God and Efficiency

TurtleTimeI’m not convinced God ever calls someone to be an efficiency expert as a profession. OK, maybe I can’t be sure about that, but it does seem to me that God has little interest in efficiency. I see proof of this in His creation.

Look at a maple tree, oak tree, or cottonwood tree and you’ll see seemingly gazillions of whirlybirds, acorns, and flying cottonwood seeds. Sure, there needs to be enough seeds to find the right conditions to produce new trees, but that many? God’s creation is filled with such examples of extravagance. Beauty and diversity are two such huge areas. Why didn’t God stick to making plants and animals with few variations and functionally mundane appearances?

I also see proof of God’s lack of interest in efficiency in the special revelation of the Bible. In all of my years of studying the Bible I can’t recall any passage that shows God to be interested in efficiency or calling His people to efficiency. In other words, if I had to deliver a speech to an audience of efficiency experts, I’d be hard pressed to find a Biblical passage to base it on!

I share all of this because it relates to my experience as a pastor in one place for 39 plus years; in retrospect it seems He called me to “waste time” on many occasions. I believe He frequently called me to spend significant time with people who would never, in my humble estimation, return the investment by being a more active contributor to the church’s life. This does not surprise me. Jesus spent much of His preciously short time of three years of public ministry healing and helping those who are never mentioned again in the New Testament, people who apparently didn’t make a big, measurable mark on the early church. One time Jesus healed a man who was then thrown out of the temple. The Gospel states, Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him…” (John 9:35) Time on earth was running out for Jesus, and here He goes and traipses after a nondescript guy treated badly by a few others.

Corporations make much of everyone in their employ being efficient. The Kingdom of God is not a corporation. An implication of this fact is that there’s a real danger in taking corporate principles and automatically applying them to the church. We are, after all, pastors, not CEOs. In many ways God’s kingdom is topsy-turvy to how the business world operates; the importance of efficiency is one such area.

Does this mean we’re never to ask ourselves if we’re making wise use of our time? Of course not. Balance is the key. If we can find someone else to move the tables and chairs then it’s probably wise to do so, leaving us time to do that which the movers and shakers of tables and chairs aren’t gifted or called to do. On the other hand, we might have some of our best conversations while we work with our parishioners at setting up a room for a meeting.

For decades I served coffee at our annual fish fries at the church. It offered me countless opportunities to connect with people, especially people who enjoyed the Friday night physical food at the church but didn’t show up for the spiritual food on Sunday. Would I have better served the church by staying in my church office, studying and strategizing during those hours? I don’t think so.

Efficiency may have a place in ministry, but it doesn’t hold the number one place. The top priority is to be open to God’s calling, and that may not always lend itself to efficiency.

“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor. And they rebuked her harshly. Leave her alone,said Jesus. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.‘” (Mark14:3-9)

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A Humble Heart

towelbowelI’ve read a number of books by Andrew Murray (1828-1917) on my tablet because ebooks by Murray are cheap to download (some only 99 cents). OK, that’s a distant secondary reason. The first reason is that his writings are still full of insight these many years later. Murray was the son of missionaries to South Africa where he lived and ministered most of his life. He was a pastor and writer, having written an astonishing number of books, 240, one of which I just finished, Humility.

I’ve always been humble, so really didn’t need to read this book. Oops! OK, I did need to read this book. I realized that I give mental acknowledgment and verbal affirmation to the importance of humility, but it was Murray’s book that helped my heart to be more open to being humbled.

