“The sense of being a part of a success story is seductive to many.” This line off a page of my research for a paper I’m writing on church and management jumps out at me this rainy afternoon.
I’m not going to lie, this week has been a battlefield of the mind. I’ve been assailed by thoughts that I’ve not done enough, not been inspirational enough, not spent time or effort enough, not achieved enough, for the people I lead. In my heart is a deep desire to shepherd well, just as I have been shepherded well by many inspirational leaders who’ve made an impact in my life. I drew up my own measures of success and this week, because I’ve been doing so much work on strategic planning for the ministry year ahead, I’ve battled negative emotions like inadequacy, comparison, faithlessness and fatigue.
This dark street, I know it well. I’ve been here before. Many, many times before.
So, as no stranger to these parts, I wield a sword of truth. I am fighting, I have not succumbed, by the grace of God. Earlier this year, somehow I have read much literature on the being versus doing of ministry. A minister is one who is first and foremost a child of God, before s/he is a ______ (fill in the blanks with whatever your primary occupation in current station of life is). I’ve prayed over many adults and young people in the congregations I serve along a similar strain: “You are a child of God, rest in that. Your relationship with God comes first, work from that place of rest.”
I have much to do because I want to achieve much. Many of these goals come with the best of intentions and aren’t self-serving. Many of them have the future of the church in mind: both solving the immediate, near-future challenges of the church and paving the way for the next generation. But even good things must come under the scrutiny of the priority of God’s leading in my life. This week, God’s leading me to drop comparisons. To still proceed with honest evaluation of how I’ve gone about 2016, and go forward with planning for 2017, but re-shape my view of success. More specifically, stop fixating on success (ful results) and just be faithful in the processes big and tiny.
Right now, ironically, is an apt time to take a leaf out of the pages of this sermon I’m preparing to deliver come Saturday… and preach right back to myself:
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
At first glance this passage reads as a call to action. To seize every moment of each day and not be idle. To never let your guard down, to resist laziness. Wise living is active living, because time is short.
But a deeper look requires attention to the words “careful”, and “most”. If I’m to be careful about how I live, I need to put thought into the decisions and actions that occur right down to the daily level. If I’m to make the most of every opportunity, priorities factor in here. Careless, go-with-the-flow living will land me in a place of default. And I’m pretty aware of my own default: do whatever seems to be successful in the current world model. Decisions made in this “default mode” may therefore drive me to live a very hurried life, resulting in constant stress, anxiety, worry and directionless or purposelessness. That’s not a life I want.
So I return to John 10 and Luke 10. I don’t want to worship my work. Because that way, I need to succeed to feel worthy, and it will never be enough because success was never a place God designed me to derive worth from in the first place. I want my work to become and remain, just a part of my worship. That way, I know where my worth comes from and who defines it. Success, then, becomes secondary and resultant part of it. Hmm, I think that’s called bearing fruit. And the timeless, changeless truth Jesus taught us in John 15 remains: apart from Him, I can do nothing!