Skillful hands and integrity of heart

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I’m in my youth ministry classroom at Oklahoma Wesleyan early this morning, waiting for students to begin arriving.   Actually, I was…but here they come…I’ll finish this later.

I was reflecting again on one of my favorite passages to preach on – Psalm 78.   It is a great passage about passing the faith to the next generation. 

Toward the end of the Psalm, King David is referenced as a shepherd who shepherded with skillful hands and integrity of heart.   Skillful hands.  Integrity of heart.  

What does that mean to you….and what should it mean to these young, aspiring youth pastors? 

I’d love to hear your wisdom…and I will share it with them!

Comments
  1. For me and for aspiring youth pastors… it means that I need to be skillful in loving on students and showing them Christ. For a while I thought I could get away with this through my charm and humor but the more I studied about Scripture, continued my education and learned through veteran youth pastors; the more I learned that this was not the case. I need to know how to interpret Scripture, I needed to know how to handle situations that came up in youth ministry and in the church, etc… More and more I am believing that youth ministry is a professional job that I need to always be a student and skillful with the tools of youth ministry.

  2. scottywad says:

    Im no pastor but a skillful shepherd knows how to handle his sheep in every situation. When to feed, lead, rest, play, shear, shelter,defend, ect.

    Integrity of heart means doing so in love and honesty while never losing focus of reason or purpose.

    • Scott.. To me bro you are a pastor. You do a great job feeding, leading, resting, playing, shearing, sheltering and defending students of your world. You are very encouraging to me!

      Lead on friend and keep following the Shepherd.

      Steven

    • halhamilton says:

      Scott,

      We are under-shepherds together, receiving from the Shepherd and serving under His command.

      Almost sound like John Wesley talking about intreity of heart in terms of love!

  3. scottywad says:

    Thanks Steven, maybe just maybe……I had great mentors around me.

  4. April T. says:

    Upright Heart & Skillful Hand
    Psalm 78:72
    “With upright heart he shepherd them and guided them with his skill hand.”

    An Upright Heart
    I think it no accident that an ‘upright heart’ comes before guidance with a ‘skillful hand.’ God’s choice of David for a king was not his outward appearance … there were better looking, taller, more kingly type amongst his brothers … it was David’s heart (I Samuel 16:7)…that which was on the inside that really mattered to God. God doesn’t look on our outward appearances, we don’t have to be the coolest, the hippest, the best-looking … what really matters in ministry is our heart. Do we have a heart for God? Is he our ‘one thing?’

    It is easy in ministry and in shepherding others to have other things that we deem most important. We want to be culturally relevant, we want people to like us, we want to have ‘results’ … whatever that might look like … and those things can become idols to us. David’s one passion, one desire, his one thing wasn’t for notoriety, wasn’t for fame, wasn’t even for results: “One thing I ask of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” Psalm 27:4. What would happen to our ministries, to the people in which we shepherd if we had a heart like that? What would happen if our one thing was to dwell in the house of the Lord and gaze upon his beauty?! Ministry should come out an intimate relationship with Jesus! To have an upright heart means to seek the Lord first in all things, to love him, to worship him and let ministry flow of that relationship. David made mistakes but when confronted by the prophet Nathan … he didn’t make excuses. He didn’t blame other people. He took full blame for his actions. To have an upright heart doesn’t mean we’re perfect, it doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes but it does mean that our heart is tender before the Lord. We love him, we worship him, we keep coming to him through the good and through the bad.

    A Skillful Hand
    I went to hear the St. Louis Symphony in early December. Every time I go I make a promise to myself that at least every quarter I will come back. Every time I leave I feel lifted and my spirit soars. I end up getting busy and not coming back every quarter … but every time I do go, I’m brought to tears. There is something powerful, something life giving, something that dusts off the creative, spiritual side of me, something in the music that brings me closer to God. This last time as I sat and let the sounds of the symphony wash over my spirit, and as I sat and the tears inevitably came … I thought back to when I was a kid. …

    I played the oboe. I started as an eleven year old and found out pretty quickly that I had a gift. Within two years I was in state competitions and vying for first chair in high school state bands and symphonies. I loved playing with a symphony, the joy, the thrill of making music together. I loved it. I didn’t love it when we moved and I played with a new band. I didn’t like the other oboe player and I quit. Just like that. I just quit. It is one of my deepest regrets. I had a gift. I had a talent. But I didn’t hone it. I was a lazy musician. When it got tough, I simply quit.

    To guide with a skillful hand … part of what that means is to hone the gifts, the talents with which the Lord gives us. Every musician has to practice. Every athlete has to practice. No one gets to play in the STL symphony on natural talent alone. They have to sharpen their skills and work at it. No one gets to go to the Olympics on natural talent alone. They work for years and years and years to tone, to get better, to practice. Our abilities as preachers, as teachers, as small group leaders, as pastors … God has given us gifts and natural talents. But we need to get better, we need to practice, we need to hone the gifts that he has given us. So many church leaders get lazy and latent in their gifts. We get sloppy in sermon preparation. We get lax in praying and leading. We don’t sharpen the natural gifts and talents the Lord has given us. One could argue that David got in trouble with Bathsheba and the fallout from all of that because he got lazy (2 Samuel 11:1).

