Behind the Patchwork Quilt

“What makes me a successful pastor is __________,” or “What would make me a successful pastor would be if ____________.” How would we fill in the blanks?

I suspect most of our responses would actually describe aspects of a healthy, thriving church. After all, if our church is successful then we’d likely see ourselves as a successful pastor. So, what phrase first popped into your head with which to fill in the blank or blanks? Would it be “growing numerically,” “mission minded,” “where almost everyone is in a small group,” “a tithing church,” “a God glorifying church,” “a Christ-centered church,” “a socially engaged church,” “a ____________ church?”

It could be a more personal answer too. “Being an expository preacher,” “working a lot of hours,” “knowing most of the people love me as their pastor,” “being well respected by my pastoral peers.”

More likely than not we’d like the option of filling in the blanks with several different responses. Perhaps our core identity is a patchwork quilt of a number of aspects of ministry that would be a comforter we could snuggle in so as to feel good about ourselves as ministers.

Now that I’m retired from pastoring, I’m seeing things a bit differently in hindsight. Having been out of the pastoral ministry for nearly six years I’ve had to grapple with what my core identity is, that means apart from being a pastor. The essential question is, who is the real Dave Claassen, now that I’m no longer “Pastor Dave”?

The answer is, of course, that I’m the same Dave Claassen! My identity is not in what I do but who I am, a loved child of God who has a call from God! That’s always been true, even all those years I pastored a church; it’s just easier for me to see it now than it was when I was in the thick of it as a pastor.

The Apostle Paul put it well when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:3-5

The pastoral ministry has many aspects to it, like a patchwork quilt with all of its pieces. Most of these pieces of ministry are important (to one degree or another), but they shouldn’t be what we wrap up our identity in. An interesting characteristic of a quilt is that it has a backing, one piece of material, that backs everything, that helps hold it together and give it strength. That’s how I see God, as the all important backing to my patchwork quilt of calls from Him. It’s in who I am in Him, not in what I do for Him, that I seek to wrap my identity.

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