Growing A Church Is Bad For Your Soul

There are many things that we know are bad for us. Candy eats away at our teeth. Bacon clogs our heart (allegedly). Texting while driving takes lives. Smoking gives us cancer and/or lung disease. Isolation brings depression or at least deep loneliness. Anger breads bitterness which births cynicism, hard heartedness, and just plain old meanness. Some things in life should be avoided because no matter how they taste or feel they are just bad for us.

There are many spiritual practices and positions that are similarly bad for us. The avoidance of corporate worship, a rejection of accountability, the judging of others behavior and intentions, the willingness to live disobediently are all things that Christians know are bad for us and should be corrected immediately if we want to have healthy spiritual lives and relationships. Some things just don’t mix and anytime we have more of our own self, our own freedoms, our own flaws mixed with the work that God is trying to do in us we will find self inflicted wounds and perhaps fatal tendencies in our formation. The good things that God gives us often come into conflict with the bad feelings, choices, and habits that we are desperate to maintain our freedom over and that is bad for the Christian soul.

Pastors are no exception to this truth. In fact, we may even be in more danger as we are fatigued by the weight and worry of a church culture that is less and less interested in being a Christian community and much more fascinated in being a Christian club or take out service. We are all in need of salvation and not just from our sins, but from our sinfulness, our selfishness, our self reliance, and our searching for a God that we can make in our own image. Pastors that follow the pattern of cultural trends will discover sooner or later that they are neck deep in the soup that brings sickness to our souls.

It is no secret that the church is in trouble in America. Much of the responsibility could be credited to the misunderstanding and mistakes made by pastors in leading the church and forming disciples. Those two are not the same thing, but that should be aligned or at the very least headed in the same direction. Too often they are not. While there are many reasons that the church is the way it is, it seems that the American church has done a particularly good job of messing up what God began birthing as a beautiful creation. Instead of making disciples and building beautiful community we have been busy enlarging, expanding, and exponentially obsessing on getting bigger, more powerful, financially stable/secure, and way too often chasing relevance as if it was a core value for the New Testament church. Leadership training is more common in churches than spiritual formation. It is easier to convince someone to be a better leader than it is to suggest to them that they should go deeper into discipleship. So pastors pick the more popular and profitable route or message.

This. Must. Change.

Church growth is not only not good. It is bad. Please read that again so that it sinks in on every level. The effects of professional ministers offering professional goods and services in the pursuit of making the gospel popular at all costs has made the church weak, confused, and sick. The prognosis is not only negative, but it is terminal unless we are delivered from our empty philosophy and mistaken identity.

The key to moving away from a church growth mindset and practices is not a change in strategy, but spirit. It does not require a new method, but a new master. To achieve freedom from the weight of promising big things we need a vision from producing small circles of disciples and quality leaders. If pastors are to be saved from the ministry of the American ideal it will necessitate an act of God that is greater than the activity of being professional competent or charismatically capable.

Pastors be warned what I am suggesting is not easy and will not work like an overnight charm. You can not blink your eyes and be transformed from your old habits of multiplying, maximizing, merging, mastering, and making up success stories to alleviate denominational loss and augment the need to be personally glorified or respected. It will be a process. It will be a slow, painful, lonely process, but along the way you will be affirmed in your spirit and you might find pilgrims that are on the same journey you are on.

Many churches will not like what you are saying/doing. It goes agains the grain of there investment over the last 40 years. You may not be voted out, but they may vote to personally leave or they may stay and offer the most apathetic involvement you or they can imagine. Don’t give up and don’t lose heart. Keep at the task of forming disciples and creating a community of faith, hope, and love. Preach the gospel rather than pragmatic principles and let the Holy Spirit show them the “how to’s” of living the Christian life.

