Editor’s Note: Today’s post is part of our Fall 2020 series on resilience, wholeness and pastoral wellbeing. Dr. Mike Wittmer, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at GRTS, offers a reflection on how.
My friend Jim is a preaching pastor, professor, and author of several books. I asked him how he handles the stress of juggling his various duties. Isn’t his reputation on the line every time he writes, lectures, and preaches? Jim said he takes comfort in Colossians 2:9-10, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.”
That’s it, isn’t it? Our significance, our security, our value can only come from one source. If we are in Christ, our identity is forever fixed. Who we are is who we are in Jesus. Full stop. Period. A powerful sermon cannot add one bit to our value, and a bomb that droned on ten minutes too long cannot take one bit away.
WE WHO ARE IN CHRIST CAN AFFORD TO BE CONTENT.
Pastors are naturally competitive, in a spiritual sort of way. Many of us chose the ministry because we wanted to change the world, and what better way than to lead a church, which the “gates of Hades” cannot stop? (Matthew 16:18). Then we hit middle-age, and we realize that we are not going to be the next Billy Graham, Chuck Swindoll, or Tony Evans. We’re pastoring a small church that has grown spiritually and numerically under our ministry, but it’s clear we’re not going to be remembered in anyone’s history book.
What a relief! None of us were ever going to Change. The. World. Only one Man ever has. Only one Man can. Our job is to point others to Him. Of course we want God to use us, and we pray for opportunities to invest our lives for Him. But if who we are is who we are in Jesus, then it’s actually okay if God chooses to waste our talent in some nondescript ministry. Nothing essential was lost.
WE WHO ARE IN CHRIST ARE FREE TO TAKE CHANCES.
We serve freely because we know who we are, and failure in this or that area will not change the final score. As athletes play fast and loose when they’re sure their team will win, so we can minister with confidence when our hope is not in our performance but in Jesus’ return.
Our fragile, angry age can intimidate us into cowardice. What can I say or do that won’t offend someone? It helps to remember Peter, the church’s first pastor. Peter acted impulsively, and his quick words often received his Lord’s rebuke. Yet Jesus forgave him, and put him in charge. I’m not saying every risk is worth taking; I am saying life is short. I can live with the regret of attempts that didn’t work out. I don’t want to die with the regret of not trying, of holding back because I was afraid to fail or be misunderstood. I want to cash in all my chips.
WE WHO ARE IN CHRIST ARE FREE TO FOCUS ON OUR SPECIFIC CALLINGS.
We don’t have to be that church or that pastor. We only need to do what Jesus has called us to do. If you think about it, every pastor and church disappoints someone. If you’re a small church, they’ll say you lack professionalism. If you’re big, they’ll say you’re too much like a business. Your sermons will strike some people as too deep, or too shallow; too exegetical, or too applicational. None of us can be everyone’s first choice.
We must be willing to learn from our critics, but we should carefully weigh the source. As Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney answered one of his detractors, “You don’t worry about criticism from people you wouldn’t seek advice from.” Has someone expressed disapproval of you and your ministry? If this is a wise person, take it to heart. If not, why is it bothering you?
The bigger threat to our callings may come from our supporters. They’ll do anything for us, and we gladly return the favor. We want to please them, so we listen when they point us in directions that may not be the best use of our time and energy. Haddon Robinson warned pastors about this codependent temptation. In a sermon on 2 Samuel 23, he noted that when David’s mighty men risked their lives to bring him water from Bethlehem, David “refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord” (v.16).
Wise pastors refuse to intrude on the devotion that belongs to Jesus. We thank the person for their praise, then we pour it out to the Lord. This keeps us in our rightful place and from being tied to others’ expectations. We may live freely, boldly, and contentedly, and when we have finished what God has called us to do today, go to bed.