In the first article in this series, we talked about ever-present threats to our personal development and ministry as Executive Pastors. We discovered that quite possibly the biggest hindrance to our success as XP’s, as God defines it, could be ourselves.
Specifically, we learned that God is infinitely more interested in our “being” than He ever is in our doing. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2—unless otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from the NKJV). This is a difficult lesson for most Executive Pastors to learn because our entire ministry is based upon the idea of evaluation and alignment. We are constantly working at what works and what doesn’t. However, we realized that it is God who empowers us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered…” (John 15:5-6). We saw that He doesn’t want us to “live” the Christian life—rather, He just wants us.
Then, in part 2 of the series, we discussed our motivations for doing what we do. We discovered what God has to say about what our true motivation should be and how that motivation is lived out in our lives. We learned that Jesus taught that to be truly great in the kingdom of God requires us to be a servant and that the motivation for this voluntary enslavement is to be our love for others.
What is the proper response to failure—ours or someone else’s? What should our response be when others let us down or we ourselves fail? What do we do about lost credibility and how do we regain trust? And just as important, how do we again trust those who have let us down?
During the time that I lived in South Florida I never had to worry if my grass would grow or not. As a result, I was probably mowing our yard 48 weeks a year on average. I know that this will seem like an exaggeration to some of you, but for most of the year our grass grew about 2½ inches—maybe as much as 3 inches—during the week after it was mown. Then I moved to the south side of Atlanta. The land of the drought and cool, if not cold, winters. Grass doesn’t seem to grow the same here. In fact, I have had to learn all kinds of things about my lawn that I never knew. Things like aerating and reseeding. I am sure that most of you know about reseeding already but please indulge this relative newcomer. Reseeding is required to keep lawns full. It’s not that the nutrients aren’t present in the soil for grass to grow. It’s not even that the grass doesn’t sprig properly or go to seed itself. It’s just that sometimes the yard needs a little help for it to be its best. This statement is not too far off for us either. Sometimes people’s spirits need to be replanted too! The truth from the Word of God and our application of it in real life can be like high-octane fertilizer for a person’s soul. Let’s take a few moments and take a look at why people sometimes need to be reseeded and how to go about doing it when it is necessary.
To examine this aspect of our ministry as XP’s, we first need to look at our responses and the causes behind our reactions. Then we can examine WDJD or What Did Jesus Do?
There really are three kinds of hurt that we can experience that might cause a person’s soul to need reseeding.
There is the kind that others inflict on us. Let’s face it—people are people. We learned before that not everyone’s motivations are always altruistic. Sometimes, thankfully not always, people just intend to do us harm. Other times people don’t mean to hurt us but it happens anyway. That Deacon really wasn’t questioning your ability to lead in a certain area. It just came out that way. Still other times things are innocently said or done that when viewed through our perception lens become skewed. Then there is just plain old misunderstanding. It doesn’t matter that nobody intended harm—it still hurts.
Secondly, there is the hurt we inflict on others and ourselves. Anger over some perceived misdeed or statement, guilting people into doing what we want, treating them with disrespect or without any concern for their well-being as individuals. Emotional disconnection as punishment, not granting forgiveness even when asked and the right thing to do, beating ourselves up over some failure of some kind, even possibly holding onto this guilt and shame for years after the fact and long after the aggrieved party has forgiven and moved on.
Finally there is the hurt that others experience. This kind of hurt has nothing to do with you personally other than you can sympathize or empathize with them and offer encouragement.
However, our responses to these different kinds of hurt can be very telling with regards to our position in Christ.
When we’re hurt, the natural tendency is to lash out somehow. It could be in the form of anger, harsh words, bitterness, degrading speech, silence, emotional and/or physical withdrawal, hate, and deceitful behavior among other things. Scripture warns against responding like this. In Leviticus 19:18, we find the commandment most often quoted in the New Testament, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself …”
In 1 Thessalonians 5:15, we are told, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” The Greek poet, Homer, is quoted as saying of revenge:“It tastes so sweet, we swirl it around on our tongues and let it drip like honey down our chins.” Lashing out or reacting back is certainly a natural reaction for us when we are hurt. However, Jesus did not call us to act naturally. He was counter-cultural in His approach to those who hurt and offended Him.
Jesus was able to do this because He was secure in His position with God the Father. In Luke 22:24-30, we see the familiar story of the Last Supper. “Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
There are several things we can glean from this passage that should help us as we make our way through life in ministry. First, notice that Jesus speaks as a man under authority. He references His Father as the One who has bestowed or conferred upon Him His kingdom. In addition, He is making the not-so-subtle point that it is He who holds the power because His Father has granted it to Him. He is secure in His position because He understands where His authority originates.
Next we see that the application of this same power is counter-cultural to what the disciples knew or expected. He uses a negative example from the pagan contemporary culture to explain how they should not behave. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you…” (Luke 22:24). He was not being kind when He used this language. The term translated as “benefactors” here was a title utilized by rulers throughout Syria and Egypt. The idea was to portray themselves as guardians of the people. However, the term had a negative connotation to it because so many of the rulers of the time were actually oppressive tormentors of the people instead of their champion. Jesus is telling them quite plainly “Don’t you be like this!” The final thing we take away from this passage is that just as Jesus had His kingdom conferred or bestowed upon Him, so He holds the power to bestow position and power Himself as He sees fit. The disciples could argue all they wanted to. It was really Jesus’ decision and privilege to confer His power to them. Without Him they didn’t have any power or position or any hope of it.
