Confessions from a Local Pastor
There’s something addictive about a stage and a microphone and the status that often comes with it. It is a gift from God, but power and authority can easily be abused.
So, maybe it’s time for a little confession from a pastor. As much as I love what I do, there are a few strangers that continually knock at my door. Sadly, these strangers have often become more than acquaintances. They are the desire for recognition, affirmation, and people-pleasing.
My friend asked me to preach for him one Sunday. It was a small church in West Texas. Of the fifteen people there that day, there is one guy I’ll never forget, because he slept through the entire worship service. He didn’t just doze off in the sermon; he slept through the songs, prayers, and announcements. I had to wake him up to drop a piece of cracker and to pour the juice in his mouth for communion.
Yet, after the worship service had ended, I saw him making his way to me. I had been doing this long enough that I knew what he was coming to say.
“Good job, young man. I sure am grateful that you came out here today.”
I was prepared to respond, “Thank you, sir. What did you enjoy most about the sermon?” I was going to make him feel kind of guilty for his hour long nap.
However, after he spoke the line I knew he would speak, he slipped me a fifty-dollar bill. So, I decided to let my prepared response go. Yes, I guess you can say that I’ve been paid off before.
It happens after every Sunday sermon, as well as anywhere else I preach. People respond. The most common responses are, “Good job.” “You stepped on my toes today.” “Thank you for the great message.” “It was as if you were speaking directly to me.”
Whether you preach sermons or communicate in another venue, if we aren’t careful, these phrases become more than words of encouragement. We begin to live for the applause and recognition. And it has been this way for a long time.
Do you remember the story about the two brothers who approached Jesus asking for the two best seats when Jesus established His kingdom? One wanted to sit on his left and the other on his right.
Actually, it’s told two different ways in scripture. Mark attempts to protect James and John from one humiliating detail. Matthew took a different approach. You see, Mark tells the story as if James and John asked Jesus themselves. Matthew lets us know that it was actually James and John’s mom who made the request. They had their mommy go to bat for them. And thanks to Matthew, these two guys will never live it down.
There are a few stories in the life of Jesus about people jockeying for position and status at tables. The head of the table (or the host) would often place his or her guests based on status. The better seats went to those with most influence and power. It was always an honor when the host would move you up to a seat with greater recognition.
And it is still that way, right?
A lot has been written about the pursuit for the best seat at the table, and how the climb to the top can potentially challenge and/or ruin one’s character and integrity.
However, what I want to challenge is this: for any of us who are in leadership positions or desire them, we know that coveting the most prestigious seat at the table can ruin us. We know our Bible well enough not to fall for that one, but what we might overlook is that little cancerous thought we think but never tell anyone: that we deserve a better seat than where we currently sit.
We may be fine remaining in a lower place at the table, but we want the acknowledgement that we deserve something better. And if we aren’t careful, this desire can slowly ruin us.
It may not be a raise we desire, but recognition that we work our tail off.
It may not be the need to be told that we are the best pastor around, but we want those we work with to simply acknowledge that we have poured hours into an intense sermon series, and that we pour everything we have into what we do. Like an artist, we simply want someone to acknowledge and appreciate our work.
The desire for recognition, acknowledgement, and the applause can slowly creep into a heart, and before long, it can turn someone into a person they never wanted to become. It is unhealthy. And it can weaken the soul.
A few things I do to protect me against such unhealthy desires:
- Be faithful and grateful for whatever place we are in life. God is there. And every seat at the table matters in the Kingdom.
- Ask God to send you a few people every week who will simply bear witness to God’s work in their lives. It doesn’t have to be specifically about a message you preached. What you need is to hear stories of God’s movement around you.
- Ask God to release you from the desire to be all things to all people. Few things will pollute a heart quicker than this.
- Practice some Sabbath principles. Resting in God is the best reminder that God can keep things going without you.
So, how do we practice humility? What are the spiritual disciplines needed to ground someone in the heart of God?