PODCAST | Fan The Flame: Encouragement For Weary Pastors (Feat. Jim Cymbala)
In today’s podcast, Will Klotz talks with Jim Cymbala, Pastor at Brooklyn Tabernacle for more than 50 years. Pastor Cymbala has a strong burden for the local church and has been blessed with the opportunity to encourage thousands of pastors around the globe.
In this conversation, Jim talks about his newest book Fan the Flame where he provides encouragement for weary pastors. He focuses on Acts 20 as he guides pastors and church leaders toward renewal and revival. We hope you enjoy the conversation!
If we can help you further your mission, please contact us to get started.
Welcome to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. I'm your host, Christa Neidig, Senior Marketing Coordinator here at Vanderbloemen. In today's podcast, Will Klotz talks with Pastor Jim Cymbala, Pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle for more than 50 years now.
Pastor Cymbala has a strong burden for the local church and has been blessed with the opportunity to encourage thousands of pastors around the globe.
In this conversation, Pastor Jim talks about his newest book, Fan The Flame, where he provides encouragement for weary pastors.
He focuses on Acts 20 as he guides pastors and church leaders towards renewal and revival. We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Let me welcome everyone to the Vanderbloemen Podcast. Today's a real treat as I welcome Pastor Jim Cymbala. Now, we're going to jump into the book in just a little bit.
Pastor Jim, many people have been blessed by your ministry. Would you mind just briefly introducing yourself to our listeners?
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Yeah. I'm Pastor Jim Cymbala. My wife, Carol, and I started in Downtown Brooklyn more than four decades ago in a rundown building on Atlantic Avenue.
There were less than 20 people. There was no crack cocaine yet, but lots of heroin and alcoholism, gangs, homelessness, and that's where God planted us.
I was a basketball player in high school and college. I didn't have formal training. God brought me into the ministry through a side door.
My wife who's a pastor's daughter has perfect pitch and is a very gifted keyboard player, but can't read or write music.
She started a choir eventually that's won six Grammy awards and has sung in the biggest venues around.
We just started. One thing led to another, made a lot of mistakes. My sermons were so bad at the beginning that people were converting to other religions during my sermons, and that's not a good sign usually.
We just kept on keeping on and the Lord blessed. Now, decades later, we find ourselves overseeing a bunch of churches that have grown out of our church.
We're in a ginormous theater, the largest in North America when it was built in 1918. I'm the only pastor, by the way.
This theater was vaudeville, then it was silent movies, then talkies. 4,100 seats when it was built.
Then in World War II, they tried to raise money for the World War II effort, and they had the biggest movie stars and singers of that day come in.
I'm the only pastor in America who can say The Three Stooges played live on my platform, which is one of my claims to fame. Moe, Larry, and Curly. But seriously, we're downtown here.
Now, Brooklyn has totally exploded. Skyscrapers everywhere, it's the new Manhattan. Property values have just gone through the roof.
But because subways and buses all stop within a block and a half of where we are, even though it's a much more dangerous Brooklyn since the pandemic, we're just seeing people baptized left and right, who have found Christ as savior. God is good.
That's wonderful. You have a real legacy of ministry or real example for younger pastors to follow. I think that leads into a bit of the discussion we're having today.
We do want to talk about the book. The book's called Fan The Flame. I encourage folks to go out and look at it. I've been able to work through it myself. It's been so encouraging.
How I'd love to open up the discussion, Pastor Jim, is just a bit of the current context we're in.
The past couple years, it goes without saying have been especially discouraging for pastors. I'd love to hear from you.
What are you hearing from pastors that are looking to you? What's coming out of some of those conversations with how pastors are doing?
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Well, on March 8th of 2020, my wife and I went down to Florida. We rent an apartment about a block and a half from the church here so we don't have to commute. We can just walk 275 steps.
We have a home in Florida that we never get to unfortunately. It was supposed to be a getaway. We went down on March 8th for five days ostensibly.
