The Grace & Truth Blog

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Confessions of a weak minister

It’s not hard to love the gifted ball player- unless you happen to play 2nd string on his team.

It’s not hard to love the talented violinist, unless you happen to be second chair.

It’s not hard to love the brilliant academic, unless you are her dyslexic sister.

It is hard to love gifted people around you, until you recognize that you don’t have to be them.

What the performance reviewers tell us is true- that setting a high bar will encourage us to perform to higher standards. Such is the wisdom of performance reviewers (even the imaginary ones). What they tend to overlook is the fact that such standard setting really only makes the pursuit of the standard more disheartening. This is because they really only concerned about performance; the emotional stability of the recipient is a secondary issue.

The impact of comparing ourselves or being compared to other people is crippling. It’s crippling not only to our own growth and effectiveness- but it cripples the church as well.

From my earliest experiences with ministry I felt the burden of not measuring up to my colleagues in the ministry. It probably began when I was given the opportunity to intern in a medium size church along with 20 or so other gifted men who were also training for the ministry.  There were limited ministry positions which inevitably created a competitive atmosphere, exacerbating a latent insecurity.

The nature of the internship put every ministry decision under the microscope; every weakness was scrutinized. It also opened up the opportunity for everybody (or welt felt like it) to weigh in on my suitability for ministry and giving them the opportunity to serve as personal performance reviewers. There was never a consensus regarding the results. Some assured me that I was certainly “called” to the ministry, and many other credible critics suggested I wasn’t (often accompanied with a comparison to some other successful minister).

Until recently, I have felt awkward when introduced to other pastors. It has also been difficult for me to listen to other preachers without comparing myself to them. I would constantly ask: What do they do that I don’t? What do I do that prevents me from being like them? My take-aways: If only I was more bold….; If only I was more intelligent….; If only I was more articulate….; If only I was more extroverted….

I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong in constantly seeking to improve, but my I see now that my expectations of myself might have been a bit too high. Do I really need to have authority of MacArthur, the tenderness of Tripp, the passion of Piper, and the wit of Wilson in order to be faithful in what God has called me to?

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (Rom 12:3).

Now, what had previously been a threat has become my joy. There is joy in simply accepting, I am who I am. But the real joy in my discovery is not in simply that I have come to accept my weaknesses (as relieving as that can be). Rather, it is in recognizing what wonderful gifts I have been given- in being a part of the body of Christ. What once had intimidated me now brings security.  I don’t have to be D.A. Carson because the church already has him, or R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, David Platt, or Russell Moore. I don’t even need to be like them because we already have them. I have them!

21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours (1 Cor 3:21-22).

I am so glad I don’t have to bear the burdens they bear because of their accomplishments and gifts. If I did what they did, I would burn out in a week.

For instance, I am so thankful that I am not the only person defending the world against false teachers. Any reasonably intelligent false teacher could out argue me in a heated conversation. I am also not very good at small talk which makes it difficult to speak with strangers. If evangelism were all up to me, the Great Commission might take a million millennia to get accomplished.

This recognition has also allowed me to embrace my imaginary critics who want me to be like such men, or at least who want to compare me with them. I can agree- they are right! I am not them! Praise God I am not them!

It’s not just me though

I have seen this kind of insecurity stifle men as well as ministries. It not only prevents us from appreciating the varied gifts of the members of the body, it can actually lead us to be threatened by them. (Ironically, the people we need the most are the ones we feel most threatened by). I write this because I have often seen progress in ministry get stifled because the team members I was working with didn’t trust one another. I believe the underlying reason had less to do with trustworthiness of the ministers and more to do with confusion that resulted from differences in personality and giftedness.

Here is an imaginary conversation of a ministry team discussing how it can improve:

“This ministry would be more effective if we were more friendly”- says the friendly guy. All the while everyone else is thinking, “Oh no, I hope this doesn’t mean we are now going to be required to take shifts greeting newcomers.”

The secretary responds, “Well I think that we should get more organized so that we can actually function.” The others think, “Oh no, here comes the petition to schedule more meetings.”

The charismatic extravert pipes up, “I think we need to be more bold in our evangelism- are we going to be outdone by a bunch of JW’s?”  The others think, “Oh no, not canvassing neighborhoods again!”

Inevitably, we will express our personal aversions to others’ assertive suggestions with strong defensiveness. We think, “That Guy is trying to push an agenda- I need to stop him somehow.” What I have discovered however is that it is far more likely that these passionate people are simply trying to love people better.

Often the reason for our lack of trust towards one another is simply because we recognize that we would not speak or act like the other person did unless some sinful motive was involved. But, the truth is that Johnny was not trying to be a jerk when he overtly disagreed with George’s position. His frankness was a sincere attempt to love his friend. Jimmy was not being a coward because he was reluctant to disagree. Rather his lack of speaking up was due to the fact that he valued the relationship so much that he wanted to make sure the common ground well established. So that, when the disagreement was exposed the relationship would not be destroyed along with it.

Just because a person does or says something you would not, does not mean that they are in sin, even if you would have been in sin if you would have said or done such and such. There is grave danger is assigning motivations. Sin is clear cut- lying, stealing, cheating, adultery. Yes, we can sin without an overt action. I am not denying that. But, we cannot assume motives simply by comparing another person’s actions with our own.

This is readily recognized on a macro level- cultures express themselves differently: Germans are cold, Latinos are passionate, and Hawaiians are laid-back (forgive the stereotypes). But the same is true in individual people- different personalities and gifts express themselves differently.

As Christians serving in the church, we need to study one another in order to interpret one another’s actions on the basis of who they are, not on the basis of who we are, or what we think they should be. When we accept one another as is, we enable ourselves to truly delight in our differences. Other people are the way they are so that we don’t have to be the way they are.

So, if you find yourself feeling insecure around other believers, ask yourself if you trying to be them. Or if you find yourself concerned about another’s sinful motives, ask yourself if you are imagining that they are you. And, if you find yourself angry at other people’s incompetence in something that seems simple and obvious, also ask yourself if you are imagining that they are you.

It is for okay for believers to be like other believers. But we should be careful. When Paul encourages believers to follow the example of others (1 Cor 11:1, 1 Pet 5:3, Titus 2, 2 Tim 2) he is not suggesting that they be like them in every way- but that their lives would reflect the biblical values of a mature believer. The aim is that as the various members grow in maturity and work according to their gifts they will reflect the person of Christ as a whole.

when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:16)

This is what is so wonderful about being a member of the body of Christ- you don’t have to be Christ; you just have to be yourself. You also don’t have to be eye if you’re not good at seeing. It’s okay to be a heart, they are important too.

When we embrace our weaknesses and avoid being threatened by the strengths of the other members’ three things are accomplished:

  1. The Body becomes more useful
  2. The individual members delight in one another
  3. The individual members are free to be effective in their own right