Here’s a secret that pastors don’t want known: We’re deeply insecure. I know. It’s not much of a secret, is it? But we like to think nobody knows.
I recently heard of a pastor who called the church administrator every Sunday afternoon on the way home from church to get the attendance numbers. On Monday mornings he would call again by ten o’clock to find out about the offering. He lived and died according to the numbers.
I don’t want to blame anyone for this situation. I’m sure pastors have always struggled with this temptation. But it can’t be any easier these days for a generation of pastors weaned on conferences and books promising that we too can have a church that measures up. The problem is that reality never looks as good as the conference brochures. It’s never quite good enough, and most pastors feel like failures at least part of the time.
What’s more, I know enough about “successful” pastors to know that they struggle with the same insecurities. They’re also tempted to live and die by the numbers. They also sometimes wonder if what they’re doing really matters.
That’s why I needed to preach yesterday’s sermon to myself before anyone else. The subtext of the passage (Mark 4:1-34) is the apparent failure of Jesus’ ministry. The Pharisees, scribes and Herodians are against him, and even his family thinks he’s crazy. If this really is coming of the Kingdom of God, why does it look like such a failure?
I won’t give you the whole sermon, but here’s some of what the passage says to those of us who wrestle with feelings of insignificance:
- We expect ministry to be glamorous. Mostly it’s not, not even for Jesus.
- In the parable of the sower and the seed, the sower met with failure three-quarters of the time, yet his work overall was not a failure.
- Rejection of the gospel is not a failure of the gospel or the person sharing the gospel.
- We have a role, but the work is God’s. The growth and success of his kingdom does not depend on us. It doesn’t depend on human effort, and human insight can’t even explain it. The seed grows, and so does the kingdom. God will take care of the results.
- The kingdom begins in a small, unnoticed way. It mostly goes on unnoticed. It often looks insignificant. It’s weak and unglamorous. Things don’t go as we expect. But the kingdom is growing. God is at work. He will bring about results that go beyond our asking or conceiving.
Talk about an attitude adjustment. If we really believe what Jesus says in this passage, it changes the scorecard. I believe what Jesus says. I just don’t believe it enough. I’m still prone to live and die by the numbers, to wonder if it’s really making a difference.
But there’s hope. The pastor who used to call on the way home from church and every Monday morning no longer does so. His staff have noticed the difference.
David Neff writes:
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is like yeast. It is like a perfect pearl. It is like finding just one lost sheep. Or just one lost coin. It belongs to little children and others who were “small” in the estimation of Jesus’ contemporaries.
God likes small beginnings. He likes to work in hidden ways that are easily overlooked…Small doesn’t mean “insignificant” or “of no consequence.”
I believe. Help my unbelief.