In this episode of Mind + Heart, Phillip Holmes interviews Dr. Charles M. Wingard. Dr. Wingard is Professor of Pastoral Theology, dean of students, and dean of chapel at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Wingard spent 28 years as a pastor in the PCA and OPC before joining the RTS Jackson faculty in 2014. Dr. Wingard also serves as the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He is the author of “Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry.”
Holmes asks Dr. Wingard about his background and testimony. Dr. Wingard recalls his childhood in the household of his pastor father, being catechized, trained in Scripture and doctrine, and his early sense of a call to ministry. He also discussed his family’s many moves, his graduation from high school, and his time at the University of the South, where he majored in political science.
Holmes asks Dr. Wingard to explain why he chose an undergrad in political science. Dr. Wingard talks about his father’s encouragement to gain a degree in a non-theological field for the purposes of expanding his horizons, as well as his personal enjoyment of and benefit from his study of politics and political philosophy.
Holmes and Dr. Wingard discuss the impetus and impact of Dr. Wingard’s book, “Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry.” Dr. Wingard describes his hopes for what his book will accomplish for young pastors. Holmes adds that the book has significant utility even for older, experience pastors. Holmes and Dr. Wingard discuss the book’s goals of providing practical tools and setting expectations for young pastors, and Dr. Wingard’s intent that the book be prescriptive instead of descriptive because of the differing dynamics among churches.
Holmes pivots to discuss the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the table for pastors. He reflects on the value of a video that Dr. Wingard recorded prior to the pandemic, titled “How should pastors pray for themselves?”, and talks about its present and future value for pastors in the midst of conflict. In the recording, Dr. Wingard describes three ways that a pastor should pray for himself: for a forgiving spirit, for contentment, and for gentleness.
Holmes follows up by asking Dr. Wingard his advice for pastors who are dealing with bitterness. Dr. Wingard suggests that pastors in this situation first remember that bitterness is always sinful, and that they are in deep need of sanctification. He advises that pastors remember that even difficult congregants are members of their flock and that pastors ought to be praying for them. Dr. Wingard also gives some practical advice for developing a lifestyle of gratitude in the face of bitterness.
Holmes asks Dr. Wingard how pastors can guard against burnout, particularly as it relates to social and political issues in the church. Holmes and Dr. Wingard discuss their definitions of burnout, and Dr. Wingard draws out the differences between burnout and stressful situations, overwork, personal suffering, a loss of a sense of calling, loss of biblical disciplines, the loss of affection for their congregation, and difficulty developing relationships in their congregations.
Holmes asks Dr. Wingard how pastors can proactively shepherd churches toward content in a way that isn’t self-serving. Dr. Wingard talks about the necessity of focusing on your own heart and not “clubbing” the sheep into submission by leveling constant critique. Dr. Wingard also provides some practical tests for how one can determine whether they are living in contentment in their ministry contexts.
Finally, Holmes asks Dr. Wingard how a pastor can be firm without abandoning gentleness. Dr. Wingard relates a personal story about the importance of ensuring that a pastor does not give the impression of sinful anger by being overly intense, and describes the necessity of working to maintain structures of accountability that can give accurate, first-person feedback on how a pastor interacts with their flock. Dr. Wingard also discusses the importance of being careful to notice the impressions a pastor gives his congregation, especially as it relates to anger toward his flock.
Mind + Heart Season 2 Episode 1: Leadership
Phillip Holmes: Before we dive into this week’s episode of Mind + Heart, we want to take a moment to highlight a new opportunity at Reformed Theological Seminary. Getting the master’s degree can seem daunting, especially if you’re working full time, taking care of your family, or just trying to get back to normal in the midst of a pandemic. But what if there was a way to further your education at your own pace without the commitment to a full master’s program?
We recently launched a core certificates program that will help you do just that. The certificates are between eight to 13 hours, allow you to study at your own pace, and accommodate any learning style, offering both audio and video classes, a self-directed course schedule, and regular interactions with teachers, assistants, and professors. You can learn more today at rts.edu/online.
Welcome to the Mind + Heart podcast, which features interviews and more from the faculty and friends of Reformed Theological Seminary. We created this podcast to assist you in your daily quest to love God and love your neighbor. I’m your host, Phillip Holmes, and this week, I’m joined by my guest and my dear friend, Dr. Charlie Wingard.
