Your ministry, indeed, your life is not a box. It is not a series of clear and clean and easy organized rubrics by which we can measure success or faithfulness. You were not meant to be holy in front of others and debased behind closed doors–yes, and especially with, other pastors. You do not have the right nor the luxury to be a dis-integrated self who waxes and wanes dependent on the mood and holiness of your company. You will not have the peace offered to you if you insist on speaking out of both sides of your mouth. You cannot expect sweet water to come from a brackish pool. You may be able to exegete a passage with little flaws without the purity of heart necessary to understand the passage. Yet your hearers will not be saved. Indeed, neither may you.
Friend, do not settle for the breadcrumbs of people’s approval for it soon stales and rots and you are left longing for more. You were meant for more than church ministry. Your life was intended to reflect the beauty and worth and magnificence of the all-sufficient and all-satisfying fount of living waters. Do not hew out for yourself a cistern that holds no water and soon putrifies. Instead, find your delight in God not in opinions. Be freed from the wiles of the enemy who would have you spend inordinate hours preparing a sermon while your wife and children and even your First Love is neglected. The message of the prophet is determined by his ethic.
Your ministry is not a light switch to be turned on and turned off. Turned on when you see a parishioner at the store and turned off when you shut the door to drive home with your family. It is not meant to be a box that you organize. Your ministry is meant to be overflow from that box. That raggedy old cardboard box of a life that shows the beauty of our message is not in our packaging but of the interior life.
May the God of grace and love and joy break your light switches and douse your cardboard boxes with the water of his Spirit so that the confidence you have is not in the boxes but in his overwhelming Spirit.
A Concerned Brother
I have been a part of various avenues of discipleship and study for the ministry whereby a preacher was evaluated. They have ranged from the very informal–“What struck you most about the sermon?”–to the very minute–“Was the exegesis appropriate? Where did it go awry?”
I call this a “Preacher Evaluation Form” as opposed to “Preaching Evaluation Form” because what we are evaluating is actually the preacher. You can quibble if you’d like, but every sermon offered is a bit of the preacher at the pulpit. We can talk at length about objectivity through exegetical method, but at the end of the sermon, we are still left with the preacher’s accent in our ears. I believe this fact is something we ought to whole-heartedly embrace. This is the economy God has set up in preaching. Derivatively, it is fallacious for a pastor to say, “I didn’t say it, God said it.” Note the irony that he is saying it?!?!
The problem with the informal method is that the preacher is very rarely helped in a formative way. The critic is given free reign to argue about his particular bent in theology or praxis.
The problem with the very minute way is that the pastoral heart is very rarely affected. The criticism veers off toward trees branches and misses the proverbial forest.
Surely both matter! In an effort to navigate a balance between informal that doesn’t have teeth and the formal that tears unnecessarily, I came up with my own evaluation form. This form is dynamic and I would welcome your dialogue on how to improve it.
I pray it is helpful to you as you seek to disciple people who want to communicate the Gospel in a vibrant and exact way. Ideally, it would be filled out and talked about a day or two after the sermon is given. I personally don’t think it’s helpful to give it right after because it fosters a critical atmosphere during the message. I also think it best for those who are evaluating to give their thoughts a couple days to process–rather than giving a gut-reaction to the sermon. This translates to time and care given when evaluating. This is not your time to say what you would have done, but to find out why the preacher did what he did. You want his person to be sanctified and affirmed rather than imputing your person on him–like armor that doesn’t fit.
PREACHER EVALUATION FORM
I have been streaming Kristen Gilles new offering–Parker’s Mercy Brigade–as she reflects on the stillbirth of her son. It has been a sweet place to rest. Even though I have not had to go through the unspeakable pain of losing a child, the beauty and the pain of the songs remind me of a sweet presence that heals wounds that even the closest friend cannot mend.
Perhaps you could benefit from a listen if you’re hurting.
If you have lost a child, Kristen also wrote a very sobering and truthful piece–“Dear Grieving Parents.” Here’s a poignant excerpt:
I can appreciate the confusion you feel (This wasn’t supposed to happen, certainly not again or Why did you allow this, God? You could’ve have prevented my children from dying!), and we do feel cheated when death takes our loved ones, especially when they die so young. But you and I also know the Lord is upholding us and is trustworthy in everything he says and does. We won’t necessarily have all our questions answered here, but we will always have our Father here with us to lead, instruct, comfort, and encourage us. Psalm 68 says that God daily bears our loads (another translation is he daily carries us in his arms). He is doing that for you, dear sister and brother.
Over the past few years as I have been working through major disappointments in life, I have heard of others’ struggles and realized that everyone is carrying a burden of some sort. It may be a burden laid upon them or one they have taken up themselves. Either way, you pull up the shirt sleeve and you will see scars. This is part of living in a beautifully messed up world. A world full of selfish people. A world full of selfless people.
This is simply a reminder to remember that every person you interact with has scars. Don’t be so quick to condemn and to peel back the layers of their life. They have had enough of that. What people need is less verbiage and more life. Instead of letting your breath strike your vocal cords. Perhaps just breathe out. Breathe out life.
“But they need advice!”
“They need to know the truth!”
You are probably right. But. Why are we so quick to think that we have to speak. Why do we think we understand the multi-faceted issue so clearly when we didn’t have their husband or their wife or their father or their absent father or their mother or their always-hovering mother? Perhaps we would all do well to write and speak less than we think we need to. Why snuff out the light by snuffing it out with words that bruise? Why not breathe out life by being silent? So then the smoldering wick ignites and will soon give light again.