Proverbs 14:4 gives us a stark choice:
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
I’ll be honest. I want the clean manger and the abundant crops. Proverbs tells me otherwise. I have to choose. I can only have one.
I see the pastors who’ve made it. They have large churches. Their social media updates portray optimism and success. It’s seductive and depressing. At some level, I want to be like that. But it also repels and seems hollow.
Somehow it’s easy to believe that if we read the right book, or follow the right steps, we too can have a clean life and success. We think we’re only one book or conference away from the success that we crave.
It’s a lie. The only clean mangers are the ones that have no oxen. The only clean churches are the ones that have no people. I’m not a book or conference away from success, and neither are you. But we’re not far from the life that Jesus promised us: a life of service and significance and laying our lives down. That’s the life I ultimately want, but it’s anything but clean.
There are really no clean mangers, except the ones we put out for show.
Scott Sauls is a pastor I respect. He’s written helpful books. He’s a capable preacher and a good leader. I’m so glad that he posted an article on his blog called Self-loathing Ruined My Easter — and I’m Sort of Glad That It Did. I’m grateful for any pastor who drops the mask and lets us see some of the mess.
You can be a faithful pastor and suffer from depression. You can lead well and have a church full of problems. The more your church fills with people, the more problems you’ll face. It’s our call.
It’s easy to think we’ve missed it if we serve in messy churches, and we look in the mirror and see a messy pastor. But that could be a sign that we’re on the right track. It’s meant to be messy.
I’m not glorifying messiness for its own sake. I am suggesting, however, that it’s time to shred the glossy brochures advertising ministry success if we buy into a certain method of ministry. It’s time to get in the barn and clean the stalls, knowing that they’ll be messy again tomorrow.
It’s our calling, and it’s a privilege.