I suppose there are a great many ways that humiliation can come to us; I’m pretty sure that don’t I really enjoy any of them. Even the most private forms aren’t all that much fun and the public ways can be just downright painful.
I’m not sure there’s a connection but I’ve also strived for excellence in just about everything I do for as far back as I can remember. Whether it was doing homework, preparing for a spelling test, building a replica of an Early American maple desk or remodeling a house, I have tried to make quality a key part. I’ve failed a number of times, succeeded more than once and continue my quest. Academically, socially, professionally. Whether it’s a small informal session with faculty or a presentation to hundreds at an international convention, I try to make it excellent.
I also want to be an excellent pastor and therein lies the rub. Every Lord’s Day morning I am faced by what seems to me to be overwhelming evidence that I must be downright lousy at building a church.
When I first started preaching at New Life Church, there were only about thirty or so showing up each Sunday. Within six months to a year, we were routinely having eighty to ninety people show up. Naturally, I thought my preaching must have something to do with that; I was so excited!
Now we’re back down to thirty to forty. Not quite as exciting.
I know that at least some of those who left did so because of me. I suspect it was actually every one of them. Every Sunday when I go up on the platform to welcome the group, I am reminded. Every time I look out at the audience from the pulpit, I am confronted by this vivid evidence that I just don’t have what it takes to make this church grow. After four years of my preaching, our sanctuary has five times more empty seats than people present. Even though I’m not quite conceited enough to figure I deserve a hundred percent of the blame, I’m also not quite dense enough to believe that I don’t get the lion’s share of it.
I still strive for excellence in my Sunday School class and from the pulpit. I still search the Scriptures to find that passage that “jumps off the page” at me, my own sense of confirmation that this is the message the Spirit is leading me to share. And those who still come encourage me, tell me that they appreciate the lessons and the sermons. I like these folks; they’re good people. I also like the ones who left; they’re good people too and I miss them. I wish they all could still worship with us and enjoy it and grow.
It is much easier to preach at a growing church, much easier to continue because of the pleasure than because of the duty. It’s much less stressful when you don’t worry whether or not your next sermon or next leaders’ meeting or casual comment is going to provide the spark that leads someone else to depart. The truth is, the only Sunday mornings in the past couple of years that I didn’t start my day off with intestinal distress have been those Sundays when I wasn’t preaching. Yeah, that’s how much it gets to me.
You see, there are two things that keep me going. One is that I just flat out love to preach and teach. Another is that diarrhea is nothing compared to the distress that grips a man’s life when he knowingly steps out of God’s will. I’ve known that gut-wrench before.
Been there, done that. I’m too old for that shirt.