The Unknown Pastor

The unknown comic 2The “Unknown Comic” wore a grocery bag over his head with holes cut out for his eyes and mouth. He appeared frequently on the Gong Show. Comic Rodney Dangerfield always lamented he didn’t get any respect, but Murray Langston gets little recognition. That’s the real name of the “unknown comic” which I, of course, didn’t know; after all he’s billed himself as the unknown comic!

It has been said that God must love common people, because He’s made so many. God must also love relatively unknown pastors, because he’s called so many of us to be just that!

This, of course, does not mean we’re unimportant or have little to contribute to God’s kingdom. I know this to be true. But do I really believe this of myself and of other pastors?

It’s time for true confession. If I don’t know the conference speaker, book author, or blogger, in other words, if the person is not famous, I tend to skip the conference session, look for a different book or move on to another blog. Why? Does being well-known give the person the credentials to speak or write truth, and does being a virtual unknown disqualify the person from speaking or writing truth into my life?

The answer is, of course not. What makes it all the more ironic is that I’m one of those virtually unknown pastors and writers. My ministry was never profiled in a major Christian magazine, nor did I lead church conferences. My books and blogs have never hit the stratosphere. (I commend you for reading this blog from an “unknown writer.”)

We need to encourage one another and allow God to speak truth to each of us through each other. Most of us aren’t going to be a disciple like Peter, James, or John. Of the twelve, the one we know the least about is James the Less. We can assume, however, that though he gets no ink in the New Testament pages he carried out his apostolic calling nonetheless. He presumably never wore a paper bag over his head, but he certainly could be called the “unknown apostle.” Perhaps he should be our patron saint!

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The Vindication of Ministry

vindicationWe all know that some people go home from Sunday services and have roasted pastor for dinner. Some people believe that complaining is a spiritual gift! By God’s grace we pastors never hear most of the critical comments people make of us. There are times, however, when we hear it through the grapevine. Then too, there are those memorable times when people criticize us to our face (which is better than behind our back). Sometimes they don’t ask for a private appointment to air their grievances (which is the Biblical way) but choose a time when they have an audience, like at a congregational meeting!

I recall the time when three of the men from my church decided they had to confront me about how I was handling an issue. I’m sure they saw themselves as the three wise men. I, however, saw them as the Three Stoog… OK, that’s not a good direction to go for a person who is continuing to work on his sanctification! Ultimately two out of the three spoke up at the special congregational meeting. They were handed a wireless microphone, which allowed them to pace and roam as they questioned my ability to lead as pastor.

By God’s grace I was able to resist the temptation to defend myself. I sought to follow Jesus’ example and remain silent before my accusers. It was a wise choice. Months later, after reconciliation with one of the men, he told me, “While I was ranting and raving I could see in the people’s eyes that I had lost them.” Actually, again by God’s grace, I was reconciled with all three men, two along with their families returned to the church after leaving for a season, the other man and his family found another church home, but we’ve been cordial with each other when we’ve happened to meet.

I’ve come to believe that when God calls us to a course of action for which we are criticized He does not expect us to defend ourselves. As the apostle Paul writes, Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

I’ve learned that I don’t have to defend my ministry. (He who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer!) I seek to hold to the conviction that the Lord will vindicate me. That’s why my prayer when I’m tempted to defend myself echoes the words of the psalmist. The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8)

A number of the psalms speak to this theme of allowing God to vindicate. The entire Psalm 35 focuses on this theme. In a portion of that psalm the writer declares, “Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord. Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord.” (Psalm 35:22-23) Part of the faith we need in ministry is to believe that God will vindicate us!