God expects you to walk in the righteous way rather than the relevant way. No matter what a book or a Bishop says to you as a pastor the primary leading of a pastor is in the way that Jesus is headed. Anywhere he goes or anything he says is relevant. The world then fits into his agenda. Jesus may have gone to the people and shared in the culture, but it is a mistake to say or think that he acclimated to the Roman way or even the way of popular Judaism. The only relevancy test that we have as pastors and as congregants is based in forsaking this world and following him.

Denominations aren’t likely to lead this change, but they might follow. They also might not. You may not get support from anyone in your tribe that would think what you preach or propose makes sense. Your work might produce the kind of results that gets conference leaders to visit you with questions and concerns. Don’t panic. If pastoral work is to be fruitful it will not be from the hormones of fool proof ideas for breaking the 200 barrier. It will be the product of a long obedience in the direction of God’s leading you to form disciples and call those disciples into ministry.

The vision that God gives to us is not a body that grows bigger and bigger. It is a vision of a church that grows deeper in discipleship and broader in mission. That is a vision that is good for the soul because it leads us to measure our ministry in lives formed in Christ rather than parking spots or programs launched.  A church may very well grow to become a large body of believers, but it is not a healthy church if disciples are not being formed and sent. Any obsession that a pastor has over their work should focus on a passion for being faithful to the gospel and spilled out in Christian service to others.

Growing a church is bad for your soul or at least it can be. Any good doctor of the church would remember often that maybe growing the church isn’t the job of the pastor. That’s the job of the Spirit. Perhaps the reason that growing a church can be bad for the soul is because that is not what God intended us to do. It just might be that the the sooner we get away from thinking we are called to grow a church and get to the work of telling our people not to dream of such things, the easier it will be for us to get to the work God has called us to. That kind of work is forever good for the soul.

 

Mother’s Day Revisited

We all have a mother. There is no getting around it. Having a mother is an intricate part of the procreating process that God dreamed into our earthly reality. While I know that science and social experimentation have tweaked the birthing process since it was first introduced, the genetics of a mother are still required. Without a mother there is no baby. The same is true of a father, but I digress.

What happens following birth though is greatly different from child to child. Some will be placed in their mother’s arms and held tightly until they leave home as grown ups. Others will never be cradled by mom and will long for her touch. Others will find warmth, nurture, and tenderness in the arms of another mother and be forever grateful for her role in their life. Many will reflect on their mother’s touch as hot or cold or as accepting or rejecting. Mothers come in all shapes and sizes as well as perspectives and practices. Hopefully we can all appreciate our mother for who she is rather than what she did for mothers are real people in our life and not just providers of our next meal.

Yesterday across the country millions of people stopped to thank mom. Flowers, cards, gifts, and expensive meals were provided as a gesture of appreciation. Christian congregations ordered their liturgy to reflect on mothers and how they are gifts of God to children and to the family. Sports teams and entertainment venues marketed Mother’s Day as a great time to come out to the ball park or come into the concert hall. Parks and backyards were full of families eating and laughing who get together only two or three times a year to catch up and refocus on the family. Mom was the MVP, MOP, GOAT, and the GDP all in one yesterday and rightfully so. Yesterday was a day for mom to rest, reflect, be revered, and rejoice at the work of her hands. It was her day of reward.

But that was yesterday.

Today is a day for mom to go back to work. You have 364 days until your next free day and every one of them will count. So let’s make the most of the next year. I am writing to every mom on behalf of every kid so read carefully and apply where appropriate.

