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 Gospel Is…

“Now this is eternal life:” Jesus prayed, “that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3.

The Gospel is not a body of knowledge about who God is and what God has done. The Gospel is actually knowing God.

The Gospel isn’t just about God’s love, it is all about God is Love.

This is why the Gospel isn’t about a kind Christianity that’s reduced to knowing about God. We must go on to knowing God in an intimate way, not from our perspective but from God’s perspective.

It’s about knowing God (the Gospel) not from our framework because then we reduce God to our image, and the Gospel to our concept of love. This is the natural tendency of humanity, to reduce everything to our level of understanding…our comprehension. Right or wrong that is what we do.

This answers the question of our many religions, denominations, opinions. We have strayed away from the understanding of the “Gospel.”

Let us purge our hearts of any man-made idols of understanding and take up the perspective of the Almighty and see from the holy (unpolluted) perspective of God Himself, the prism of the Gospel.

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.

How to get more from a sermon; Posted on July 16, 2014 by Joe Mckeever

“And there was a certain young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead” (Acts 20:9).

Principle number one: Stay awake.

Okay, that’s all I have to say about Eutychus. But we can use him as a poster child for people who get very little or nothing from a sermon, agreed?

If you live a long time and go to church regularly, you will hear thousands of sermons. It seems therefore that at least one message should be devoted to the subject of how to get the most out of them.

Let’s let this be the one.

Tagamet and Pepcid A/C, Prilosec and Omeprazole, are popular acid blockers. Take one before eating a pizza or other spicy foods in order to avoid heartburn. The pills shut down the flow of stomach acid. This is all right once in a while, yet it’s not recommended regularly for the simple reason that the digestive system counts on bile (stomach acid) to help in the digestion. A few years back, doctors put me on a seven-day regimen of pills designed to destroy the H. Pylori bacteria in my stomach. Two of the pills were antibiotics and the other shut off the flow of acid into my digestive system. For one solid week, in order to heal my system, I was not getting full value from my food.

Let’s talk about people who do not get full value from the sermons they hear.

These people may be taking SERMON-BLOCKERS. When the pastor gets up to preach, they….

–nitpick him. They listen for grammatical errors or doctrinal lapses. They check out his clothing, his haircut, and mannerisms. They look to make sure his wife is in her place and their children are behaving.

–plan the week ahead. They take out their iPad or a piece of scrap paper and make notes on people they need to see, projects needing their attention.

–shift into neutral and become passive. Granted, that’s better than throwing it into reverse and becoming hostile. (I had that happen once in a prison. The inmates clapped and stomped their feet in order to drown out my sermon.)

–send their mind off on a mini-vacation. I once watched a movie in the dentist’s office as he performed a root canal in my mouth. I was almost unaware of what he was doing. There are people who wish they could do that in church.

–listen with their ears but not their hearts. As Dennis the Menace once told his mother, “I hear you but I’m not listening!” When church is over, they can’t even tell you what the sermon was about.

–do not bring faith to what they are hearing. Hebrews 4:2 speaks of this phenomenon. “The word they heard did not profit them because it was not united by faith in those who heard.”

These people may hear thousands of sermons, but they do not benefit from them because they are resisting them, not listening to them, and not believing them. Such people are literally wasting their time by coming to church.

Three “pre-suggestions” on how to make the most of the sermons you will be hearing….

1) Get saved. After all, “the natural man does not receive spiritual things; neither can he discern them as they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). You want to have a heart receptive to the things of the Lord.

2) Plan in advance. Get enough sleep the night before, then rise early. Have a quiet Sunday morning. Bring your Bible to church. Take notes. Sit where there are fewest distractions.

3) Pray for the pastor throughout the week while he’s doing the work of a shepherd and preparing the sermon. Ask the Lord to anoint his ministry, to encourage his spirit, and to show him wonderful riches from His word.

If you have prayed for him faithfully during the week, I can guarantee that you will approach the Sunday service with more eagerness and higher expectations. (Caution: Always put those expectations on the Lord, not on the man. The Lord is your Shepherd, and He will give you what He wants you to have. I have had members tell me they prayed for my preaching, but then reject everything I said from the pulpit.)

Three instructions from God’s Word for those who listen to sermons….

First: Listen actively and expectantly for the voice of the Lord.

“When you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” (I Thessalonians 2:13)

When you hear a sermon, listen for the Lord. If you are in a Christ-honoring church, sitting before a Godly minister preaching from the Book, you will be hearing from the Holy Spirit. Accept this as from Him.

Second: Look up the scriptures cited and study them.

“Now these (Bereans) were more noble-minded than those who were in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

If you don’t have time in the worship service to look up references the pastor is giving, write them down and find them later. Then, if you are puzzled about the pastor’s interpretation of a verse, call him. Maybe you misunderstood him or are missing something in the Word. He will appreciate that you are taking this seriously, and the next time he’s in his study preparing a sermon, he will be reminded that some in the congregation are on their toes.

Third: Listen to the sermon for instructions from the Lord for you personally.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

Question: How do hearers of good sermons and lovers of great teaching deceive themselves? Answer: By convincing themselves that in hearing a teaching they have obeyed it.

Hearing and obeying are two separate things.

“Knowledge puffs up” (I Corinthians 8:1). That is to say, some people grow spiritually obese from gorging themselves on the rich food of spiritual banquets. They need to push away from the table and go to work.

Obeying the Word–that is, applying its message to my daily life–is the object. John 13:17 should be a major pillar in every believer’s life: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

The blessing of heaven was never promised to those who love the word or read it, who memorize it or teach it, who publish it or even proclaim it. Heaven’s blessings are upon those who obey the Word!

I can tell you for a fact that if you have no intention of obeying the message you are hearing, you will find great faults with it and get little good from it. The enemy of all that is good and the attacker of everything righteous will see to that. He loves to assist those looking for reasons not to obey the Lord.

Only the obedient receive.

“Trust and obey. There is no other way to be happy in Jesus.”

“For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

“If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15,21,23).

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock” (Matthew 7:24).