Clint Ellis

Musings and Ramblings about Preaching, Pastoral Ministry, Sports and Life in General

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Today I learned that one of my dearly loved mentors in the ministry went home to be with Jesus on Monday. W.O. Sanders was a part of spiritual journey for as long as I can remember. He baptized me when I was nine years old. Later, when I was called to ministry, he would invite me to preach at every church that he served in. Those experiences were shaping and formative for a youngster called to ministry.

When I turned 21, I took my first ministry position. It didn’t go well. My first Sunday was the pastor’s last Sunday. In the four months I lasted, I made every mistake in the book. I resigned in defeat on a Wednesday, and that Sunday morning, I went home to my church. It was Homecoming. W.O. Sanders was the guest preacher that morning. He saw me as soon as he arrived and came over to find out why I wasn’t at the church where I was on staff. I explained what happened, and before he left, he booked me to preach where he was interim two weeks later. I graciously accepted, but I knew that I didn’t want to do anything ministry-related so soon, possibly ever. The thing is, W.O. was a hard man to say no too.

I went to the church two weeks later and shared my testimony. It felt good, but I was still licking my wounds. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to get back in the ministry saddle again. W.O. had other plans. On Wednesday of that week, there was a knock on my apartment door. Brother Sanders came in and sat down. I’ll never forget that conversation. He said, “Clint, I want you to pray about something.” “What’s that, Brother Sanders?” He said, “I want you to pray about coming to the church and being my Associate Pastor/Youth Minister.” I told him that I was hurt, that I didn’t want to be in ministry again, and that I just needed a break. He didn’t say much, but as he rose to leave, he said, “You just pray about it.”

Well, if I’m honest, I didn’t pray about it. I was so hurt, I didn’t want any part of ministry anymore. Brother Sanders wasn’t having it. The following Monday, less than a week later, there was another knock on my door. I opened to find him standing there again. He came in, took a seat on the sofa, and said, “We voted on you last night. You can start when you want.”

I must have sat in stunned silence for a while. He just smiled, told me what time church started that Wednesday and excused himself. I began my ministry there that Wednesday night! For the next two years, I watched this Godly man, lead a church, love his wife faithfully, and gently guide me as I grew in my faith and my ministry proficiency. When he went to that church, it had never had pastoral tenure of more than two years. He stayed as “interim” for three years. He led them to renovate the sanctuary, two building projects, and revamped the exterior landscaping all without any strife. He loved and led in such a way to prepare them for the next steps as a church. After we left, they called a Godly pastor who has remained there for 17 years. It might not have been possible without God using W.O. Sanders there during his time. In my time there, God used Brother Sanders and the church to restore my love for people and my heart for ministry. He “retired” 6 months before I left for seminary, but as he was leaving, he instructed the church to keep letting me preach and pay me what they were paying him, because it would help me when I left for school. I might not be where I am today without him. I am forever indebted and grateful for his stubbornness and belief in what God wanted to do through me.

Shortly after I came to Fellowship, I received a call from a Goshen, AL number. It was W.O. He, then 94, said, “Clint, I am going to call your dad one day, and he’s going to come pick me up and bring me to Tallahassee to preach in your church.” What did I say? I said, “Just let me know when you are coming. ” We never were able to work it out. I wish now that we had. I will miss him.

On Monday, he closed his eyes in death, and opened them upon his Savior. He was reunited with his bride, and he heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the rest prepared for you before the foundation of the world.” I thank God for W.O. Sanders, and I can’t wait to see him again.

Pastors Need Each Other

Last night I was stunned to learn of the tragic death of a pastor. I did not personally know him, but a few of my friends did. I grieve for his wife and his kids. I may not know what personal demons he was battled, but I do know the deadly danger of isolation that many ministers and their families face. No one can relate to ministers quite like other ministers do. Therefore, we must understand that we need each other. We have to be intentional about loving and ministering to one another. Here are three ways we can fulfill this needed task.

