If you want to know how important a player is, you have to look at how the team does without them. Golden State has won 3 of the last 4 NBA championships but they're in the run for a top pick without their Klay and Steph. When LeBron left the Cavs (both times), they went from championship contender to lottery picks. The year without Manning in Indianapolis, they got the top pick.
Pastor, I have some good news for you. You're not Peyton Manning, LeBron James, or Steph Curry. You're you. And God doesn't need you.
I know that sounds kinda harsh, but it's actually freeing. In a performance mindset, we can think of ourselves as indispensable. For the Colts, Warriors, and Cavs, their best players really are that important. But you're not. Because you're not the best player in your church.
The success of your ministry is not dependent on you. It's on God. You are not the potter, He is. You are not the source or power, He is. And you are not the most important person in your church, He is.
Be faithful. Work hard. Give it your all. A healthy ministry has no room for laziness. Lazy pastors are a disgrace to God and to the local church. But you're not under that pressure of performance where everything depends on you. God is the one carrying the weight of your ministry, of your church, and He's going to be the one to see it through.
That sermon you felt hit like a flat tire? God can still use it to transform hearts.
The family who stopped coming because "their needs weren't being met"? God will send who He will.
Offerings don't seem as strong? God will provide for your family and He's the owner of the cattle on 1000 hills.
The key to faithful ministry isn't results, it's Plodding. Day after day. Week after week. And knowing that you're not needed for God to work, but you're part of His work anyway. That should set us free and give us joy. God doesn't need you, but God does delight in you.
"So what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a minister. Youth Pastor. Work mostly with middle and high schoolers."
"Really? No sh--? Get outta here!"
Tony was a retired New Englander with a sharp tongue and some strong opinions about... well, everything. Including his thoughts on the Catholic Church and religion in general. I met him in a park while our youth group was on a mission trip to Boston. He happened to be on his walk while we were helping an after school program and was curious who we were, what we were doing, and most importantly why. He thought it was great that a group of students would give up a week of summer vacation to sleep in a dorm, ride the T, and spend their days serving others.
The part that stands out the most was his off the cuff, genuinely engaged reaction to finding out I was a pastor. That was a moment of awkwardness. Not because he cussed. I went to public school. You really have to try to offend me. I've heard, and been called, much worse. It was because of when he said it. I never thought of my background and experience as Southern, but I gotta be honest, that was a first. Normally when people find out I'm a pastor they either clean up their language or they admit they've got a cousin or grandpa who's a Baptist pastor (apparently everyone in Kentucky is related to a Baptist pastor).
What I appreciated most about Tony was that he didn't put up a pretense or silver lining. He was who he was, and his reaction to my answer was genuine. He didn't have the cultural niceties that western Kentucky had. He didn't know "you're not supposed to cuss in front of the preacher." He was himself, and he taught me a powerful lesson of awkward grace.
Awkward grace is where we find ourselves bumping up against someone who's not from our bubble, and the situation causes us a certain level of awkwardness. Let's be honest, if you're a conservative Christian from Nascar Country USA, chances are you've not had a lot of exposure or time around the LGBT community, minorities, economically disadvantaged, or people who cuss like it's an art form. As the regional and geographic distinctions continue to dissolve, and as culture moves past its relatively theistic worldview and moral structure, we're going to bump up against people whose lives are very different from our own.
In those moments of awkward (and don't pretend you don't feel a little awkward), we have two choices:
1) Attack the awkward
2) Embrace the awkward
Attacking awkward is where we push back on the uncomfortable and launch against it. My concern is that this is how many Christians want to engage the uncomfortable. We want to attack it. We want to push the awkward away and marginalize it so that what's left is most comfortable and most similar to ourselves. Certainly there's a place for the policy and sociological emphasis on morality and an ethical obligation to seek good, but in many ways Christians have lost their place as the cultural and social majority. Certainly that comes with its challenges, but nowhere in the New Testament were Christians ever promised positions of power that come with their faith. Nor were they ever commanded to "reclaim" or "take back" something that was never really there to start with.
Embracing the awkward is where we step into a situation that's not our normal, and we recognize what's going on and appreciate it. One time our church was given booth space at a community event, and our spot was right next to the University secularism/atheist society. While sharing hot chocolate, we embraced the awkward with them that someone, somewhere, had a pretty good sense of humor. When we embrace the awkward, we're putting down the sword. We're putting away our natural response to shield our eyes or run or chastise someone for a lifestyle or belief that we find incompatible.
Jesus' words in Matthew 22 about the Greatest Commandment show us that it matters how we treat our neighbor. Loving our neighbor doesn't mean endorsing, condoning, or supporting something we might be objected to or find outside of God's design. It does mean that we love our neighbor. Even when it's awkward. We love our neighbor because they're made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), they're someone for whom Christ died (Romans 5:8), and in order that we can serve and seek their good (Jeremiah 29:7).