This same thought is true for us as well! It is still Jesus who causes kingdoms and rulers to rise and fall. It is still He who informs us that He is the vine and we are mere branches. Without being attached to Him, we wither and die and are cast out to be consumed as kindling. We are not to use our position and power to lord it over those we serve and serve alongside. Your position as an Executive Pastor in your church is because Jesus called you and conferred it upon you, NOT because you made straight A’s in seminary, or are incredibly talented and organized. These things are necessary and even good, but remember before you begin to think that you somehow deserve what you have attained “… God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the mighty…” (1 Cor. 1:27). Please hear me correctly. I am not saying that you should not work hard, nor that any of you are not imminently qualified for the positions you hold; I am simply stating that we need to remember the real source of our success and glorify Him accordingly.
Another reason that we should avoid our natural tendency to lash out when we are hurt is that we need to remember that we have been forgiven of far more offenses by our Heavenly Father than anyone could ever possibly offend us. We are certainly a people in need of a savior. If we turn back to the Old Testament to Ecclesiastes 7:20 we read, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” James 2:10 tells us, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” And finally in Luke 1:46-47 we hear Mary, the Mother of Jesus proclaim, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior.” Yes, even the earthly mother of our Lord knew that she needed a savior. It sounds to me like none of us really has any room to complain when we are offended.
The next point about failure is that sometimes it is divinely appointed or allowed. If we pick up the story from earlier in Luke 22, we see an interesting development. Beginning in verse 31, “And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen the brethren.”The next recorded words spoken are from the apostle Peter. He declares that he is ready to follow Jesus whatever may come, prison or even death. His words carry such weight that the gospel of Mark records that after Peter spoke these words the others joined in agreement as well. The truly interesting thing is that here we have Jesus; God in the flesh, standing in a room with His disciples knowing full well what is about to happen with and to them. God who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient knows that Peter will deny Him three times before the morning sunrise. If God is truly all these things, surely He knows Peter’s heart and passion! Yet, here we have a scene playing out where God does not intervene. At least not as we think He ought to have. Couldn’t God have spared Peter this trial, this utter embarrassment, this failure in his life? Instead Jesus replies, “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail.” Jesus certainly knows what will happen with Peter after the night’s three denials, nevertheless He allows the drama to play out to its final scene. From reading the account we all know that Peter did indeed deny Jesus three times that night. From further study we see that this failure had such a profound impact on him that he left the disciples and went back to being a fisherman. He did run with the apostle John to the empty tomb following the report of Mary Magdelene. We see that Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths and handkerchief lying there; in contrast, when John entered the tomb, he saw the same cloths and believed! No such statement of belief is attributed to Peter. After this the Scripture tells us that they went away to their own homes. Did you catch that? Peter was not even found with the other disciples just a few days later. Peter was devastated by his failure. This is why we read in Mark 16:7, “But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you into Galiliee …”
Why would Jesus allow this to happen? The simple answer takes us back to our earlier two discussions—God is infinitely more concerned with our “being” than with our doing. God knew, Jesus knew, that Peter had to endure this trial in order to become what he needed to become, in order to later do what he needed to do. If we turn to the discourse in the Gospel of John where Jesus is appearing to the disciples, we see that Jesus is speaking to Peter. Three times He asks him if he loves Him supremely. Peter responds that he loves Him but with a word that does not infer total devotion. The Peter we know from earlier times probably would have been so brash as to respond affirmatively. However, the Peter we see here has been broken. His confidence is not what it was. He has failed Christ, miserably and publicly. On the third time Jesus then uses the word Peter has been using as if to say “Peter, do you even love me only this much?” Jesus definitely knew that what Peter was going to do was going to require total devotion to Him. If Peter had not undergone this prolonged trial in his life, the likelihood is that he never would have developed the character traits necessary to lead the fledgling church through all of its trials and tribulations during those first tenuous years. If you don’t think that this was an incredible accomplishment, take some time and read through early church history. Cultural wars between the Jews and Gentiles, persecution, false teachers, imprisonment, and death all were daily occurrences during the formative years of the early church. God knew that Peter had to “become” what He needed him to become in order for him to do what He needed him to do.
The point for us in this illustration is that God may be shaping others around you, or even you, through their and/or your failures, just as He shaped Peter. Our response should be to see that God is glorified in the process of this shaping, not that the person who has failed is vilified. Jesus reseeded Peter’s life just as He wants to reseed ours.
This then begs the question how do we get past this offense? Well, the good news is that there are some practical steps we can take that will help us.
First, recognize that forgiveness is not forgetting. Ephesians 4:32 encourages us, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is also not instant restoration of our trust. However, we can begin to see the offending party just as human as Peter was. We can let go of our right to revenge. Romans 12:19 implores us, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” This tells us to let it be and let God handle it. We can also admit our own need of forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The next thing we can do is recognize our need of God’s help in forgiving. For some reason we seem to think so much higher of our own ability to grant forgiveness than is actually true. Going back to the apostle Peter, we remember him asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone; “seven times?” he inquired. Jesus’ reply was earth-shattering to the apostles. Peter thought he was doing well to offer seven pardons for an offense. Jesus tells him that that is not nearly enough—seventy times seven is more like it. Jesus is asking the impossible! If we are truly honest with ourselves, the seven times Peter offered is probably impossible for most of us—every time! How then can we forgive someone 490 times? The answer is, we can’t. Jesus is giving us an impossible command in order to drive us to Him. 1 John 5:14-15 tells us that “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” We just saw that Jesus wants us to forgive; now we’ve just learned that we can ask Him for His help in doing so and He will!
Finally, “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…” (Matt. 5:44-45).
C.S. Lewis has a great quote that is appropriate here: “Don’t waste your time bothering whether you love your neighbor; act as if you did.” When we’re busy acting like we love someone it’s amazing how quickly it can become true!