This blog thing sometimes drifts from research-based Church history to Christian cultural commentary to defining big Christian concepts, and it’s all based on my personal study and experience. You know….stuff the Lord has allowed me to go through, learn from, and by his grace given me the strength to grow as a result of. No single topic sprang about in a vacuum. It’s mostly all based on “problems” I’ve faced at some point in time. Some of you have let me know that you prefer some topics more than others. That’s cool. For instance, some of you stopped reading this a sentence ago. That’s cool too. Your prerogative. But I can only write about that which I know, so that’s what you get. I think most would agree that listening to people who don’t know what they’re talking about is one of the more painful experiences.
With that in mind, as I’m now officially at 3 years in ministry, I wanted to write something of a personal reflection of what I’ve learned thus far.
When I was studying to be a pastor, one of the ideas of becoming a pastor that I despised most was the “living in a glass house” thing that I’d heard about. Interestingly, and on a much larger scale, I recently heard an interview with President Obama in which he said that was the thing about presidency that he disliked the most. Apparently we humans don’t like being evaluated and judged by our peers, partially because those judgments are often unfair and inaccurate. Perhaps even more so because sometimes they’re very accurate. In any case, we all realize that we’re not perfect and we’re scared to death that someone else might figure that out about us too.
Anyways, in the upcoming weeks, I’m hoping to spray some Windex on that glass house. Maybe somebody will learn something.
PART I: I Hate Being a Hypocrite, but God Figures Out a Way to Overcome That
Growing up, for the most part, I was a pretty good kid. I did a lot of homework. I didn’t hit girls. My stance on drugs was that “users were losers.” That kind of stuff. In fact, looking back at high school, I probably could have gotten a scholarship to an Ivy League Pharisee school if such a thing existed.
Early on in the teen years, I cared quite a bit about God and what God thought of me. However, I didn’t care all that much about other people, outside of what they thought about me. I thought life was much more about accomplishment and admiration than love and relationship, and consequently, an effort that was less than perfect was always disappointing, sometimes devastating to me. As a human, and therefore a sinner, you can imagine that I was frustrated with myself around the clock. In fact, I couldn’t stand my imperfect self most of the time. This led to a tremendous amount of personal anxiety and even depression. And I really didn’t have anyone to blame but myself. Despite that and despite my mistakes, for which I’ve repented, God used this all to draw me closer to him, so praise be to God.
When I got to college I came to the realization that my perfectionist tendencies might be contributing to my anxieties. So I came to the illogical and quite frankly, unchristian, conclusion that perhaps I should intentionally be imperfect. Now, if a perfectionist sinner making concerted efforts to be less-than-perfect sounds a little weird to you, it was. “Stupid” is probably a better way to put it. But if you’ve ever struggled with depression, you know the desperate things you’ll do to try to never go back “there.” In my efforts to become a lesser person, my grades slipped, my language became more sailorly than pastoral, and my jokes became more locker room than sanctuary. In general, I think I took a fairly large swig of poisonous secularism that, fortunately and by God’s grace, didn’t kill me.
Now, before I paint myself as Hitler or Howard Stern (although I certainly didn’t deserve God’s love any more than they do), it’s true that many young Christians struggle with a transition to college (and adulthood in general, with its new freedoms and responsibilities). I probably was no different in that regard. Nonetheless, I believe there was a real pendulum swing for me from unrelenting perfectionism to, at times, careless and totally inappropriate imperfection. Once again, at times, I couldn’t stand my imperfect self. Not surprisingly, much like it had done earlier in my life, this all led to a tremendous amount of anxiety and sadness too. When God’s children either A) don’t trust God’s promises or B) don’t follow his will for their lives, it rather naturally leads to some anxiety. It should. And, much like my recent wise decision to get cavity fillings minus a shot of novocaine, God’s correction in this way can be at the same time a healthy yet eye-wateringly painful procedure.
