Saturday, December 26, 2009

A check on ministerial pride

In an end-of-the-year newsletter that I recently received from a friend and former seminary classmate, he wrote something to the effect of, "church planting is physically and emotionally harder than I ever imagined."

The man who wrote these words is a good man, a great pastor, and a hard-working church planter. I'm grateful for his ministry and for the particular labor that God has called him to do, and I am thrilled that his church plant is thriving as it is. In saying what I'm about to say, I'm not trying to take anything away from his ministry. In fact, I'm not even sure that this is his particular attitude.

But his words reminded me of how many of the church planters I know embody an attitude that is unhealthy for the church-- a sense of ministerial pride. Yes, church planting is hard, and it is, indeed, physically and emotionally draining. But not anymore than any other ministry-- because the simple fact is, any pastor who is adequately doing his job and fulfilling his calling will inevitably find that it is physically and emotionally draining, to a degree beyond what he once imagined it might be.

I say this, because I know that no church planter ever had a week (plus a day or so) like I just had in a "revitalization" ministry: a week ago this past Wednesday, I got word that a lifelong-member in our congregation, age 74, had died of a stroke. I personally took this news to her best friend of more than 50 years, who has also been in the church that long, and to another long-time friend. I broke the news to much of my congregation that night, many of whom had known this lady all their lives, had been taught Sunday School and Bible School from her as children. I conducted her funeral on Monday, and then went to the hospital to visit with a second-generation member of our congregation and her family, as she gave birth to her first child. All of this, in addition to regular Wednesday and Sunday activities, plus a Christmas Eve service.

While the death of a long-time Christian isn't outside of the realm of possibility for a church plant by any means, most of the rest of those circumstances (even the regular activities and services) are. And the longevity of it makes the emotionally-draining quality that much deeper.

My point isn't to say, "you think church planting is hard-- you should try revitalization!" Rather, it is to say this: church planting is hard; so is revitalization. So is ministry in an established, healthy congregation. So is campus ministry. So is international missions.

Which is to say, ministry, if you're doing it right, is hard.

And we need to get over ourselves enough to acknowledge this better. The way my friend presented the difficulties of his year made me feel like he had to make the point that, for some reason, he felt his year was harder than mine because he is a church planter.

Maybe it is because church planting normally embodies leading people in new and fresh directions. Maybe it is because church planters are treated like the "rock stars" of the pastor world. Maybe it is because, for a decade or more, church planting has had a strangely special status in my denomination (the PCA). Or maybe it is for reasons I can't enumerate. But for whatever reason, church planters often seem to have this chip on their shoulder that proclaims, "what I'm doing is more important than what you're doing."

(By the way, all of us are susceptible to this struggle. When I was in college, it was foreign missions that took on the same attitude and pridefulness.)

Let me just knock that chip off by saying, in response: no it isn't-- and that sort of competitive spirit that you are always identifying your ministry (and, by default, mine too) by is antithetical to the Gospel. It is antithetical to Kingdom growth. Please stop it.

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