It turned into 16 months because the next day, the pastors called here and said, "Don't get on an airplane."
You remember back to those times, March 2020? Don't get on an airplane. Church is shut down, office shut down, schools shut down, banks are shut down, everything shut down.
How long? What would I do? We didn't know. We hadn't been this way before.
I started meeting a very kind pastor down there. Gave me his auditorium and his videography team so I could provide Sunday sermons and Tuesday night devotions for the prayer meeting and daily devotions. That was very good.
But then, Pastor started calling me and saying, "Could five of us come over to the house and just meet with you?" There was a lot of turmoil in their lives.
Five Baptist Pastors would come one week. Five Assembly of God Pastors, Church of God, Nazarene, Independent, New Church starts, just name it. Every week, five, sometimes with their wives.
We would go in my study and I would say, "Okay. How were you called into the ministry? How's it going? What's going on?"
Florida was different. Every state was different in terms of spikes and when they were going to reopen.
They started pouring out their souls to me in front of one another. The discouragement, the confusion was palpable.
I'd already known that an alarming percentage of pastors were looking for a way out of the ministry before the pandemic.
But the latest statistics are 42% of all pastors in America, no matter how they act in the pulpit, would leave the ministry tomorrow if they could just get a job with benefits to cover their family.
These guys started to talk about the problem. Social media, them being roasted by their own congregants, their own members.
"Why? What do you mean we're going to reopen with masks, you, demon? Oh, you're one of those mask people." Then the guy in the same room, we go, "No, that couldn't have happened."
I sent out an email blast and said, "We're going to reopen and we won't wear mask if you don't want to."
People, not only emailed me back or texted me. They went on social media and just fried me like, "Oh, you're one of those no mask people," and then, the politicalization of everything.
You couldn't buy a hotdog without getting in an argument with someone, then the racialization of everything after the murder of George Floyd woke enough, who woke this, that.
It threw the pastors into, "No matter what I do, everyone's in an attack mode," and it reveals something to me.
Number one. Pastors need encouragement, but it revealed the soft underbelly of the evangelical church that most people who go to church, I'm afraid, don't identify as Christians first. They do not.
They're white, right wing Republicans. They're black left wing Democrats. They're Fox news. No, they're CNN.
If you disagree with them on anything, it doesn't matter that you're supposedly a brother or sister, they will attack you. They will go after you.
The church is splintered everywhere, not over biblical things with Jesus really the son of God, that he die in the cross for our sins.
No, they're not discussing that. They're discussing all these other things. A lot of people who went away never came back, so pastors don't know what to do.
Sitting in a chair, praying there, and hearing from leaders around the country who are my friends, I got this burden to take Acts 20.
The backdrop of Paul's farewell address to the Ephesian elders, use it as a backdrop and say, "Pastors, maybe we'll have less burnout and have more fruit if we go back to Paul's selfie of himself three years in emphasis, here's how he did ministry."
Maybe we're so enamored with the latest church growth formula, skinny jeans, and a fog machine. Really, it hasn't produced fruit.
Less people now go to church than at any time in the history of the United States of America. The people in the pew don't live much different than people who don't profess to be a Christian.
Whatever these methods have been, and I'm all for technology and doing whatever we can, but maybe we need to humble ourselves, check ourselves, and say, "Wait a minute. Maybe we're not doing God's ministry, God's way, to build God's church for God's glory."
Maybe we're into marketing, branding, and PowerPoint presentations being the end-all of ministry. Maybe we need to go back and look at Paul.
Why did the Lord give us that in the new Testament? Maybe we can learn a lot and relieve pressure.
Jesus didn't say he's building the Brooklyn tabernacle. I hear people say that, "What's your vision for your church?"
I have no vision for my church. It's not my church. I didn't die in the cross. Haven't you noticed that? I didn't die in cross. It's his church.
He would then give me in the bible his way to build his church, but we have a lot of ego now. Really, marketing techniques, Madison Avenue, and technology have totally invaded.
