The call to confess…
The Apostle James instructs us in chapter 5 verse 16 of his epistle to “confess our sins one to another…that we may be healed”. 1st John chapter 1 verses 8–9 shows us that: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So, I wanted to take a few moments to share with you a few things that God has revealed to me over the past few, tough, trying weeks… things about myself and my ministry.
A Little Background…
Some of you may know this…but next month (March of 2019) marks the end of the third year and the beginning of the fourth year since the members of Gospel Community Church ordained me as their “Worship Pastor”… a weighty responsibility that I still often feel unqualified to carry. Over the past three years, I’ve seen the hand of God move in ways I have never seen before. He has graciously provided for us in each step we take. He has opened up doors and opportunities for us that we never thought would be possible. He has placed us with the right people, at the right place and at the perfect time. He has loved His church well, and continues to build it despite all of our failures and faults.
If you would have spent a few days with me over the past three years, you’d know that I have truly strived hard and put a great amount of effort into what I thought a good portion of the job of “pastoring” this church should look like. This includes:
- Hours of discussion and research as to how to grow a small, multi-cultural and multi-lingual church plant in a church-saturated community (where there is a church building within walking distance of anywhere you might find yourself).
- Countless hours of planning, phone calls, research, meetings, and physical labor regarding the purchasing and renovations of a new church building. (Because as you know the church NEEDS a place to gather and a springboard for missions and discipleship. More than that, a building brings a sense of “authentication” and “validity” to outsiders looking in who might then be more willing to grace the door of our church if we had our own building.)
- I’ve spent hours upon hours researching ways to improve the quality of music during our gathered worship services. I’ve researched and tested ways to improve the quality of our sound and have put an effort into branching out into different musical styles that may stretch people while foremost glorifying God. I’ve spent time on a number of failed attempts to draw various skilled musicians from around the area to our church; people who might possibly help us improve the musical aspects of our gathered service (again in an attempt to draw more people from the community into our church).
- I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over our church budget, our finances and in researching fundraising ideas that might help keep us financially afloat (all the while hoping that people from the community would see the great things God is doing in our church and decide to join us in our mission).
- I’ve spent time building strategic relationships with other churches and church leaders in and around our community; people we can hold hands with to reach people with the gospel.
- I’ve spent time attempting to streamline our communications, and keep everyone updated as to what has been happening at GCC (most especially those on the outside who might see just what God has been doing here and decide to join us in our mission).
- In-between these tasks, I’ve spent time counseling folks in various circumstances who are struggling in different areas of life. A portion of these folks come from within our church, but most have come from outside of our church (again, investing in those outside in hopes that such intentionality and attention would draw them into our church).
This list above is just a portion of what goes on throughout each week, not including planning our weekly services, connecting with our members, and planning/overseeing various other activities throughout the weeks. While I wholeheartedly believe that these tasks in and of themselves are not sinful actions or tasks, I am convicted as I read through it that there is a problem with my personal method of ministry.
Conviction & Confession…
The problem that I’ve noticed is the amount of effort I have been putting into these aforementioned things while overlooking a number of other more eternally important and biblical pastoral tasks.
The truth is, building a physical building for the church to gather is not sinful… it’s a noble task. Making certain our music, our liturgy, and the other various aspects of our gathered service are well-organized and well-executed is not sinful (because scripture shows us that God is a God of order). Financial Oversight is not a sinful action, nor is brainstorming ways for the church to remain financially stable. Communicating well in and of itself is not a sinful act.
However, I am convicted that these things should NOT take priority over fostering discipleship relationships and fostering spiritual growth within the church. I’m convicted that such tasks should NOT take priority over intentionally spending time with the members and visitors who make up the church, in an effort to grow their knowledge and understanding of their God and Savior; of sound doctrine and right theology. I’m convicted that these tasks should NOT take priority over protecting the church body from outsiders and from posers who are looking to divide the church, or before intentionally spending time building unity within the body and breaking down contention when it arises. I’m convicted that these tasks should NOT take priority over digging DEEP into God’s word with brothers and sisters; pointing the church to bask in the Glory of God and of His great love for us.
