The Greatest Achievement

Achievement“How’s your church doing?” The question is often asked at church conferences by one pastor of another pastor. It may not always be verbalized, but most pastors are at least thinking the question when in conversation with another pastor.

If we’re honest we pastors have to admit to a twinge of jealousy when we hear of another pastor’s church doing better in some way than our own. If we’re honest we have to admit to a twinge of perverse delight when we hear of another church’s struggle. May God forgive us!

The church culture of our time doesn’t help us here. Church seminars are frequently conducted by mega churches, a superstar pastor, or are by church “experts” who refer to the mega churches as examples and quote the superstar pastors as experts. Images of dynamic churches we see in church magazines are rarely of the smaller church sanctuary with a pastor positioned between the Lord’s table behind him and the pulpit before him. Rather, the images are of a large stage and a multitude of lights casting a rainbow of colors upon a large praise band leading worship before a seemingly endless sea of people. Stories of thriving churches are more often than not stories of growing crowds and expanding buildings led by pastors who are bestselling authors.

Over the years I’ve grappled with what it means to have achieved something great for God as a pastor. Now that I’m retired from the pastoral ministry and looking back from the vantage point of hindsight, my perspective is a little different. The dreams didn’t always come true; the hard work didn’t always pay off the way I expected it to. Could I have done things differently? Yes, but would that have been better? Sometimes I think so, but in many cases I can’t be sure. Hindsight is not always 20/20. At any rate, it is what it is. Thankfully, I can also reflect on many good experiences and lives that were changed over the thirty-nine plus years we were together as a pastor and people. How can I accurately assess what was achieved?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have to assess what was achieved! I’ll leave that to the One whom I serve, and sought to serve all of those years. In one of Jesus’ stores two of three guys who were given their master’s resources (all three received different amounts) were obedient and did something worthwhile with what had been entrusted to them, with differing results. As Jesus told the story, the master gave the same response to the two faithful servants.Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, 23)

This, then, is what I have come to see as the greatest achievement of pastoral ministry, and of life in general, for that matter: to seek to be faithful and obedient so that by His grace and mercy the Lord will say to me, Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

When Thomas Hooker, a preacher in the colonial time of our country, was dying a friend said to him that he would soon be going to heaven to receive his reward. Hooker replied, “I go to receive mercy.”

If a sponge’s greatest achievement is to absorb water, then my greatest achievement is to absorb the grace and mercy of God, articulated in His “well done” for me. I seek to live for Him and to serve Him knowing that this affirmation from Him already is a done deal. Any measurement of my achievements is irrelevant in the face of His immeasurable grace toward me. My greatest achievement is the acceptance of His grace!

Tears From the Plank in My Eye

LatheArtistSmallI’ve cut and sanded a fair amount of lumber over the years in my attempt to do home improvement projects. Handling wood can result in getting a speck of sawdust in the eye. It may be a speck, but it feels like a plank!

Jesus, having grown up in his stepdad Joseph’s carpenter shop and then presumably, as the oldest child, taking over the family business at Joseph’s death, knew about sawdust in the eyes feeling like planks. One time Jesus used his early years of experience with wood to make a point when He taught, How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4)

I’ve preached and taught on the passage a number of times, as probably have you. I’ll admit that my motive often was to help my parishioners see how wrong it was for them to be nitpicking, complaining, and judgmental people. I was missing the right application of the text, that the message was first meant for me! Jesus’ whole point was that we’re not to convict others so much as to be convicted ourselves. In seeking to drive home the message for my parishioners’ benefit rather than my own I was inadvertently demonstrating the very sin Jesus was illustrating! My ego prompts me to hope my listeners didn’t see that.

Oswald Chambers states in his June 1 devotion in My Utmost for His Highest,When God wants to show you what human nature is like apart from Himself, He has to show it to you in yourself.” We pastors are quick to point out that we understand fallen human nature very well because of our observation and frequent experience of it in the lives of our parishioners. Silly us; our first and most graphic example is closer to us than any of our parishioners, it is we ourselves!

In the latter years of my ministry leading up to my retirement I came to see more clearly that I am in the best position to pray for someone’s struggle with sin when I’ve first been humbled by the need for God’s grace with the sin in my own life. My heart must tear up over the “speck” of sin in myself more than the “plank” of sin I see in others.