Commit to Pray for Other Ministers

Few things are as impactful to me as hearing from a ministry friend who was thinking of and praying for me. Discipline yourself to do this for others. Set aside one day a week to pray for your ministry friends. For example, designate Wednesday as” Workers in the Kingdom” Wednesday. For a portion of your prayer time, pray specifically for other pastors. Colossians 1:9-14 provides an excellent template. Praying different Psalms over others is helpful as well.

Contact Other Ministers

It is easy to get wrapped up in the busyness of ministry and lose contact with other co-laborers. Tonight on hearing the news, my first instinct was to grab the phone and reach out to others whom I care about. I wanted them to know someone cares and they were not alone. Take a few moments each week to call or text a friend in the ministry. You may be the lifeline they need at the moment they need it the most. You may not be in the same zip code but you are definitely in the same kingdom.

Connect With Other Ministers

Prayer and contact are helpful, but we must also be intentional about connecting with other ministers near us. A pastor who sees other churches and pastors as threats or rivals is sorely myopic and missing the point of the Great Commission. We have a king to serve and His kingdom to build, and therefore we need one another. Some of the most encouraging moments for me are coffee and lunch meetings at local establishments with my brothers. In those moments you are afforded the privilege of just being yourself and not having to be the pastor. We can let down our guard and be with one another. These conversations can be about life, sports, family, or other interests but what it creates is connections that help strengthen one another.

Brothers, we need each other. Pray. Contact. Connect.

If you are a pastor needing help and feel you have no one, please call 1-844-Pastor1. It is a free, confidential helpline for pastors provided by Focus on the Family and the North American Mission Board.

A Cottonmouth, a Python, and a Gator: Help Finding Balance as a Pastor in a Pandemic World

A few nights ago I had a strange dream.  I was riding around my childhood home on a golf cart, admiring the scenery when I saw a massive Python crawling under our house.  Now, I fall into the philosophical camp that believes the only good snake is a dead snake, and I knew it could not stay under there.  It got worse.  A few minutes later, from under the house slithered the biggest, nastiest cottonmouth moccasin I had ever laid eyes on.  He was followed by the same massive python and a 14 foot alligator.  Everyone with me turned to me expecting me to do something.  I knew I needed to do something, but I also knew I needed help.  Before the moment of truth, I was saved by the (alarm) bell.  Isolation and quarantine can do strange things to a person.  Unfortunately, our current COVID-19 Pandemic has many pastors feeling like they are facing the reptilian trio from my dream.

A lot of pastors are now working from home and find themselves overwhelmed with fear and anxiety while they try to navigate the uncharted waters of pastoring well in a pandemic world while simultaneously being a good husband and father.   One of the great challenges in the world of vocational ministry in a normal season of life is to not allow leading the church to become a mistress that steals one away from their families.  As a result, many guys have difficulty turning off work whenever they come home since the 24/7 nature of ministry means there is always something else to be done.  This is especially difficult when the home becomes the work environment. Some pastors struggle with an internal compulsion to fill every moment with work activities.  After all, the Bible admonishes pastors to “Shepherd the flock of God,” (1 Peter 5:2).  Such excessive busyness with ministry tasks, while necessary in certain seasons of life, is not sustainable or healthy.  In order to survive in ministry in the midst of this pandemic world, one must take steps to ensure a healthy balance between work and family life.  Let me offer you some essentials for maintaining a healthy work and home balance during this period.

Sustain your Soul 

            This may seem like it is an unnecessary admonition, but it is not.  In a crisis situation, a shepherd worth his salt wants to help.  He wants to check on everyone, be involved in every decision, or be present in any way that he can.  The problem is that it can only be maintained for a short period of time without spiritual replenishment.  I love a good cup of coffee.  I will keep drinking it as long as refills are available, but if I continue to refill the cup I will eventually find the pot empty.  During this time of heightened ministry pastors are pouring a lot of energy into others, therefore it is necessary for them to replenish their spiritual reservoirs so that they can continue minister to others and be fully engaged at home.  Here’s how to do it.  The first thing to do is maintain your Bible intake.  The tyranny of the urgent will shout at you that there are not enough hours for you to minister to others if you are taking time for your devotionals.  The opposite is true.  You must maintain a healthy spiritual diet of reading God’s Word, scripture memory, and prayer if you want to stay spiritually healthy in order to serve others pastorally and familially.