Dr. Wingard serves as Professor of Pastoral Theology and Dean of Students at Reformed Theological Seminary here in Jackson. Prior to joining the RTS Jackson faculty in 2014, he spent 28 years as an ordained pastor in the PCA and OPC, serving congregations in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Alabama. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of the South in 1980, his M.Div from Vanderbilt Divinity School, and his D.Min from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Since February 2016, Charlie has also served as senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Yazoo City, Mississippi, a fantastic congregation. I’ve gotten a chance to preach for Charlie a few times and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know that congregation over the last several years. Charlie is also the author of “Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministry.” Charlie is married to Lynne. They love the ministry of hospitality and consider it an essential component of pastoral care in both the church and the seminary. Charlie, welcome to the show, brother.
Dr. Charlie Wingard: Thank you. It’s an honor to be with you.
Holmes: Absolutely. I’m glad to have you joining us. So before we dive into this week’s episode, tell us a little bit about yourself. Give us your origin story. Where did you grow up? How did you become a follower of Jesus?
Dr. Wingard: I grew up in a Christian home that I was adopted into when I was two years old. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and I can’t remember a time in my life where I haven’t known Christ as my savior during my childhood. My dad catechized me, read the Scriptures to our family morning and evening, and prayed for us. And so that’s my Christian heritage, and I’m so grateful for it. Ever since I was 14 years of age, I had known I would become a Christian minister.
Holmes: Where specifically, geographically, did you grow up?
Dr. Wingard: Well, during the course of my lifetime, I’ve lived northward of 25 different places. My family moved around quite a bit; I’ve moved around quite a bit. I call my hometown Rock Island, Tennessee. That was where I was living when I graduated from high school. If you draw a triangle between Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, it’s roughly right in the middle of it. Very small town, a beautiful place geographically, wonderful place to have spent my high school years, right at the edge of the Cumberland Plateau.
Holmes: Good deal. University of the South – where is that?
Dr. Wingard: It is in southeastern Tennessee. It is a small, liberal arts Episcopalian school.
Holmes: OK, that makes sense.
Dr. Wingard: Most commonly, it’s called Sewanee.
Holmes: OK. And what made you major in political science?
Dr. Wingard: My father and I talked this over, and he said, “Since you’re going to be going on to seminary and spending your time in God’s Word, reading theology, why don’t you major in something in your undergraduate program that you really enjoy? It will benefit you for life.” And I love politics. I like political philosophy. I’m an avid reader in both of those areas. And so I chose to major in political science, and I’m very glad I did.
Holmes: Yeah, sounds like your father was a wise man. So a few years ago, P&R published your first book, titled Help for the New Pastor: Practical Advice for Your First Year of Ministering. For those who might be unfamiliar with the title, why did you write it, and what were you hoping to accomplish?
Dr. Wingard: Well, it’s my conviction – after mentoring many young men in ministry, it’s my conviction that the first year is a make or break year for them. During that time, you make decisions that will soon lead you into continuing in ministry or in leaving ministry. And so what I’m interested in is that those young men that are going into pastoral ministry, they go to their first church with the right expectations and also possessing the skills that they need to minister well.
So my book, I hope, serves a twofold purpose of setting the expectations correctly and also helping to provide for young men practical skills so that on day one, they’re ready to minister in their first congregation. And of course, that’s my goal in all my pastoral ministry classes that I teach at Reformed Seminary.
Holmes: Yeah, that’s good. And I think a lot of even older guys that I know that read the book who are more seasoned pastors felt like that. It was a book that was not just for your first year of ministry, but it’s a book that could have been beneficial – or, it can be beneficial for somebody who is 10 years, 20 years in.
You know, a lot of people look to you, Charlie, as sort of a pastor of pastors in a lot of ways. And naturally, that’s an aspect of your role at RTS as you’re preparing aspiring pastors to go into the church. But it seems that that book has had an impact not just on new pastors but also on seasoned pastors as well. Would you say that that’s been what you’ve learned based on the feedback that you’ve gotten?
Dr. Wingard: I’ve gotten that kind of feedback from a number of men who have been in ministry for quite some time. I’m glad it’s helpful. I wrote the kind of book that I like to read. I like to pick up books where people talk about what they do in ministry. Some of it, I’ll say, “Yeah, so that’s something I want to take and implement in my own pastoral ministry.” Other things I’ll say, “Well, that won’t work, but I want to understand how men approach ministry.” My book is not prescriptive. I simply describe how I do ministry, and if it’s something that will help a man do his ministry better, I’m grateful for that. But everyone has to think through whether the advice I offer will be appropriate for their situation.
Holmes: Absolutely. Is there an audio version of that book yet?
Dr. Wingard: I’m embarrassed to say I have no idea.
