Why There Is No Balm In Gilead.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored? Jeremiah 8:22 (ESV)
14 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has seizures and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” Matthew 17:14–16 (ESV)
“75% of surveyed pastors feel poorly equipped by their seminary training to lead a church, manage people, and counsel others, according to research by R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D. and the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development.
That means of the 600,000 clergy serving in various capacities in the U.S., about 450,000 feel ill-prepared for their jobs.
That’s almost half a million people. Chances are good that if you’re a Christ-follower, you’ve come into contact with one or more of them.” (excerpted from “Two Lies About Your Pastor,” From the website Ministry Insights: discovering uniqueness, developing unity ministryinsights.com)
I came across the above article on my Twitter feed the other day and needless to say I was absolutely horrified. This pathetic statistic brought the above Scriptures immediately to my mind. I was very sad.
Having been within the ranks of what you might call “evangelical, protestant” Christianity for over 35 years (I was raised Catholic), I have long since felt that there is an agonizing disconnect between clergy and laity.
On one side is a learned and glib vicarage locked in his study- the proverbial “ivory tower” who presume to speak for the Holy One in all matters “spiritual.” Then there is the laity- the every man who lives a grudgingly pedestrian life by comparison; who must daily contend with our “adversary the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8-ESV).”
There have not been a few times when I have left services after having listened to the grand oratory of the preacher, watching his wild and unwieldy gesticulations, only to ask myself- and God- “what is the point?”
So little of what takes place in Christian ministry today has scant relevance to the daily Christian life of the assembly. Week by week the sheep traipse in “cumbered with a load of care,” and leave no better than when they came in; same problems, same sins, same illnesses, same concerns.
The article cited at the beginning of this posting is very telling; close to a half million “trained” “Christian ministers” feel ill prepared for the demands of the pastorate. I have to ask- why?
What did they teach you during all of those years in seminary? What did you pay multiple tens of thousands of dollars to learn? What did you think you were getting yourself into when you made the decision to “answer the call?”
Or were you even “called” at all? What is Christian ministry supposed to be anyway?
In Matthew 17 a boy who was wracked with seizures was brought to Jesus because originally the disciples had been asked to help the boy. In Matthew 10, Jesus had commissioned the twelve,
“ gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”
So there was the reasonable expectation that since the twelve professed to be disciples of the Lord Jesus, and the fame of Jesus was well known because…
… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
There was the reasonable expectation that since they were associated with Jesus, had been commissioned by Jesus, they could do the works of Jesus. The poor father was to learn a disappointing fact that so many millions have learned down through the ages and that is; those who profess an association with Jesus do not necessarily have the ministry of Jesus.
There are a lot of pretenders out there. Too many ministers have never, waited to “be endued with Power from on High;” have never been to the Upper Room to be “baptized with the Holy Ghost and Fire (Luke 24:49, Matt. 3:11).
Moreover, the simple fact that today’s minister is not what you might call “the every-man” is very troubling. Typically, someone “feels the call” and enters seminary right out of high school. This person will study until they obtain their Master’s degree, which is what is typically required in order to be “licensed” or “ordained,” and they go right into a pastorate. Many go on to get some sort of Doctorate degree.
The average seminarian goes into the pastorate with virtually no “real world” experience. Although they may have “struggled” financially during their school years, most do not know what it is like to live a tedious life working at a job where, each and every day, “the man” is basically an Egyptian taskmaster laying the whip to your back to make more bricks out of straw- and this, for less than a living wage, few benefits and no real hope for retirement as the economy worsens by the day.
By contrast, a pastor has the backing of a big organization which will ensure his pension plan, medical benefits, and job security. If things don’t work out where he is at, the denomination has plenty of other churches to place him. He enjoys virtual job and financial security.
(Independent churches which do not require seminary training fair no better. Typically, practically anyone who professes a call is thrust into the pulpit and allowed to “minister” without having to have made “full proof” of his ministry. Many are novices with little or no life experiences; most often the son of a pastor will “feel the call” himself, and allowed to assume a ministry by heredity, even to the point of taking over his father’s church someday).
Most pastors are woefully out of touch when it comes to understanding the issues which face their flock. While they sit in their studies going over next week’s homily, which is largely theologically abstract lacking in any personal applicability and laboring over clever delivery and just the right Greek or Hebrew word, there is an assembly weeping over their perplexity on how to live life; teens with depression, wives with inattentive and insensitive husbands, girls with poor body image and eating disorders, boys faced with unrelenting peer pressure to join gangs, and grief over a tragic loss of a child, spouse or other family member.
Where does one go in order to learn how to live life in a fallen world where life is fragile, as a fallen creature?
Your average congregant leads a life filled with challenges that demand a real-world perspective. Which seminary classes adequately prepare today’s Christian minister for this?
I recently came across some advertising literature of a local counseling practice which had the following statement:
“Here at (name of private mental health counseling practice) we respect your ministry to your congregation’s spiritual needs. We are here as an adjunct in support of your church to help your people with any needs in the areas of family life, child and adolescent counseling, marital counseling, and the various mood, anxiety and other psychological disorders. Many of our staff have been trained in seminary and have biblical counseling in their background. Please call our office today to see how we can best help meet your church’s mental health needs.”
I find this ad especially irksome because this mental health practice perpetuates the canard that there is a bifurcation of the natural and spiritual life of the believer. The church handles the “spiritual” and secular counseling concerns deal with the “natural,” and neither the twain do meet. Nonsense.