See Investments instead of Interruptions

            Schools are closed, extracurricular activities are cancelled, and many offices have encouraged employees to work from home.  Therefore families are spending more time in the same space.  For children who are accustomed to dad being away at an office during the day and at home at night, can get excited about the prospect of dad being at home with them.  Naturally they will want to talk, share stories, ask for help with their math, etc.  Be careful to see these moments as an opportunity to be Biblical (See Deuteronomy 6:4-9).  Let these times be opportunities to invest in your children.  Demonstrate how much you love them and how important they are to you.  God has granted you this moment to cultivate your relationship with your kids, as well as your spouse.  Do not miss these chances.  Invest in them, and it will help you find balance during these unprecedented times

Seek Ways to Mortify Your Stress

            Stress in large amounts can be detrimental to one’s physical and emotional health.  People deal with stress in a myriad of ways, not all of which are beneficial.  So put down the Oreos and the oatmeal crème pies.  Those, in abundance, will not help you neutralize your stress.  Here’s how you can best deal with stress.  Set a regular time for physical activity.  Take a walk, go for a run, or a bike ride.  Get active.  Those endorphins will help nullify the effects of stress in your life.  A second way of combatting stress is to rest properly.  Individuals who are driven often find sleep an inconvenience or aggravation, and yet studies show the importance of proper rest on one’s focus and ability to function well in their jobs.  Finally, find a hobby that fills your emotional tank.  Read a good novel, find a place to fish, listen to your favorite music, or work with your hands. Find something that fills you up emotionally and do it. 

Set Boundaries

            Since many pastors are working from home this is more important than ever.  There are certain things that have to be done each week for your ministries to be successful.  There will be meetings, correspondence, and sermon preparation.  If you are not careful you can find yourself wrestling with the compulsion to work around the clock.  Admittedly, ministry is a 24/7 affair.  Emergencies can take place any time, but whenever one has set office hours, and set times to return home it is a little easier to be fully engaged at either place when you are present. With the work/office borders blurred by stay at home orders, it is essential that a minister selects times he will engage in work related activities and home time.  In order to stay balanced in ministry one must set these times and adhere to them.    

Serve to please your Savior

            Finally, many pastors struggle with people pleasing.   They want people to love them and to be pleased with them.  They want people to know and say that they are doing a great job.  This can be a motivating factor in overwork that will lead to burn out.  The key for the pastor is knowing that he is not working for the applause of men, but rather for the approval of the Father.  As Colossians 3:17 reminds us, we are doing everything for him anyway.  If we live and serve to please Him, then He will take care of the rest.

My pastor friends, please stay balanced spiritually during this time.  Let me encourage you with the words of the Apostle Paul, “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9

The Anvil of God’s Word

One of my great passions is the Word of God. I love spending time in it, but I also love reading about it. I found this poem in a book not long ago. I thought you might enjoy it.

Last eve I paused beside the blacksmith’s door
And I heard the anvil ring the vesper chimes;
Then looking in, I saw upon the floor
Old hammers worn out with beating years of time.
“How many anvils have you had,” said I,
“To wear and batter these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he and then with twinkling eye,
“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
And So I thought, the anvil of God’s Word
For ages skeptic’s blows have beat upon,
Yet, thought the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed. the hammers are gone.
John Clifford

A Challenging Word

A challenging word for today.

