This post has been stirring in my heart for a couple of years. It’s not in response to any sermons that I have heard lately, but rather is something that has been eating at me since a sermon I heard at a Pastors’ Conference two years ago. Allow me to summarize the sermon for you, “Things stink in America right now. Things in America stink because the church stinks and doesn’t do enough to reach people. In particular, your church stinks and isn’t doing enough to reach people, and your church stinks because you stink and aren’t trying hard enough. However, if all of you would repent and be like me and my church then your church wouldn’t stink so bad.”
The preceding paragraph did not represent any actual quotes from the sermon, but it did capture the spirit of it. As this Pastor was yelling at us that our lost neighbors condemned us and represented our cold hearts, I found myself saying out loud, “I am not condemned. Because of Jesus, I am not condemned.” This experience changed the way that I thought about Pastors’ Conferences and how I would preach at one if I had the opportunity.
For most of my ministry, I assumed that preaching to Pastors meant telling them all of the things that they needed to do better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most Pastors are men who are trying to follow Jesus, love their families, visit the sick, lead the church, read their neighbors, preach God’s word, and keep it all together. They spend their weeks getting feedback from people about how their preaching needs to change. They should work harder to make it more practical. They should work harder to make it more theological. They need to get the music more contemporary. They need to keep the music more traditional. They need to reach younger people. They need to make sure that they are not neglecting the older people. They need to visit more. (But remember that they are also supposed to be working harder on their sermons.) They need to lead the church better, but not be overbearing. You get the point. Everywhere the Pastor turns he hears what he should be doing better.
So this would be my Pastors’ Conference sermon today:
“Pastor, you spend your days comparing and thinking about how you are not measuring up. You constantly hear voices in your head telling you all of the things that you should be doing differently. You are thinking today about how you need to pray more, visit more, study harder, and lead better; all while not neglecting your family. Pastor, hear the words of Jesus today, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Pastor, rest in Jesus and who He is for you. Find your righteousness in Him and not in the ministry. Know that He does not condemn you and that you can cast all of your care and anxieties on Him because He cares for you. By all means, work hard for the glory of God, but do not work out of guilt or because of the voices in your head. Work hard because your labor in the Lord is not in vain. And work hard, not in the strength of your flesh, but in the strength that He supplies. Rest in Jesus, spend time in prayer, have fun with your wife and kids, study to preach, visit the sick, have your neighbors over for dinner, and then go to bed. Sleep deeply, knowing that God’s Spirit is at work even when you are not.”