Keep Your Head (audio)
In II Timothy 4:5, Paul exhorts Timothy to “keep your head at all times.”
This advice to a younger pastor is still important. If you want to be the spiritual leader of a church, you’ve got to be able to keep your head.
If you are easily drawn into confrontation and argument, even if you win the battle, you will lose the war to become the pastor of your people’s hearts. If you get upset and despair when setbacks come, you will get a depressed, immature congregation. If you unthinkingly rush into every new idea or program that comes down the pike, you will quickly exhaust the patience of the church. If you allow every issue in the church to become a life-and-death struggle, you will find your whole life defined by conflict, not the Gospel.
“Keep your head” emphasizes the importance of staying in control of ourselves in the stresses of ministry. The more that others are emoting, falling apart, raging and so on, the more imperative it becomes that we stay calm and act as the adult in the room. Every church has some folks who thrive on emotional excess. If they can use that to draw you into actions you later regret, they own you.
I’ve noticed that in meetings where someone starts to get too loud and belligerent the only response that has a chance of bringing things back to sanity is a calm, positive, confident reply. It doesn’t have to directly challenge them. The contrast exaggerates their loss of control and gives them a chance to respond in kind. It’s not a guarantee of a good reaction, but joining the escalation of emotion guarantees that it will keep building.
What I say next can be misunderstood, but it’s important. It is important for pastors to keep their composure in times of grief and loss. The deeper the chaos of mourning, the more we need to stay in control of ourselves. I don’t mean a pastor shouldn’t weep with those who weep, but I mean a pastor shouldn’t join in the uncontrolled expressions of emotion that sometimes emerge when there’s a major loss. In that situation, a pastor represents both the love of God who mourns with His children, but also the peace of God who, seeing the big picture, doesn’t join in the despair or hopelessness that easily follows unexpected loss.
Keeping our heads also means keeping criticism in perspective. A friend of mine recently preached a sermon that will mark a positive watershed moment in the congregation’s history. He left the sanctuary in the joyful confidence that follows when you know you’ve made a difference by a single message. After the crowd thinned, he headed to his office to put his Bible and sermon notes away. A man from the church was impatiently pacing at the office door. He proceeded to lay into the pastor for an innocuous, offhanded comment he had made setting up an illustration. The offended man mercilessly pressed his point and demanded a public apology. When he didn’t get satisfaction, he went home and got on the phone to stir up some other folks.
When some of us met with him a couple of days later, he was still reeling from the attack. Anyone with a pastoral heart is devastated by this kind of frontal assault, especially when you can’t apologize because you haven’t actually done anything wrong. I’ve spent days and weeks trying to recover from this kind of incident.
Keeping our heads can mean getting the perspective to get up and keep moving after a paralyzing blow.
Pastors, keep your heads. You need it, your people need it.