I can depend on it like the rain in Seattle: that evaluative question that will predictably be asked in the first five minutes of any introductory conversation with another pastor: “How many are in your church?” Though the phraseology may vary – “what’s your Sunday morning attendance,” or, “what are you running now?” – the inquiry is a subtle (maybe not so subtle) method of classification. My new pastoral colleague simply wants to know how he should place me in his hierarchy of “important pastors, kinda-important pastors, common ordinary pastors, or those no-consequence, unimportant pastors.”
While most pastors would find it difficult to admit, we often evaluate our success or lack of success through the emotional responses to those impromptu ministry reviews. Often unaware of the toxic effects of those “hinderances and entanglements,” we hear ourselves swell the numbers of our attendance (“rounding-off to the nearest 1000”) in an effort to posture ourselves among the “important pastors.”
We have played the game… the enemy’s game, designed to trap us into seeing our ministry and ministry calling through the filters of one criterion: the numbers. Caught in the sinister entanglement of a numbers myopia, it’s easy to allow our faith, our confidence… indeed the very language we use to speak of ministry and ministry calling to be scaled to the size of a morning worship service. We allow ourselves to be defined by a statistic.
But, the identity, faith, and confidence of any authentic man or woman of God can never be reduced to any arbitrary measurement. It is a sacred, holy calling free from the competitive posturing that fuels our insecurities and promotes our odious pride.
Consider John the Baptist – a life most of us know very well – and how the language he chose to speak of his ministry and calling reflects the content of his heart.
John the Baptist | John 3:30
There was something very special about John the Baptist. Unusual, different, clearly a recluse. Yet, like the Old Testament prophets before him, he was passionately focused on delivering the Word of the Lord: a calling that had set him apart even while he was in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth. It would be this last Old Testament prophet who would announce the arrival of Jesus with the words: “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.” And, it would be John, Jesus’ cousin, who would baptize this one and only Lamb of God in the Jordan. He would hear the voice from heaven: the validating word of the Father: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”
Wow. I can’t think of anyone in contemporary history whose pedigree and ministry experiences could come close to that of John the Baptist. He was clearly an icon.
How easy it would have been for John to develop a subtle arrogance; a belief that because of his supernatural birth, his extraordinary call and ministry experiences, God simply could not fulfill His divine purposes without him. It would be a natural conclusion.
It’s easy, isn’t it? All it takes is a few large crowds, some over-complimentary emails, and the expressions of praise from those we serve and… boom, we’re there: soaking in a feigned humility while all the time believing God simply can’t get it done without me.
The pressure point for John came when Jesus’ disciples began baptizing. Baptizing? Really? That’s clearly the calling, the anointing… indeed the undisputed ministry of John the Baptist. He was “John the Baptist,” after all. There is clearly something wrong. Something doesn’t feel right.
The third chapter of John records an account of John’s disciples sharing the news with John that he has competition; that he, in fact, was not the only baptizer in the region. I don’t know what response they expected from John the Baptist, but his answer – the language he chose to use – reflected his heart, his understanding of his place in history, and the often hard reality that there are seasons in ministry. In seven words, John expressed what he knew deep in his soul: he was not the Christ.
John’s seven words should shape the language of every prayer with pray for every ministry opportunity: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 NKJV).
The last few weeks, we’ve looked at the language of calling found in the ministries of Moses, Jeremiah and John the Baptist. Now it’s time to consider our own… what language do you use to express what you think and how you feel about your ministry and your ministry calling?