    David was an excellent warrior and an excellent musician. Those things don’t come naturally … one must work at them. God help us to lead with a skillful hand and not become lazy. The apostle Paul is such a model for us … he was a skilled theologian, he knew the Scriptures … he had studied with the best … but his one goal (even after decades of following and knowing Jesus) was to know Jesus more … and to keep pressing on … he didn’t grow stale … may the passion that was in David … the passion that was in Paul be in all of us … “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share with his sufferings…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:10,13-14.

    • Jon Ferguson says:

      The model of passing truth from one generation to the next was (and is!) so powerful for me in my early days of ministry because it’s easy to believe that you’ve got it all together when you are young and closer to the cutting edge of youth culture. It’s easy to think that you’re best prepared to pass the faith on to the next generation because you understand them better than your veteran colleagues.

      But this is so far from the truth. The wisdom I glean from working with those who had been passing on the faith for years helped build my confidence, contain my arrogance, and save me from many costly mistakes. You’ve got to learn from the wisdom of those who’ve been working in the constant “functions” of ministry that don’t change, and then you’ll be best equipped to evaluate the “forms” that you’re dreaming of using to pass on the faith.

      What’s the best way to do this? That’s obvious: do a youth ministry internship or take a class from Hal Hamilton. 🙂 It certainly shaped my ministry!

      • halhamilton says:

        Jon, you are kind! What a gracious surprise. Hope you and Jennifer are doing great. There is no age limit on arrogance/overconfidence…at least I haven’t found it yet 🙂

    • halhamilton says:

      Great stuff, April! Do you write anywhere? I’ll be reading this again. I look forward to hearing you play that oboe someday.

  5. Rick D. says:

    Integrity of heart: that’s a big one! 🙂 One aspect for me is that as leaders we must serve/lead as freely as possible. Free of conditions, free of manipulations, free of co-dependence (the desire to be “needed”) free of misplaced affections (“I want to be liked” youth are not our peers!…not yet at least. We make room for them to be when the time is right, and when that happens, the nature of the relationship changes. But, not until then). This, of course is a life long journey of freedom in all leaders. Jesus did it perfectly: loved people perfectly; served and led them perfectly. With great integrity and freedom. And of course, with skill, as well. One aspect of this (related to the first) is that Youth ministry is people ministry. It’s relational ministry. We must be skilled in healthy interpersonal communication. We must “do relationships” well, especially. There is no compromise on this commitment to learn and grow in healthy, holy communities of faith: this takes integrity of heart and skill!
    Plenty more of course, but those two aspects: cleanness/freedom (integrity) of heart and healthy interpersonal, relational, skills are at the heart of it, I think. This is a lifelong journey, of course! But one we must remain on.

    • halhamilton says:

      “There is no compromise on this commitment to learn and grow in healthy, holy communities of faith: this takes integrity of heart and skill!” And a long-term commitment well-seasoned with humility! Thanks, Rick

  6. scottywad says:

    Love April’s comments:

    “I think it no accident that an ‘upright heart’ comes before guidance with a ‘skillful hand.”

    “we don’t have to be the coolest, the hippest, the best-looking … what really matters in ministry is our heart. Do we have a heart for God? Is he our ‘one thing?’”

    “we need to hone the gifts that he has given us”

    “The apostle Paul is such a model for us … he was a skilled theologian, he knew the Scriptures … he had studied with the best … but his one goal (even after decades of following and knowing Jesus) was to know Jesus more … and to keep pressing on”

    Rules for ministry:
    1. Ensuring our own heart’s standing.
    2. Focusing on God’s (hear)t will.
    3. Realizing who we are in Christ and honing those God given skills.
    4.Continued self-growth.

    Awesome stuff April.

  7. scottywad says:

    I’d only add what Jon stated: “What’s the best way to do this? That’s obvious: do a youth ministry internship or take a class from Hal Hamilton. It certainly shaped my ministry!”

  8. scottywad says:

    I also find Rick’s angle on “freedom” very intriguing and important.

  9. April, I like your comment about the importance of an upright heart in the order of sequence. As youth pastors/leaders- We lead with our spiritual life. We cannot lead someone else where we have not gone. As shepherds of students, if we do not know where the lush green grass or the cool refreshing water of God’s presence is- how can we lead our students there?

    The idea of a shepherd leading their sheep brings up images of Jesus leading his disciples around the countryside. The disciples were transformed by three years of following Jesus around, listening to his teachings, learning from his example, and by being in his presence. As I look over the landscape of 10+ years of ministry, the students that I see continuing to grow in their faith and impact the world are many of the ones who I (and other leaders) poured out hours upon hours of sharing life, hanging out, talking about faith, and holding each other accountable.

