Monday, April 30, 2007

FULL-TIME PASTOR BUT ONLY PART-TIME FOLLOWER OF JESUS: WHAT IT TOOK TO FIND MY REAL MINISTRY

By Craig Groeschel

From my earliest memories, I remember "playing the game": try to say the right things at the right times to the right people. When the people or circumstances changed, so did I.

As a young child, I tried to please my parents. In school I made sure my teachers got my grandest act. There's nothing terribly wrong with that, but looking back, I see that those were just practice runs for what would come later.

As a teen I did almost anything for acceptance from my buddies. I partied, swore, lied, cheated, and stole. By the time I got to college, I was playing so many different roles that I began to lose track of the real me. Honestly, I began to wonder if there was a real me.

At nineteen I became a follower of Christ. And the parts of my life he changed, he changed miraculously. He cleaned house. But in a darkened corner here, a locked closet there, I continued to believe I was better off putting up a front.
It was a new front, a spiritual one. But still the same old game, just played on a different stage.

Within a few years, I became a pastor. You'd think that would have shaken the deceit right out of me. But as a young pastor, I simply turned pro. My church members observed my finest performances. I fooled many of them, but I didn't fool myself.

And I didn't fool God.

I entered seminary after I had been a pastor for a while. One of my professors taught me many invaluable ministry principles. In fact, I still practice most of what I learned from him. However, one of the things he shared I now believe was not only wrong, but incredibly dangerous. He called it the "pastor's mystique," and he said we had to guard it at all cost.

"People think they want their pastors to be normal, everyday people," he told our class, "but they really don't. They want to see you as better than the average person. Church members want to believe your marriage is always strong, your faith never falters, and you are virtually without sin."
I soaked up his advice.

Week after week, he warned about a pastor's mystique: "Keep your guard up. Don't let them know the real you. Dress the part. Talk the part. You're a pastor now. Never let them into your life, or you'll regret it."

This sounded logical to me. He'd obviously been deeply wounded in his ministry and wanted to help us avoid similar pain. He meant well. So I continued perfecting my "good pastor" act. I'd smile big, shake each hand with both of mine, and end each conversation with the pastor's best line: "God bless you." Somewhere, though, I forgot that God called me not to be like a pastor, but to be like Christ.

That's when my spiritual struggles started. I was not living with gross, unconfessed sin—at least not the kind that gets pastors fired. And my motives weren't bad. I loved Jesus and his people. Every bone in my body desired to make a difference for God in this world. I poured my heart into ministry, enduring long hours, boring meetings, temperamental people, and plenty of good, old-fashioned church conflicts—all for Jesus.

After a few years, I became good at being a pastor. Ministerial words flowed from my mouth. I learned what to say and what not to say. Weddings were a breeze, and funerals were becoming easier. Preaching came naturally, and my counseling skills improved. People said I was an "up 'n' comer" who'd rise quickly through the ranks to a bigger church. From the outside, everything looked good.

But God doesn't look at the outside.

Mid-service ConfessionsOne Sunday, after another week of performing, I stood to preach. As I approached the pulpit, the truth hit me squarely between the eyes. I hadn't prayed. Not that day. Not the day before. To the best of my knowledge, I hadn't prayed all week.

And I called myself a pastor. That's when it dawned on me: I had become a full-time minister and a part-time follower of Christ. From the outside, I looked the part. "God bless you," I'd say, followed by, "I'll be praying for you."
But that was usually a lie.

Stepping onto the platform that morning, I admitted to myself that I was not a pastor first, but a regular, scared, insecure, everyday guy whose life had been touched by Jesus. And if Jesus really loved me as I was (I knew he did), then why should I go on trying to be someone I wasn't?

I stumbled through that sermon, forcing the words to come out. The message was superficial, plastic. I drove home that day ashamed of the role I'd played, but cautiously hopeful I might learn to be honest.

All week I agonized, praying as I hadn't prayed in months: God, what if I tell them who I really am? What if they know I'm terrified? What if they reject me? Fire me? I swallowed hard. Then I ventured a step further: Is this what You want me to do?

I thought I sensed God's assurance, but I wasn't sure. Desperately I hoped it was him leading me, and not just my own whacked-out thoughts.

The next Sunday I walked to the platform uncharacteristically unprepared—not one written note. The only preparation was in my heart. My throat dry, nervous beyond description, I stared at 200 committed churchgoers. They stared politely back.
Silence.

Finally I spoke. "My relationship with God is not what it should be." My voice quavered. No one moved. I plunged ahead. "I've confessed to God, but now I'm going to confess to you: I've become a full-time minister but a part-time follower of Christ."

You could have heard a communion wafer snap.

I opened my heart and invited everyone inside. The message that Sunday was unembellished: no humor, no quotes, no poems. It was void of clever sayings or points starting with the same letter. But the message was true. I held nothing back. It was the biggest public risk I'd ever taken. It was also my first authentic sermon, the first time the real me made a showing. In the middle of my talk, something happened, something new …

God made himself known.

His presence is hard to describe, but it's even harder to miss. Some people cried quietly in their seats. Others sobbed openly—not so much for my sins, but for their own. Before I had finished my confession, many gathered at the altar to repent along with me.

God's peace replaced my fear. His assurance pushed away my doubts. Christ's power invaded my weakness. In that moment, Jesus became as real to me as he had ever been. The Savior was with me. "Well done," I felt him say.
That's when it all changed. I became a full-time follower of Christ who happened to be a pastor. No more make-believe. No posing. And no playing games. From that moment on, I would be who I am.

Or nothing at all.

Craig Groeschel is pastor of LifeChurch.tv in Edmond, Oklahoma, and eight other locations.

Excerpted from Confessions of a Pastor © 2006 by Craig Groeschel. Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.

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