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Monday, June 8, 2015

Introduction to Expectations

This is twice recycled material.  I must think it's really important.  I first started writing this post in 2007, and then I adapted it for a class I took at NNU some years later.  What makes it worth sharing again?  Well, one of the things I would like to do here is to bring some insight and encouragement to young ministerial students and those just starting out in ministry.

When discussing a collaborative writing project, my friend Henry posed the question, "What are the top 5 struggles that you have had in your ministry, for which education did not prepare you?"  You know I like questions.  This was a great one!

Before I dove right in with answers, though, there was one caveat.  I think my education at NNU was, and is, phenomenal in regard to preparing me for ministry and helping me to realize that ministry is not what I once thought it was.  The problem with this is that my education at NNU started a decade after our family began full time, vocational ministry.  There are some things you have to learn by experience, but I think there are a lot of things that can be taught without experiencing hurt over and over again, and it begins with expectations.  Over the next few weeks, I'd like to explore some of the expectations I had.  For today, I think this is a pretty good overview of the struggle that comes with expectations that do not match reality:

We are not invincible.  Our efforts will not save the world.  We are not God.  We are not even… wait for it… space rangers…

In the Pixar film, Toy Story 2 (1999), there is a scene where several of the toys are walking through Al's Toy Barn, and Buzz stops and stands in awe at the Buzz Lightyear aisle. He notices that the new Buzz Lightyear toys have an upgraded utility belt, so he climbs up to the display model to get a better look. The display model comes "alive" and, of course, he believes that he is the "real" Buzz Lightyear, just as Buzz did in the previous Toy Story movie. The model attacks the Buzz Lightyear that we all know and love and tries to shoot him with his laser light bulb, while making claims about himself that are completely ridiculous, since he is, after all, a toy. Buzz rolls his eyes and mutters, "Tell me I wasn't this delusional".  And then we all laugh, because we know that he was…

I was startled by a comparison between this scene in an animated flick and the lifestyle of ministers.  Mostly, this thought came to me because I used to be that delusional, too.

It seems that in the church, we are often equipping ministers with new utility belts.  Instead of focusing on spiritual formation and the call that God has placed on our lives, we have become distracted by business models that run our pastors and their families into the ground with no hope of fostering transparency, and dare I say it, friendships.  It is so much easier to set a cookie cutter expectation, convince ourselves that the new belt is the real deal… standard issue… we're "in", and if we wear it proudly, BAM!  We're space rangers?

But I think there's something wrong with the belt.

In Ephesians 6, we read about the armor of God, and He issues us a belt, too. It's called the belt of truth. For most of my life I have been a brutally honest person. In fact, people have, on occasion, asked me not to be so honest.  I am not claiming to have a corner on truth, but God does, and in replacing the tool that God has offered to us, we are losing something (maybe even everything) that we were created to be.

And, I know it blows my parallel, but this passage of Scripture is simplified in The Message:

"Be prepared. You're up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it's all over but the shouting you'll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You'll need them throughout your life. God's Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other's spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out" (Eph 6:13-18, TM).

We don't need a new gimmick.  We don't need to work harder or spend more hours away from our families, at the office.  What we need is to take care of ourselves and to take care of one another.  We need community.  This starts and ends with truth.

It has become increasingly clear to me that pastors and their families are almost afraid to be authentic with other people.  Most often, this fear stems from painful experiences in which we have been rejected or hurt by others who have unrealistic expectations.  We're not super heroes.  We're people.  We need to honestly assess what we are capable of doing, what God has made us capable of doing, and then we should do that, wherever we are, in whatever role we have.  We can be nothing but ourselves.  We should be nothing but who we were created to be.  And honestly, I know that won't satisfy everyone, but that's OK. 

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that there's more to ministry than just looking the part. There's more to an authentic relationship with Christ than just having the goods. And, may God help us if we are attempting to fight Spiritual battles with blinking light bulbs…


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