    Which leads to an important lesson for all of us as pastors/youth pastors/leaders: Who is shepherding us? The easy answer is Jesus. But do we have a mentor who is older and more experienced than us that we meet with on a regular basis? Who is helping us to develop “skillful hands”? Who holds us accountable? Who we confess to?

    I have to confess that it took me nearly 9 years to humble myself and ask someone to mentor me, to speak into my life, and to hold me accountable. It should seem easy, but it wasn’t. I’m grateful for him and the others who can probe, pray, and shepherd me in my walk and my ministry- and hope that you all find someone like that as well.

    • halhamilton says:

      “Which leads to an important lesson for all of us as pastors/youth pastors/leaders: Who is shepherding us? The easy answer is Jesus. But do we have a mentor who is older and more experienced than us that we meet with on a regular basis? Who is helping us to develop “skillful hands”? Who holds us accountable? Who we confess to?”

      Thanks, Steve. So good. It is so important…and I have found the longer I am in ministry the more aggressive I have to be to seek this out when geography or life changes disrupt what was in place.

  10. Linda Hrncir says:

    In this context, I think of integrity as always looking out for their well being and their best interests first and foremost. I think the skill comes from the Spirit of God who gives the wisdom it takes to know when to lead and when to follow and gently redirect.

    • halhamilton says:

      Linda, I’m reminded of the shepherds in Ezekiel 34 who used their position for their own advantage and comfort…and even ignored those who were lost, hurting and injured. That lack of integrity seems to be one thing that makes God pretty angry!

  11. Sarah D. says:

    Well put, Steve, “We lead with our spiritual life. We cannot lead someone else where we have not gone. As shepherds of students, if we do not know where the lush green grass or the cool refreshing water of God’s presence is- how can we lead our students there?”

    It might be just my current context, but these ideas of skill and integrity are bound together with humility in my mind and heart. I once heard a speaker talk about how humility is not unrealistic self-deprecation, but true self-knowledge, knowing where you’re strong and knowing where you’re weak, being truthful to yourself and others about yourself.

    I don’t know what–aside from Jesus–the people I’m called to walk alongside need. My knowledge of who they are, their families, their histories, their hopes, the fears that wake them at 2 a.m. is remarkably limited. But knowing that they stand in need before God, that they are loved without measure by Jesus and that to be whole they must be healed and redeemed by accepting Jesus’ invitation to life abundant and eternal is enough.

    In all of my skill, and I do train and work and practice to be skilled in walking alongside students, I am blessedly inadequate to meet their needs. In fact, if I try to meet their needs, I will grasp a role that is not mine and become a liar without integrity. But if I know where that green grass and sweet water is, I can minister.

    To be skilled is to learn and grow continually. It’s surrounding oneself with those who are wise. It’s praying. It’s being sure to remember that each person is wholly known only by God himself, and that being called to shepherd is a weighty call, but a call to walk alongside, not a call to mastery of others.

    To have integrity is to be the same person while alone before God as I am before a roomful of people. A deceptively simple call that I can only pursue by the grace of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Still pondering, and if you’ll permit a “Hal-ism”, this is for free: while thinking of how Jesus modeled relational ministry, I got stuck thinking of how he carefully shepherded Judas, giving him access to all those green pastures and still waters. No big “ah-hah!” there, but an interesting thought to me.

  12. peterjwhite says:

    “Skillful hands” when it comes to shepherding makes me think there are competencies to be learned and practiced and perfected. It doesn’t just happen. You learn it. There is craft and artistry to it. Like a musician or an athlete, you put in long hours training. Malcolm Gladwell talks about spending 10,000 hours to master a skill.

    Those who shepherd well, do it well because they’ve put in the hard work.

    • halhamilton says:

      I know you give yourself to authentic shepherding, Peter. I am pleased to know someone so diligent in acquiring the “skillful hands.” You inspire me. And that Gladwell concept of hours for mastery is one I circle often. Do I really want to become an expert in this? And, I could do this….it would only take 10,000 hours of my life!

  13. Ginger Susman says:

    Hal, thank you for inviting me to comment on your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading it but I am too terribly unqualified and unlearned to post….Fact is, I do not have a clue about how to shepherd….all I know is that I am being shepherded….and sometimes a line forms behind me. “The Lord is my Shepherd…..”

    • halhamilton says:

      Your post shows that you get it exactly right – we are undershepherds under the Good shepherd, and we love as we are loved, forgive as we are forgiven, and heal as we are being healed. Thanks for consistently showing up in kids lives…and loving Jesus and loving kids.

  14. Brad says:

    DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU WILL DO.

    I’ve preached that for years to my employees and my children.
    Honestly, how many people do you know who do that?
    Do you? Honestly…
    Ya gotta count the cost before you say “yes”… or “I will do that…” “I will be there…”
    I’ll give this grace: as soon as we realize we can not do what we said you would
    we should communicate that immediately to the party we committed to.

  15. Destiny Brayfield says:

    These comments are crazy good insightful 🙂 And said it all.

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