The Courage to Be Ordinary, Help for Average Christian Leaders

 By Craig C. Hill

I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve struggled with the same fantasy. Get enough money, people, recognition, staff, volunteers, lay leaders, salary, book deals, and speaking gigs that we don’t need to depend on God for anything anymore. But in serving as a pastor and working with fellow pastors for many years, I’ve found two characteristics essential to do ministry in a way that depends on God: courage to be ordinary and comfort with obscurity.

Courage to Be Ordinary

One of my mentors often tells me, “It takes extraordinary courage to be ordinary.” For the longest time, I would nod in agreement but not believe him.

I needed to be extraordinary. When I replanted a church, I often over-functioned in my role as a pastor. I carried the entire weight of the church on my shoulders. I had my own scorecard full of the metrics that mattered to me. And one was becoming a self-supporting church.

I prided myself on how quickly we achieved it, all the while hiding the fact that we became self-supporting because I was secretly functioning as the financial savior. I carried way too much of the financial burden. I was rarely honest about our monetary needs. I didn’t take the full benefits package the church offered me. I rarely turned in my reimbursements. And I did it for respect.

As pastors, we can often trade love for respect. We are afraid people won’t love our true selves, so we keep going, wearing ourselves out doing more than we are made to do to sustain the image of a successful pastor. We quietly say to ourselves, “I can’t stop or the whole thing will fall apart.”

It is exhausting and lonely to keep up that image. Jesus is the one to build his church, rest in being just one piece of his work in the world.

How to Be More Ordinary

Three things help us find the courage to be ordinary: vulnerability, suffering, and prayer.

Vulnerability is necessary to be ordinary because it embraces the limits of being human. You will not meet everyone’s expectation. You don’t have all the gifts the church needs. You need help.

For me, it meant letting my elders know that the church wasn’t really self-supporting, and we couldn’t afford all the ministry we were doing. I know admitting that kind of need sounds simple and silly; for me, it was nearly impossible. I felt exposed and ashamed. I admitted a competency failure, which can be harder to admit than a character failure.

In terms of suffering, it means whatever gain you have, you count as loss for the sake of Christ. You suffer the loss of all things in order to gain Jesus. You admit your limitations and put your resume and reputation at risk.

And finally, as you embrace your limitations, you will cry out to God in “Jesus only” prayers. My pastor, Geoff Bradford, introduced me to the idea of “Jesus only” prayers. A couple of years ago, he started making a list of things he longed to happen that only Jesus could make happen. And he started to pray for those things every day. I hear the massive problems and start looking for quick fixes. He keeps praying Jesus only prayers, and therefore often getting Jesus only answers.

Comfort with Obscurity

A number of years ago, I was at a conference where a friend was speaking. I spent a lot of time with him during a tough season in his ministry. He’s told me he wouldn’t still be pastoring without my help. But nobody knows that. As he started his talk with a litany of thanksgiving I thought, “It would be nice if he thanked me, too.” But he didn’t. I didn’t even get a head nod. I was surprised at how much it bothered me. I had done valuable ministry and I wanted others to know about it.

I remembered a question my friend Paul Miller encouraged me to ask in the midst of struggle and suffering: “How is Jesus inviting you to share in his story?” My mind went to last verse in John: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Jesus did a lot of ministry in obscurity. If everything he did got tweeted, it would break Twitter

Most ministry is rightly done in obscurity. My best stories are those that few will ever know. As hard as that is, I think that’s very appropriate. For in those cases, my Father sees, understands, appreciates, and affirms. And that’s enough. One day God will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), and give me the “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Sometimes he gives me a foretaste of that through the affirmation and praise from others, but most of my ministry will be in obscurity.

The cannon is closed. Scripture is sufficient. Our stories don’t need to be recorded for eternity. Maybe a future church historian will use our ministry as a topic for his dissertation. Most of us will — to borrow a phrase — preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.

How to Be Obscure in the Right Way

Jesus increases; we decrease. His work is seen; ours is obscured. We need to fight to be comfortable with that. Again, vulnerability, suffering, and prayer can help.