Holmes: I got you. I hope there is. If there’s not, they need to commission one. Because I could imagine that that would be really helpful for pastors, just to be able to read, listen to, and just reflect on. Because I think it’s helpful what you said: it’s not prescriptive, because churches are going to have different dynamics. But the fact that they’re able to hear from someone who’s been in pastoral ministry for a very long time and will be able to say, “You know what, that is something that I can take and use,” or, “Hey, this doesn’t apply to my congregation.” I think that’s a really helpful way to write a book for something that’s complex as pastoral ministry.
When there are sins committed against you, whether the person asks for forgiveness or not, you need to have a forgiving spirit toward them. If not, your ministry will be filled with bitterness and anger and resentment.So, I want to transition. The last two years have been trying for our country and the entire world due to the impact of COVID-19. Across the country, pastors have shepherded weary congregants through virtual worship set-ups, lonely hospital stays, the death of loved ones, job losses, and various political tensions. So on September 10, 2019 – which is actually my birthday, by the way; this was almost six months to the day before lockdown restrictions began – we released a video where Dr. Wingard answered the question, “How should pastors pray for themselves?” And I don’t think people realized how important and how crucial and how relevant that particular video was going to be in the coming six months. But I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard – you know, you hear these stories all the time, but they seem like they multiplied as a result of the coronavirus – in pastors leaving the industry because of burnout. Because again, this has changed everything that – well, not everything, but a lot of things – that they assume that if they thought about doing pastoral ministry. And this stretched guys in so many different types of ways.
So I think that this particular video, “How should pastors pray for themselves?”, is extremely relevant, still relevant today, and will continue to be relevant until the end of time just because, whether we’re in COVID or not, these type of reminders are important. Before we go any further, let’s take a moment and listen to Dr. Wingard’s response to the question, “How should pastors pray for themselves?”
Dr. Wingard: What should pastors pray for? What a great question. The list could go on and on, but let me give three things that I think are particularly important for pastors to pray for in relationship to their churches.
First of all, they need to pray for a forgiving spirit. There are a lot of wounds and injuries that come during your time as a pastor, and you have to become highly committed to overlooking offenses. And then, when there are sins committed against you, whether the person asks for forgiveness or not, you need to have a forgiving spirit toward them. If not, your ministry will be filled with bitterness and anger and resentment. It’s also very important that you be a role model to your congregation in demonstrating to them how you are well aware that in your words and in your behavior, you often sin against them, and you want to be quick to confess that sin to the Lord, and just as quick to confess to the one that you’ve offended and ask for your forgiveness. So I think it’s really important that pastors be praying for a forgiving spirit.
I also think it’s essential that pastors be praying for contentment. Many times, we find ourselves serving in places that are out of the way, where there is little in the way of resources to do the work of church ministry. We’re not as well-paid as we would like to be, and that can be a real struggle. And we have to pray to the Lord God that he’d give us that spirit of contentment so that whatever the people of God are able to provide for us, we thank the Lord for those gifts of God’s people. Praise him for that, not complain about them, but learn to live within the means that God provides in the churches where we serve. It’s so important that we cultivate a contented heart.
And the last thing that I think is so important for us to pray for as ministers is gentleness. If I could have a do-over in my life – and of course, there are no do-overs – but if I could have a do-over, I would want to be a much more gentle person. That doesn’t mean not being firm when that’s required, but gentle: treating people with tenderness, affection. We need to pray for that, that as we approach people, we approach them in meekness and kindness and humility. So I think a minister of the gospel should always be praying for a forgiving spirit, for contentment and the Lord’s provision, and for gentleness of spirit.
Holmes: So, Dr. Wingard, what piece of advice would you offer to pastors facing resentment and bitterness in their ministry?
Dr. Wingard: You want to be realistic. You’re continually going to face, from day one in your ministry, things that might prompt you to resentment and bitterness. And – expect that to come. But you need to understand as you prepare yourself to enter into ministry (and the inevitable trials that are going to come with it) is that resentment and bitterness are always sins.
So don’t cut yourself any slack. You need to rest on your theology. We believe that our God is a sovereign king and a loving, heavenly father who foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. And you want to rest in the assurance of God’s sovereign love and fatherly care for you. You want to remember who you are. That church that you’re serving right now? God chose to send you to that people from before the foundation of the world. He’s prepared that people to receive your ministry. And that’s a great encouragement for a pastor to know that.