God, in his ever-patient way, hung with me through all this though. I can’t think of any reason why, other than that he chooses for his own reasons to love me as his child. Despite my mistakes, for which I’ve repented, God used this time to draw me closer to him in the end, so praise be to God.
Years later, while I’ve learned a ton from my mistakes, I haven’t yet figured out how to not be a sinner. That reality leads to one of the more painful aspects of the work that I’m in – a certain amount of hypocrisy. Without being a parent, I recognize the difficulty of parents to enforce standards and discipline in their houses when they themselves haven’t perfectly met those standards. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – self-righteousness and despair over sin. I think most Christians probably have at some point. Both are ugly. Both need forgiveness. And to speak to people (in either a public or private forum) on a regular basis and, at times, call them out on making mistakes that you yourself perhaps have made can lead to a very hypocritical feeling. Nonetheless, you can’t be a Christian leader (in your family, group of friends, church, or otherwise) without doing it.
The conclusion I’ve stumbled upon…
I hate the fact that I’m a sinner. I love the reality of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. This leads me to…..love other people, yet hate the fact that they too are sinners. This can make pastoral work an exhausting experience.
Just listen to words the Apostle Paul writes to the Roman Christians he’s guiding in Romans 7: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15, 18-19) Doesn’t that sound like a conflicted and tormented dude? That’s a Christian leader struggling with the fact that he himself is a sinner trying to guide sinners…and feeling like a hypocrite in the process. So what does Paul do to calm his troubled heart? He goes on to say, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7:24-25 NLT) Paul is honest about his struggles with his own sinfulness, but he’s also honest about himself not being the solution to the problem. Rather, he points to Jesus.
Morality is a great thing. It’s a very important thing, in fact. But it’s not the most important thing in life, nor is it finally what life is about. Our physical time on earth is ultimately about spiritual life or death, not about how good we’ve been. I know this because the Bible is very clear that even the most moral of people won’t enter the gates of paradise unless they’ve been “born again” through faith in Jesus. And conversely, even the most immoral of people, assuming they truly repent of their wickedness and turn to Christ, will receive God’s kingdom.
Jesus is the only one moral enough to deserve heaven. And his substitutionary payment for our sins on the cross is the only way we receive life (both eternal life and truly meaningful life here on earth). That is what our years here on earth are really about. Therefore, if you’re competent to point people to Jesus as their Savior, you’re probably competent to, in some capacity, lead Christians. Now, there are some practical considerations when it comes to things like public ministry (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-13), but by and large, if you can testify that Jesus has saved you from your sins, you are actually MORE qualified to be a Christian leader than if you had lived a perfectly righteous life. Seems a little ironic, but it’s true. Christianity is MUCH more about God’s grace than it is about human righteousness.
So, my advice for others…Don’t Shy Away from Roles of Christian Responsibility and Leadership
Whether we’re talking about official or unofficial positions amongst your family, friends, co-workers, or in your church, recognizing that God has called you to certain Christian responsibilities and leadership roles can be a major blessing if you embrace those roles.
By myself, I am far from perfect. In fact I’m only perfect in Jesus. But I sincerely believe that God has used my entrance into public ministry to help me become a better Bible student, better husband, better friend, better man. A large deal of how he did that was by leading me to despair of myself and to desire to be filled instead with him.
Because I love you, I want to tell you that you’re not perfect either. Yes, you are totally incapable of carrying out important roles by yourself. Yes, you’ll need Jesus’ help. But if you realize that, you are a wonderful candidate to lead others in a powerful way. And part of the excitement and enjoyment is in knowing that whatever the situation may be that God calls you into, when you turn to him for forgiveness and guidance, he will strengthen you to carry out that role, perhaps in ways you never thought possible. And when God uses you to make a (not to oversell it here) “eternal” difference in someone’s life, you will become addicted to that. It feels that good. You’ll realize it’s that important. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll need to repent. But God will use that all to draw you (and maybe others) closer to him in the end, so praise be to God.