I’m working on my promised posts about how I believe a Sabbath / Neighborhood / Vocation ecclesiology can and should give evangelicalism’s Donald Millers no need to quit going to church. Truthfully, it’s been challenging to think through why exactly I believe what I believe on this issue. Hence, the delay.
In the mean time, another standard church planting proverb.
I remember in seminary and during my several pastoral internships, I received a particular challenge and an accompanying caution.
The challenge was not to set myself up as the unreachable paragon of spiritual maturity in my congregation. People needed to hear, in my preaching, teaching, counseling, and family, that I knew I was a sinner. That I had abiding idolatries that needed to be pulled from my heart’s embrace. That I was prepared to be the Lead Repenter. That I was in the same spiritual battle for holiness by grace that they were engaged in.
I believed what my professors and pastors said concerning this challenge. I committed myself to struggling for holiness by grace in the context of my community, just as I called others to do. I exhorted people to holiness by grace in my preaching and teaching, all the while sitting under my own preaching (and, thankfully, that of others in our community), and often made my own struggles plain to my congregation. I believe, fundamentally, that a pastor’s first identity is that of a plain, ordinary Christian. And I believe that emphasizing this helps people in their pursuit of holiness by grace.
In the very next breath, however, my profs and mentors would caution me. “Andy, whatever you say to people about your own struggles and sins, your own propensities to idolatry and your own inadequacies, these very things will be used against you. You can guarantee it.”
Really? People are that big of jerks? Yessir. And of course I’m one of those jerk-people myself at times.
And, in fact, this is just what has happened. 95% of my self-effacing references to my own hang-ups and inadequacies are at least somewhat effectual in enabling people to think more honestly about their own, and about the gracious Savior that is intent upon making us holy. But 5% of my disclosures are being gathered as intelligence data against me, and will be thrown back upon in a moment of fury.
Just recently, I suggested to someone that they could stand to imitate me in one respect: I have learned, relatively speaking, to bridle my tongue. The person had been setting forests ablaze with their torch of a tongue. I pointed out that I have a lot of relationships with people, many of which have been intact for a number of years, and that I’ve had much sweetness, a fair amount of authenticity, and very few fallings out. And that the individual, on the other hand, had burned bridge after bridge.
This individual replied that the only reason I have intact relationships is because I’m a people pleaser. I had fireproofed my relational bridges not because of growth in grace, but because my relational bridges were lacquered in idolatry.
This person must have been reading my blog or something.
What did my profs and mentors say? They said to be vulnerable. They said to expect your vulnerability to be used against you. What else?
They told me to do it anyway. It’s worth it.
In fact, one of my mentors told me that the people who are most angry at their pastor, who use his shortcomings against him, are often the people who are in a spiritual jam. They are often the ones who are uncomfortable with the God of grace who seems to be an inescapable, claustrophobic presence surrounding them. They are those who take out their frustration with Jesus on someone other than Jesus. And so they are those whose outbursts and condemnations you cannot take personally, because it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus. Unlike the people half asleep during the sermon and half asleep through most of their spiritual lives, these people are miserable.
So I’m simply here to reiterate what my teachers have said: Stay vulnerable. Know that it’ll be thrown back in your face. Don’t take it personally.
What’s at stake
What’s at stake here is not your self-esteem or your career or your emotional equilibrium. You probably are a people-pleaser on some level, even if it’s not to the degree that I am. But it’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the culture of gospel-drenchedness you’re hoping to cultivate. It’s about the unabashed pursuit of holiness-by-grace and the culture of loving challenge that must develop in order to provide the right environment for that pursuit. It’s about abiding in and with and under Christ Jesus. Yes, it’s about Jesus.
So don’t lose heart. Make yourself the bond-slave of your people for Jesus’ sake. Work on your idol of people-pleaserness, and trust that Jesus is more determined to get rid of it than even you are. But don’t quit being vulnerable, and don’t take it personally when that vulnerability is turned into condemnation by a few. Pray for these people: they’re miserable and their hearts are going to be restless until they find their rest in Jesus.
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