That church that you’re serving right now? God chose to send you to that people from before the foundation of the world. He’s prepared that people to receive your ministry.I also think we want to remember that we’re in constant need of sanctification. And I always think of Paul’s passage in Romans 5, where he says that “We rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” So I am in need of sanctification. And one of the ways that God achieves my Christ-likeness, my growth in that, is through the places that he puts me in, where I have to lean upon him and know that Christ’s grace is sufficient for me.
I also think it’s important, when you’re thinking about people that have prompted you to, perhaps – or tempted you to act resentfully or to feel bitterly, to remember that they’re a part of your flock. Be praying for them comprehensively. When you’re in ministry, a lot of the anger that’s directed at you comes from hurting people. They have difficulties in many other areas of their life. They’re frustrated. And we want to seize the opportunity to shepherd them well by being sympathetic. We want to practice the judgment of charity, to attribute the best possible motives to what people are saying to us.
Sometimes they say things that are hurtful. They may say that we’re deficient in some area of our character. Well, we want to stop and attribute the best possible motives to them. Do they care for – we want to act as if they care for us. They may well do that. They might be looking out for our best interests. We want to be grateful for any criticism that comes our way, and to think through it carefully.
Another thing that I think it’s helpful to do, Phillip, is to determine from day one in your ministry that you’re going to establish a lifestyle of gratitude. You want to be thanking your congregation, its members, routinely for the many, many ways that they bless your life. And you’ll find that as you do that, it helps you put the difficult situations into a better perspective. Cultivate a lifestyle of gratitude. These are some of the things that I think are very helpful to do. And when I think about the past couple of years, the turbulent election year, the pandemic – you just want to thank God for placing you in a situation that’s challenging, where people need shepherding and care. Perhaps they sense it more than ever. Well, just thank God that he’s raised you up to serve him in times like these.
Holmes: A very excellent answer. Another question I have for you: how can a young pastor guard against burnout? I mentioned this earlier. A lot of guys are tired because they are being pulled in and stretched in directions and in ways that they probably felt like they never even imagined would be part of their journey in pastoral ministry. So if somebody is feeling burnt out or is trying to be proactive in guarding against burnout, what are some of the things that you would recommend to that person?
Dr. Wingard: Just to help me out with this answer – what are the particular things, again, that you think are leading to burnout among ministers today?
Holmes: Sure. So it depends on the size of the church. If you’re pastoring a small church and you’re trying to think through Zoom meetings and the digital aspect of it, that’s a new challenge that you have on you. There’s also the reality of – and as I’ve had conversations – making decisions about worship on the fly, based on the status of COVID. You know, we thought that there was some light at the end of the tunnel, but now all of a sudden COVID numbers are rising. Also, dealing with the disagreements on whether or not to wear masks. So this is usually something that you might see, probably more so in a larger church, where pastors are having to answer questions and make calls on things that they normally wouldn’t have to make calls on.
And even just thinking through how to love people who are choosing to leave during this time. There are a lot of people who are simply just not going to church anywhere at all, virtually or in person. And there are others who have chosen to leave their churches who would have normally still been there if it had not been for COVID. These things – the number of issues, I guess, that have come to pastors, that are falling at their feet, seems to be rising due to the effects and the impact of COVID. Is that helpful?
Dr. Wingard: Yeah, it is. And some ministers – and we can talk a little bit more about this in just a few minutes, but – sometimes we confuse burnout with just what are very, very stressful situations. Sometimes when we’re in the middle of stressful situations, we feel overwhelmed by the decisions we have to make, and we just conclude that we’re burned out. And that’s really not the case. I want to talk about burnout in just a moment. I have a very simple definition for burnout that – I think it will be helpful as we try to work through this issue. But we are in a time where – I’ve never had to deal with the pandemic. I just have to work with my elders to try to reach consensus on particular issues, make our decisions – we don’t want to do harm to anyone – make our decisions, and then we have to rely upon our congregation’s trust that, even though they may not agree with us, we’re working for their best interest.
Once your congregation has that sense that you’re working for their best interest, I think that most of the time they’re willing to follow your leadership, even when they’re not completely persuaded that the path you’re taking the congregation is the best one.And so I think that, you know, down the line, we may face far greater, far greater problems than what we’re facing now because of this stage of the pandemic. More difficult times might come. And I think what you want to do is to learn from these situations. And what I have learned is that it’s the building up of relationships of trust with the pastor. The congregation trusts you as a leader. Hopefully, they trust the elders that serve along with you. Once your congregation has that sense that you’re working for their best interest, I think that most of the time they’re willing to follow your leadership, even when they’re not completely persuaded that the path you’re taking the congregation is the best one. On things like the political situation, you’ll find other pastors that vehemently disagree with me, but I stay out of partisan politics.
