This past Sunday i was ordained as a minster of word and sacrament in the PCUSA and my dad, Rodger Woodworth gave me my charge and I share it with you:
Thousands of pastors are leaving the ministry each year and 80% of pastor’s wives wish their husbands were doing something else. Discouragement and despair come with the call. Even John the Baptist experienced this. Read Luke 7:18-23
From prison John sends a message to Jesus – are you the one or should we be looking for someone else. While this is surprising from the one who said of Jesus behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and I am not even worthy to carry his sandals – there will come a time (if not already) when from the prison of disappointment and despair you will cry out and ask Jesus are you the one or should I look elsewhere.
Understand John’s pain – pointed thousands to Jesus – given his life to that mission – willing to decrease so Jesus could increase so why the disappointment? He hears from his disciples – Jesus was giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, raising the dead and preaching to the poor (note – right next to giving life to the dead is giving the living a way to live). What bothered John was what Jesus was not doing. He was not fulfilling Johns’ expectations.
Disappointment comes when Jesus doesn’t fill our theological expectations – when he doesn’t act in a way we think God should act (or the way seminary taught us).
John had announced Jesus would come with a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire – expectations form the O.T. prophets. Pour out the Holy Spirit on God’s servants and fire on God’s enemies. Jesus would baptize the righteous with the Holy Spirit and the wicked with fire – baptize the good guys and burn up the bad guys and it would happen all at once. The separation of the wheat and chaff and the chaff would be burned up. But instead Jesus was hanging out with the chaff – the wicked - the bad guys. This didn’t fit John’s turn or burn theology.
BJ, there will come a time when Jesus acts in a way that just doesn’t fit into your theological framework and it will cause you to doubt such promises that his word never returns void or that the already of God’s Kingdom never seems to change into the promised not yet of His kingdom and you will ask with John are you really the one Jesus. This is normal – it comes with the call because you are called to spend most of your time helping people see the not yet of God’s Kingdom – to paint a picture of a preferable future – to give assurance that what is hoped for is going to happen – to provide evidence of things that cannot yet be seen – preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
But John’s disappointment was not just theological it was also personal – disappointment also comes when Jesus doesn’t fill our personal expectations. John was lying in a cold prison cell because King Herod didn’t take kindly to being called an adulterer. And Herod is upstairs getting drunk and still having his affair and Jesus is having dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors. So John has got to be asking Jesus if you‘re King why am I sitting in prison.
The personal questions of faith are never more prevalent then in the pastorate. You and our family have already faced a big one – if you are Lord why did Matt (my brother-in-law) die? Why does someone’s spouse leave, why does a parishioner abuse drugs, why is there not enough money to support the ministry. Below the surface of most theological controversies lies a deep personal disappointment. We know God’s in charge but our personal experience differs. Jesus’ response on the surface wasn’t anything that John didn’t already know but Jesus ties together words and phrases from the prophet Isaiah to say “John I am fulfilling the role of the Messiah, I am just not doing it in the way or time you expected. God has stretched out the already and the not yet of His coming Kingdom.
The journey you will lead people on is like climbing a mountain. You stand at the base and see the peak you’re climbing to and it looks simple. But soon you realize that climbing is a series of ups and downs, peaks and valleys, while often losing sight of the peak. It is a journey of joys and sorrows, of hope and disappointment accompanied by the Holy Spirit and the terrible tares - weeds in your field, people and circumstances that will reject you and hurt you, sin against you and let you down. Tares that you are called to tolerate and not root out because in our attempts to remove the bad we may harm the good. And as Bob Lupton says, “you don’t need to be concerned about how it appears to others that there are tares in your field; the Lord of the harvest can handle his own public relations. You don’t need herbicides that make the fruit appear bigger and the troubles benign.” BJ never let anyone question the validity of your ministry based on the tares in your field. Nor should you begin to ask Jesus if he is really the one when it appears there are more tares then wheat.
Jesus’ response to such a question is simple – he says I know you may be disappointed but I am asking you to trust me. You see even if Jesus had struck Herod with fire, freed John from prison and pulled up the other tares in John’s life, he would never have been truly free apart from a deep trusting relationship with Jesus.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are not offended by me – or stumbling over me”. We may be tempted to stumble over people and circumstances, pain and disappointment but we’re really stumbling over Jesus, offended by Jesus because he’s moving too slowly or because he hasn’t removed the tares in our life and the real temptations to look for something else – a better method, a new program, another seminar or a field with less tares – or even worse, tempted to join the thousands of pastors each year who give upon their call. My son – stay the course – have a burning patience – that quality of faith which keeps you living in the already and not yet – that will give meaning and strength to your ministry. Disappointments and even failures will come but you have a vision of the splendid city – you have hope – and just like the prophet Jeremiah, “before you were born God set you apart and appointed you to be his spokesman to the world.”
Lastly in order to stay the course and to continue knowing Jesus is the promised One:
• Build your identity on Christ and not on His church
• Pursue faithfulness and not success
• Always walk in repentance and faith
And know that you have both a heavenly Father and an earthly father that loves you unconditionally.