Mom’s we need you to…

  • Help us to smile, laugh, breathe, and skip. Life takes that away from us at every chance.
  • Remind us of how much you love us, pray for us, and appreciate us. Sometimes you are the only one who does.
  • Teach us to mind our manners, eat right, and behave ourselves. We forget those things that you taught us so long ago.
  • Recount for us the story of our birth and beginnings. That will help orient us time and time again in life when we are lost or confused. Heritage is way more valuable than we sometimes think.
  • Be a person of real faith and certainty that God is at work in all things. No matter what seems to be taking place.
  • Stop worrying about us. Advise us and encourage us, but worry, anxiety, and heart burn only hurts you and us.
  • Show us how to forgive and faithfully love those who hurt us. No one forgives like a mother so teach us please.
  • Stop chasing our childhood and help us navigate adulthood. It is a jungle out here and you know the way. Show us like you showed us how to tie a shoe or wash behind our ears.
  • Take care of yourself. Not with cosmetics and clothes or fads and follies that adorn your outward appearance. Take care of the inside of you – your heart, your mind, your soul. Those are the treasures most important to your children.
  • Tell us that we are smart, we are kind, and we are important. (Thanks Aibileen!) That is all that we ever really need to know as children and you are the greatest source of it on earth.
  • Never give up on us. We are still growing up sometimes even at 44.  🙂

I will likely think of other things for your mom “to do” list, but that is a start. Don’t try and conquer all of it today or this week. Pace yourself as you get back to work. Don’t be overwhelmed by the load. You are a mom and God has made you just a little lower than a super hero (but a much better cook (probably.) You’ve got this and you getting this will make all the difference in us.

We love you. Hopefully it won’t take another year to say that. Let’s talk soon. Now get to work so we can go back to being kids.

You Get What You Pay For

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That isn’t a very original thing to say. Everybody has heard it at some point. I didn’t coin the phrase, but I sure believe it to be true. Now that I am looking at buying cars for teenage drivers, new instruments for teenage bandies, and college tuition for soon to be young adults pushed out of the nest, I am realizing that I have choices to make about where and how I spend this money.

Over and over again in life I have gotten what I paid for. At times I have bought something inexpensive hoping to get by or make due. Other times I have broken the bank and splurged for the top of the line and the best in the market. In every purchase or investment I have gotten exactly what I paid for. Sometimes I have been very, very happy with a purchase (new Taylor Made irons) and sometimes devastated by going cheap (upper deck tickets at Minute Maid on opening day 2008.)

The consumer in us has us immediately thinking products or experiences. Getting what we pay for makes us think of blue jeans, boots, cars, haircuts or television sets. It makes us think of vacations to Vegas or cheap hotels at the beach. It reminds us of good food we eat on our anniversary and average food with jacked up prices at the ball park (maybe not an example of getting what you pay for.) What we wear, what we eat, and where we go is directly related to what we have paid for that product or reality.

This saying though applies to many other areas of life if we under “pay for” something in terms other than monetary exchange. Sometimes our payment comes in the form of time or talent. Sometimes it comes in the level of engagement or enthusiasm we have for something or someone. Sometimes we pay by being present and being ready to participate. Our cost in those cases are not measure by a reduction of our bank account, but in the addition or heart, mind, and soul into a scenario.

Think about these “you get what you pay for” realities.

As parents we get what we pay for when we put extra time into the development of our kids character and not just their skill development or athletic progress. Our children understand the value of character better because we have given time and space to the topic with them rather than assuming others will care for that need.

As leaders we get what we pay for when we bring energy to our team and not just work flow charts or new objectives for success. Our team senses that we believe in what we are asking them to do because we are personally involved as we give ourselves all in to the assignment.

As pastors we get what we pay for when we avoid settling conflict in the church, keep doing the same old things all of the time because its easy, and/or refuse to consider how culture is shaping our people more than the gospel is. Our church senses a lack of care and concern for the health of the church and an overall indifference to how lives are being changed.

As friends we get what we pay for when we expect to be the center of attention with every friendship and have the final word on every topic tossed around in conversation. Our friends see us as self absorbed and therefore not trustworthy or approachable with their needs which keeps relationships on the surface and usually on very shakeable grounds.

As married couples we get what we pay for when we make time for each other, listen to what is on each others heart, pray over the big (and small) things in life, and consider our spouses feelings above our own. Our spouse will know they can rely us to be safe, supportive, and so concerned with the relationship that other details of life are always second place.