Holmes: Good call.
Dr. Wingard: And I have very firm political convictions. I try to think through my responsibilities as a citizen, but I don’t take those into the pulpit. And I want whoever is in my congregation, whether they’re Democrat or Republican or Independent, to feel that I am there, concerned for their souls, and not to argue with them over partisan politics.
Holmes: Right. That’s good. So you said that you were operating off a specific definition of burnout? I’ll give you the one that I was operating off of, and then you can kind of give me some feedback on what it is you were thinking. So, the definition I’m operating off of is, “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” Which, to your point – you said that there was a confusion between stress and burnout. And my definition, of course, would say they’re connected. And that repeated stress can also lead to a form of burnout that may be emotional, not necessarily physical.
Dr. Wingard: Yeah, I would be in great sympathy with your definition. I describe or define burnout as physical or mental breakdown caused by overwork, the stress might cause us to overwork.
Holmes: Ah, gotcha.
Dr. Wingard: And some of us – we just need to be upfront about it – some of us routinely overwork to the point that our physical and mental health are jeopardized. And overwork can take a frightening toll on a minister.
But the way of meeting overwork is rather simple. First, you need to see a doctor. Work-induced exhaustion is a medical issue. And the symptoms need to be treated. And a medical cause may be a contributing factor, something like sleep apnea. So you want to see a doctor when you’re exhausted.
You want to seek mature counsel and accountability. You want to identify someone who can help you establish and maintain a reasonable work schedule. Accountability may mean the difference between staying in the ministry or leaving it. And all of us need to seek from the Lord the grace to put into practice our theological convictions. While we’re frail and mortal, and every one of us has to rest, the Lord who keeps Israel will neither sleep nor slumber. Psalm 121:4.
Holmes: Amen. Amen.
Dr. Wingard: He is always working for us in Jesus Christ. And because he’s working for us, we can rest. So we need to let our theology govern our schedule. But then, if you don’t mind me taking this a different direction?
Holmes: Please do. Yes.
Dr. Wingard: There are some times when we conclude that we’re overworked and burned out when really, the problem lies elsewhere. And so, I always – when I’m giving counsel on this, I want to talk to make sure that when we’re – when a pastor says that he’s burned out, that the burnout out is a result of physical work and not some other area of their life that they’ve neglected.
We need to let our theology govern our schedule.I can give you some examples: sometimes a minister is faced with an intractable problem in his own life. He’s just simply at a place where he cannot minister. There’s been a death in his family. There’s been a tragic rupture of a relationship within his family. And there are times where a person simply has to step back from ministry until those kind of issues can be resolved.
But there are others. Sometimes we just forget about our calling. We forget that we are sent into a world that is broken, a world that’s often hostile to the gospel. And that’s precisely the kind of world that God has sent us into. And so the idea that we’re facing stressful situations – we shouldn’t conclude that because we’re facing that stress, we’re suffering burnout. This is simply the way the world is structured in its fallenness. And it would be foolish for us to expect anything else than to be placed in situation after situation where we’ll be facing adversity, and trial, and all the stresses that come with it.
Sometimes, ministers think they’re burned out, but they’ve given up basic biblical disciplines. They’re no longer praying. And if you’re not praying, ministering out of the Lord’s strength, then ministry is going to become terribly burdensome to you. You may not be getting any Sabbath rest. I’m a minister, and I’ve had to learn the hard way that the Sabbath Day, the Lord’s Day, is a day of rest for the minister, too. The way I’ve worked around that, Phillip, is, I try to get all my sermon preparations done before the Lord’s Day. I try to keep church business meetings off the calendar on the Lord’s Day. I want to be able to go spend time with my church family. And even though I’m giving the sermon, I just want to be able to enjoy being with my people. And I think, if a minister will think carefully, they can pare away all necessary work on the Sabbath. Even ministry work – they can pare that away and enjoy their time on the Lord’s Day. And at the end of it, they may be tired but refreshed in the Lord.
Sometimes, ministers think they’re burned out, but they’ve given up basic biblical disciplines. They’re no longer praying. And if you’re not praying, ministering out of the Lord’s strength, then ministry is going to become terribly burdensome to you.Sometimes, people say they’re burned out, and they just have lost their affection for their people. That has to be rebuilt, energetically becoming again involved in the lives of your people, delighting in their fellowship, enjoying their friendship. You have to check your affection for your people, because if you don’t love them, then they are going to be a burden to you. You also have to check your expectations.