Vulnerability will come as you lose public reputation in order to gain personal integrity. You will preach ordinary sermons. There will be good ministry you do that you can’t talk about or that won’t make a fundraising pitch. You are working with people; their stories of deliverance are theirs to share, not yours to glory in.

Suffering often comes in the form of contempt you feel from those who seem to get what you want — the church, the family, the lifestyle, the recognition — but do it in a way that seems to have little regard for God and his laws. Maybe they are other pastors. Maybe they are your pagan neighbors. Their lives seem better compared to yours.

I think that’s why Paul encouraged Timothy to do ministry a different way, even if it seemed like he wasn’t as successful as others in Ephesus who experienced success in ministry without a care for God or his word (see 1 Timothy 6:3–11). As we labor in relative obscurity, we pray that God would be pleased with our work and cause much eternal fruit to grow.

The Quiet Man of God

The courage to be ordinary and obscure can leave you in a place of quietness and peace. That’s important because we need to steward our soul long before we try to steward our ministry or influence. As Francis Schaeffer wrote, “The Christian leader should be a quiet man of God who is extruded by God’s grace into some place of leadership.”

Extruded is a good word. It means to be forced, like kids push Play-Doh through a die to get it into the shape they desire. This extrusion is, like all good things in our life, a gift of grace. Calm and quite your soul (Psalm 131:2). Let God force you into the ministry he knows you can sustain.

Please Pay Attention To Me

Much of human behavior can be explained by how we try to gain attention.

Do you think the following statements are true or not?

Please give your opinion.

“Most workaholics don’t work for work’s sake. They are trying to be seen.”

“Most perfectionists don’t truly care about perfection. They believe perfection might make them worth people’s attention.”

“Most comedians aren’t that happy. They’ve simply learned that making other people laugh draws the attention of others.”

“All of us are begging for others to “watch me.” It’s not a sign of immaturity. It’s a basic confession of human nature. We need to be seen by others.”

The Antidote to Hypocrisy by Thom Schultz

 

After Alan mentioned he was a Christian, everyone around him clammed up and distanced themselves from him. They automatically assumed 
Alan possessed several unpleasant characteristics.

Justified or not, the public today holds a number of negative impressions of Christians. One of the most frequently mentioned complaints: “Christians are hypocrites.” I know, I know. This seems like a really lame charge. And we’ve become quick to push it back. For example, circulating
on Facebook this week: “Griping that churches are filled with hypocrites
is like griping that gyms are filled with out-of-shape people.” Touché, I guess.

But biting back doesn’t seem to be blunting the negative opinions. This is due, in part, to a misunderstanding of what people really mean when they say “hypocrite.” We commonly assume they’re defining hypocrisy as saying one thing and doing another. But today the allegation is more nuanced. What they’re really saying is, “You act as if you have all the answers, like you’re a superior know-it-all.”

When our neighbors hold these beliefs, making clever comebacks only pushes them further away. If we really want to reflect the love of Christ, we’ll need to be more proactive.

In our new book, Why Nobody Wants to Be Around Christians Anymore, we advocate “4 acts of love” to help reverse Christians’ unbecoming reputation. One of them applies directly to this charge of hypocrisy. We call it Genuine Humility. It’s the antidote to hypocrisy.

WHAT GENUINE HUMILITY IS NOT

Humility is not being insecure in who you are.
Humility is not belittling yourself in hopes of receiving little nuggets of hollow praise.
Humility is not saying “I’m so humbled” after being recognized for achievement.
WHAT GENUINE HUMILITY IS

Humility is admitting one’s own sins and flaws.
Humility is open to learning from others with different views.
Humility is communicating a sense of “we’re all in this together.”
Genuine Humility acknowledges that we’re all on this journey of life. None of us has all the answers. When we show we’re eager and open to grow, we invite others on this God-journey.

What does Genuine Humility look like in everyday life? Here are some practical ways to demonstrate love through Genuine Humility:

Model vulnerability. Share your own struggles and shortcomings.

Share your questions. Be honest. Your willingness to voice your questions about life and God welcomes others into the dialog.