Of course when we pay very little as parents, as leaders, as pastors, as friends we end up getting exactly what we paid for it. Usually nothing, but rejection, disappointments, failure, discouragement, and/or loneliness. Conversely, by paying big for those things we find that our relationships are healthy, balanced, and usually exactly what we need (or even more.)

How can you get more (or get a better product) by paying more today? Now that is really a pay it forward idea worth pursuing. Don’t delay and don’t keep being cheap. Put your best- your everything – into it. You will be glad you did. You will likely end up getting exactly what you paid for and more.

 

Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.                                                 (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

What Does it Mean When You Stop Following Someone?

social-media

Social media is a great thing. It is helps us keep up with the lives of friends and families that we are separated from by distance. It helps us connect to people that we sort of know, but may not have been formally introduced. It helps us monitor breaking news from around the world and from inside our network. It helps us feel like we are an active part of a global family of more than 6 billion brothers and sisters.

Social media also makes us aware of what people are thinking and what they believe about life, politics, sports, and even intimate relationships. For every 100 people we know that practice good social media manners we know one person that whines, moans and complains about the smallest of things. We know someone that is intent on shouting their agenda to people as loudly as possible. We know someone that has very little empathy for anybody or anything and likely aren’t interested in developing any. We know someone that boils our blood every time they post an arrogant statement, a tasteless picture, an insensitive quote, or even a inflaming emoji.

So we unfriend them or we unfollow them. Problem solved. Or is it?

When we unfollow or unfriend someone in silence we may not be doing them any favors. They likely don’t know that we no longer read their posts and assume that we are closely keeping taps on their every thought and word. People who are so clueless about what they say or post are usually equally clueless about what people think about them. It is a matter of lacking self awareness and it oozes throughout every detail of their life. They just don’t get it and likely don’t care to.

So what does it mean to stop following someone?

It may mean…

That the friendship is not deep enough to confront or counsel someone about how they are perceived. (Maybe we need to work to change that.)

That confrontation is not an option and so a careful separation is necessary. (Maybe this says something about how we value perspectives more than people. Think about that one for a minute.)

That being connected to many people is more important than being real with a few. (Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that someone we have never been in the same room with has a different view on politics or faith than we do.)

That people are who they are and there is little hope in their ability to change or get it together. (Maybe believing that people can become self aware is our first hope and prayer before we do anything.)

That conversation is better kept at a safe distance than brought in for a close encounter. (Maybe we a phone call or cup of coffee would be good ways to discuss tension.)
As a leader who works with a very diverse population of people in my church/organization as well as with public stakeholders I am challenged daily about what to do. Who do I ignore? Who do I confront? Who do I write off? Who do I unfriend?

Every Christian should be careful to consider the matter as well. We are called to live together in brotherly/sisterly love, but love doesn’t mean that we ignore bad behavior nor does it mean that we quietly dismiss the person as an unsalvageable social media soul. We don’t just rebuke someone in the name of love with the first thing we think of and we can’t just unplug any remembrance of the person without thought to our role as a witness in their life. And for heaven’s sakes we aren’t the social media police having to argue, confront, debunk every bad thought or word we read online. Sometimes a deep, cleansing breath is what we need before doing anything. Unfollowing and unfriending after accepting friendship with someone can be viewed as a rejection and if they are a Christian or church connection that can be extremely difficult.

Here is my working strategy on managing social media contacts or connections:

I am careful about who I friend or link up to on social media so that I can be very careful about managing those relationships. My goal is not quantity, but quality with those in my network. I don’t have to like or love every post I see and my emoji isn’t required as an expression of my approval or lack there of. If the issue is one of personal perspective and they communicate it professionally or with some level of composure then it is okay to have a different perspective. If they insult me then forgiveness is first, but conversation comes close as the second response. If they destroy a whole culture, tribe, party, family, church or any other grouping in a public way then rebuke and removal must be considered. Being connected is not more important than being real.