That prayer, a prayer meeting, the gospel, calling people to repent, aiming at baptisms of new creations in Christ, that is not the goal.
I learned because it was an awakening to me. It's strictly a numbers game and that will always trap you. How do I keep them coming back next Sunday?
I know, but they could get run over by a semi during the week, and you haven't told them how to become a Christian. Repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus.
Sorry for the long sermon there, but that's why I got alone and said, "Lord, help me so I could write something, encouraging the pastors."
If we do this right, God won't help us. If we follow the book, he's not going to bless us. That's impossible.
Well, Amen. What I love about the book is, as you're alluding to, this is not a book with seven steps to come out of COVID, with higher church attendance, four new marketing strategies, we are going to the pastoral example of the apostle Paul.
I think if we were to lay him, "Paul, the Apostle, you don't understand I've been through COVID. I've had this political thing and this struggle."
He could lay out his own struggles that he went through, and yet he continued in the ministry. He ran his race.
Now, I don't want to give away the whole book because I really think people need to read it.
Are there any aspects from that Acts 20 address to the Ephesian elders that in your mind, even today, really stand out? That pastors need to hear, or that we need to learn from Paul, and the words that he gives to those Ephesian elders?
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Yeah. Well, at the very beginning, he says something well which I don't think any pastor would say reviewing their ministry anywhere. We wouldn't think of it.
When he starts off and he's never going to see them again, the Holy Spirit has shown them, he'll never see them again. He's being led by the Spirit to Jerusalem where he knows only trouble awaits.
He's like a kamikaze, he doesn't care. My life means nothing to me. There's so much in every phrase.
One of the things that really jumps out at me there is he says, "Constrained by the Spirit, compelled by the Spirit, I'm heading to Jerusalem."
It reminds us that Paul's ministry was, the gospel was his content, but he was constantly looking to the Holy Spirit as his guide.
Leading him and then anointing him with power, so that when he preached, he wouldn't put people asleep or just give them pablum. He would give them good food and would make a difference in their lives.
I think, in all of the church growth formulas that you alluded to, the Holy Spirit has been left out.
Because of that, he has been grieved because the Bible says, even though God, the Holy Spirit is God, he can be grieved. That word means vexed or made sad. He can be quenched. That's hard to imagine.
He's the Spirit of God, Almighty God who created the universe, and yet you can pour water on him. His influences are gone and you have church without the Holy Spirit.
Like A.W. Tozer said decades ago, in his opinion, the Holy Spirit could leave planet Earth and go back to heaven, and a lot of churches wouldn't notice it for a year or two because they're used to doing church without the Holy Spirit.
Ministers aren't looking to the Lord like, "God, what should I preach this Sunday?" You know the secrets of everyone's hearts. You know where I were weak, you know where we're strong."
"Now, Lord, if you had the microphone this Sunday, what would you speak?" No, no. We plot out, we're going through this book and this series.
That series with no thought that Jesus put the Holy Spirit in charge of all matters pertaining to the Christian church when he left planet Earth.
When he was on planet Earth, he led the disciples. They had no plans of their own. If you would've gone to Peter, James, and John in Capernaum and said, "Hey. Hey, guy. How long you staying here? Hey, I don't know. How would I know?"
When he moves, we move. When he leaves, we leave. When he stays, we stay. We tell him our problems and he speaks to us.
When he left, he said, "I'm sending another helper. I've been with you, but he'll be in you." I think the Spirit's guidance, help, and influences have been greatly disregarded and we're paying the price.
If you do church without the Holy Spirit, what kind of fruit would that produce? Yes. We need good Bible gospel content, but oh, do we need the Holy Spirit's help?
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Amen to that. I think Paul's entire ministry is an example of that. I'm wondering again, because I want people to read the book.
I want to shift off of that a little bit, maybe personally to you a bit, Pastor Jim. This is kind of out of the blue, off the cup a bit.