Control your appetite to be right. Refrain from using proof texts as weapons.

Squelch the pride. Escape the spotlight. Remove your name from the marquee. Refrain from building your “brand.” Be last, the servant of all.

The world is repelled by hypocrites on pedestals. But the world is drawn to real people who ooze Jesus-inspired Genuine Humility.

Generosity From a Different Viewpoint

When a pastor begins to speak on generosity to his congregation,  many different feelings from whom he is speaking are brought up. Some accepting, some indifferent, some rejecting.

The difference between hears is complex, to say the least, with a wide variety of attitudes factored in the process of generosity. Notice I said “process.” Generosity is rarely a natural product of our fallen nature. Sure, I’m generous with the things I want…but what about what others may need, or what helps others. Generosity is generated by varying factors in a persons life.

Some may view a churches proclamation of “generosity” as a ploy to get more money and let’s be realistic, some are only really concerned with “the bottom line,” so to speak. Other churches are genuinely concerned with nurturing the spiritual process in the lives of their member of a dimension of giving which is supernatural.

With that said, please read the following article by Barna Research. It will speak volumes about generosity and hopefully liberate some from the shackles of stinginess to the freedom of giving.

https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-parishioners-differ-generosity/?utm_source=Barna+Update+List&utm_campaign=0954f296db-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_08_08&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8560a0e52e-0954f296db-172196777&mc_cid=0954f296db&mc_eid=b77b76614d

Why The Search For A Church That Meets Your Needs Is Futile By Carey Nieuwhof January 5, 2017

Any church leader who’s been in ministry for more than a few months has heard different variations of it:

I’m looking for a church that meets my needs.

What are you going to do to better meet my needs?

I’m leaving this church to find one that better suits my needs. 

The longer a Christian has been in church, the more likely it is that they’ve uttered a phrase or two like this from time to time.

I’m not against changing churches. I think everyone has one or maybe two church changes in them. Leaders change. The effectiveness of churches can vary in different seasons. And occasionally a church is downright toxic. I get that.

One or two church changes (when living in the same community) is understandable. And it’s completely different from serial church shopping, which for reasons I outline in this post, is a colossally bad phenomenon.

The problem is deeper, though, than changing churches (as big a decision as that is). It’s about the purpose of the quest. Should the criteria of a church meeting your needs be the reason you change churches? Well, what if the church was never intended to meet your needs? What if the furthest thing from God’s mind when he created the church was to meet your needs?

Here are 5 reasons why I believe trying to find a church that meets your needs is futile.

  1. A Church That Meets All Your Needs Is Probably Off-Mission

If a church ever meets all your needs as a Christian, it’s probably off-mission. Because the church was never designed to meet all your needs. It was designed for glorifying God and showing his love to the world.

A church that is only about meeting your needs is a church that’s focused on insiders while the world is quite literally going to hell.

The attitude that the church exists to meet the needs of members is one more remnant of consumer-Christianity, which is a strand of Western Christianity that continues to die. I outline why here (along with 5 other church trends to watch in 2017).

  1. You’ll Uproot All Your Non-Christian Friends

If you’re drifting from church to church to satisfy your needs, what happens to all the non-Christian friends you’re building into? Oh wait… that almost never comes up in conversations with Christians who demand their needs be met. Because they usually have zero non-Christian friends. Their idea of church isn’t about the mission. It’s about them.

Think about it. If you’re living out your faith and sincerely praying for friends who aren’t in a relationship with Christ, theoretically there are at least a handful of non-Christians who will be impacted by your move.

But usually, that’s not even on the radar screen of Christians who move to satisfy their needs. Because there are zero non-Christians involved.

  1. Christianity Was Never About Satisfying Yourself

The heart of the Christian faith isn’t about satisfying yourself, it’s about dying to yourself. If Christians stopped indulging their preferences and starting focusing on Christ and on helping others, the church would be so much healthier.

It’s strange, but the happiest and healthiest people aren’t those who are focused on meeting their own needs. As this Harvard Business School study shows, there is a demonstrated correlation between giving away time and money and experiencing a feeling of happiness.