Unfollowing and unfriending is sometimes the right thing to do, but it comes with consequences personally and socially. Choose those options deliberately and wisely. Manage the friendship well and tension will likely manage itself. Be careful with feelings – yours, theirs, others – and direct communication can be helpful and possibly transforming. Don’t be overly sensitive, but don’t fall asleep at the wheel and let your feed get blown up by a loose cannon friend or associate. Be genuine in your faith, your feelings, your feedback and people will likely have respect for where you are coming from.

Friendship is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.
– Muhammad Ali

In Honor of Good (and not so good) Pastors Everywhere

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John Wesley gave his Methodist preachers 12 rules for their ministry. That seems like a lot to me, but this was probably a concise listing for the man who made rules and routine a global movement. These rules are good for pastors, but they are also good and true for anyone gifted and called to serve others in the gospel.

Rule #1 is to be diligent. Idleness is the devil’s work shop. “Never be trifling employed.”   (I love when the word trifling is used effectively.)

Rule #2 is to be serious. “Holiness Unto The Lord. Avoid all jesting, foolishness and light talking.”  (I’m way too serious to comment on this one.)

Rule #3 is to converse sparingly with women. Rule #4 is take no step towards marriage without first consulting your brethren. (I think John may have momma issues).

Rule #9 is be ashamed of nothing, but sin. (Easier said than done.)

Rule #11 – “You have nothing to do but save souls..” ( Are you kidding me? Sometimes I don’t know what John was thinking.)

Most days it doesn’t seem like I’m saving souls or at least it doesn’t feel as like I am doing anything to save anybody. My job doesn’t look anything like my job description and the language used in my ordination covenant greatly differs from my actual daily duties.

Instead of saving souls…

I’m mopping up messes and mistakes from previous leadership.

I’m holding the hands of the converted “faithful” who never became disciples.

I’m recovering from the arrogance and self centeredness displayed by Christians on social media.

I’m giving Vitamin C to a congregation to help the culture recover from the flu of inward focus and outward neglect.

I’m busy planning a contemporary, casual, culturally relevant service that brings substance, satisfaction, and salvation to those who gather. Next week I will be planning a traditional, reverent, old time gospel sing to make sure we have balance in our church worship gatherings so that God is pleased by the happy songs we sing.  🙂

I’m hunkering down from the sky that is falling and rebuilding the wall that has been knocked down as we fear politics more than we fear falling away from our first love.

I’m trying to explain to some why we have to sing off of the wall now instead of from the book like God intended for us to.

I’m also trying to explain why the theology of our song selection is more important than its style or sensation to our ears.

I’m interpreting the “he said-she said” dialogue of what people in the church did or did not say about someone, something, or some galaxy far, far away.

I’m begging for people to give generously to the church – not so we can pay my salary, but so we can support missionaries whose blood is being spilled in the 10-40 window.

I’m caught up trying to explain that God is not a Republican or a Democrat so neither candidate represents God, the church, or faithful Christian witness.

I’m scheduled to attend a church growth conference this week, a pastor’s prayer retreat next week, and a preaching seminar when I get back.

What pastor has time (or energy) for saving or souls?

Of course Wesley’s statement is casting a vision for ministry and not forging our practical responsibilities. His words help us to see all of the things that we do in ministry – the menial and the mystical, the glory and the grief, the enriching and the exhausting – as full partners in God’s redemption of the world through the church. So as we serve the Lord through the church let us do so with the conviction that we are seeing souls saved. And when we are involved in tasks not suitable for seminary preparation we should frame such a task as a door to what God really is doing with an eternal soul that we can’t yet see. Pastors must be gifted with a vision by God, but God’s vision for us is less about buildings or programs and more about the soul of humanity, the strengthening of the family, and the the future of the church as the bride of Christ.

Rule #12 is “Act in all things – not according to your own will – but as a son of the gospel.” (Boom! Mic drop.)

May God help us to put away our profession, repent of our frustration, gather up our greatest effort so that we may work through the ministry of Christ our Lord in saving souls. There is no other worthy calling for us to answer.

