Archive - May, 2011

Pursue Your Calling, Not Your Potential

Christie and I just finished up a great couple of days in Indian Wells at our denomination’s annual conference. We enjoyed the time away, and it was a wonderful opportunity to worship, rest, and learn.

The speaker for the conference was Chris Brown, who pastors in Vista, the town next door to Oceanside, where we used to live. He did a tremendous job, and he gave me and the rest of our staff a lot to think about and implement in the coming weeks.

One of the most memorable things Chris said all weekend was the title of this post.

Pursue your calling, not your potential.

He cited 1 Corinthians 7, which more or less makes it clear that if you want to fulfill your potential, don’t get married and don’t have a family. If you are unburdened by those responsibilities then you will be able to devote yourself entirely to your career. The context of 1 Corinthians 7 refers to ministry, but the principle extends to any career.

Once you get married, your calling changes. Your calling is now to love your wife.

Once you have kids, your calling changes again. Your calling is now to love your wife, and love your kids.

And as a pastor, that is your ministry.

If you fail at those things, you fail.

Period.

Doesn’t matter how much “success” you have at church.

Chris told a story of two pastors he encouraged to allow their wives to have a say in their schedules. They laughed it off, saying that if they did that they wouldn’t work for two weeks. He said then that probably meant they needed two weeks off. They laughed again, saying he was crazy.

Both of those guys are divorced and out of ministry.

Guess he’s not so crazy.

The truth is, whether we’re in ministry, government, for-profit, non-profit, NGO, or any other kind of work, we can just about kill ourselves trying to live up to our potential.

I want to work hard to be successful just as much as the next guy, and I feel the weight of that on a daily basis.

I feel tremendous pressure to produce excellence.

And working hard it not a bad thing. It is a good thing that honors God.

But it’s not the ultimate thing. Fulfilling my potential is not the ultimate thing.

Fulfilling my calling is the ultimate thing.

And it’s your ultimate thing, too.

And if you’re married with kids your calling is to love them.

I’m reminded of what Andy Stanley said at a conference years ago. God doesn’t tell us to build the church. He builds the church. But God does tell us to love our wives.

So I need to love my wife, and love my (soon to be) kid(s).

I need to give her control of my schedule.

I need to schedule an “event that I can’t get out of and that can’t be interrupted” at least one or two nights per week, and that event needs to be wasting time with my wife and watching my kid squirm.

And when the bell rings to go to work I need to work hard to fulfill that part of my calling.

But I need to do so remembering that my calling at work will never, and can never trump my calling at home.

Even If He Does Not

My current Bible-reading plan brought me to one of my favorite passages (and favorite stories) in all of Scripture this morning.

The story is in Daniel 3, where Shadrach, Meshach, and and Abednego are brought before King Nebucahdnezzar and threatened with execution for their refusal to bow down and worship the king’s big humongous statue of himself.

The king threatens them with execution by means of fiery furnace, and asks them, “Who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”

A question that some of the challenges of life ask us all the time, I might add.

I absolutely love their response.

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

God is able, and he can deliver us.

But if he doesn’t we still won’t serve your gods.

That is one of the great tensions of the Christian life, right there.

God is able to do anything. God is able to act on our behalf. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t.

Either way, he’s still God.

And we live, fully trusting in God’s power, but also fully trusting in God’s wisdom, knowing that he is working all things together for good in the end.

A truth that can be difficult to grasp when the fiery furnace is in front of us, and when God doesn’t save us like he didn’t Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

But a truth that the empty cross and empty grave assures us.

"Follow God, It Could End Badly"

I came across this little gem yesterday. It’s one that I’ve seen before but I don’t think I’ve ever shared it. It’s Matt Chandler speaking at some gathering that is large enough to require a totally sweet U2-esque

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round stage. All joking aside, the idea he talks about here is an incredibly important truth. Enjoy! [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhS2-K1EUBI] HT: Blogging Theologically

Being Who You Are

Recently I was trying to find an old email, and in the process I found a different email I wrote a few years ago where I was telling some friends about a conversation I’d had recently.

The conversation took place at a Starbucks and it was with by far the most well known Christian leader that I have ever met personally. This guy is someone who pastors a church of several thousand people, and I started listening to his messages almost ten years ago (when I’m pretty sure he was younger than I am now). I still listen to his messages almost every week, and find that I am continually challenged and encouraged by them.

The conversation took place because he happened to be in one of my seminary classes, and I asked him if I could buy him a cup of coffee and pick his brain about ministry for an hour. He graciously agreed, and the conversation was extremely helpful to me, especially since at the time I was just starting out.

In the email I was recounting one thing that this guy said to me, which to be honest I’d since forgotten. To quote directly from that email:

Probably the biggest thing he encouraged me to do is to figure out what kind of pastor God has made me to be and then be comfortable in that, knowing that not everyone is going to like it.

In that conversation he also encouraged me to be careful to guard against the temptation to conform to what I think people will ‘like’, because the call of a pastor is to feed the sheep, not entertain the sheep.

Seriously good stuff.

The part in italics especially hit me when I read it again.

It was a great reminder that I need to be secure in who God has made me to be, and then lead and work out of that security, all the while being ok with the fact that I’m not going to be able to please everyone.

I just read a great quote on Facebook recently from Bill Cosby where he said, “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everybody.”

True that.

The flip side to this, of course, is that this sort of thinking could be used to justify all sorts of deviant behavior.

I stay in my office and study all week because God has made me an intellectual and my only ministry to the church is preaching.

I’m not really a people person, so I don’t spend quality time with people in my congregation.

Or to take it to the extreme,

I freely and repeatedly engage in (insert sinful behavior here) because that’s who God has made me to be.

But on the healthier side of things, I believe all of us, not just pastors, need to understand who God has created us to be, how God has designed us to participate in his work in the world, and what it looks like to do that work.

We don’t need to be the same as other people.

We don’t need to try to make someone else’s methods work for us if God has built us differently than others.

And, most importantly, we don’t need to try to please everyone.

That’s an incredibly liberating realization.