Perhaps it’s because that’s exactly how God designed us. Because when we give, we get.

  1. Your “Needs “Aren’t Usually Needs

To be fair, we all have a few basic needs. A church should be biblically faithful. It should be reasonably healthy. And it should focus on the true mission of the church, which is to make disciples (not just be disciples but make disciples, which means reaching out).

When someone says that a church doesn’t meet their needs, what they usually mean is a church doesn’t suit their preferences.

When you drill down, ‘needs’ often means:

Is this my kind of music?

Did the people notice me?

Do I like this place?

A lot of Christians these days ask, “Did I like it?” And the moment they don’t, they’re done. When no church meets your needs, maybe you should check your ‘needs.’

If you really boil it down, because of the rise of consumer Christianity, too many church members think their mission is to criticize. A church member’s mission isn’t to criticize. It’s to contribute. Criticizing has never been the Gospel. And that’s never the best contribution we can make.

  1. Your Needs Are Never Satisfied

Needs are like appetites. They grow when you feed them. You probably already know this, but if you’re always trying to satisfy your needs, you’ll never be satisfied.

We all roll our eyes at the guy who ‘needs’ a new car, or a new computer, or a vacation, or a new phone when he pretty much has the latest (okay…confession…I can be that guy when it comes to tech….).

The truth? Those aren’t needs. But that’s the problem with what we call needs. They’re never completely satisfied.

So What Should You Do?

So what should you do if you feel your current church doesn’t ‘meet your needs’? Maybe the best thing you can do is focus on the mission God has given you. Which happens to look an awful lot like the mission God gave all of us: to love the world for which he died.

Chances are there’s a pastor who loves that mission, and maybe some other Christians in your church who are committed to that mission too.

And if you give your life to it, you’ll discover your needs don’t matter nearly as much as they once did. In fact, you might even find them satisfied.

If you take your eyes off what you want and begin to see what other people truly need, it will change how you live.

What Can We Then Do?

As a follow-up to my last article…let’s try to answer the question; “What can we do when people reject the truth and those who teach Truth because character doesn’t align with the Truth taught?”

When people inside the church can be cruel (a terrible thing, but it happens) those who experience these ungodly attitudes, become wounded and can’t move past the hurt.

Yes, we are human and have many flaws. One of these major flaws is when Truth doesn’t match our profession of Truth.

Let’s get real; we make mistakes, people mess up because they are messed up! Our mistakes may be public—or at least our mistakes are known by others—and the place where grace should take place doesn’t. Why? Those who teach Truth are supposed to be transformed by it. When Transformation doesn’t accompany our profession, those who see it may refuse what we have to say.

Let’s take a look at Paul’s instruction Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:12; “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”(NASB)

It is a fight to continually live Truth out in our lives. The conflict between our flesh (the old nature i.e. sanctification) and how we ought to live, continues until the flesh dies. When our character doesn’t equate perception than reality, but the way a person feels about themselves may determine whether they remain committed to living in Truth.

I believe that in certain areas of our lives, we live by perception rather than reality. The way a person feels about themselves (subjective truth vs. objective truth) may determine whether they remain committed to living in Truth.

This is what derails others when they see the dichotomy, the contradiction between Truth and reality.

My next post will address the offense of contradiction.

 

Truth Rejected Because of Character

Have you ever heard of someone (maybe you) was hurt, disappointed by leaders or the church. Why? It may be because Truth and character (behavior) didn’t match, the truth preached or taught didn’t align itself, not modeled by those who professed the truth.

Those that were on the receiving end of these actions, rather than separate disappointment or hurtful behavior from Truth, mix both into one big bag,

Truth was rejected along with those whose lives didn’t representative the Truth. This rejection by those who saw the divide, brought disappointment with all those associated, dismissing the Truth.

Some are so hurt they rejected the God of Truth, becoming agnostic or atheistic, hostile to God and his representatives.

To Summarize: Lack of (or bad) character can sabotage your efforts to present the truth.

Rejection of the truth and those who are its advocates results from character not aligning with the Truth.