The Word of God should be the operating principle for the Christian in all aspects of their lives. This is consistent with both Old and New Testament theology and teaching. The Bible was given to us by God as His Word to order and guide our lives. If, in practice, we treat the Word as if it is not adequate to address life’s issues, then we do not believe that This is indeed, the infallible Word of God, notwithstanding protestations to the contrary. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 states:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
If the Word of God is not applicable for every facet of our lives, then what good is It? Furthermore, what good does it do to deliver a sermon which (ideally) speaks of spiritual truths in the abstract without there being any applicability to the daily lives of the believers? There is far too much prattle and personal opinion being shared from today’s pulpits in the guise of sermons, which to me, accounts for much of the emotional distress as congregants the world over suffer from this unconscionable benign neglect.
People simply do not know how to cope with life in a fallen world as fallen creatures because, what I like to call, “the pattern for living,” “the wisdom of the ages” is not preached from the pulpit in any personally meaningful way. I feel this is largely because (1)many in the ministry do not know how the “every-man” lives from day to day because they have never worked a real, secular job and (2) as a consequence, they have never experienced how to “use the Word” to overcome their own flesh, the devil, and the various and other sundry temptations that bombard the saint of God on a minute-by-minute basis. Paul admonishes Timothy that “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits (2 Tim. 2:6).”
There is no real disciplining that goes on whereby people are taught how to pray, read their Bibles as well as mediate upon the Word to get answers from the Holy Spirit. As John MacArthur points out in his New Testament Commentary on Romans 1–8, eventually one cannot tell one begins and one ends- meaning that prayer/Bible study/Word meditation all come together.
Who teaches this in their churches on a regular basis? I know not one.
Years ago, I once heard a very well educated pastor who graduated from the top seminary in his denomination, make this incredible statement.
“If you are suicidal; get counseling.”
To dismissively tell the congregation “if you are suicidal, get counseling” is the height of spiritual irresponsibility and it shows a woeful lack of just how serious and tragic a suicide threat is.
This ignorant statement shows a gross lack of understanding of how far the blast radius of a suicide extends within the community in which that person resides. The concentric circles of misery that reverberate throughout is staggering. There are more than one victims in the case of a suicide. I know as I have been personally close to three people who have taken their lives. No one who is even remotely connected to a person who commits suicide is ever the same. The collateral damage is stupefying in its scope.
This gross insensitivity undoubtedly had a chilling effect on the flock; I know it did me. Why/how can I approach him with any other problem of daily living and trust that he will be able to help me, or is even concerned enough to help?
Again I have to ask; what did he go to school for? What did he think he was getting into when he took on a pastorate? Just to prepare sermons? To fob off a congregant desperate enough to commit suicide into the secular counseling realm is the height of ministerial malpractice. For shame.
I am not at all suggesting that Christian pastors should be cast in the roll of a cosmic genie, ever ready with the answers and solutions to have the immediate solution to each and every problem their people face. Personally, I am very suspicious of anyone who is quick to provide an answer to every problem.
In fact, there is no place in the canon of scripture which promises that every angst a person faces in this life will be reconciled. James enjoins “my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear , slow to speak (James 1:19).” Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “study to be quiet.” David wrote in several places in the Psalms “Be still and know that I am God.” Ministers would do well to heed this advice and not be so quick to proffer their nostrums just because an answer is expected. The words “I don’t know” can be very refreshing to hear sometimes.
However, ideally, pastors should inform their ministries by the pattern set forth in 2 Chronicles 1:7–13 (ESV).
Solomon Prays for Wisdom
7 In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”
8 And Solomon said to God, “You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place.
9 O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth.
10 Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?”
11 God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king,
12 wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.”
13 So Solomon came from the high place at Gibeon, from before the tent of meeting, to Jerusalem. And he reigned over Israel.
The wisdom of God- a “wisdom from above (which)is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere,” is available to help disciple our brothers and sisters on how to live the Christian life. And if you lack wisdom on how to deal with a particular situation, James exhorts in James 1:5–7 (AMP);
5 If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask [for wisdom] in faith, without doubting [God’s willingness to help], for the one who doubts is like a billowing surge of the sea that is blown about and tossed by the wind. 7 For such a person ought not to think or expect that he will receive anything [at all] from the Lord,
I could say much more on this issue. I have so many personal anecdotes that illustrate the frustration felt by the father in Matthew 17 whose experience with the impotent disciples is instructive for Christian ministry for all time.
Suffice to say, there is great pain and suffering within the Body of Christ because of this impotence, and I cannot think that God is at all pleased with this. Several scriptures come to mind;
15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
*Jeremiah 10:21 (ESV)
For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.
1And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
5 And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered.
6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.
7 Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord;
8 As I live, saith the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock;
9 Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord;
10 Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.
11 For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.
12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.
13 And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.
14 I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.
15 I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God.
16 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.
*1 Thessalonians 2:3–8
3 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:
6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.
7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
8 So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
*2 Corinthians 2:17 (AMP)
For we are not like many, [acting like merchants] peddling God’s word [shortchanging and adulterating God’s message]; but from pure [uncompromised] motives, as [commissioned and sent] from God, we speak [His message] in Christ in the sight of God.
And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Matthew 9:35–38 (AMP)
35 Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages [in Galilee], teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news (gospel) of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness [His words and His works reflecting His Messiahship].
36 When He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion and pity for them, because they were dispirited and distressed, like sheep without a shepherd.
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is [indeed] plentiful, but the workers are few.
38 So pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
May the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy.
Join with me in praying that He send forth laborers into the fields- not only the foreign fields, but in our communities where the people wander aimlessly in this world of sin and deception where the “god of this world” rips, tears, and destroys.
Unto Jesus Christ alone be all glory, honor, power, wisdom, might, forever and ever, world without end, unto the eternity of eternities.