It was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Over two days, I would be attending four plenary sessions with one of the leading, national influences of Christian thought. He was a professor, prolific writer (over a dozen books), and sought-after speaker who attracted large crowds wherever he spoke. It would be fair to say he was a movement unto his own.
As many people did, I lined up during break time. I wanted to speak to him, to shake his hand, and to ask a question. I’m sure he would have liked to take a break, himself, but he indulged every one of us. Finally, it was my turn.
I basically said, “When I was young, and a new Christian, faith was easy. No worries. No doubts. But now that I’m older, more mature, educated, and ordained—it just doesn’t seem easy at all. Can you tell me why?”
He responded, “That’s a great question. I want you to ask me in the larger group, because I want everyone to hear my answer.”
To be told I had a GREAT question by such a scholar stroked my ego just a little! So, I waited for the right time, and I reproduced my question in front of the whole group.
The response, as I recall, went something like this: “I’m afraid you just aren’t spending enough time with the Lord. If we continue to grow in Christ, praying and reading scripture and meditating on what the Lord is saying, there should come a time in our life where living for the Lord is spontaneous and natural.”
After that, I didn’t wonder IF I turned red, but HOW RED I must have turned. But you know what? He was right, wasn’t he? I had heard from my mentors that in ministry we sometimes “spend so much time working for the King that we forget to spend time with the King.” Ministry burn out, dropping personal quiet times for sermon preparation time (they aren’t the same), and spiritual dry spells are all common issues with ministers.
We need a preventative plan to counter these issues. Do you have a spiritual discipline that maintains a healthy, continual walk with the Lord?
Now, I could stop here, making this my only focal point, but something else happened. When the session was over, I immediately felt a hand on my elbow. It belonged to a stranger. He spoke in a low voice. “I’m glad I didn’t ask that question.” So, yes, others must have felt my embarrassment. But he went on. “But I’m so glad you did.” In just a few words, he affirmed that I took a hit in asking my question, but he also was asking the question and affirmed that he needed to hear the answer.
As I think about that day, I’ve come to understand that it represents the strange doppelgangers of the Christian life. Christian living, and ministry, are a two-sided coin. On the one side is the need for a spiritual walk that draws us deeper into the things of Christ, and on the other side is the recognition that we fail and fall, sometimes miserably, even when we’re supposed to be a role model—and that’s when we simply need grace.
As you think about your ministry to others, do you tend to focus on one and forget the other? Your congregation needs both. Frankly, I suspect they need more of one of these, than the other. And I suspect that’s true for you, too. I know it’s true for me.