As pastors and leaders within God’s church, we can easily begin to think that we have arrived at where we are supposed to be. It isn’t something we say outwardly, nor is it something we would typically think we actually believe. Yet it is the way we act, the way we preach, and certainly the mindset that we portray. We often say things to the congregation like, “I will take my things to God and He will help me as I am accountable to Him, but I am here to help you and to ensure that you are going in the right direction.” As Tripp points out in his book Dangerous Calling, as pastors we are also a part of the body and the entire body needs the other parts of the body, which means we need people within the body just as much as they need us. We also tend to not take well to others questioning us or in trying to help us see that we are in sin ourselves. Yes, some in the congregation will seek to hold us to standards that we might even think that Jesus couldn’t uphold, but if we are willing to step back, most of our problems stem from the internal view we have of ourselves and what we think pastoral leadership should be like. We think things like, pastors shouldn’t be questioned or that if the flock knows that we are sinners too that they will think less of us. We also tend to preach a message and a gospel, that in reality, we can’t even hold to ourselves. If we were honest, most of us have become very Pharisee like, but we would never admit that because we know that someone is lurking in the bushes waiting to string us up, to take our position, and to get one more jab at us. These things may seem over the top, but they are nevertheless true and as a pastor, I have experienced these things for myself and watched other pastors do the same.
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Realizing these things has caused me to weep over my own wretchedness and to realize that things had to change. If you are not a pastor and desire to read Tripp’s book for yourself and I would encourage you to do so, even though it is written to pastors specifically, it can help anyone. If you can just imagine that he is writing it to you as a leader in the church or in your household, it is a fantastic book. It is a book that I believe God could use to help many of us as leaders, see that we need to come to the end of ourselves. It is certainly a book that I have needed for a long time, to help me come to the end of myself and to help me see who I really am. No, I am not there by any means, I still have a long way to go.
Isaiah 6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
So where to go from here? Well, for starters, over the last several months or even year this is not all that God has shown me about what changes need to happen within me, but what I am about to say is certainly a good place to begin. At least it is for me and my hope is that you could learn from what I am sharing with you today. As a pastor, I have always believed that the people in His church needed to be extremely active in God’s Kingdom work. I have seen Christians become numb to His word and just hanging out in their pajamas so to speak waiting for His return. This led me to desire to show them and to lead them to be busy not in the world, but with His works. The problem is that I became too busy, involved in everything, and overwhelmed. Where I knew that the children of God needed to be spending time in His word in the mornings and praying much, before running out into the world, and taught these things, over time I neglected them myself. The truth is that I was spending very little time at his feet and little time praying. When I did try and get back on the horse, I always went over the top with it, trying to give 150% (which was also a pride thing), on top of the already over tasked life that I ran. Over time this led me to preach a message that I couldn’t even uphold myself, a message that lacked grace, and when the people didn’t jump in the way that I thought that they should, it led to bitterness. There is a lot more to this and way too much to list out here, so this isn’t by any means the sum of my mess, but it was a large part of it. There are many other things that over time led me to be done with it all, but again this was part of the root problem.
Psalm 27:7–9 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!
After several classes, a lot of reading, and a lot of praying, God taught me that I needed to slow way down. And in order to get me to where I needed to be, He literally brought almost everything to a close for me. Praise be to God! Praise be to God that He was not going to allow me to go on preaching in hypocrisy, building up myself, and fooling myself at the same time. Praise be to God that He cares so much for His children, that He will step in and turn our lives upside down in order to bring us back to Himself and to bring glory to His Name. After God stopped everything I was doing, except for allowing me to continue pursuing my doctorates and my secular job, He showed me that I needed to rebuild my calendar. That I needed to ensure that each day I have Him as number 1, time to pray, time to read, and time to be reminded each morning that I am in desperate need of Him. The difference this leads to is that instead of my ministry or my role in the church being my treasure, I am reminded that He is my true treasure and that my identity is in Christ and not in those things that I was doing.
Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Now with working a secular job, and pursuing my doctorates, and most importantly with ensuring that I spend ample time at His feet each day, I don’t know how I ever thought that I could do anything else in addition to those things. Yes, once done with my pursuit of a degree in ministry or if led away from a secular job and into the full-time ministry then something else could come in, but stop and think about what I am saying. For the majority out there, who work a secular job or at home, after we build time for our Lord into our lives, go to work, and then commit maybe several hours a week to a ministry, that is more than enough, and our calendars are full. And despite balls being dropped in other ministries and places, if we try and stop to pick them up or to try and do more than one thing for His Kingdom well, the first thing we will take off of our plates is our time with Him. Then over time we are no longer doing it in His strength and the thing we are doing becomes our idol and we will end up letting it define us. Instead, we need to be drawn back to see that only after we have our time with God and spend ample time each day at His feet, are we then able to go and do what He is calling us to do and to give Him the glory for it. When we stop being with Him, we fall into a really bad place and it leads to several areas in our lives getting way off track.
For me, I have learned so much lately about just how wretched I am and how I was letting my position define me instead of God. I began to let people’s expectations of me drive me. I began to worry that people might think that I am weak, and by the way I am. I began to worry that people might know that I fall way short every single day of His glory, and I do. I began to think that I had the skills and the training to accomplish the work laid before me, and I do not. I cannot do anything on my own. I am weak and sinful and outside of the grace and forgiveness of God, I am a wretched broken individual. I need Him more than anything else and there is no way I can go a day without spending ample time at His feet praying, reading His Word, and crying out to Him for help. How foolish am I to even begin to think that I know best and how to move forward without Him leading. For only God is wise and only He is perfect!
In closing, I don’t know your schedule, but if I could encourage you a bit by saying, “It is not only ok for us to slow down, but it is required if we have become so busy, that we are neglecting the very one we claim that we are doing it for.” For me, I have by no means arrived yet at where I need to be, and so each day I am crying out to God, asking Him to magnify Himself in my own heart and to bring me to the end of myself. I pray that not only would this help others, but that it would be up as a constant reminder to myself, of who God is and of who I am not. May all of the glory be His!
Psalm 105:4 Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!