So, just because I study the half-life of a quark, a pileated woodpecker, the consistory records of Geneva in the years after Calvin’s death, the destructive influence of Richard Simon, or a Hebrew infinitive construct does not guarantee that I love God better. In fact, it may seduce me into thinking I am more holy and more pleasing to God, when all I am doing is pleasing myself: I like to study. After all, secularists are fine technical scholars who enjoy their work and make excellent discoveries and write great tomes, without deluding themselves into thinking that they thereby prove they love God and deserve hight praise in the spiritual sphere. Nothing is quite as deceitful as an evangelical scholarly mind that thinks it is especially close to God because of its scholarship rather than because of Jesus.

D.A. Carson
The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor

Between the Bindings: A Review of 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courage in Pastoral Ministry

Every Pastor needs a reminder that he is not alone. In the Bible, pastors are described in the Bible as shepherds and charged with the care of the flock but they are also described as sheep, too.  Sheep are subject to struggles and brokenness in their personal lives affected by the treatment at the hands of others.  If one is not careful, pastors can feel isolated and alone in suffering.  The book 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Endurance in Pastoral Ministry, edited by Colin Hansen and Jeff Robinson, seeks to pull back the shroud of loneliness and self-pity experienced by some pastors and encourage them to faithfulness by demonstrating the hardships and suffering endured by other pastors in history.

This book profiles twelve pastors spanning five centuries and situated across five continents.  It provides historical snapshots of the Apostle Paul, John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, Andrew Fuller, Charles Simeon, John Chavis, C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Janani Luwum, and Wang Ming-Dao. It spends a little time discussing the victories of their ministries, but emphasizes some of the spiritual valleys that each of these men walked through. Each chapter is penned by a different biographer. The following paragraphs will examine a few strengths, weaknesses and express my evaluation of the book.

Strengths

One of the greatest assets of this collection of biographical sketches is the variety of the men included.  The pastors profiled are taken from various denominations, geographic locations, and time periods.  While each man is lauded for his faithfulness, the writers are not afraid of demonstrating their failures.  A second benefit of the variety of profilees is that I was introduced to faithful men I did not know about previously. The book also demonstrates a variety of sufferings.  Not all suffering is perceived as the equal to the outside observer, but they are keenly  felt to the one suffering, therefore, it is helpful to see what suffering looked like in the lives of those men in this book. 

Weaknesses

In spite of the strengths, the book is not without its weaknesses.  By my evaluation, the book is deficient in a few areas.  First of all, each chapter is composed by a different author.  This makes the development and description of each pastor uneven from chapter to chapter. This leads to the second criticism.  Some chapters, out of necessity, leave desired details sparse.  Admittedly, this is a limitation of a work such as this.  Given this characteristic, it is my opinion that the book would benefit from each individual author selecting and listing a few worthy works on their subject for further study.  One could argue that such material could be gathered from the endnotes, but for those with limited time, a section at the conclusion of each chapter would be beneficial.

Recommendation

All in all this book is extremely helpful in watering the seeds of interest for further study of the aforementioned pastors.  It will serve to encourage pastors experiencing the ups and downs of local church pastoring.  It is well worth your time.  

Rating:  4 Highlighters

But Jesus

I recently finished reading 12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry. I have a review scheduled to post on Friday. In the chapter on Charles Spurgeon, Zack Eswine penned a poem about what we should remember as we face our “accuser.” It struck me powerfully and I wanted to share it with you here.

You might be right, but Jesus!
You might be right, things are worse than I thought, but Jesus!
You might be right, all is lost, but Jesus!
You might be right, I am abandoned, but Jesus!
You might be right, I am forfeit, but Jesus!
You might be right, I should stay down, but Jesus!
You might be right, it would be too late for me, but Jesus!
You might be right, I am out of reach, but Jesus!
You might be right, I am a sinner, but Jesus
You might be right, they might be better off without me, but Jesus!
You might be right, I could deserve to die, but Jesus!

Wow! But Jesus! May this poem be a blessed reminder of our Savior’s work on our behalf.