Sometimes, new ministers don’t know what to do when, for the first time in their life, they’re placed in situations where they’re not immediately popular and esteemed by those around them. They grew up selecting their friends based on mutual interests. Their friends think they’re wonderful people. Their family, of course, loves them greatly. And they go to college; they spend time with people that are just like them. They get along together, and then they end up in their first church with people who are very, very different from them. And what I want a young minister to know is that patience is a must. You’re going to have to go out and earn their trust. Don’t be disappointed about that. That’s just a part of building that relationship. Give your congregation a time – the time that they need to get to know you. Over the years – and I’m talking about years that might take to get that trust – but, over the years, as you provide them with sensitive and skilled pastoral care, you’ll find most of the time that your congregation increasingly cares for you. Another thing you’ll find out when you go to your first church is that there are people that really do care about you. They’re rooting for you. They want to see you succeed as a minister, but they really don’t know how to share that care. And that’s going to take time for that kind of relationship to develop.
Over the years, as you provide them with sensitive and skilled pastoral care, you’ll find most of the time that your congregation increasingly cares for you.Another area, Phillip, where I think people can claim burn out when really the source of their stress, their anxiety, comes from something other than overwork, is when we have – when we are unable to relate to people who are different from us. I’m really glad that I grew up in a lower middle class home, went to a public school with people that are very different from me. I’ve worked on factory floors. I’ve done farm work. I’ve gotten, during my lifetime, very comfortable being around people that come out of various economic backgrounds, racial and ethnic backgrounds, out of different educational backgrounds. And so, it’s made it much easier for me to fit into whatever community God sends me to. And I want to encourage men that are preparing for ministry to get yourself into situations with people that are very different from you. Then, when you arrive at your first church, you’ll be much more comfortable.
One of the things that bothers me, quite honestly, as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church – many, not all of our Presbyterian churches are affluent, but many of them are – well, people go to schools with people just like them. They go to camps with people like them. They’re not taking summer jobs where they’re exposed to different kinds of people. They are in one environment after another with people just like them. And then, they get to their first church, and there are a lot of people there that are unlike them. It’s very difficult for them to find their feet and do ministry well. So I want to encourage young ministers, and even older ministers: be working on your ability to relate to people who are different. Does some of this, Phillip, resonate with you, or…?
Holmes: No, this was an excellent – I didn’t want to interrupt you because I’m just like, man, this – you know, what I love about your answer is, you recognize immediately that definitions differ regarding burnout. And as much as was possible with the sort of general question related to burnout that we gave you, you tried to narrow it down, actually, to understand but also acknowledge that this is a complex question. Because, for instance, sometimes the diagnosis, which is, like, given by the person, might not be the correct diagnosis, right? So, to say I’m burnt out, I shouldn’t necessarily just start talking to you about “burnt out” – for someone to diagnose themselves as being burnt out, right? – I shouldn’t go to that person and simply start talking to them about being burnt out. I should ask some more questions. Because I’m not helping them if they haven’t diagnosed themselves correctly. And so, all the aspects that you address and that you mentioned are going to be extremely helpful to somebody who is in a place where they might be feeling burnt out. But then there’s so many layers to this as it relates to pastoral ministry that have to be addressed physically, mentally, emotionally, but also spiritually as well. So, I love your answer. And all of your, you know, 20-plus years of pastoral ministry kind of showed itself in the wisdom that you exercise in how you approached that question. So, I – just know the reason why I appreciated you, and I’m glad you’re our guest today.
Dr. Wingard: Thank you.
Holmes: Doctor, we’re going to keep going. You said pastors should learn to be content with where God has placed them. But how can a pastor help their church learn how to practice the same contentment? And this is slightly related to some of the things that you address because you talked – in your previous question, in the previous question, I asked you – because you talked about specifically learning to give your congregation time to trust you, right? And I think this is sort of related to that. So there’s a passive aspect of it in the sense that the pastor needs to be faithful. He needs to practice and exercise skilled pastoral ministry, as you mentioned. But the reality is, is that he has to be patient and wait for the people as he’s doing those things for that trust to be built.
But what are even some ways that a pastor can be proactive in helping people understand a theology of contentment as it relates to the leadership God has given them, right? Because we live in a world where people have access to all different types of Sunday morning sermons, whether that’s online or even the radio ministry. Regardless, people can always listen to another pastor and compare that pastor’s sermons with some other popular preachers or hear about decisions that one church is making versus the decision that their church is making. They may agree with what the church across town is doing, but may not necessarily align with what their elders have decided to do. How can pastors be even proactive, without being self-serving, in teaching their people how to be content and how to cultivate that trust for the leadership that God has placed them under?