In your several decades of ministry, there have been low moments. Moments, I'm sure that you were ready to throw in the towel.
I heard someone talk about Monday mornings for pastors as a bread truck Mondays. Meaning, it's the morning you wake up feeling like you got hit by a bread truck. Number two, wondering if you should drive one instead of pastoring.
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
That's good, good material.
Maybe you've had a few of those and yet the Lord sustained you. Can you share any moments like that and just what has helped you continue in the work that God has called you to?
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Well, I touched on that in the book, Fan The Flame, because you wonder, as you alluded to Paul in 2 Corinthians, is giving a list of what he's been through.
Beat up, 39 lashes twice, thrown in an open sea, trouble in the country and trouble in the city, left for dead, stoned.
He never mention these two words. He never mentions burnout, and he never mentions discouragement, that really nailed him and got him down, yet he was human.
It behooves us pastors and Christians, maybe he had a power source that we're not familiar with. For myself, here's what's helped me so much.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians, as he talks about his trials and tribulations, which make the COVID era seemed like an ice cream sundae in a way not to downplay it.
He says, "Outwardly, I'm all falling apart many ways, but inwardly, I'm renewed daily."
Here's a good word for you, Will, me, and everyone watching. Your whole life is one day. That's it. That's your life. Yesterday? Gone. Can't change one thing. Can learn lessons.
You can get a song of praise from God's goodness. See what the Lord has done. Oh, yes. But you can't change anything about yesterday.
Tomorrow? Don't count on it. Don't worry about it because you don't know if you'll see it. Bible says several times, warns us about that.
Many times, we... And this is what causes discouragement. We look back with regret or anger, what someone did to us, so on and so forth, or we look ahead with fear and consternation.
What if? Why? Oh. I, and we miss the only day of our lives which is today, not mañana oy. Today. Paul every day said, he was getting his batteries recharged by being along with God.
Through the word, his mind renewed, his spirit recharged, so that you keep doing that every day. Suddenly, you look back and you go, "Look what the Lord has done," but it was just on a daily basis.
I've had those moments every pastor has, but I find, when I get along with the Lord and my bible. Remember, I talked about this in the book, Fan the Flame.
The first calling Jesus gave the people he called was not to preach, write a book, do podcast, build a building, or build a brand. Oh, yuck. Build a brand. But rather, to be with him.
He called them that they might be with him, he might send them out to preach, and that they might have authority over evil spirits.
The first calling on the 12 was communion, relationship they already had. People in churches today, if you're born again, you have a relationship with Jesus.
You don't get saved by going in a church, but you get a relationship. That's different than communion.
A lot of people that I've counseled here, they've been abused growing up by, let's say, a father. They have relationship. They're born, got birth certificate here.
Downtown Brooklyn proves that that's their father. Biological relationship, fellowship, communion, sharing? Nope.
It behooves us pastors so we can build it on our own people. The Christian life has to be lived out on a daily basis, just walking with Jesus.
That's why, the last word that we see Jesus give, shall we say on planet Earth, in the Book of Revelation, he writes to those seven churches.
The last one is Lea [inaudible 00:21:08], end of chapter three of Revelation.
What's the last picture we see? "Lo, even this church was lukewarm. Not hot or cold, had relationship." Obviously, it was Christian church.
He was about to vomit them out of his mouth and he goes, "I'm knocking at the door. If anybody hears it, gets up and opens the door, I'll come in and shut with them," which speaks a course of fellowship.
Just pouring out, casting our cares upon Him, letting Him pour in fresh grace, that's the cure for all of us on a daily basis, to avoid discouragement that causes you to want to run away, run down, and then just quit.
Amen to that. As you were describing that as Paul's source, I was reminded... I believe it's Acts 18. It's just this passing comment, but it highlights exactly what you're saying.
Paul was in between, kind of ministry caught stations. I suppose you could say he was traveling, and it says he is in the city of Philippi. He simply went looking for a place to pray.
