I’ve had both very good and pretty rough experiences in my ministry career. A brief history may be in order… (I don’t tell these for sympathy’s sake – I think God was in every one, but I want you to know I don’t speak out of a vacuum…)
- I served for 3 years as a Jr. High pastor (part time) and when the time came for the full time guy to be replaced I applied for the job – and the committee chose another guy who was brand new to the church family.
- I served for almost 3 years as an associate pastor at a large church (1200 people). When the time came that I felt the Lord was leading me to begin looking for more of a teaching role, the Elders told me, “No problem. We’d be glad for you to continue working until the right opportunity comes through.” Then, two weeks later, one of them came into my office and told me I would be employed for 2 more weeks. What???!!!!????
- I co-pastored a church for 4 years, and had a great time there. Challenging, but wonderful overall. Many good friends and lasting memories – and the experience I gained was invaluable.
- I tried to start a church – with a full-time job, 5 kids, and a wife….. and just ran out of energy. While we were there 3 people in the neighborhood we lived in came to Christ (my wife led one, my son the other two). But regardless, the church plant didn’t fly…
- I took over a church plant that was not quite a year old, had around 120 people and had just lost their founding pastor due to “marital problems.” Things went great for about a year, and then people starting leaving, in droves. I began to consider that maybe a true “church planter” was needed. 2 1/2 years into it, that was what I felt was right, offered to stay on as an interim, and the elders said, “No thanks.” We had no prospects and nowhere really to go. We moved into the in-law’s basement. 3 weeks after I moved out of town, the church closed its doors for good.
Now – I said all that to say this: Do you think somewhere along the line in all those situations I had occassion to feel like a failure? Do you think I ever asked, “What’s up with THAT?” Do you think I ever wondered why I just couldn’t seem to get “success” rolling along?
You bet I did. Multiple times. I did loads of introspection and prayer and re-evaluations of my re-evaluations. I tried everything I knew to get things figured out – books, seminars, conversations with experienced leaders, etc. – so that I could see some “success” in what I was trying to do in ministry. My wife and I even had conversations, many times, about why the Lord was not allowing us to have success!
I’ve typically felt that we just need to be faithful, do what we know to do, grow where we sense we need to grow, and leave the rest up to God. But at times that nagging sense of failure comes back… even now…
But lately I’ve been thinking a bit differently… what if God’s idea of success is much different than mine? Afterall, He’s the one who has a purpose and a plan for every aspect of human history, right? What if He has moved us around from one position to another, for some very specific reasons and “assignments?” What if those 3 who entered the kingdom were the real assignment and we just THOUGHT we were supposed to plant a church? What if some of the marriages we’ve been humbled to be a part of counseling back to a healthy place WERE the main assignments, and we just THOUGHT it was about something else that looked a bit “bigger and better?” What if, in my arrogance, I thought I knew what the plan was, when He had a different one all along?
When I take that view, I can look at every one of the situations I mentioned and think of some outstanding things that He acheived through us in those times. I wouldn’t trade those for the world!
So I’ve decided to give it up. I’m not going to try to figure out if we are a success or a failure in any given situation. We are jars of clay, so it’s likely that we might look like a failure more than we care to realize. But it’s not about how we look, it’s about what He does through us (He’s the treasure inside the jar of clay, right?).
What do YOU think?