Why I Set Annual Reading Goals

Several years ago I was struck by a social media post by a pastor friend of mine.  He was celebrating the completion of a reading goal.  He didn’t publicize the number of books or seek to puff himself up, he was simply genuinely excited at achieving a goal for himself.  Since I had just completed my dissertation, I was looking for something to do with all of my “copious amounts of free time.”  I sincerely wanted to improve my reading variety and read something besides preaching books. This personal discipline sounded like just the thing to help me with that desire.  I reached out to him and discussed his accomplishment and resolved I was going to try it.  I started by finding a means to track my reading.  I knew better than to trust my brain.  I selected the goodreads app.  I set a modest goal and started reading.  Since that time, I have met and exceeded my reading goal each year.  Not long ago, someone overheard me discussing my reading plan and asked why I set a reading goal.  After giving it some thought I came up with several reasons:  accountability, focus, discipline, and challenge.

Accountability

The first reason I set reading goals is accountability.  I tend to engage in activities addictively.  Disc golf, coffee, occasionally tv, or video gaming.  Sometimes those activities become consuming and choke out other activities. Knowing that I have a goal to meet is a built-in accountability partner.  If I notice that I am falling behind, it compels me.  Tracking them also adds the advantage of helping me identify when I am getting into what I call “hobby horse” reading.  This is when you spend an exorbitant amount of time reading in a particular area.  I tend to do this.  I have huge sections of my library devoted to specific emphases I developed.  I have large sections of musical biographies, special forces, and undercover police investigations of outlaw motorcycle gangs.  Of course, the largest sections are preaching and commentaries (for obvious reasons).

Focus

A second reason for setting reading goals is focus.  Admittedly this doesn’t always work out the way that I plan, but I try to divide my reading into 6 categories.  The first category is in my specific area of vocational calling.  For me this is preaching/pastoral ministry.  I also try to read in the area of theology and ecclesiology. Church revitalization has become a large part of this section.  A third category is the area of Biblical studies.  The fourth genre differs from year to year.  In this division I try to read in a specific area of history and contemporary events. One year I might read in the area of World War II,  the Revolutionary War, etc. Genre five is biography.  I love reading stories of individuals and seeing what events have shaped their lives.  The final category is fiction.  I try to read some books that are considered literary classics, as well as popular fiction, and I also enjoy books that are in a series such as The Chronicles of Narnia or  The Green Ember series.

Discipline

Proverbs 25:28 states that “a man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”  This picturesque metaphor has always challenged me to make the effort to discipline my life.   The area of my reading is no different.  In much the same way as if I don’t plan to exercise, it is easy to not follow through.  A reading goal is an action plan to set me further down my journey to becoming a lifelong learner.

Challenge

The fourth reason was the easiest to come up with.  I grew up playing sports.  I was am incredibly competitive.  There is nothing I craved more than a good challenge to motivate me to the take it to the next level.  Goodreads enumerates your finished books, even telling you whether you are on pace over the course of the year or if you need to pick it up.  Nothing spurs my reading more through the year than nearing December and facing the threat of failing to hit the mark that I set for myself.

I hope my reasoning for setting these goals is an encouragement to you is to set one and jump in.  I can’t wait to hear where the journey takes you.

The Power of the Spoken Word

I recently ran across an old quote in my writing folder from Harlow Unger’s book on Patrick Henry, entitled Lion of Liberty.  In the opening chapters of the book, Unger eloquently describes the rhetorical skill Henry used in his law practice:

“He used every rhetorical device he could find or invent.  On clear days, he embraced the sunshine and lifted jurors hearts;  on grey days he pointed ot the clouds and rain to provoke tears; and on the darkest days, he saw omens of destruction in the hearers that left jurors cowering in fear as he cited each thunder clap or lightening bold as nothing less than the ‘wrath of God.'”

The vivid articulation of Henry’s oratorical skill is a reminder to all preachers of the power of the spoken word.

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