If there is one thing I’ve learned in ministry so far it is this: don’t go into ministry expecting your ego to get pumped up.
Ministry is incredibly humbling.
Sure there are those few who write some books and influence thousands and who make some money who might have an inflated sense of self. But if you want strokes than be a movie star, or a politician, or a lawyer or just about anything besides a pastor.
I am humbled in about a hundred different ways each week, but one of the most humbling aspects of being a pastor/campus minister/teacher/preacher is this:
I can teach someone a truth in a thousand ways (through teaching, modeling, conversations, etc), and then they go to some conference, or listen to a podcast, or go to a different church and all of a sudden the heavens open and everything makes sense.
I get really frustrated by those moments. My frustration probably has something to do with a need to be in control or liked or thought of a certain way.
But, whatever my issues are, it doesn’t change the fact that they got it. Something finally clicked and they are growing, evolving, changing, living differently. It just wasn’t because of me.
I just finished NT Wright’s excellent book on character and virtue: After You Believe. In it he argues winsomely to wrap up the quest for Christian character inside the ideas of worship and mission. They all go together. We pursue virtue and character as an act of worship and to help us in our mission.
He writes that the 4 big virtues are humility, patience, chastity, and charity. These four big words contain a bunch of other ideas (i.e. faith, hope, and love, the fruits of the spirit, etc). This section comes from his thoughts on chastity, but I would argue they really capture the essence of the book:
“Christians have always insisted that self-control is one of the nine fold varieties of Spirit’s fruit. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, you have to work at it and discover why certain temptations, at certain times and places, are hard to resist.
“That because chastity is a virtue: it’s not first and foremost a rule which you decide either to keep or to break; it’s certainly not something you can calculate according to a principle, such as the greatest happiness for the greatest number; and in particular, as Jesus himself indicated, it won’t be generated by going with the flow of what comes naturally.
“This is where the genuinely celibate, like Jesus himself…have discovered the joy of a ‘second nature’ self-control which much of our culture, like most of the ancient world, never even imagines.
“By contrast, as those of us who care pastorally, or in families, for people who have embraced the present habits of society will know, the bruises and wounds caused by those habits are deep, long-lasting, and life-decaying. The church is often called a killjoy for protesting against sexual license. But the real killing of joy comes with the grabbing of pleasure…the price tag is hidden at the start, but the physical and emotional debt incurred will take a long time to pay off.
“Here Patience and Humility come into play once more. The frantic urge toward sexual intimacy is part of the drive to express yourself, to push yourself forward, to insist that this is who you are and this is how you intend to behave.
“No, says Humility; you don’t discover your true self that way. You find it by giving yourself away. Precisely, agrees Patience: taking the waiting out of wanting is short-changing yourself and everybody else. The virtues are linked together…if you want one of them, you better practice them all.”
I had an opportunity this weekend to stand in front of REUNION, our church community, and share about Sojourn’s Joplin trips. The moment reminded me of the powerful multiplying force of generosity.
Both of our teams (week 1 and week 2) had various responsibilities while we were in Joplin, but for the most part we got to see one house through from sub-flooring, to walls, to the roof, to siding, to windows: all of us from Boston were a part of that process. And while we were doing it we got to know the family that will be moving in. A family that lost absolutely every material possession in the tornado.
On Sunday it hit me: a church community in Boston takes up an Advent Conspiracy offering in December, a collegiate ministry sends 30 people to Joplin in March, and both are part of blessing a family through a house and money to furnish the house…a house that will become a home where generosity and hospitality are extended and multiplied again and again.
Our generosity is so much more that checks that we write, or stuff that we sell. They are stories that go on and on and often we won’t know even a fraction of them. Which creates a great deal of humility. God is always at work and we get to be a part of it and that is a beautiful thing.