One of the themes that has been running through my head ever since we transitioned to St. Louis for our replant residency and eventual second transition to a church to replant is the theme of faithfulness. Please note: These are incomplete thoughts-so if you are a person who likes to poke holes in things-you'll probably have fun with this one. I'm ok with that. Hopefully, you'll hear my heart.
On a personal level, God has been challenging me more than ever that he is not impressed with my capacity, my ability, or how great I or others think I am. God is concerned that I am faithful to Him. He is interested in Matthew, imperfect as he is. He desires my total devotion, and provides grace each day as I fail in that. As a man, I must keep God's priorities for my life. He desires my worship, desires me to lead my wife well, to love my family, and honor Him in my integrity and holiness that He builds in me. How do we lose sight of this? I'll readily admit I have had many moments where I have. I've been concerned about what people think about me. I've been focused on how successful (or unsuccessful) i've been in ministry. In those times, the idea of faithfulness doesn't enter my mind.
Even more than that, I don't think i'm alone. This past week I was able to have several discussions with pastors at a state conference for the denomination I get to be a part of. I was helping at a booth, talking about church replanting. Pastors were walking up, young and old, and all had a look of defeat in their face. They asked about replanting, and then proceeded to share their stories of their situations/ministries. They were defeated, and yet, my assessment for many of them is that they were playing the wrong game (much as I do at times).
The game they were playing was the game of comparison. The type of meetings like I was at this week is probably one of the best places to play this game. The temptation is to meet other pastors who are leading ministries that in your estimation are doing great work, and it seems that just have to drop a seed and fruit is coming like a vending machine. Then the temptation is to compare this to the small, sometimes dysfunctional, flock that you might lead or be a part of. This is what causes the look of defeat upon these pastors faces. As they play the game of comparison, it always ends the same-despair.
Pastors-we must stop playing the game of comparison. Our jobs are not to build bigger churches and bigger ministries. Our jobs are not to be in the top 10% of churches in the nation for ______________ (fill in the category). Our job is not even to be the most amazing multiplying church in the nation. Our job as pastors is to be faithful for what God has called us to. For some of us, this will mean that we will see great things happen-people following Christ, baptisms, many churches planted, etc. For others, it might not mean that we see the fruit....ever. Having worked with missionaries in my previous ministry post, I know many who have been faithful for years and seen little fruit, only to see people come after them and benefit and God finally moves.
Pastors: Our job is to shepherd not the people we wish were a part of the flock (although missional outreach should be a huge part of a pastors job), but to shepherd those God has entrusted to Him, even if they are few in number. Even if they are a dysfunctional brood. We are called to shepherd, to care, and to be faithful.
Faithfulness sticks with something that isn't perfect. Faithfulness says that I trust a God that is mightily in control more than I trust myself, or even my own judgement.
Faithfulness is sacrifice.
However, faithfulness, when lived in trust to God, brings inexpressible joy.
This joy comes only from the Lord. As pastors, inexpressible joy in replanting happens only when God does the work. It's not the newest trend. It's not our clever wisdom in ourselves. Joy is found only when we as replanters, and pastors, pursue our joy in Christ-and trust Him for who He is-Faithful.
To the pastors who I met this week-I honestly have not been in every situation you find yourself in. Each one of your experiences are real and difficult. In fact, you cannot stay faithful on your own accord. None of us can. I know I can't. It is only by Christ's power, each day, that any of us can. My heart, as a pastor, goes to you. My prayers go to you, that you may stay faithful, even through discouragement, frustration, and possibly even despair.
For me, i've had a renewed sense and understanding that Christ must be my ultimate and supreme joy. He must reign, and be #1 in my heart and life. My love for Christ must reign over my love for success in the world's eyes.
As Christ becomes bigger, and His joy builds in my life, the reality of struggle is still there. But as I think upon His faithfulness to me-I can rest that my identity is not found in how many people attend my church on Sunday, if I ever get invited to speak at a conference, or if i'm ever recognized for anything.
This week I heard a platform pastor speak and say "Pastors-we are already dead". He is right. Paul said it in Galatians-Christ lives through you-you are crucified. Many days-I try to live as if I still live through me.
Let Christ by your joy, your hope, and trust Him, because he is Faithful.
Trust that God is going to move, in His way, in His time, and for His purpose. Stay faithful, and even if you never see the fruit-God will still be honored.
Matthew is 33 years old and currently lives in St Louis, Missouri with his wife Leslie. He serves as the Legacy Church Replanting Resident Pastor at the Groves Church, in Webster Groves, Missouri.