One of the side effects of the past three years of my life, and especially the closing of the church, is that I have lost my mojo. Yes, believe it or not, pastors have mojo, and/or swagger. We usually spiritualize it to some degree and call it “anointing” or “gifting”, but in essence, it is that confidence that a pastor has in their skills and abilities that allows them to minister more effectively, and inspire others to greater faith. I used to have quite a bit of that swagger a few years ago, finding confidence in my abilities as a preacher, musician, and leader, enough to inspire me to start my own church, and even convince others to join me as well.
I have tried to use those skills to their very utmost, paired with hard work and a lot of prayer, and yet here I am, trying to graciously guide our church into its final week. So you can understand why I have far less confidence in those particular skills any longer.
I also realize this acutely as I look at the various job descriptions for pastor positions, and the list of expectations that candidates are expected to meet. I see often that the pastor will be expected to help the congregation achieve the next level of growth and maturity, and I know that is much more difficult than it sounds, and doubt that I can accomplish such a feat. One listing stressed the need for organizational and logistical skills, stating that a corporate background in managing was highly suggested, an MBA preferred. I couldn’t even keep together a church of 40 people – how in the world would I be able to manage a church double, or triple, in size? Another church said that they were looking for an “ideater”, or someone to help cast a compelling vision for the church. I didn’t even know that “ideater” was a word, and I’m quite sure I don’t know how to “ideate”, or whatever the verb form of that word might be.
Regardless of whether I can or cannot accomplish these expectations, I don’t feel like I can. And often, if you don’t feel like you can do something…you’re right, because a lack of confidence creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a disheartening realization, especially when you are on the job hunt, and are supposed to be projecting an image of someone with supreme self-assurance, confident in their ability to get things done. Instead, the struggles that I and our church experienced has made me inadequate and doubtful of my finer abilities as a pastor, the finer abilities that it seems that churches want.
But at the same time, I have come to realize that although I have lost my confidence in my abilities, I have not lost confidence altogether.
It’s true, I have serious doubts about my skills as a motivator, manager, ideater and community organizer. But through the trials of the past three years, I have become a deep believer in the gospel, and have enormous confidence in its abilities. And the reason I have such confidence in the gospel is that I’ve seen what it can do. The gospel gave me hope, perspective and strength during hellishly dark days. I’ve seen it even at our small, struggling church – people coming to faith for the first time, or after years of turning away from God; other people being encouraged and challenged, leaving behind a life of nominal Christianity, and taking up the cross instead. And I believe that these fruits came to be not through my skills as a pastor, but through the gospel, that message that God loves us and has made a way for us. If my God-given skills and abilities had anything to do with it, it was only because they were tethered to that Story, and channeled through its power, and nothing more.
And so if you give me a chance to explain the gospel to people, I will do so clearly and passionately, using every ounce of intellect and conviction and anointing that I have. And I will do it again and again, week after week, from the pulpit, through email, or at a coffee table. I don’t care if I have to do it in front of a few or many, to the young or the old, to a person of any race. And I don’t need mojo to pull these things off, because I have the gospel – the gospel has become my swagger. Whatever confidence I have lost in myself and my abilities, I seem to have gained in the gospel and its abilities instead.
Now this might seem like a silver lining of sorts, a type of “Oh, at least he is gleaning something positive out of all of this!” And because of this, now I (and you) can feel somewhat better about my terrible situation. But frankly, I don’t see it that way. This is all positive, and exactly the process through which all ministers are supposed to travel. This is what Paul teaches us in the book of Philippians:
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
You see here that Paul has the most impressive of resumes, and every reason to be supremely self-confident – he has the right background, the right education, the right skills. But he calls all of these things a “loss”, and “rubbish”, compared to knowing Christ. And the word that he uses there for “rubbish” is actually much more graphic in the Greek – it is actually the word for human excrement…or “sh*t”, if you will pardon my Greek. So we were never supposed to find our confidence and self-assurance in our abilities, even if we acknowledge them as God-given. Instead, our confidence is in Christ and His abilities alone. And so this place that I find myself, stripped of confidence in myself and my skills, is not a curse, but exactly where I should have been all along.
You see, I haven’t found the silver lining to a failed ministry – I have discovered the heart of all ministry. No longer do I strive to be a multi-faceted pastor who is self-assured and charismatic and able to get things done. I want to be a one-trick pony, that pony being living and preaching the gospel in any and every way that I can. I don’t feel that this makes me less effective as a pastor, but more, because I have been simplified, honed and sharpened – any fancy gilded edges have been smoothed over and given true purpose and direction. I may have little confidence in my ability to lead or change or transform, but that is perfectly okay because it is ultimately Christ who accomplishes such things, and I just have to make him known to the best of my ability.
So I’m not done doing ministry – I feel like I am just getting started.
But this has also given me some pause as I look for new work. I have yet to read a job listing that made any reference to “passion for Christ and for the gospel” anywhere in its description. Of course, I realize the need of churches to be practical in their expectations for their pastor, and I’m sure that most of these churches just assume that every pastor has such a passion (which is not the wisest assumption to make). But maybe this betrays something altogether more dangerous, that churches and the Christians who make them up follow more of a corporate model than an apostolic one. What does it say about us and our understanding of “ministry” that the first and only stated expectations of leaders are duties that they must fulfill? What does it say when job descriptions for pastors look exactly like job descriptions for company managers, or CEO’s? If we expect such things from our leaders, won’t we in turn expect the same from ourselves? Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I have a feeling that more than a few of us have seen such a dynamic take hold at our churches, and need to soberly reconsider if that is really what God wants from us.
As for me, I am looking for a job description that says something along these lines: “Must consider all things a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” That is the only job description that I am qualified for, and am interested in.