I have to admit, this is one of the most paradoxical posts I have ever written. The post is about me learning to realize that life isn’t about me.
It took me coming to the Holy Land to realize what I had been missing with my ministry.
I was called into the vocational ministry when I was still young in high school. I spent all my time in high school ignoring all the “temptations of the world” (as I called them), even to the point of taking a “not dating oath” (which said I would not date anyone in high school so I could focus all my efforts on learning more about God and my relationship with him). Looking back now, I can see where the slow fade began.
At college, I spent time learning the skills I would need to minister effectively to people. And skills did I learn! Not only did I grow academically in my knowledge of the Bible and Christianity, but I grew relationally as well. Where I was an arrogant Bible-Thumper in high school, torching the people around me with a flamethrower-style of sharing the Gospel that could only resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger mowing down trees with a Gatling gun in the movie Predator (maybe it wasn’t Arnold who used the gun, but someone with huge biceps did), I became more fluent with actually listening to people and talking to them like they had a brain, not like they were just some number on my “witnessing checklist.”
My life seemed set! I had a great ministry with a local church. I served as a volunteer in a local ministry. Everything seemed to be together.
Then chaos happened.
People started criticizing me. I expected the old fashioned Christian persecution for which my youth group so adequately trained me. What I didn’t expect was the criticisms I would get from my fellow Christians.
I was questioned about the “improper relationship” I was having with some of the youth boys—questions I was not prepared for because they came from out of the blue and with no rational reason. Nobody accused me of anything, just “expressed concern” about my involvement with the youth. Apparently, they never had a youth pastor who went to lunch with their youth and was genuinely concerned with their life.
That was the first time I began to question my calling. After some counseling with God, I realized that there wasn’t anything wrong with me or my psyche, but that I needed to watch myself in a changing culture and always live “above reproach” so I could be found “blameless” in the sight of God (Colossians 1:22).
I restored my ministry anew and began serving at a different church before the pastor was called to plant another church. I then found myself serving at yet another church soon after. My life seemed to be set again. I was on the path to pastorship. I had everything planned out: I was going to seminary, working at a church part-time and going to school. It was going to be great!
Three weeks before I graduated college, my life once again turned upside down.
I had posted some articles on Facebook about some of the views I believe. I won’t go into detail, because they are not important. What is important is that I handled the situation wrong. Rather than stopping the argument and letting the fire die from all the heated comments, I fanned it with my knowledge of the Bible and strong opinions. In the end, some people said some very rude things to me, questioning my ministry calling. They said that if I ever had a church, they would definitely not go to it and they feared for my future congregation, that I was going to “lead them astray” down a path that isn’t Christian. Other people in different posts started attacking me for some of the beliefs I had (mind you, I still think my views are considerably conservative compared to the vast views of Christianity as a whole, but apparently my views were not conservative enough for some people). I would receive private messages from other church members saying they were “praying for me” (code for: “I do not approve with what you are doing right now, so I am going to pray for you and expect God to shape you into what I want you to be;” but that is a rant for another post: Minister). When I would go home to my home church, I could see the suspicious looks from some people in my congregation as they shook my hand after they asked, “So how is college going?” like they were probing me for the right answers. I learned to navigate these verbal and mental minefields and I learned to say the right keywords that would make them smile and say, “God bless you!” before wandering off.
Needless to say, I became hurt by the church as a whole. I was hurt by well-meaning Christians. I was tired of the expectation and everyone judging me and pushing me to what their definition of an ideal minister was like. I questioned my calling again. I questioned if people really liked me. I wondered how I would be able to reach anyone if people would criticize me all the time. What bugged me most was that I questioned myself: was there something wrong with me that caused people to dislike me? Was there something in me that I needed to change to reach people better so they would respect me and want to listen to me?
As I questioned all of these things, I started my trip to the Middle East. I thought I had tried to be a help to people before the trip, making sure they had everything they needed to go on the trip and had all documentation needed for the trip. When I got here, I felt like (and this is mostly in my head from my own insecurities, not actual reality) nobody respected me here. I wasn’t expecting anyone to like me, but I was expecting people to listen to me with attentive ears and not roll their eyes at me with a look that said, “Are we done here?” (Granted, I don’t think anyone actually gave me that look, but from my own insecurities, I felt this way.) I tried my best to help out anyway I could, but I kept feeling like the bad guy to people on this trip. No matter what I did, people complained (sometimes for good reason, because I was thinking the same thing, just didn’t voice it).
I was taking on so much personal responsibility for everyone. I legitimately care about people. I do not show it well at all, but I do care about them. I am the behind-the-scenes kind of guy who makes sure everything is arranged so the trip can go smoothly and effortlessly. I buffer much of the complaints and pushiness from the people in charge (such as tour guides), so the students don’t have to deal with it. I am by no means a victim or a sacrificial figure; all I am saying is that this is how I express how I feel about people. I typically do not take the time to sit down and get to know the people I am trying to serve, mostly because my personality is so abrasive I tend to turn people off at once (at least that has been my experience). The problem came when I started taking on more than what was required because I cared so much. (I know, it is kind of a weird, messed-up way of thinking, but that’s how my mind works)
Tonight, God spoke to me and put me back on the right path. The truth came from a wonderful young woman on the trip before her baptism in the Galilee. She shared her testimony, and she, much like me, has a problem with control. She, like me, had a hard time letting go and letting God run her life. She, like me, wanted to take care of herself. What she said (in essence, I am paraphrasing) that really struck me was, “I had to realize life was much bigger than just me, and I had to start loving God and loving people.”
That was the heart of the matter: I had not really been loving people. I was serving them. I was trying to make sure that everything was okay for their trip, but I wasn’t taking the time to actually minister to them and get to know them. God showed me (or rather reminded me) that ministry is way more than just making sure people have good lives and know the Gospel, it is sharing a life and love with people that transcends understanding. It is showing them a grace that we cannot comprehend.
As I stood there, knee-deep in the Sea of Galilee, watching the group pray in a circle, arms around each other’s shoulders, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was not a part of that group. It was at that point that God struck me hard: “This isn’t about you, Adam! This is about her!” In that moment, I felt shame. I felt horrible all over. Even in this moment of beauty where we witnessed the external evidence of a life changed, I am still there thinking of myself. I hadn’t realized how deep my selfishness ran until that point. It was no wonder I wasn’t a part of that circle praying! I hadn’t even taken the time to minster to any of them! I had not once talked with this young woman about her relationship with Christ! What kind of a minster would I be!
The moment was bittersweet to me. As I watched her, I was overjoyed with happiness as her decision. As I saw the tears of joy run down her face, my heart warmed and a tear came to my own eye.
Conversely, there was a shamefulness that I had been so selfish the entire trip. I had been focusing on me and what my future held—even during her baptism! As we walked back to the shore, I hung my head, ashamed, asking myself, “How can I be a minister if I can’t even relate to people and take enough time to talk to them?”
God gently reminded me once more: “Adam, this isn’t about you. Stop trying to do this all on your own and let me change you. Remember, I use the weak to demonstrate my strength. In your weakness, I am strong. I want to use you, Adam. Just remember to love me first and then love on others. That is all I ask of you. You don’t have to be a charismatic leader to be an effective minister. You don’t have to know all the answers or say the right things. Just be you and love people.”
That is the key to ministry. I have to love people at all times. I have to realize this is not about me. While this is something God has called me to, it isn’t about me at all. It is about him and what he wants for my life. It is about them and others I will run into in my life. It is about showing them the love and grace of Christ and the free gift of salvation that he offers.
It is not about me.
Following his call,