Happy Pastor Appreciation Month. I am proud to serve with you. (Now get back to work.)

I’ve got something to say to Orlando (but it’s not my words)

Tragedy. Terrorist Act. Murder. Psychopath. Hater.

Call it what you want, but the Orlando night club shooting is a devastating loss of life on many levels. With more than 100 dead or wounded we know that thousands of family members have been effected with loss and grief. We know that a community has been shaken and stirred with fear, anger, heart ache, etc… We know that all Americans – all people everywhere – are witnesses to violence, hate, and death in the most horrific of ways. We know that with each similar tragedy we grow more numb to the reality of evil in our midst.

This event was breaking into the news yesterday as I was preaching on Psalm 24 and the sovereignty of God. It is inconvenient that the two would collide, but it is also helpful to contrast what it means for God to be sovereign and to witness tragedy and turmoil in this way. We preach and pray that God can do all things and also admit that evil is free to bring terror into our world. How can the two coexist? Wouldn’t God want to protect the many lives taken or damaged yesterday? Can’t God prevent such moments from happening? Does a shooting in Orlando tell us that perhaps God’s sovereignty isn’t as secure as we may like to think it is?

This is where I have to warn me and you to not let fear replace faith in our hearts. We can not move so quickly to explaining things before we explore them in light of who God has revealed Himself to be – sovereign, holy, loving, faithful, etc… All creation cries out to the power of God which crescendos at the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension of our Lord. Death did not have victory over Him then and will not be victorious over Him now. Our response is not to explain why or how this occurred, but to rest and revel in the who that is working in the midst of a tragic world. God is not far off, but is nearby. To say that God is sovereign is not to say that God CAN, but is a proclamation that God IS. He is at work in this situation – through you and through me – to bring healing and a songs of hope. We respond with hearts that are full of faith in Him and a vision/hope to see the kingdom of God spread in such a way that no one would pick up a gun towards another (or any other violent act.) We carefully choose words that bear witness to the love of God for all rather than words of contempt that will divide and devastate relationships/communities/churches.

In our tears let us praise God for drawing near to us. In our hurt let us praise God for placing graceful ointment onto our souls when we feel like we have been wounded. In our heartache for brothers and sisters we did not know, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would bring good out of bad and replace their anger/hate with love. In our doubts let us ask God to renew our faith and dig deeper into every area of our life to trust in Him in all things. In our desire to seek revenge, blame an ideology, assign guilt to political platforms, let us find the courage to let God be the judge of the all while we are friends and family to all of creation. In our temptation to give up on God and His kingdom because of great loss, let us turn towards the beautiful truth that “all of the earth is the Lords” so that we may actively participate in the renewal of a lost creation that is killing itself. In our dismay let us not focus on our loss or anguish without admitting the hurt that violence and death causes to the heart of our creating God.

May we today choose to turn towards God rather than away from Him. Violence, death, destruction, sin is all around. The only promising path is into the arms of a gracious God who generously reaches out to help and heal us. Let us be a generation seeking God and not seeking revenge, hate, division, destruction, or faithlessness. Selah.

Those are a few reflective thoughts from today, but what I really want to say to Orlando is…

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory. (Psalm 24)

Why Pastors Need Lent Too

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In a few days I will make my way towards the sanctuary to begin calling my congregation to focus their attention on a new angle of the story of Jesus. Very quickly we have transitioned from celebrating the birth of the King Child who changes the world to remembering the beautiful details of his early days of ministry to others. We have peered into the nativity with the Magi (Matthew 2). We have sipped the wine that was borne as water at a wedding we didn’t expect to be invited to (John 2). We have sat very still in the synagogue and heard him proclaim Isaiah’s prophecy that He would bring good news to the poor and set the captives free (Luke 4). We have heard his call to Peter after a long night of fishing to trust in Him for the catch (Luke 5).