For those of us who pastor people there’s no better place to tend to our pastor’s heart than to reflect on the subject of humility. Murray writes of the importance of humility for the professional Christian worker. “We may find professors and ministers, evangelists and workers, missionaries and teachers, in whom the gifts of the Spirit are many and manifest, and who are the channels of blessing to multitudes, but of whom, when the testing comes… it is only to painfully manifest that the grace of humility, as an abiding characteristic, is scarce to be seen.” (page 19) We can be very gifted workers in God’s kingdom, but if we come across as prideful as over against being seen as humble our ministry won’t ring true with people. Then, too, if we want God’s help and not His opposition, we need to work on this area. God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (James 4:6)

Murray unpacks a great deal about humility in his small volume. We don’t normally think of humility as being an attribute of God’s, but Murray reminds the reader how Jesus was truly humble in coming to earth as one of us, lived humbly, and humbled Himself to the point of dying for us. Jesus taught a great deal about humility. For instance, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Jesus had to help His disciples grapple with the need to be humble, for instance, when the sons of Zebedee and their mom asked Jesus for the boys to be at the head of the class of the twelve. The remaining ten disciples were really ticked at the two, so, obviously, they had as much work to do on the subject of humility as the two. If the original twelve needed to attend to the subject of humility then it’s probably a good bet it needs to be addressed in our lives as well.

Murray points out an aspect of humility that I’ve frequently overlooked. “Humility is often identified with penitence and contrition. As a consequence, there appears to be no way of fostering humility but by keeping the soul occupied with its sin. We have learned, I think, [through reading thus far through his book] that humility is something else and something more. We have seen in the teaching of our Lord Jesus and the Epistles how often virtue is inculcated without any reference to sin. In the very nature of things, in the whole relation of creature to the Creator, in the life of Jesus as He lives it and imparts it to us, humility is the very essence of holiness as of blessedness. It is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God. Where God is all, self is nothing.” (page 31) Our sin humbles us, but another marvelous method of God humbling us is when we become freshly aware of how awesome God is and yet how willing He is to stoop down to us in love!

There is no better way to conclude this post than to give Mr. Murray the final word. “Reckon humility to be indeed the mother-virtue, your very first duty before God, the one perpetual safeguard of the soul, and set your heart upon it as the source of all blessing.” (page 50)

I’m re-reading the passages I’ve highlighted in Murray’s book, Humility. I need a second exposure to this all-important subject of humility as Murray unpacks it.

Clark Kent or Superman?

RobeSmall

Hanging in my closet is the robe and hood I wore when leading worship and preaching for many years at the church I served as pastor for 39+ years. I didn’t always wear the robe. Before air conditioning the summers in the sanctuary were too hot. Then we added a contemporary service; with a backdrop of drums and guitar the robe was not appropriate, though I still wore it in the traditional service.

supermanclosetfixed

I’m now retired, and when I look at my robe in the closet I feel a little like Clark Kent must have felt when he came back to his apartment at the end of the day from working as a reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper and viewed his Superman costume hanging in his closet. (I know, Clark was able to transform into Superman wherever he was, but in one episode we saw a Superman costume in Clark’s closet.) I no longer zoom around trying to be a super pastor; I am now living the life of a mild mannered retired pastor.

OK, so we pastors know we can’t be all things to all people as pastors and please all the people all the time. Being a super pastor isn’t our call from God, we get that, most of the time. I know, however, I was tempted to try to be that super pastor.

I recall the time Marlene called me in a panic and said her husband had fallen in the garage and couldn’t get up. My office at the church was just a few blocks from their home so I rushed over there, probably had him sitting back up in a folding chair in the garage within two minutes after she called. I kidded her that I really could use a flashing light on top of my car! I’m glad I was able to help, but I’ll also admit to feeling a little bit of the super pastor at the moment.

I’m thinking that once in a while we might need a couple of reminders as to why we’re to be a mild mannered pastor and not a super hero pastor. First, we know, as did John the Baptist, that Christ must increase and we must decrease. If we try to be a super pastor we’re going to inhibit people from depending on us less and on Christ more. Second, we know we can’t live up to the super hero role. Sooner or later the kryptonite gets to us and we’ll be weak and broken before our people.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth concerning how he had ministered among them, a good approach, it seems to me, for all of us who come to God’s people as His pastor. “And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

We may or may not wear a robe in the tradition in which we serve as pastor, but most pastors, I suspect, find themselves wearing the clerical vestments of the role. The more the clerical vestments of the super pastor can hang in the closet and the more we can be mild mannered Clark Kent the better!