It’s one minute before the church service starts. I’m getting ready to welcome the congregation and pray that God would do great and powerful things as we worship. A lady approaches me and actually walks onto the stage and says, “My son just tried to kill himself. He’s in Pennsylvania and I’m going to move there in three weeks. I want to get baptized before I leave. But I don’t believe in Jesus. But I like this church. Oh, I’m schizophrenic and bi-polar, so can you baptize me?”
Seminary didn’t prepare me to answer that question.
In fact, there’s a lot of things happening right now at theCross that Seminary and life never taught me.
I grew up in a loving Christian home. My dad was a 3rd-generation pastor and my mom is one of the most spiritual people that I know. Both were great role models for me. My extended family has always gotten along. Family reunions aren’t something to be afraid of, instead, they were and still are one of the highlights of the year. All of my aunts and uncles are on their first marriages. Almost every single one of them believes strongly in Jesus. My cousins (about 25 of them) are largely following Christ.
Personally, even as I went through the public school system, I kept a strong faith, surrounded myself with Christian friends, and was active in my church’s youth group, etc. Then I went to a Lutheran University and a Lutheran Seminary as I was preparing myself to become a pastor and one day lead a church of my own, like my father, my grandfather, and my great-grandfather had done.
In Seminary I learned how to pastor a church. I got more confident in my theology, developed a greater understanding of how to teach about God, learned how to parse different Greek verbs. I learned about how to witness and share my faith with others, how to implement small groups in the church, the importance of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, etc. I learned how to preach. These are all things that I feel I can still do well, with the exception of parsing Greek verbs! But Seminary didn’t teach me how to handle a messy church filled with real people and real issues.
I say all of this for you to know that, by all accounts, I’ve had it pretty easy. I don’t know what darkness is like. I’ve never been without Jesus. Sure, I’ve had ups and downs, but I’ve always had God in my life. It hasn’t all been perfect. In my adolescence, young adult life, and even as a pastor, I have had seasons of life where I feel really close to God and other seasons where I become more distant.
Last week I was praying for someone in the hospital bed that was receiving God’s grace, and in the very next moment I was on the phone with a lady from the church talking about how to get her son out of jail. Then I was discussing what happened on Monday and Tuesday night last week when I was gone and we had some sort of demon exorcisms (plural) go on at the church. I got together with a girl who’d been coming to church for a couple of months and she wanted to share her testimony with me. She is in her 20’s and had just fled a life of prostitution and wants to follow Jesus. Right after that, I talked with someone who just got out of jail for being involved in dealing drugs and now wants to get right with Jesus. Multiple men and women have been in tears in front of me this past week. Today as I was driving around with a recovering meth addict, I learned how to mix alcohol with hand sanitizer and salt in order to get a better “high.” We have a group of people that just started coming to theCross from the local brain injury rehab center.
In many ways I don’t feel adequate to pastor the very church I’ve started. I often times don’t know what to say to people. I can’t relate to what they are going through. I’ve never grown up with these experiences and life seminary never taught me how to deal with these kinds of issues.
Many weeks my job consists of finding rides for people to go to the hospital or doctor appointments because they’ve screwed themselves up in some way. Sometimes my patience wears thin and I want to just give up, because this is not what I feel like I signed up for and what I feel like I was being prepared for. I ask myself, “God, why are you surrounding a preppy 31-year old guy who likes to play golf and has no tattoos with criminals, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, handicapped, mentally-challenged, and people tatted up all over the place? Isn’t there someone more equipped or better suited for the job?”
And yet, in the midst of this chaos, something seems right. I start to think that if Jesus were to start a church, it would be filled with the group of people that we are reaching: the prodigal sons, the outcasts, the ragamuffins, the beaten-down, the “tax collectors and sinners” of our day. What better place for them to be than the church? Our church isn’t perfect. Far from it. We are probably the messiest church I’ve seen. There is a lot of sin happening in the church right now that I’m not proud of.
It’s not easy and it’s not clean, but it is a lot of fun to watch God deliver criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics. They end up having better testimonies than I do. And they can reach people that I would never possibly reach.
In my moments and days when I feel inadequate or don’t know what to do I announce the Good News of Jesus. Both to myself and to others. And the Good News of Jesus is enough. It always has been and always will be. The Good News of Jesus tells me I’ve got what it takes to do the job God has given me. God sometimes puts me in situations where I feel inadequate in order to remind and show me beyond a shadow of doubt that it is God changing lives and not me. Because God and His power is within me, I will never be inadequate for any task that God puts before me.
If you are ever feeling inadequate, receive God’s grace. His grace gives you everything you need to accomplish whatever he sets before you. And remember, it’s okay to feel inadequate. In fact, it’s better that way. In these moments, we rely on God because we realize we can’t do it ourselves. And that’s exactly where God wants us to be.