I’m a Bad Pastor: And Why I Think it’s Worth Saying So!
Thirteen years have passed since our 35-1 National Championship run. Much has taken place since those glory days. For starters, I married a hall of famer, Natasha Neal, and together we have three beautiful boys: Marcus, Titus, and Malachi. Then, with great impact to my athletic figure, I exchanged my basketball shorts for a bible and a pulpit. Very few people know me now as an athlete anymore and most, if not all, value me pastorally navigating a difficult situation more than they do me navigating a particular defense. Still, pastoring and being an athlete have a lot in common, and in at least one way you might not have considered. Both being a pastor and an athlete come with public praise and scrutiny. Both require great discipline and perseverance. And, in both disciplines, those in attendance tend to overlook the amount of work invested in what’s being executed. Also, a successful pastor and a successful athlete should have in common a real understanding of one’s weaknesses. It’s this last point that I wish to consider just for a moment in light of pastoral ministry.
Human Perfection is an Allusion
In pastoring, and I would say the Christian life in general, there’s always the temptation to project an image of oneself that’s more adept and polished than what is actualized. Yet, faulty presentations of self are never lasting. When the athlete pretends to be better than he or she is, exposure is ushered in on the tides of failure and defeat. For the pastor, however, the greatest danger is not the loss of a game but rather every step toward achieving a polished look is a step toward deconstructing the portrait of grace in one’s life. Think about it for a moment: If the leaders we are to emulate in the church are perfect, in what sense are they, the leaders, able to point to the truth found in Scripture that Christ Jesus came to save sinners? It’s in light of this truth that I gladly make this confession—I’m a bad pastor! Here are three reasons why:
First, I’m sinful. I’m not the Good Shepherd in . Jesus is. I sin daily and have to repent of things like anger, pride, and anxiety to my friends, family, and you the congregation. This is not a ploy or cute literary device. It’s the reality of the situation. When the Lord pronounces judgment on the counterfeit shepherds in , the operative question becomes, “Who, then, will shepherd God’s people?” The Lord answers that question with over fifteen references to Himself in one chapter as the one who will shepherd His people. Is that clear enough?! Of course, we know that Jesus is the means by which God indeed becomes the great Shepherd of His people. Why does that matter? It matters because Jesus is the great and perfect Shepherd of His people so I don’t have to be. I don’t have to be perfect and coming to grips with that is key. For example, the athlete who never acknowledges weaknesses will make light of the strength of his teammates and, therefore, fail to understand his need to lean on them when it’s needed most. So, too, the pastor must learn to acknowledge his weaknesses and utter dependency on Christ and His Word. That’s done by exposing weaknesses and painting big and beautiful portraits of the truth of the Gospel: God saves and uses sinners for His glory!
Second, I’m young. Don’t get me wrong, I’m competent. Or, at least I’ve thought intentionally about pastoring for 10 years (2 degrees at a seminary and an internship). My point is, I have so much to learn. I’m still a kid at heart. I’m still learning and still growing and trying desperately not to make childish mistakes. I have been through so much in my life and yet I feel like a pup. As a pastor, it’s my unwillingness to come to grips with my youthfulness that causes me to fail to give myself permission to grow. I want to be the pastor now that I will be in 15 years, Lord willing. That’s a high ambition with lofty expectations. If I make peace with that mentality, then I’ll quickly become heavy laden with despair. And one bad sermon or a botched counseling case or disappointed member will send me into a tail spin. That’s a very precarious place for a pastor, especially when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords has promised to build his church regardless of my carefully crafted illustration or ability to bring gospel truth to a situation. Related to the previous point, God is calling shepherds to demonstrate gospel growth to our congregation, not perfection.
I Can Be Hurt
Finally, I can be hurt! My greatest strength is that I love people. I really do. I invest in relationships and want them to be deep and authentic. Yet, like most people, my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness. My identity in Christ should free me up to truly love people. But, often times my identity can be more informed by people’s perception of how I’m caring for them than by my status in Christ. In those moments, it may not seem like it but I’m overcome by pride. I’m caring for people as a means of making much of myself. The world, my relationships, and God himself exists to serve me and difficulty comes when they don’t make much of me as I think they should. What does that mean? It means that I’m a sinner and have a propensity to commit sins, even sins against those I’m charged to shepherd. Often times my first response when confronted with my sin is to retreat. It helps me protect myself and provides me with a way around pain. Yet, that response is inconsistent with how my savior willingly gave His life for me. I should confess the opposite of perfection, I’m a sinner and I need Him more and more each day.
Christ’s Perfection is Real
I remembered sharing my struggles with an older pastor whom I respect and love and he responded and said, “Man, why are you in ministry again?” Seems harsh, but I think his words were needed. The weaknesses I have (and any weaknesses that could be stated) make me the least likely candidate to pastor. But herein lies the point: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (). The point, Paul concludes, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Hence, if there is one compelling reason why I’m fit to pastor here at this church it is because I truly trust the power of the Spirit and the word of God to build His church––not my ability to craft sermons, not my personality, and certainly not my ability to be perfect. I trust Christ and the power of His Word. So, I have no problem admitting how and why I’m a bad pastor. If you’re a pastor or serve in a leadership position in your church, I would suggest you write a similar letter to your people. Try starting with something like this, “I’m a bad pastor and here’s why!”
10:1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there. (ESV)
34:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.
25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. 31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” (ESV)