts and bruises. He landed hard on the spilled pile of bricks sustaining more damage. He then absent-mindedly let go of the rope causing the barrel to descend at a high rate of speed hitting him on his head causing a concussion.
Some days ministry is like that. The coronavirus has added complication upon complication with no immediate end in sight. But let’s not forget that we do have one source of strength and hope and joy that can not and will not be taken from us, and that is the promise of our Lord, “I will be with you always.” Isaiah wrote, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“For such a time as this,” in the midst of uncertainty, chaos, fear and worry, we have the message that will not only get us through, but enables us to be “more than conquerors” through Him who loves us. This is a time as God’s people to come together, to “be of one mind,” to love and support one another, to be even more like Christ, reminding ourselves that He is Lord and as the Head of the Church, He has made good on his promise to send a Helper who walks alongside of us to encourage and to build us up.
In fifty years of ministry I have never faced a challenge like what Pastors are facing today. There are and will be days when we will all feel like the bricklayer. People support one another, Pastors love your people, and people show support for your Pastor with an extra added dose of encouragement. And whatever else we do, do not let the devil use this crisis to serve his purposes.
by: Rev. Richard Izzard, Congregational Revitalization
A song on Christian Radio begins with a frustrated person screaming at God over the problems of the world, yelling “Why don’t you do something?” God’s response is provoking, “I did! I created you!”
Personally, I believe we spend too much time talking about “the way it once was,” while wringing our hands in despair and not enough time reminding ourselves that we worship One who even raises the dead and promises to walk alongside of us. We are created and equally as important our churches have been commissioned to let the “glory of God be seen” and the atoning life, death and resurrection of Christ be known.
One of the greatest challenges we face today is being as zealous about people who do not know Christ as we are about truth and righteousness. Christ crucified is the only message that the world cannot duplicate. St. Paul had it right, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (2 Corinthians 2:2) We are the future that we have been hoping for, created by God to passionately and actively make Christ known in our communities all that God has done and is doing.
Here’s the challenge, let’s call it “a Presidential and New Jersey Leadership Challenge.” We are looking for congregations who are willing to commit themselves to grow by at least 10% of their current average Sunday Morning Worship attendance over the next triennium.
Would your congregation be willing:
If we strongly believe that God can do great things through us when we turn to Him for guidance, strength and direction, this challenge just might be what you’ve been waiting for. Let me know if you are up to the challenge and how the staff of the NJ District can help. Keep us posted on what God is leading you to do. We will gladly share with you ideas and the creativity of other NJD congregations.
by: Colleen Bottcher
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1 NIV
During the month of March, we celebrate National Nutrition Month. Nutrition awareness and education is on the forefront of many of our congregational health ministry programs. From the moment we are conceived, while we are still developing in our mother’s womb, good nutrition is important! Good nutrition is vital for all generations! Over the past several years, we have hosted numerous seminars on nutrition, including discussions on brain boosting nutrition, nutrition as we age, and comparing the pros and cons of the fad diets currently out there! As a congregation we have also tried to adjust what types of food we offer at fellowship events, church meetings, and Bible Studies, to promote wellness. Often pastors, church leaders, and congregation members are in meetings and ministry events several times per week, so being able to support one another with better nutrition is vital!
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
Our bodies are made to be a dwelling place of God! As we go about each day, are we being good stewards of the temple of God? As we choose each day to make better choices with our nutritional intake and exercise, we are choosing to honor and glorify God! When we don’t care for our bodies, and when we choose unhealthy foods, we not only feel lethargic and not our best, but we are not serving God with all our heart, soul and body!
Today, I encourage you to be intentional about honoring your body. Before you eat, think and pray about whether your choices are honoring God and His temple. Give thanks to God for all the nutritious choices we have to enjoy each day, and honor Him by choosing healthy foods!
To find out more about parish nursing, health ministries, and nutritional programming, please call Colleen at 201-723-9836!
RN, BSN, FCN
NJ District LCMS Parish Nurse
Our Savior Lutheran Church
22-15 Broadway Fair Lawn, NJ
by: Pastor Richard Izzard
Do you remember the phrase ”look up in the sky, it’s a bird, It’s a plane, no it’s Superman! Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and can leap tall buildings in a single bound!”? Superman can be superhuman, maybe, but pastors? I don’t think so.
I have been blessed in my years of ministry to have served with and worked with some pretty super pastors, who are blest, dedicated and gifted. But none were beyond their human limitations. Blessed by God, no doubt. Motivated by Christ, for sure. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, without reservation. But super human resistance to stress, strain, pressure and trauma, not by a long shot.
Sometimes, called church workers think they have some special power, especially when it comes to their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Dr. Bruce Hartung, in his excellent book, Holding Up the Prophet’s Hand, writes about Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), the stress that builds up over time as the pastor or other church workers deal with stressful situations in people's lives and in the life of the congregation, as well as their own. Every church worker is exposed to STS and has, will or is going through STS. We no longer are blind to PTSD, the horrible stress that the men and women of our Armed Forces are subjected to when under extreme danger, nor should we ignore the potential danger of STS.
STS is real. It is the stress that develops as the pastor and other called workers deal with the tensions that exist in people’s lives and in the life of the congregation on a daily and weekly basis. It is the cumulative trauma that can lead to burnout, weaken the ability to care, and can take from us the joy of ministry. We can try to deny it, many do, or pretend it happens to others but not to us, or we can take our ministerial health and wholeness seriously.
The question is not will I be affected by stress, but what will I and can I do to handle the pressures of ministry. Research shows that every called worker is subject to stress and anxiety resulting from all forms of ministry.Without proper care dysfunctional pastors can foster dysfunctional congregations and often dysfunctional congregations will call dysfunctional pastors.
Pastors, we need to our emotional wellbeing as well as our spiritual growth more seriously. We are not honoring God by ignoring our physical, spiritual and emotional needs.
Congregations need to be encouraging their pastor and other full time church workers to take their day off, use ALL of their vacation time, and especially care for their family. And yes, it’s okay to say “thank you” for their service and the ministry they provide. Occasionally, it would also be good to “check up” with your pastor to honestly see how he is doing.
Also, be sure to check out lcms.org/wellness It’s well worth your time!