This week, we’ve had our Annual Conference. We tried to have a greater focus on our vision statement and priorities in order to stress our mission:
Tom Bandy, in his new book, stresses that we must keep the mission of the church ever before us, that the mission gives significance to our work as church leaders, and that the mission puts us in our place. It’s so easy, in the church to lose sight of the mission, to get distracted by attentiveness to the clergy, or by other factors. By keeping focused on the mission, everything else of importance stays in focus, says Bandy:
Over the centuries of Christendom and modern living, people have gotten the false impression that it is the holiness of the individual that gives authenticity to the mission. In both ancient and contemporary times it is the other way around. It is the authenticity of the mission that gives holiness to the individual. The sacrament is not a sacrament because the priest is a priest, but the priest is a priest because the sacrament is a sacrament.
The fact that modernity has gotten it backwards is the reason why clergy today are both deified and vilified at the same time. On the one hand, modern Christians glorify the clergy, believing that their moral perfection and spiritual purity guarantees the efficacy of God’s power. On the other hand, the inability of clergy to live up to impossible standards is easily blamed for the corruption of society and pervasiveness of sin. No wonder modernity can’t recruit clergy! Who wants to be glorified and vilified all in the same day, seven days a week?
The more you persist in thinking that your calling is all about you, the more you set yourself up for this double deceit of clergy glorification and clergy vilification. You will never survive it, my friend! At the very beginning, you need to understand it never has been about you in the first place. It is simply about God’s mission, and for better or worse you happen to be in the way of it. So if you have low self-esteem, you had better get over it if you want to be in Christian ministry. If God has chosen you, then God is giving you high self-esteem whether you like it or not. The last thing God’s mission needs is somebody like you alternately strutting like a peacock and then lamenting “Poor me, poor me”!
I suppose that is why I have always liked John Wesley’s covenant. It is reminiscent of the covenant of ancient pilgrims, medieval monks, and postmodern spiritual entrepreneurs. At the conclusion of his Watch Night liturgy, he writes:
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
If you can say those words without feeling a rush of self-esteem, then the problem is not that you do not like yourself very much but that you do not really like Jesus very much.
Unfortunately, covenants like these have been honored by intentional neglect. Modern churches have done everything possible to guarantee that clergy will be ranked with the best, never suffer, always have income, never be empty, have the closest parking spaces to the entrance … and also be responsible for every visit, blamed for every mistake, and crucified for every triviality. Avoid the heartache by getting this through your head: It’s not about you in the first place. It’s about God’s mission.
Excerpts from Mission Mover, Beyond Education for Church Leadership, Thomas C. Bandy, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 39-40.