It has been quite a while since I have written a blog entry whose sole purpose is to encourage so I hope that this one encourages each person who reads it.
I am currently reading a book by Henri J.M. Nouwen entilted In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. He says a number of things in the book that are well worth contemplating but I found the following quote especially encouraging.
“We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. (pp. 62, 63)
I found a number of things encouraging in this quote and I hope that you too are encouraged by them.
I’m not responsible for the results
It is so easy to take that responsibility on our own shoulders and feel like we have to bear the burden of results all by ourselves. The truth is that we can’t produce eternal results no matter how gifted or charismatic or smart we are. We aren’t the ones who can produce lasting change in a person’s life. That is God’s part of the equation. We are just the instruments that he uses.
One of the problems with the current emphasis on the pastor as CEO is that when we look to the pastor to produce results, it is very easy to take God completely out of the equation. If I just work a little harder. If I make a few more visits. If I spend a little more time preparing my sermon. If I talk to a few more unchurched people in the community. If I . . . If I. . . If I.
Let me remind you that you are not responsible for the results. You are only responsible for the human side of things and that doesn’t include results.
I taught an evangelistic Bible study some years ago. After we had been meeting once a week for a few months I asked the husband if there was any reason why he wouldn’t place his faith in Jesus. He told me that he wasn’t ready and asked if he could have one more week. I agree but told him that I was going to ask him the same question in a weeks time.
I walk into their house the next week. He was sitting at the table if my memory serves me right. He looked up at me and informed me that he was ready to put his faith in Jesus and that night I had the wonderful privilege of being there when he became a Christian.
I learned a valuable lesson through that experience. God changes lives and he does it in his perfect time. I was just the instrument that he happened to use that evening.
If you make yourself available, God will use you but you aren’t responsible for the results.
I’m not God
Not only am I not responsible for results but I am limited in my ability to serve. As Nouwen reminds us, we are all just “sinful, broken, vulnerable people who have to work within the limits of being human. Every so often we need to be reminded of that fact.
You are a person. You are not God. You serve as a finite human being which means that there are limits that you have to live with.
You get tired. You get frustrated. You may even lose your temper from time to time. You may worry and fret more than you should. You don’t always do things as well as they should be done.
It is called “being human” and you have to give yourself the freedom to be human without condemning yourself for being finite.
The good news is that while you are human with all that that entails, “you are the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”
My experience with church leaders is that on rare occasions, there are leaders who need to push themselves a little harder but in the vast majority of cases, they need to admit that they are human and leave the results with God.
The shepherd some times needs shepherding
This past year has been a learning experience for me. As most of you know I have just come off a sabbatical that I took because emotionally I was having some problems. I wasn’t burnt out but I was on my way there if I didn’t do something to change things.
I learned a number of things from this experience but one of the most important has been that each of us have moments when we need to ask others for help.
God has been good to me. I have a wonderful wife who stood by me and encouraged me throughout my sabbatical. Over the years I have learned more and more to lean on her wisdom, love and support and it has always been there when I need it.
I have a good friend with whom I met several times. He has been there for me many times over what is now about a twenty-five year friendship. He prayed for me and with me. He listened to me talk. He offered wise counsel. He was there when I needed him most.
I spent a lot of time reading. God has made me in such a way that some of my greatest mentoring has come out of books. I love to read and God has used men and women such as John Stott, Philip Yancey, N.T. Wright, and many more to shape my life.
It is possible for a church leader to spend large chunks of time shepherding others while neglecting the fact that often the shepherd needs to be shepherded as well.
I would encourage you to build a team of people around you that you can lean on when times get tough. God never intended you to do ministry alone.
I hope that this entry has been encouraging. May God bless you as he works through you to bring his unlimited love to others.