Bill Waldens’ post of last week (We Played the Flute for You) got me to thinking about the pastoral longevity that is tied to spiritual sanity that is anchored in Biblical vision. I can’t recall the stats, but it appears that many men are leaving the pastorate and, in addition, there is a sizable number who would do so if they could. Undoubtedly,the vast majority of those who do leave the pastorate succumb to discouragement after a long, drawn-out struggle. (Some would suggest that, if you are really called of God, you’ll endure – it’s only the ones who are called by man who eventually step out of the pastoral ministry. Sadly, such is not the case. Calling from God doesn’t, in and of itself, bestow perseverance. And beside, many who are called by man or who are ‘self-called’ endure to the end. I wish that some of today’s pastors would get discouraged and quit and stop their theological nonsense.)
The discouragement that waylays so many of us is a combination of two elements – confusion and insecurity. A confused and insecure pastor is a disaster waiting to happen. If you are a pastor and don’t know what to do – that’s a problem. But there is help for you – yet this help often comes with a price tag. With so many voices telling us ‘how to do it’, ‘what our generation(s) need’, ‘the cultural mandate’, ‘the church of the 21st century’, ‘reinventing the church’, etc., with so many trumpets blowing and signaling the direction in which the church is to make its way in the 21st century – it’s easy to become confused. It’s easy to become disoriented and to begin to wonder if you’re on the right track, going in the right direction, pursuing the correct ministry course. Confusion and disorientation breed insecurity.
I know all about insecurity. My church has never been big enough or cool enough or influential enough. Big enough, cool enough, or influential enough for what?
It’s never been big enough, cool enough, or influential enough to take away my insecurity.
An insecure pastor is dangerous to those he serves and can be either uber-stubborn and closed to any counsel or uber-impressionable and be open to all counsel and advice and a sycophant of the latest and the greatest.
There was a time when I was desperate to have a large church so I would be able to hold my head high at pastor’s conferences and be considered a somebody. For the longest time, I felt like a second tier member of the pastor’s guild. When others spoke of the hundreds and the thousands who attended, I could only speak of the dozens and the scores. When others spoke of their staffs and assistant pastors, I could only speak of my part-time volunteers. When others spoke of the hundreds coming to Christ with regularity, I could only speak of the ones and twos coming sporadically. I was clearly falling behind. Many uber-pastors were blowing the trumpet and so I collected a number of tunes during that time – how to: grow a church, turn visitors into members, grow a staff, have global impact, influence a community… all were neatly laid out. Various melodies would attract my attention and then I would lost interest. I was confused AND insecure – the formula for discouragement.
After all my years and all my praying and all my reading and all my thinking and all my striving and all my wounds I have come to a conclusion – I don’t have a clue how to grow a church. That’s right, after pastoring in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the ones (is that what those are called?), up until now, I am clueless as how to grow a church. It was a conclusion that was a long time in coming and one that didn’t emerge into my consciousness without resistance – both emotionally and intellectually. But it finally surfaced and I came to grips with it at long last. And here’s the amazing thing that utterly floored me – in the recognition and admission of my inability, in the face of my insecurity, the peace of Christ flooded my soul. The security I looked for in accomplishment came to me from Christ in the moment of my greatest vulnerability.
I have come to the place where I don’t believe it is my job to grow the church (i.e., numerically). The Lord will add. It is not my job to increase the size of the church, but it is my job to insure the health of the church. When I read the letters to the seven pastors of the churches in Revelation 2-3, I see that the Lord never scolds or corrects the pastors for the size of the churches they serve – His concern is for the health of the churches. He doesn’t say, for example, to the pastor of Ephesus, “I have this against you, that you should be running 300 in worship by now.” Instead, He thunders out, “You’ve left your first love…” And so on…
I don’t read where Paul advises Timothy or Titus how to increase the numbers of the churches they pastor. His concern is with the health of these churches. Can you have a small(er) healthy church? Of course. Can you have a large(r) unhealthy church? Of course. (Of course, this begs the question: what is a healthy church? I guess that’s a post for another time.)
I still hear the trumpets (and I don’t disrespect them by any means). But they are not nearly as beckoning as they used to be. My security isn’t in the size or the influence of the church I serve – my security is in Jesus. He is the One who called me, He is the One who has given me my assignment, and He is the One to whom I will give an account. I have a real sense of spiritual sanity that is anchored in Biblical vision. I have peace.