Do you relate to the dog or to the crab?
On Thursday I came across a letter from my Uncle John. It dates back to August 1987 when he was serving as senior pastor of a church in California. I wrote to him expressing my desire to pastor, and asked for his advice. He responded with this letter.
I hadn't read this letter in a long time. I brought it home with me and thought I should email him for permission to post the letter on this blog. It's really good.
A couple hours later I heard that he'd been in an accident while on vacation in Arizona with a number of injuries We've been praying for him quite a bit since then. He's currently in critical but stable condition. My mother is on an airplane with her sister, and should be arriving there later today.
I'm really grateful for this man of God and his influence on my life. I'd appreciate your prayers for him and all of his family. And I hope I'll be able to ask him permission to post the contents of his letter to a young pastor-to-be the next time I get the chance.
As you may already know, one of my favorite books is The Heart of a Servant Leader by Jack Miller. And one of my favorite chapters in this book is this one, called "Stay in One Place Until You've Been Humbled." Miller talks about staying in a church long enough so that you're forced to move from pride and self-sufficiency to Jesus' love.
I thought of Miller as I read through this excellent interview with Tullian Tchividjian. Read the whole thing. It's worth it.
Tchividjian had experienced a lot of success in his ministry, but he went through a brutal and humbling time a couple of years ago in his ministry.
In every church I'd been a part of, I was widely accepted and approved and appreciated. I'd always felt loved in church. Now, for the first time, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being deeply disliked and distrusted, and by more than a few people. Now I realized just how much I'd been relying on something other than the approval and acceptance and love that were already mine in Jesus…
In the process, he discovered some idolatry:
I remember saying to God in that moment, "Just give me my old life back." And he said, "It's not your old life you want back. It's your old idols you want back. And I love you too much to give them to you."
…I realized just how much I'd been relying on something other than the approval and acceptance and love that were already mine in Jesus.
The interview shows how the gospel became even more real to him during this time, and how it liberated him during this crisis.
When I speak to pastors I say, "There is only one thing that will enable you to survive, and that's the gospel. It's not whether your church grows or not. It's not having the right leadership principle. All of those things might be helpful, but the gospel is the only thing that will save you in ministry."
If you're a pastor, you will be humbled at some point. I'm so glad that God uses these times to show us our idols and to move towards God's love. We can expect to be humbled; Tchividjian's interview reminds us of how God's grace can shine in our lives and ministries even when we're going through some of the toughest times of ministry.