Dr. Wingard: I think the place you have to begin with that, of course, is yourself. The only person, ultimately, that I can be completely responsible for in the area of contentment is my myself. As a matter of fact, when you make it your goal, say, “Well, I’m going to make these people become content,” you’ve already set yourself up for failure. It’s the Lord who changes hearts. I think the places where I would start with this is focus on yourself. Be content. This is where God has sent you to serve. Always be praying to the Lord to increase your contentment, that important manifestation of godliness. And then, pray for your congregation’s contentment. You certainly want to do that. But you don’t want to turn around and browbeat your congregation, you know. Always bringing up accusations that, “Look, you’re not content. You’re failing in this area of your life.” You don’t want to browbeat them. That’s not what a shepherd does. A shepherd doesn’t club the sheep. We lead them by example, and by instruction, and sometimes by correction.
Whether we’re talking with our wives, or whether we’re talking with our fellow ministers, we want the tone of our language to be that we hold our congregation in deepest affection.So practice contentment. And here’s how you can tell whether you’re making progress as a contented pastor – and it’s really a simple test, and it’s almost an infallible one. And it’s like this: how do you talk about your congregation to your wife? Are you always complaining to her about what a burden they are? Are you speaking angrily about the members of your congregation? Listen to how you’re talking to your wife. That’s a tip-off on whether you’re truly content where the Lord has placed you.
Another group of people [among whom] you want to listen to yourself, listen carefully to what you say to them, is with your fellow ministers. Sometimes ministers get together, and they just bewail their congregations. They complain about them, and they express disgust with them, and we don’t want to be like that. Whether we’re talking with our wives, or whether we’re talking with our fellow ministers, we want the tone of our language to be that we hold our congregation in deepest affection. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk about trials and problems we face. We have to do that to discern a path forward. But we want to make sure that it’s done in the context of deep affection for our congregation. When we’re praying for people, we want to make sure that we’re not praying for them as if they’re a problem.
Sometimes we’re tempted, if we’re in conflict with someone or someone’s making our lives irritable, when we pray for them, just to focus on the problems. And we forget that that person is in a series of relationships in his home, in his workplace, and his neighborhood, and his church. And many times they’re facing enormous trials. And so we want to be praying for that person within the context of their whole life situation.
I’ll give you an example of that from my own personal life – and maybe the best way to do this is to say, if you want to be contented in pastoral ministry, you have to learn not only to give care to your church family but also to receive the care of your church family. I served for a number of years in a church where our elder board had to deal with a series of major decisions. And many times we were not in agreement on how to address these situations. And any one of these multiple difficult situations could have led our elders to split apart. But we didn’t. We stayed together. We stayed together even when we didn’t have unanimity on quite a number of major issues. And here’s why I think we were able to do that. When those elders had parents who were sick, I visited them. I did funerals for them. When their family members were sick, I was there for them. I taught their children. I was there for them in crises. So we had a relationship that went beyond our board meetings. We had relationships that were far greater than the individual problems that we were facing as a congregation. So I was never able to look at an elder just as a problem.
And then, the ministry went both ways when I needed counsel. They were there for me when I had tragedies in my family. They were there for me, praying for me when I had a run of ill health or a couple of runs of ill health; they came alongside, helped me get my work done, encouraged me – again, they had a relationship with me that went beyond just making decisions and our session meetings. And I think this is one of the key ways that we learned to be content with each other is by looking at each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a broad relationship with them that goes far beyond whatever matters may divide us.
Holmes: Excellent. Excellent. No, that’s very helpful.
Dr. Wingard: I might also – you’re asking me about, how do you teach a congregation about contentment? You want to be realistic in your sermon applications. It takes time to develop character. You have to be clear about that in your own mind. Clear about that as you talk to your people about sanctification. There are no shortcuts. You never, from the pulpit, want to tell people, “Well, these are three easy steps to contentment,” or, “Three easy steps to forgiveness.” Life doesn’t work that way. And when you preach like that, you set your congregation up to experience bitter failure.
And you talked at the beginning here about comparing ourselves to other congregations. Phillip, every individual pastor, every individual member, every church has limitations. We can’t do everything that we would like to do. There’s limited talents, limited resources. And one of the things that we’re – that’s at the heart of contentment, is helping our congregation even as we’ve tried to learn ourselves the limits on the abilities that the Lord has given to us and to be able to accept who we are before the Lord, and the gifts and graces He’s given us, and the gifts and graces He’s given to our congregation.
