Are you up to it?
John Woods contemplates revitalising grace.
I read in a recent tweet of a church leader speaking to three other pastors, who were all thinking about throwing in the towel. As far as I can see this was not a direct result of the Covid-19 lockdown, but this may well have contributed to the personal crisis.
The disruption of church life in the wake of Covid-19 has not produced all the problems that face Church leaders at the moment. What it has done, however, is reveal the fault line that existed already. Many church leaders are masters of the art of papering over cracks. The problem is that when there is movement or the application of a bit of pressure the cracks reappear.
What makes church leaders want to quit and run away?
Sometimes it is a matter of an inferiority complex. Paul speaks reassuring words to his young apprentice Timothy:
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
For some people this is reassuring but the reassurance is wrapped in the challenge to set an example to our fellow believers. How can a fragile human manage to consistently do that?
The perfectionist church leader can feel that their best is never good enough.
This is missing the point, as Paul reminds Timothy:
“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4: 15–16).
Paul is not looking for perfection but progress.
Preacher, don’t beat yourself up when you hit a rough patch, preach a poor sermon or momentarily feel that you have lost your way.
I am struck that Paul tells Timothy to look after himself, and only then to look after his teaching. Look after yourself, try to get enough sleep, get some fresh air and exercise, talk to someone about how you feel, take some advice.
By contrast, some preachers suffer not from an inferiority complex but a superiority complex. We feel we are ok because we are called “pastor,” have a theological training and a long track record of ministry. Yet none of this is enough to sustain our lives or a lifetime of ministry.
Paul captured the secret of what can sustain a preacher for a lifetime:
“For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9–10).
Paul was not one for allowing personal failure in his past to paralyse him in the present or to shipwreck his future. We are all imperfect, but Paul shows us to view our imperfections and inadequacy through the lens of grace.
Grace finds us as we are, accepts us as we are but does not leave us there.
“What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things.”
(U2 ‘Grace’ from the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Island Records, 2000)
Grace rescues, receives, restores and renews us.
Grace motivates us to serve our rescuer with every atom of our energy. Yet we can’t take the credit for any of it, because we are running on grace.
Paul’s words remind me of when our children were tiny. I remember the experience of delight in receiving a birthday present from them, even though my wife had bought and wrapped the present, and I had paid for it!
When we are overwhelmed by a sense of our inadequacy, or by a sense of our achievement, perhaps we need to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by grace.
Take a leaf out of Paul’s book, allow grace to overwhelm your sense of failure and put all of your achievements into perspective.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit”.