Pastors, embrace awkward grace. Our churches cannot be places like Mark Twain described, where good people go be around other good people to hear about how they're good people. Awkward grace means that we position ourselves as open to our community, open to the hurting, open to the downcast, open to the ones not like us, and open to the incredible grace of God that transformed us. Point people to Jesus. Trust the Spirit to work on their hearts. Pray that God would make all of us who call on His name more into the image and reflection of Christ.
Grace is awkward. So embrace it, enjoy it, and have a laugh with a guy on a park bench who thinks "it's <bleeping> cool that your life is different." Those moments are gifts of God for us to create margins for grace, for God to work in people's lives.
Last week Chuck Lawless from SEBTS ran an article about church members who drive pastors crazy. If you've been in ministry more than a month, chances are you've met a few of those. They can weigh you down, not that a shepherd doesn't need to carry burdens (he does), but the weight comes from either the pettiness or the emotional toll on a shepherd. It's an inescapable reality of ministry that there was always be a few who drive you nuts. As my father in law has said, if one moves away two more take their place.
But rather than focus on the negative aspects of pastoral ministry, I want to pause and think about the 12 types (I'm a glass half empty guy, so of course it's one less) of church members who can make a pastor's day. One of the best parts of this is I can put names to each of these. So to you who I'm writing about, thank you.
1. The Prayer - This is the member who, when they say they'll pray for you, means it. You keep wondering if they have some kind of red phone to Heaven because of how strong their prayers are for you, for the church, and whatever else you throw at them. They can be counted on when you need someone to hold you (or whatever you're asking of them) up.
2. The Consistent Volunteer - It's not the person who does everything that's here, this is the person who, when it's their turn to serve, is there. They don't try to get out of it or list reasons they can't. They step up, smile, show up, do their part, and you can count on them.
3. The "Whatever It Takes" Person - Few things ever in a church fit a "job description." This is the person who's willing to do whatever is needed to accomplish God's plans. When it gets hard, they get creative. When a ministry need comes up, they help try to find a solution. Blessed with the heart of a true servant, nothing is below them or beyond their time.
4. The One Who Introduces You to Guests Every Week - Whether it's a friend, a neighbor, or some random person they met that week (or that morning!), this person is constantly introducing you to people they've brought to worship with them. They know that a personal invite still matters, and that they can make an impact on people they love by introducing them to Jesus and to our church.
5. The Quietly Faithful - The one who attends as often as they can, who serves when they're able, who plugs in and does what's needed, and never seeks attention for it. They're content to serve, be faithful, and never seek the recognition or attention that comes with it. Most people have no idea what they do, but God does, and that's what matters most.
6. The Encourager - This isn't a Yes Man, but someone who is a genuine encourager. These people are blessed with the ability to build up. They know the words to say, or not to say, and they have a way of sharing with you to make your day. The Encourager is someone who can read people and are magnetized to the ones who feel weak that day.
7. The Dreamer - Dreamers don't nitpick and look for ways to criticize. They're willing to look around at what is happening and start to see more than what's visible. Instead of seeing an empty field, they see a potential place for building expansion. Instead of a depressing room, they see an opportunity for transforming space.
8. The Brake Tapper - Brake Tappers are just as important as Dreamers. The Brake Tapper isn't a critic or a wet sock, they're realistic. They can help see not only what the Dreamer does but the steps needed to get there. They tap the brakes, not stop the car, to help slow down to a reasonable speed. Building project getting everyone excited? Brake tappers will help come up with a plan to pay for it.
9. The Back Haver - One of my pastoral mentors often said during Strategic Leadership Team meetings that he was "looking for some other people to go on the branch with him and the chainsaw." He never liked doing things alone. And he was so grateful to have people on the branch with him. Back Havers are the people who will run interference, quench a fire, confront a bully, or make the parliamentary motion that keeps a stagnant meeting running.
10. The Regular Giver - This isn't the person who writes one big check, but the person who week after week is faithful and generous. They know what it means to be a "hilarious giver" and they are willing to make their finances, as well as their time and life, part of their worship. Most of our giving units are small givers who regularly sacrifice and give what they can. And those, whether they're social security income or someone struggling to find ways to be generous while balancing the demands of life, are such a blessing.
11. The Driver - The Driver is the one who takes an idea and puts it into motion. It's really easy to talk about where we want to go, and we can have endless meetings about vision and what things could look like. The Driver is the one who says "Get in the truck, let's go!" Drivers are the champions for a ministry and are willing to do what's needed to make it work. They own it, they put their time and energy into it, and they make it happen.
12. The Learner - The Learner is the one who embracers their (and your) inner nerd. They like to learn and share what they've learned. They glean from your teaching and love growing in what they know about God. Learners don't necessarily give you random end-times charts, but are sharing with you, and you with them, what God has been teaching you. You're like the sharpening stone in a forge. You both make each other sharper from sharing with each other.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.