This Jesus story is getting better every day, with every detail. It is a joy to join in on this journey. It is an honor to lean in and catch a glimpse of the Messiah on the move. It is unbelievable that we are included in this great God story that is full of so much promise, so much hope, so much meaning for life on earth.

Then comes the cross. The bloody, brutal cross carved for the final story of Jesus’s life with us. The cross that Rome designed to humiliate, humble, and horrify the populous into submission and surrender. The cross that will forever stand for victory in Jesus, for all the world, throughout eternity, forever and ever. Amen.

This is the new view for my congregation (and yours too, pastor.) It is a view that is less about simply believing in Jesus and more about trusting and believing in him even into death. It is a part of the story that calls us to to lower ourselves, confess our sins, let God draw us near. A call for us to embrace our brokenness, trust in Christ alone by denying the lordship of self, and repent…of everything. Repent of everything that is not rooted in and breathed through the life of Christ. Repent of everything that does not reveal his character and compassion through us. Repent of everything that is not connected to that cross – that bloody, brutal cross.

While I will invite congregants to journey towards the cross and repent, I recognize that I must not only join them on this journey, but I must lead it. I can not just point them in the general direction and bid them to go. I must lead. I must go first. The pastor must lead, not only in the liturgy, but in the lamenting of sin and separation from God.

But what does a pastor really have that needs to be confessed? What on earth does a pastor repent from? Plenty. Believe you me.

Pastors may or may not need to repent of the social sins that are most commonly thought of when preaching/teaching on confession. I am thinking specifically about addictions, attitudes, and anti social behavior that are both clearly defined in scripture and often spelled out in common language in the Special rules or Book of Order. Thanks to the working of God’s grace, most of those sins have been confronted and cast out personally or with the help of ministerial fellowship and accountability. But there are other sins that need to be – must be – dealt with on the way to Easter and on the way to a full life in Christ.

I am finding that there are realities in the pastoral life and call that must be confessed or they will bog down our spiritual life and derail our ministry. While we might not call these social sins they serve as spiritual barriers or bumpers to congregational leaders from the supernatural movement of God in our midst. Truthfully, we should never be ok with anything that we do intentionally or out of ignorance that distracts or detracts from the work of God in us and through us. While sin is often thought of and preached as violating a known law of God, perhaps we should consider it to be a pastoral sin when we put ourselves or our ministry in a place of competition, consternation or conflict with kingdom of God even in the smallest of ways.

“So what on earth are you saying padre?”

I/we need to repent of a cynical spirit, for God is still working in ways that my skeptical eyes can not see. I/we need to repent from a professional busyness/business that prohibits me from being present when others need me to speak into their life and situation. I/we need to repent of living in discouragement due to a perceived lack of success, fame, fortune, and following. I/we need to repent from a personal focus that distracts us from seeing the bigger picture of people/communities in need around us. I/we need to repent from the spirit of self righteousness that keeps us convinced that everyone is a sinner and we can save them through our preaching or programs. I/we need to repent of a ministry that is without hope in a God who saves and sanctifies. I/we need to weep and wail at all of the ways that we minister in our strength rather than in the glorious, graceful strength of Christ our Lord. Then and only then will our ministry be worthy of the call that God has given us as ambassadors of reconciliation in a separated world.

So, I am going to not only repent today (Ash Wednesday) but live repentantly of those (and other) burdens that weakens the ministry of Jesus in and through me. I am thankful that as I confess and pray for forgiveness that the grace of God will both cover and cleanse my sin and shame as a flawed leader. I am thankful that today (and everyday) is the day of salvation for me and those who abandon their own strength and cling to the power of God in Christ. I am eager to know what it means to have nothing but possess everything. I am longing to weep and wail over the sins of the world as a worker in the kingdom of the crucified. I am longing to live with the faith that I can tell God everything and believe that He is already aware and at work in working all things out for the good. I am joyful in the reality that in my weeping and wailing at my need, Christ has set me/us free to live, to love, to lead, and to long for the kingdom that has come.

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So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10)