And finally, when I put greater priority on the tasks listed above with a portion of the motivation being to draw outsiders into the church… THAT is where I believe the sin resides. That is where my failure lies. At that point, I am more of a Marketing Director or an Event Planner than a Pastor and Shepherd of the fold of God. And that is why I need to confess before God and before YOU of my failure to shepherd well as scripture calls me to do.
God’s Grace in Reproof and Correction…
Although God’s act of rebuking me and correcting me is difficult to swallow and causes a tinge of grief over my failure, I will PRAISE HIM for it, as it is an act of grace and mercy to both me and the church. Hebrews 12:6 shows us this grace wherein it says: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. Yes, He LOVES me; He LOVES HIS CHURCH, and His loving reproof and correction will surely change us for the better.
And I should mention that God revealed these things to me through the death of a man who discipled me; though a great vacuum that opened up in my own heart when this man passed; by reflecting on the example he was to me and to a plethora of other pastors as to what a FAITHFUL pastor to God’s church looks like. This can be summed up in two short actions:
- A faithful pastor LOVES and “tends to” those that God has entrusted him with.
- And a faithful pastor FEEDS those in whom God has entrusted him with; growing them through discipleship.
If you look at John chapter 21, verses 15–17, you’ll see what Jesus wants pastoral ministry to look like:
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Repentance & Actions Moving Forward…
So…with all of this said, what does repentance look like here for me personally? Well, It’s pretty straightforward: I change my priorities and my efforts…I start walking a new way…
- Truth is, the members of my church are going to be seeing a lot more of me and hearing from me more often. (They may even get sick of me.)
- I’m going to be asking them difficult questions and starting deep conversations – intentionally pointing them to scripture for the answers.
- I’m going to prod our church members to dig into God’s Word; to spend time with others in the church… and intentionally create space in our church for the members to do those things together.
- I’m going to be in the lives of the church body more…in their homes more…tending to their spiritual health more and feeding them from God’s Word more…
And THESE things will take priority over church buildings, outside relationships, the quality of our music and how we look or are perceived to the outside world. And it’s because I LOVE the church, and because God has commanded me to be FAITHFUL to those he called me to shepherd.
Is This You?
And this leads me to ask you all a few important questions, so that you can discern whether you need to confess and repent today as to your PRIORITIES and MOTIVATIONS behind your membership and service to your church:
If you’re a Pastor, what do you focus on the most? What is you greatest priorities? Is is shepherding the fold that God has given you to under-shepherd? Or is it “growing” the church numerically?
If you are a church member or a devoted attendee, what is your motivation for your church membership; for your service to the church? What is your main PRIORITIES?
- Is it to KNOW God more and to help others know Him?
- Is it to grow in understanding of His CHARACTER and His great LOVE for you, and share this with others?
- Is it to become more like Jesus, and to encourage others in their walk to do the same?
- Is it to be obedient to God’s Word, which calls us to Gather together; to SERVE one another; to SHARPEN one another; to BUILD ONE ANOTHER UP…to LOVE one another…to go on mission together; to give of ourselves joyfully?
- Are you SEEKING or DOING these things?
Or is your church attendance/membership based on a number of other priorities or motivations?
- Maybe you attend/serve a church merely to socialize with your friends…
- Maybe your schedule is relatively open and have nothing else more exciting to do, so you attend and/or serve the church because it’s a “good” thing to do…
- Maybe attending a church is a habit or “ritual” that you grew up with; something you’ve just always done…
- Maybe you think that if you attend a church; if you serve a church, or if you go through the process of becoming a member of a church, that God will be more merciful to you when your time of death comes…
- Maybe your connection to the church is merely to receive some perceived physical benefit that you think it could provide you with (financial, emotional, physical support)…
Maybe, like me, you need to confess today of some improper motives or some mis-managed priorities. Maybe you need to ask God to give you a heart that LONGS to know Him; that longs to be united with like-minded individuals who will point you to be more christ-like.
And if you do confess and repent like I am doing herein, rest assured that the verse I shared at the beginning of this article is true (1st John 1:8-9): “…if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”