Holmes: Amen, amen. Yeah, the distinction that I appreciated, as you emphasized at the beginning of the answer, was not confusing helping with forcing or browbeating. You can’t do it for people, but the pastor can shepherd and help. But oftentimes, we can muddle the difference. The distinction that is very, very key there when it comes to the role and the call of the pastor versus someone who just wants people to act right. Or act how they want them to act.
Dr. Wingard: That’s not shepherding.
Holmes: Yeah, exactly. Last question: in your video, you said that one of the regrets, or – you know, if you could go back and do something different (which you acknowledge that that’s not possible), but if you could, you would be more gentle. And that definitely resonated with me, even at the young age of 34, as I reflect over my life as a friend, now even as a husband and a father of three young boys, gentleness has become so important for me. And I realize that this is an attribute that is absolutely needed when you’re in any type of leadership position.
Our love for our people must be transparent. People must sense that even when we’re saying something to them that they don’t want to hear, they need the sense that we’re for them in Christ Jesus.How can a pastor, though, understand how to be firm? Because you clarified that doesn’t mean that you can’t be firm or that you shouldn’t be firm, but you can also be gentle. And that’s one of the tensions that the Christian life calls us to. So how can the pastor learn to be firm but gentle? What does that look like practically?
Dr. Wingard: Well, it begins, I think, in how we approach life at our home and in our church. We want to approach our work when we have to confront a problem, whether it’s disciplining a child, or church discipline, or just the routine corrections that come with being a shepherd of people, we have a responsibility to administer a biblical correction. We want to make sure that we’re not acting out of anger. That’s hugely important. Again, we’re not here to club the sheep. Our love for our people must be transparent. People must sense that even when we’re saying something to them that they don’t want to hear, they need the sense that we’re for them in Christ Jesus. And so we’re constantly trying to make sure that when we discipline our children, or our church members, or in places where we have to speak very forthrightly about patterns of behavior that we see are destructive – we have to make sure that when we speak to the people that we love, that we do so with tenderness. And again, that they sense that we’re for them in Christ Jesus.
And also – and I’m quick to add this, and I’ll share a personal story on this, too – we have to make sure that we don’t even give the appearance of being sinfully angry with people. And I remember – and this is one of the reasons why you need to have friends in your congregation. I’m a member of an online group of ministers that get together. We get together and talk about challenges in ministry. We pray for each other. We talk about the difficulties that we’re facing in our ministries. We share counsel with each other, and this is all hugely helpful to me. I value my relationship with each of those ministers. But none of them is seeing how I behave in my local congregation. None of them are seeing that, and it’s imperative that you have friends that are seeing how you’re treating your congregation and are able to speak the truth.
Holmes: Amen. Amen.
Dr. Wingard: I’m a very intense person. I’m goal-oriented. And I’ll never forget one time when one of my associate pastors in a congregation, after a session meeting, he pulled me aside and said, “Charlie, you are so intense when you’re making your case for a particular position in our session meetings, that men can easily conclude that you’re angry with them.” Well, I don’t think I was, and my friend said, “Well, I don’t think you’re angry either, but their perception of you is what’s so important.” And you can’t be in a position where you’ve given people the perception that they’re angry with you, that you’re angry with them.
We have to be careful about perceptions. They’re very important. We don’t want to be angry with our people, sinfully angry, and we don’t want to give the perception of being sinfully angry.We have to be careful about perceptions. They’re very important. We don’t want to be angry with our people, sinfully angry, and we don’t want to give the perception of being sinfully angry. And we can do that when we’re too intense.
Holmes: And that is so, so helpful and so, so on point, and I needed to hear that as well. I think this is going to be a helpful episode, whether you’re in pastoral ministry, or whether you’re a Christian who’s in some leadership capacity. Well said, sir. Well said.
Dr. Wingard, that’s all the time that we have today. Thank you so, so much for joining us, especially during your sabbatical. You could have easily said no, and we would have understood, but we’re very, very grateful that you came and gave us some of your time.
Dr. Wingard: I love spending time with you, Phillip. I love the way that you come up to our church minister God’s Word to us here in Yazoo City. And please, please give my compliments to Jasmine.
Holmes: I will. I will, brother. Thank you for tuning in, and we hope you enjoyed this week’s episode featuring Dr. Charlie Wingard. I would also like to thank the RTS family, church partners, students, alumni, and donors for the many ways you make the work of Reformed Theological Seminary possible. The clip we listened to earlier is from our weekly video series Wisdom Wednesday, where relevant matters of the Christian faith are addressed by RTS faculty and friends with truth, candor, and grace. Access our entire archive, or submit a question at rts.edu/wisdom-wednesday.
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