Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight… 1 Timothy 1:18
I heard about a pastor who had a sign on his pulpit facing him that said, “What are you trying to do to these people?” He wasn’t alone in needing regular reminders of what he was assigned by God to do, to say, how he said it, and to whom he was to say it. Without such reminders we tend to veer off course and begin to talk only to and for ourselves.
I inherited a love for swimming from my dad who won a bronze medal in the 1932 Olympics. Not only did he swim in pools, he also swam and won two Golden Gate competitions out in the frigid and fearsome Pacific! That kind of aquatic experience was most definitely not passed down to me. I hate cold water and swimming where there’s no line at the bottom so I can swim straight! In lakes or in the ocean (of the warmer variety) I absolutely cannot swim in a straight line. Without constant navigational checks (i.e. stopping and looking up) I might find myself either back where I started or out to sea.
In the same way that I require a lane line to help me swim straight, I need to remember God’s orders to keep me on track; thus, my need for reminders of where I’m supposed to go with God. These “mantras” and others help me walk/swim straight. These sound bytes keep me from heading out to sea.
I’m not sure how helpful this is to others, because I coined these mantras to remind me of the assignment the Lord has given me. Your assignment and your way of articulating it so that you remember what he’s said to you might be quite different than mine. I propose these simple sound bytes to you for your consideration, but you’ll have to arrive at your own mantras. But maybe, especially if you are living or aspire to live a life of service, you’ll find something here that will inspire something unique to you and your calling and give you a general sense of direction.
The first three “mantras” that I talked about in Part 1 are:
- I’m just trying to make friends with God…
- I’m trying to simply follow and follow simply…
- I am trying to be more of a “pacesetter” than a “superstar.”
Notice that they all begin with “I’m trying…” I can’t perfectly or consistently do all the things I think I should do. But I am trying. I’m considering ordering my headstone, inscribed with the words, “He tried.” Sometimes the best I can do, even with God’s strength surging through me, is try.
So here’s the next one…
I’m trying to impact people without having to impress them, and reach people without having to possess them.
This is sort of a two-for-one, so let me break it down.
- Impact rather than impress…
There’s a huge difference between impacting and impressing people, don’t you think? The degree to which anyone is impressed with me is the degree to which I’ve stolen something from Jesus. (It might also be some indication about how easily impressed they are!) Impressing them is pretty much all about my ego and not at all about what helps people get to know God better. I teach stuff not so they’ll know that I know something, but so that they’ll know what I know (and then do something with it). I want them to be impacted, not impressed.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Psalm 127
From my experience, and Solomon confirms it, doing a ministry with the goal to impress people is exhausting (painful labors), conceited (vain), and ineffective (the house is left un-built and city unguarded).
In order to impress people today a pastor has to preach good, keep a nice comfortable building, always be politically correct, and concoct compelling services and a cool program to get people to come back the following week. I guess I reasoned that if they kept coming back they would automatically become better Christians! Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. Some were impacted and some were just impressed (or probably more often unimpressed as the case may be) – and I think the ones most impressed didn’t always live the best lives. They might’ve helped pay the bills and taught Sunday School, but they tended to stay with us only as long as they continued to be impressed!
Of course we’re concerned to capture people’s attention, and so I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to do our ministries with as much excellence as is reasonable. Though we’re not trying to impress them, we’re certainly not trying to depress them (or bore them). A simple and non-attractional style of ministry doesn’t translate to insipid and unattractive. There is a balance here, but I’m talking about the spiritual leader’s focus. I have to frequently ask myself, “Am I trying to call attention to me or to God?” We’re told that Jonathan “helped David find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16) He didn’t try to be David’s strength; he just helped him find it in God! And when he found it, he was strong with God’s strength and not the strength of some impressive spiritual leader!
I’ve noticed that when I lapse into trying to impress people, God often sabotages my efforts. I plant a lot of seed but harvest very little crop (Haggai 1:6). Honestly, I see this as a mercy; otherwise I become successful in impressing them and am thus led to believe that God likes the way I do things. Plus the outcome is not good when I’m trying to impress them; instead of disciples, I make admirers!
- Reaching people without having to possess them.
A couple years ago I made a deal with God (deals with God – pretty silly, huh?). The deal is if I help pastors, he won’t make me be one! I don’t know that he actually signed off on it, but so far so good. So I pray for my pastor friends, mentor one, listen to their woes, fill in for them while they’re on vacation. That way I don’t have to wear the title, agree to the job description, or get the ulcers. I like the arrangement, and sincerely hope the Lord does too!
Anyway, stepping away from pastoring (as a profession) has been eye opening for me. The distance from it has given me a perspective that I couldn’t have gained while in the trenches of the modern church’s version of “pastoring.”
From the outside looking in I really like that I don’t have to get anyone to come back next Sunday (for more of the good stuff that we provide in “our church”), I don’t have to sell any spiritual products (our church versus the one down the street), and I don’t have to be anyone’s exclusive spiritual tour guide. I can reach people as the Holy Spirit leads and empowers me without having to “possess” them. I hope you’ll forgive me for being so crass and overstating it a bit, but if we’re being real, these are feelings and unspoken temptations that exist in the hearts of most of my pastor friends. And even if I’m wrong about that (and I’m really not), I know for sure that I struggled with them. And when I became aware of these tendencies in me I tried to uproot them, but with only relative and temporary success.
So, instead of possessing people, I can join them on their spiritual journey and they join me on mine. They don’t have to come to my church, because I don’t have one! Truth is, I never “had” a church, because it’s not an “it” to be had by anyone, except Jesus of course. But now, it’s easier for me to act like I believe that, and instead of possessing anyone I can invest in them! And the cool thing is, I don’t expect any “return” on my investment (not to me at least).
One of the things that I love most is mentoring younger Christians and newer spiritual leaders. But as I do, I don’t have to be anyone’s exclusive mentor, I’m happy to be just one of many mentors (a mix of mentors) in someone’s life.
You’ll notice that I had to retire from the pastoring in order to come to this simple and organic approach of I’m trying to impact people without having to impress them, and reach people without having to possess them. I was too weak to be able to live this way while in the pastoral role. My hope is that if you’re a pastor (or lead a ministry of some sort), you won’t wait as long as I did to get it together!
[We’ll break here and continue my ministry mantras in Part 3… As a preview, my next one is: I’m trying to remember that Sunday is practice for the rest of the week.]