Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Honor of "Joe"

Occasionally, I go to the Out of Ur blog hosted by Christianity Today and read some of their thoughts and ideas. This morning I was prompted by another pastor to go and read through an article that asked “Are Pastors Competitive Enough?” The writer of the article Andy Rowell is quite forthright in his assessment of the fact that the secular and the spiritual do not mix.

As I read through the article, several thoughts came to mind that might be helpful for those who are involved in ministry.

Delving into the business world or sports world to get a model for ministry can be incredibly destructive and produce heavy loads of guilt. We are not making widgets, we are in the business of building the souls of men. The business of working with a man’s soul can be a wearisome, anxiety-producing, and frustrating experience. If we are working the ministry from a business angle then at some point, the “widget” in progress must be tossed aside as a defective product. Imagine what would have happened to John Mark if he would have been tossed aside simply because he could not make it in Paul’s first missionary journey. The corporate executive would have tossed him aside, the coach would have cut him from the team, but instead Barnabas and Paul had a parting of ways. Because Barnabas was dedicated to trying to salvage whatever he could in the life of this young man, twenty-two years later Paul would make a request that John Mark be brought along because he was “profitable for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

The more I read my job requirements from the Pastoral Epistles, the more I understand that the business model is very much at odds with God's plan for ministry. The spiritual resume and the curriculum vitae of Harvard Business School have not matches. John Piper is quoted, “We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are in disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless.”

I can remember way back in the day, as they say, (early '90's) when John Maxwell was the hottest ticket in town. I went to five of his leadership seminars. I bought his books. I bought some of his video series. I joined the Injoy Life Tape Club. I got “juiced” going to those meetings. I can distinctly remember him making a sarcastic statement to the effect of, "Joe is a good guy. . . Joe is a godly guy. . . . Joe is a praying guy. . . . Joe is going to Heaven. . . . but Joe ain't got a clue!" This remark was made in at least 3 of the 5 seminars that I attended. This provoked much laughter from the crowd.

I must confess in honesty that I laughed too. It was in one of those moments of my very youthful immaturity. The more Injoy stuff I listened to and the more Maxwell books that I read something started happening, I begin to change. I started playing the game. You know the game that tries to put you in the path of the “successful.” It was a punishing game that wouldn’t let you hang out with a certain group because they “aren’t motivated” (i.e. not successful).

The game, sad to say, affected my preaching too. Now looking back in retrospect this is the most troubling aspect of all. I was no longer content with taking the great truths of Scripture and unfolding them and letting ancient truth save those who heard me. I did all of this because I did not want to be like “Joe.” I wanted to be a “communicator” or as this generation might say “relevant.” I might add that the same old girl from the early ‘90’s now is wearing a new dress and the masses are bowing down to her because they are afraid to be “just Joe.”

Life pressed on and I had to endure some fiery trials. Some things came along that knocked my “sanctified” (worldly??) ambition for a loop. The ladders I was trying to climb started collapsing. I had some real dilemmas of life that seminars, tape clubs, books, and videos did little for me. The only relief and direction that I could get was in a prayer room and pushing away from the table. The secular books failed me but the real Book didn’t. Then a little more maturity came and I momentarily took my eyes off of my little self and my little world and my little “personal growth plan.” When I momentarily took my eyes off of me and my plan, I saw “Joe.” There he was!

He came to life for me one day at a Junior Camp in Alabama in the mid 90’s. I was making sure the dorms were secured and that all of the campers were out. As I walked past a dorm, I heard a voice. I thought to myself that surely it wasn’t a voice for all the campers were no longer in the building. So I slowly opened the door and I had indeed heard a voice. It wasn’t just any voice, it was a praying voice, it was a voice that mixed with sobs, it was a voice that crying for revival and for children. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but the Spirit and the “spirit” of Joe literally rooted my feet to the floor. I didn’t mean to listen to this man pray but the Lord was on this day going to use an object lesson for me. I recognized the voice of “Joe” as a pastor from a little small burg in Alabama. His church is out in the country and to hear some speak of it, not much has ever really been accomplished. But on that day, that glorious day, in that last week of June, God showed me something! I stayed maybe one to two minutes before carefully exiting and for at least 10 years this elderly pastor never knew that I had walked in on his prayer that day.

I turned to leave and when I did finally get out of the building, I found that the tears that had sprang to my eyes were now coursing down my cheeks. On that day a great purging of my soul took place. God jerked out all sorts of stuff like ambition, position, false humility, pride, and host of other things. I have to confess that my soul is still a work in progress but on this day the Spirit of the Lord and the “spirit” of “Joe” planted a seed of character in my life.

From that day until now, I have observed men who served small churches face dilemmas that were almost insurmountable. There were twists and turns in life that brought them much pain and hardship. Duress seemed to be a constant companion and difficulty literally tried to pound the life out of them. I am certain that their days were filled with discouragement and their nights were sleepless because of the worry that faced them.

It was almost as if suddenly there they were the "Joe's" that Maxwell had spoken disparagingly of. They faced their challenges and disappointments but with much sacrifice, pressed on. A couple of men that I know lost their wives to cancer. One man I know pastors a small country church but he has labored there for 30+ years and has not seen much "growth." Another man I know has great burden and vision and is given to much prayer and yet his church hasn't "done much" (or so the business model would say). Another man I know had much pain and difficulty because of some of the poor choices that several of his children made in their teenage years. All of them "plowed" on. . . .

They are just the "Joe's" who have been called to work their particular portion of the Kingdom. If you look at their plow-handles, they are marked with blood, sweat, and tears. Tears of faithfulness and commitment to their flock stain the plow-handle. Their sweat has fallen into the earth as they gave themselves to weeding and watering the crops.

What these men have not done is disqualify themselves for service by looking back. I am in honor the “Joe's” who are bi-vocational. They are willing to carry the financial burdens of their churches at the expense of their own needs. They are not blessed with a "staff" per se to help them with the many demands of the pastorate. More often than not because of their lack of resources, the tables get more of their energy than does prayer and the Word. But on today, “Joe” I tip my hat to you.

I don't believe in laziness or a lack of vision or burden, however, in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God, if we pursue a business model or a coaching model, it is going to lead to us making some very terrible spiritual decisions.

Jack Welch, William Rehnquist, George Bush, Clarence Thomas, Lou Holtz, and a few others are some of the biographies that I have recently read and while they made provide a bit of inspiration, it is very fleeting. I cannot get spiritual direction from a carnal source! Therefore, the real model for ministry is going to be plainly defined for me in the Acts and the Pastorals. This model frees me from the inebriation with numbers. . . .

By the way, in researching out the real story behind Jack Welch, his character leaves much, much to be desired.

One of the most famous quotes that Kelsey Griffin gave us during my TBC days was, "You boys are gonna be shocked on judgment day!" The longer I live the more I believe that Brother Griffin was very wise in making this statement. When we get to that great and final day, I have a feeling that more than one “Joe” will have an enormous reward that is literally going to take our breath away. . .

2 comments:

Breachmender said...

What a clear trumpet sound alerting the minstry! I appreciate your honesty and straight words!

Dr. John R. Crist, Th.D.
Principal ~ Jigger Apostolic Christian Academy ~ Jigger, La.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kinds words, my Friend.


"Joe"