We think of Paul leading, preaching, and all the rest, but he was simply looking for a place to pray. That was a moment where he wanted to be alone.
What did the Lord do out of it? Well, he met Lydia, the Philippians church is planted, and that's just another example, I think in my mind, of exactly what you're talking about.
That was his power source, that was his way of life, and that's where ministry flowed out of, as we see with that.
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
More than that, picking up on that, that's what a church is supposed to be. "My house shall be called a house of prayer."
Why? Not legalistically you got to pray, but God is saying, "At the throne of grace, that's the only place I pour out mercy, which you all need, and grace." God's love in action, which we all need.
It's so sad that it's hard to find any church that has a prayer meeting. It's hard to find services where there's seasons or moments of real prayer.
We're too busy. We got that cue sheet. We got the meeting down to the minute. I go to conferences and I'm just staggered by it.
I mean, they pray before they walk out. "Oh, God. Take control and bless." How? There's no time. You just laid out the hour and 20 minutes down to the second.
We're so organized, there's no room for God to move and bring people to prayer. I have found, I tried to preach the best as I can, but people five minutes in prayer where God is blessing, and they open their heart to the Lord, have communion with them, more gets done than in five of my sermons.
The Bible never says, "Therefore, come boldly to the sermon or boldly to church." Says come boldly because of Christ.
"To the throne of grace, that you might receive mercy and grace to help you." Hebrews 4:16. That's where the action is.
That's absolutely right. I'm wondering, just shifting a bit practically.
Let's just say, "Pastor Jim, I'm a pastor. I hear you. I know I need to find time for communion. Can you please help me practically? Because I've got this hospital visitation coming up, and then I've got Wednesday night service. I haven't even started my sermon yet, and it's Thursday. I found no place to pray."
As you felt the pressures of ministry crowding in on you through the years, is there anything practical that comes to mind that have helped you to just keep your communion with God, just at the forefront, amidst everything else going on?
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Well, a couple things. Not to disagree with you. I forget who it was. E.M. Bounds said, I think, "If you're too busy to pray, you're too busy."
Change your schedule. If you don't pray and spend time with God, you have nothing to give people. I know I don't. If I don't spend time with God, I ain't worth nothing. That's the truth.
I have found, talking to pastors, they're not overwhelmed by duties. Visitation, yeah, there's a few hospital visits. But between the phone, TV, sports, movies, hanging out, golf, and everything else, all of it has its place.
All we have to do is go to God, maybe start the day every day with God, and just say, "God, give me the discipline and give me the wisdom to spend time with you because that's my first calling. My calling is not to go to a hospital. Someone else could even do that. My calling is to be with you."
Remember, in Acts 6, when the widows were complaining about who was being fed. Grecian versus Jewish widows. Who was going to serve at the table and hand out the food?
The apostle said, "No, no, no. Choose seven men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom that can do this work." We have to give ourselves to the word and prayer.
Was handing out and serving the women a good thing? The widows? Yeah. Of course, it was a good thing, but it wasn't the main thing for them.
Pastors who have been called in the ministry, how can you minister about the Lord if you haven't spent time with the Lord?
Sure, it might be doctrinally right. You'll get a clever opening. You'll add a little humor and all of that. That's communication. That's not ministry.
When those two men spent time with the Lord on the road to Emmaus after he rose from the dead, do you notice, Will, what they said when it was over?
They said, "When he had disappeared, didn't our hearts burn within us when he opened the word along the way."
We need burning words, not condemnatory. Not hammering people, but words that bring conviction of sin. Words that warm a heart that's cold and hard, and that comes only by spending time with the Lord.
What they didn't say was, "Wasn't that clever what he said?" His intro and the middle part, then the end with the poem. Hold out, that was a... No.
Did you know that most look at every sermon in the Book of Acts, check it out for yourself and those watching this. Not one sermon, did the man who preached it. No. He would even speak that day. Much less, have notes and prepared.
