Pastors,

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.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Brother

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Leading with a Limp

Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip (Gen. 32.31; NLT)

Too many times we focus on the action of leadership and not the ontology of the leader. That is, when asked to define what a leader is, most people’s responses are boiled down to “They lead.” This is what a leader does. This is not what he is.

In my experience, the most important characteristic of a leader is humility. True, a proud and overly confident leader may get the pin to move on the measuring gauge. In the long run, however, her leadership will lose its effectiveness over time. What is more, those who follow her will not be shaped. The primary goal of a Christian leader is to shape the whole person, to see people mature and grow in their love for God and neighbor. If they are coerced or pressed into a mold of conformity, their hearts will not be changed because a law has been imposed on them.

Leaders ought to want to see people changed more than a goal to be reached. Or put another way, the goal to which a leader aims ought to be Christ being formed in those that follow him. This is the metric we see throughout Scripture. This, then, ought to be our goal in leadership. this Christ-likeness

The primary way a leader promotes this Christ-likeness is through his own Christ-likeness. And what do we see in the Lion of Judah save the wounded Lamb.

I remember going through a pastoral assessment wherein the interviewers looked at me and said they weren’t sure that I had worked through past pain. This is after I had shared with these brothers a lot of hurt and told them how the Lord had drawn near in those times. Surely, there is some time that people need to work through their pain. This is, however, a first world problem. How many other brothers and sisters don’t have the luxury to go to a year of counseling or to step out of a painful ministry experience?

No, we are called to minister not after our wounds are healed but in the midst of our wounds. We are called to show the scars and still feel the cold breath of unrequited loves and expectations. This is where we ought to live and minister from. We ought not to hide our limp. We ought to highlight the fact that we lean on another. We are frail. We fail. When we model that kind of bold dependence on God, we, in essence, reveal that we are but pilgrims moving toward another country and the path is hard and the pain is real. Not something we learned from and not something got over–as though it’s something in the past. Rather, the pain and problems ought to be the very stuff our ministry’s are made of.

God’s Broad Shoulders

One of the fascinating aspects of my profession is that I come in contact with a lot of Christians who want to engage with their faith in a deep way. Rather than being content with showing up on Sunday or being CINO (Christian In Name Only), these folks want to understand the Bible better and tease out the implications for their lives.

On the flipside of this, many of these same people are afraid to engage with their doubts in a deep way. It’s almost as if, doubts and questions are treated from a distance–“I don’t struggle with this, but…”

The biggest breakthrough in my own journey of faith came through (and continues to come through) engaging my doubts and questions as my own. They are not theoretical. They are honest struggles: problem of evil is the perennial one. I was in the throes of one of these bouts several years ago when a friend told me, “God can handle your doubts.”

I have used this same bit of advice for my struggling friends and self. If truth is not relative. If God is truth. Your doubts and questions will not overthrow this objective, transcendent truth. It’s not as though you are the first to struggle with doubts and fears and pain. The heavens will not collapse under the weight of your doubts. You won’t come up with a question that will cause God to close up shop. You can honestly engage with your doubts and fears and pain and suffering without having to be quick to give the typical and trite answers to matters of faith.

Go ahead, roll your burdens on God. He’s got broad shoulders.

There is a “ME” in “TEAM”

Too often we equate team with the concept of losing ourselves in the group. As if in some way you blend into this amorphous blob of reality.

The best All teams are made of individuals. The best teams are made of individuals who own their unabashedly own their individuality and seek to serve others by being themselves. Too many teams I have been on conform to the path of least resistance. The team member was afraid to call out a bad decision (or indecision!) The team leader was afraid to welcome dissension or be himself–since he had to give off a certain aura that no one else saw but him.

There is no “i” in “team”–that’s bad spelling, unless you are transliterating it into Spanish as “tim” (and that’s just silly).

The sooner you own the fact that there is an individual. There is a “me” in “team”…you just have to find it.