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The Pastor's Confessional

Introduction

This week, every year, for the past 12 years, the same two events happen in conjunction with one another. Both my age and my ministry get a little older. I find new torn pages in my Bible with each passing year, just as I find new gray hairs in my beard. With the notable past exceptions of my 10-year anthemversary and my 40th birthday, both events come and go, each year, without much fuss.

However, this year feels different.

In addition to this Sunday marking a cool dozen years at Anthem, 2021 just happens to be the 20-year mark for my preaching ministry. As I reflect on the magnitude of two decades, come and gone, the milestone comes at a strange season of ministry, accompanied by even stranger reflections (at least strange for me). The year 2020 was no small ministry blip and the season it catalyzed is far from over. However, while we may not be on the other side of the novel coronavirus, we are on the other side of its novelty. Therefore, I feel both safe and confident in offering up these reflections now.

20-Years of Preaching the Hard Things

As far back as I can remember, I have always worn the mantle of having the hard conversations. I can remember at 10-years-old having to confront my mother, on behalf of my brother, in order to broker peace in our home. Not much has changed since then. In the military, in business, and in ministry, I've always been the one called upon by others (or myself)  to say what needed to be said, in way others could hear it. That doesn't mean in a way they've always wanted to hear it, but in way where closed ears may not have otherwise listened.

This has been such a staple of my personality and ministry, I only in recent years have realized it is part of the prophetic gifting that God has graced me with. To be the lighting rod. His lighting rod. The one willing to be blamed by others as I share a corporate sentiment, as the designated collective mouthpiece. To stir up in others, what they don't want stirred up, so that such stirring might lead to conviction. Sometimes that stirring is violent, as others wrestle with the validity of what's being said. But at least they are wrestling (think Jonah), not left to remain content in lukewarm waters.

When this part of me comes to bear on my preaching style, it is not for everyone. But I never set out to be a preacher for everyone. I set out to be the preacher that God wants me to be. However, there is a small problem with all of this. Being who "God wants" is a lifetime process, not a rearview outcome. This "Bible-is-the-hammer and you-are-the-nail" style of mine, has historically not been mindful of two very important principles:
  1. The Biblical principle of condescension
  2. The Biblical principle of posture matters

Both of these are rooted in the Biblical principle of love and image bearing: 
  1. We condescend to others (1 Cor. 9:19-23; Romans 14) because God so loved us that, in Christ, he condescended himself to us (Philippians 2:1-11). 
  2. We change our posture (Eph. 4:15; Eph. 5:25-30) because God so loved us that, through Christ, his posture is changed toward us (Rom. 5:1-9; Gal. 2:15-21).

The more I become in-tune with these principles, two things have started to change:
  1. I want my sermons to be simpler (simpler does not mean any less challenging); and 
  2. I want others to know the hard things I say are steeped in love.

2020-2021 has reinforced these changes, in particular, to my preaching ministry: (1) With so much uncertainty, I need to make crystal clear the certainty of God's word in all seasons. People cannot be left scratching their heads...not now. (2) And with so much distance, people need to know how much they are loved, when expressions of love are few and far between...they cannot doubt it.

Which brings me to my next reflection...

20-Years of Preaching the Wrong Things

Equal to my first reflection, as far back as I can remember, I have always told myself my need for others is limited. In some ways, this has made saying the hard things easier. If they are driven away by the truth, I have told myself, it's their loss, not mine. They're missing out on God's best for their life, at that's the end of it. For most of my adulthood, especially, I have been a chronic introvert plagued by social anxiety. Engaging with others, in public settings, did not come easy to me. It still doesn't. You can imagine how complicated this makes being a pastor. Again, all of this stemmed from a limited, if not flawed, view of relationships. However, this too has been challenged the longer I preach and, in particular, during the 2020-2021 season. Allow me to explain...

When COVID-19 first hit, there were many things we feared, none more than the uncertainty of what was to come. However, when it came to the distance between us that the pandemic produced, I wondered if Christmas had come early, so to speak. A season of isolation and separation? No public engagements? Sign me up! I've been training for this way of living my whole life! And yet, as the weeks and months drudged on, it was not the romance I had built up in my mind. Quite the opposite. I became more irritable, more anxious, and more sad.

What...the...heck...

This made no sense. I was living the introverts dream and reaping none of the emotional benefits. The more time passed, this inexplicable thought crept into my consciousness and would not abate: could it be that I miss people? And not just any people...my people!? Anthem people!?

What...the...heck...

But it was true. This saltier, older, introvertier (spell check says that's not a word), preacher missed his congregation. Not his audience. It wasn't a crowd that I longed for, but persons. Relationships. And if I, the king of all introverts, was experiencing quarantine this way, what must others be feeling!? That's when I knew, this kind of separation was not healthy, tenable or wise for any people, much less God's people. Some things, as we are learning, are more dangerous than a virus.

If nothing else, I now knew how much I loved my people and loved being with them. It only took a global crisis to confirm what years of preaching had been trying to show me. Anthem, take it from this still reforming preacher...you need people. Not just your blood family, or those you choose, but the church family God has given you. More now than ever.

Conclusion

These two major reflections are a part of a series of reflections that I intend to share during our next preaching series. For the lenten season, as we take a break from Genesis, we will start a topical series entitled: "The Pastor's Confessional". This series is not intended to be self-serving, self-promoting, or self-depreciating. It is intended to show you, through 20-years of preaching experience, how God changes people and continues to change people....even me. The focus and glory will belong to God alone, for he alone is responsible for this good work through hard every hard season of my life. Together, I hope we are encouraged, edified, and emboldened to good works because of our good God, just as I have been. Happy anthemversary/birthday to me, for the Lord has made me glad.

"For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy." -Psalm 92:4

The Pastor's Confessional starts Sunday, March 7th at Anthem Church.

 


2 Comments


Daniel Jones - February 4th, 2021 at 9:22pm

Thank you

Maria Garcia - February 7th, 2021 at 4:11pm

Wow very inspiring. Happy Anniversary/Birthday!

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