It's possible if you want to think outside the box and be radical. Maybe the whole thing is twisted. We've created these techniques and methodology where everything is neat and mostly mental.
If you preach from your head, you reach people's heads. If you preach from your heart, you reach hearts. It was the Lord who said, "When you stand before kings and judges, don't give any thought to what you'll say."
Hello? What seminary teaches that? Name one. No. Yet that's the Bible model of preaching. When Paul got killed almost in Jerusalem in Acts 21, Peter on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2.
Peter again in Acts 3, when they healed the layman at the temple gate, and Peter in Acts 10 at Cornelius's house, they didn't know they would speak that day. They didn't check on notes. They didn't have a time limit.
In other words, as we've departed from that spontaneous Spirit-led, filled... I'm not talking about now shooting from the hip.
No. Filled with the word in your heart. Then with the Spirit's help pouring it out to the people, that's better than I believe this artificial system we've developed.
I think that's absolutely right. I'm just reminded in closing Paul's words. You have many guides, but not many fathers. I know I can speak for myself.
Other younger guys who have been in ministry, what we need is the voice that you're giving us right now. A fatherly voice on how to walk with God, how to continue in ministry. I think this book is just such a testament to that.
We're so appreciative of you jumping on, just sharing some of your heart, and just your care for younger guys in ministry, to be able to be filled with the Spirit and continuing the work that the Lord has called them to.
I suppose, just in closing, just with your book, any place that you would point to us to get it? This is not about selling copies. I know that. This is an essential resource that people need to [inaudible 00:29:40].
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Yeah. A couple things about that. All the royalties from the first book I wrote, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, go to the church. Including the royalties that will be upcoming from this book.
I'm not to be melodramatic. This was born out of me, really being concerned. I felt burdened by the Lord to write something that would be helpful.
It sells to 29.99 in Amazon. Christian books has it for already $17, but if they go to brooklyntabernacle.org, we sell it for $15.
My point is just get it and read it, and give it to another pastor because it is hard to pastor today. The half has not been told because we're guarded.
We don't want to get up and say, "Yo, congregation. Man, I'm discouraged." No. "Praise, God. He's on the throne," and all that.
Underneath all of that, there's a lot of discouraging. 42% who admitted they'd leave tomorrow.
One last thought. A recent poll two weeks ago, came out of Arizona. It said that 34% of all the pastors in America believe if you live a good life, you'll go to heaven.
They're very wishy-washy on the authority of Scripture, and if there's really such a thing as sin, no, you decide what's sin.
Truth is what you make it. That's minister. That's not the pew. We need a revival. We have to bend his arm to get more of God.
He's the one waiting, saying, "Come to me. All you did labor and heavily laden. I'll give you rest and help you." Let's do it and see God do a new thing in our Christian churches.
Amen. Well, we don't always conclude our podcast this way. I'm just wondering if you would mind praying for what you have in mind. [inaudible 00:31:43] this book was written to, would you just pray for them in closing?
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Yes. Thank you. Father, we thank You that we belong to You and we've been saved by Your grace.
We're all sinners, but Your blood was shed on calvary, so that our sins could be forgiven.
Forgive us our trespasses today, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. I pray, God, that You will encourage every pastor who's touched by this podcast.
I pray that they'll be encouraged and drawn by Your Spirit. Back to the word, back to You. Fellowship, communion, openness to the Holy Spirit.
Help us to turn away from methodologies that are not in the word of God and don't depend on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Give us a fresh start. We pledge today by Your grace, we will give You all the glory.
No denomination, no brand, no pastor's name, no church name. You will get all the glory for You deserve it. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Amen. Thank you again, Pastor Jim. To our listeners, please go out. Grab this book. It will bless your ministry. That's all I can say about that. Have a blessed week and we so appreciate you jumping on with us.
Pastor Jim Cymbala:
Thank you, Will. Bye-bye.
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