This past Monday morning, I had my final meeting with my pastor. We sat in his office and reminisced about some of the best moments of our church’s recent history, and shared concerns about the coming days. He talked about the opportunities that both our church, as well as, his new church had in the coming season of ministry, and how difficult it will be to accomplish all that the Lord has for us. But there was never a moment of doubt that the Lord can do what we need him to do.
He concluded our meeting by praying over me, as was his custom, and I watched him walk out the door to the parsonage for the last time.
The walk back to my office seemed a bit longer, the hall seemed a bit colder, and the deafening quiet of the building was burdensome. As I sat in my office and prayed about how difficult this would be and how I needed the Lord to strengthen me to do for my church what they have asked me to do, I was acutely aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The poignancy of the moment was all too familiar to me.
This is the fourth pastor to vacate the office while I was the only other member of the pastoral staff. Memories of previous churches, previous ministries, previous pastors, and too many days spent alone in a church begging God to deliver His perfect direction to our church…but the hardest thing about this episode is that he seems to have already done that.
“So what do I do, God?”
It was the only question that I could ask that seemed to have any purpose at the moment.
My answer for today is to review what the Lord has already shared with me about this time. During the last interim time I experienced, I began to blog about how a person could be used to encourage, lead, and empower his church to accomplish the Lord’s will without being called “Senior Pastor.” I blogged about the subject for almost two years, and compiled my posts in a single document. I haven’t really looked at the posts in several years because they seemed to be a distant memory of events and ideas that would hopefully no longer be needed. But, here we are.
So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?
Remember the previous success, miracles, and spiritual victory that the Lord has manifested in your past. Then, expect Him to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called by His name.
From time to time, the Lord allows each of us to witness something in the lives of others in that prepares us to work for him in a new way. I think more often than not, we can slip by these moments if we are not careful and be unaffected by something that the Lord intends to be transformative in our lives.
Several weeks ago I was privileged to witness several farmers from my hometown offer their services to my dad in a time of need. My dad suffered a heart attack during the Christmas season and was limited in his ability to finish harvesting his cotton. (He will tell you that he was fine, and that it would have just taken him longer than expected, but I think we all know the truth.) These men, led by my uncle Clifford, gathered together and harvested 500acres of cotton for my dad. Hurst Farm Supply brought us lunch and the scene was almost so surreal that I struggled to comprehend the gravity of it all.
As the machines and workers began to parade onto my dad’s property and get to work harvesting my dad’s cotton, he and I stood in the cold and marveled for a moment at the scene. I was reminded of childhood stories where farmers in small communities gathered to lend aid to those in need. Several memories of my own experiences of serving those less fortunate, or giving time to community projects flashed before my mind’s eye, but the look on my dad’s face was sober, and even a little strained.
I asked him what he thought of it all, and his response surprised me. He said that he was more grateful than he could ever express, but that he struggled to accept such a generous gift because, in his words, “I’m not exactly an invalid.”
It took me a moment to register what he had said. I grappled with his words because I had seen my dad serve so many times before. I had seen him help people with their taxes, buy people groceries, and fix computers. I had seen him lend people vehicles, stay up late at night trying to replace a water pump for a person we didn’t even know, and spend countless nights repairing broken pipes, leaky faucets, and faulty wiring in the homes of widows and church members. I had seen him locate glasses, gather resources, purchase equipment, learn to give an eye exam, and provide glasses to people in central Mexico.
So how is it that this man who has served others his whole life struggled to let others help him.
As I worked that day, the Lord began to open my eyes to the complexity of humility. A person has to humble themselves to serve, and a person has to humble themselves to be served. Each person must submit himself or herself to the other, and a relationship like that is hard to find.
Ephesians 5 discusses submission on so many levels, but has at its root the picture of Christ submitting himself to us by dying on the cross. In turn, we submit to him for the remission of sin. Christ exemplified the act of submission perfectly, and now demands that kind of submission from us.
The reciprocal nature of this kind of submission is difficult because at times we get in to a rut, even a service rut. Being served has helped my dad to see how difficult it is to be served, and hopefully has made him more sensitive to the process of submission.
For me, it has helped open my eyes to the fact that American church, and even my own youth group, have served like a sledgehammer. We have, in times of haste, or even blatant dismissiveness, looked past the recipient of our service, and seen nothing more than labor. Instead, we must refocus our eyes on the person being served, and let the work take care of itself.
Make no mistake, there are times when our service will be rejected, and that may be as much an indication of our serving style as it is the spiritual maturity of the one being served.
My dad was served by people who knew him, and knew what kind of man he has been; that kind of relationship is a precursor to effective service.