I was having a conversation with one of my staff members last week, talking about how 2013 has been a tough year. This has been a busy year, a year where I felt like I haven’t stopped. Now, most of that has been my fault, preaching too many revivals and never taking much time off. But all around, it’s been a challenging year. It’s been a rough year in a lot of ways. And this was the phrase that I used. I said that this year feels like a wasted year.
And that’s a strong phrase. Why did I feel that way? It’s been an odd year for me, for our church. We’ve done so much. We’ve sent more folks out in mission than any year in the history of our church. We’ve got more ongoing small groups now than any time in the history of our church. We have problems, sure, but all in all, thing seem good.
Plus, this has been the best year of worship, I believe, that we’ve ever had. Our services have become so spirit driven and purposeful, I’ve never been around anything like it.
Yes, we’ve grown. But not as much as in the previous few years.
Yes, we’ve baptized a ton of folks. But not as much as in the past few years.
Yes, we’ve we are on pace to have our greatest year ever in giving. But, we aren’t just blowing out of the water, either.
After three straight years of exponential growth, we’ve simply grown this year. Now, I know in a church culture that can be full of decline, this sounds very whinny, but, I think this has been symptomatic of other things.
I put a lot pressure on myself. I always have, in everything that I do. I sometimes take the words of one of my mentors too seriously, “Prepare like it depends upon you, preach knowing it depends upon God.” I do the first part well, but not the second.
So, what happens to me in ministry is I start taking things too personally. This year, I took everything personally. I so want to see Asbury grow, so want to see people grow in their own faith, when it doesn’t happen like I want it to, then I get so frustrated.
Because of that, when others would leave Asbury to go to another church, I took it personally. When visitors did not return, I took it personally. What did I do wrong? What did we do wrong? Were my sermons not good enough? Were we not friendly enough? How have I failed? What could I have done better? It hurt and bothered me.
Then when I saw folks not growing like I though they should (wow, what an arrogant statement!) I got frustrated. When I saw inconsistent worship attendance. Or lack of volunteers for church efforts. Or just what I perceived to be apathy, I thought what more can I do? What can I start? How can I help? I had a combination of frustration/exhaustion going in a dangerous level.
And then, as every pastor (or most of us, I guess) deals with, I dealt with issues of jealously. Look what other churches are doing. Look how they are growing. The old green eyed evil of jealous crept slowly towards me. That’s one of the reasons that I so publicly support and pray for other churches, it is an act of the will for me. I know that as competitive as I am, I want to the best, and yes, be the biggest. That’s my pride, my arrogance, my ego talking. So, I make myself, publically and privately, pray for other churches.
Because of how driven I am, I wanted to see us do the very best we could do. So I pushed. And I pulled. And I fussed. And I did everything I could think I could do to help us grow. And I was growing more and more frustrated.
As well as missing the great things happening all around. I was actually missing the growth. The families healed. The moves of grace.
I saw only problems. And felt like most of the problems were because of me. What I’d done wrong. Or could do better. If I was a better preacher. Or pastor. Or leader. Or teacher, then people would grow. We would see more lives changed, more things happen, more move of the spirit.
If I was just better.
The best analogy I can make is in baseball, when a batter comes up to bat in a pressure situation, say for instance, there is a runner on second base, with two outs, and a hit ties the game; there is an old saying that the batter can squeeze the bat so tight, it will turn it into saw dust. They put so much pressure on themselves that they get so uptight, and they can’t do the job.
I think that happened to me this year. I think I squeezed the bat too tight. I think I put too much pressure on myself. I got inside my own head. And that’s a dangerous place to be. I got too busy, we go to busy.
I think I forgot.
And I think I missed the point of why it is that I do what I do, and what God has called me to do.
I forgot about grace. I so wanted to see our church be faithful and grow in this past year, that I forgot why we do what we do. Grace. God loves us, not because of what we do, but because of what He has done, because of who He is.
I so wanted to see people grow, that I would grow frustrated, and put aside the only thing that really matters: relationships. And because of that, I actually wasn’t able to help them do the one thing that I really wanted them to do, because I was so frustrated!
I wanted to preach the perfect message every Sunday, that I forgot the only message the really matters. Grace.
I found that I didn’t talk a lot about grace this year. I talked a lot about doing. And going. And serving. And all that. Which is good.
But, I didn’t talk a lot about what truly IS GOOD. Grace. God’s love for us.
That’s what matters.
And I kind of forgot it.
And because of that, I think I wasted 2013.
So, I’m ready for 2014. I’m ready to recapture grace. I’m ready to hit on all cylinders about God’s love for us. I’m ready to bask in the goodness of His amazing grace. I’m ready to stop grabbing the bat so tight, and just breathe.
How about you?