"ALTERATIONS"

“ALTERATIONS”
June 6, 2008

“Would you like us to lengthen those pants for you, sir?” asked the sales clerk politely.
“No thanks,” I responded while gazing at myself in the full-length mirror. “I’m a little pressed for time.”
However, as the improbable, unexpected reality of the offer dawned on me I began to have second thoughts.
“Did you say, ‘lengthen’?” I asked incredulously.
“Yes, sir,” the clerk answered. “They look a little too short for you. If you’ll just let me measure them we can alter them here and have you on your way in ten minutes.”
“Well, if you can do it quickly I suppose I could wait for a few more minutes,” I replied holding my head up higher and proudly stretching my frame to its full, 5 foot 5 ½ inch height.
You must understand that had never happened to me before. Many are the times when trousers of mine have needed to be shortened. But until that moment no one had ever felt the need to alter my pants by making them longer. It was an entirely new experience for me which I found myself enjoying thoroughly. I savored every moment as I sat in that men’s clothing store waiting for my pants to be altered.
“May I help you with something?” asked another sales clerk.
“No thanks,” I replied. “I’m just waiting for my pants to get altered.” Then with an air of superiority I added, “I’m having them lengthened, you know.”
I was being fitted for a rented tuxedo needed for a wedding at which I was officiating the next day. Nothing could have put me in a better mood than realizing I was too tall for the pants that had been ordered for me. Adding to my joy was the knowledge that I was the same height as the groom. This would be one wedding where the pastor would actually be seen as he stood before the wedding party.
With my ego totally inflated I met the wedding party later that day at the home of the bride as we gathered for the wedding rehearsal.
“Did you pick up your tux?” asked the bride. “And does it fit?”
“Yes, I got it this morning,” I responded and then added with a dash of pride, “I had to have the pants lengthened.”
“Oh, that reminds me,” interrupted the groom. “I’ve got something to show you.”
He led me to a back room and proudly pulled out a pair of shiny black, patent leather shoes.
“I had them specially ordered,” he announced while slipping them on. “You can’t tell it from the outside but they actually lift up my heel nearly four inches. Now when I dance with my bride I can look her in the eyes.”
“And you can look down on the top of my head,” I retorted trying not to sound too disillusioned by the sudden rise in his stature. But then, after a gentle prodding from deep within my spirit, I began to laugh and explained to the groom my vain feelings about having my pants altered earlier that day. “I guess my ego has been brought down do its proper size,” I concluded with a grin. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to wear a pair of shoes which lifted me above the crowd.
Have you ever wondered why we spend so much time, energy and expense trying to be something we’re not? Or why our egos are so easily inflated, and can be so quickly crushed? Okay, I know we humans are particularly cursed with the sin of vanity, but shouldn’t it be different with Christians? Why is it so hard to be satisfied with the way our Creator made us? “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2. I suppose we will always struggle with pride when it comes to our appearance, but what about our spiritual gifts? Why should we look with envy on how God has gifted others? Why should we attempt to minister in areas where we have no gifts? Why should we rebel against how God has gifted us for ministry? And why should we insist on forcing others into ministry positions for which they are poorly suited, demanding they serve in ways God never intended for them?
When I attended seminary the church growth movement was sweeping across the kingdom of God. We were taught that numerical growth was the main objective for any ministry. “If your church isn’t growing in membership it isn’t healthy,” we were told. Tremendous pressure was placed upon pastors to do all they could to build up their congregation’s attendance. The success of any church was measured by its average Sunday morning worship attendance. Pastors of mega churches were hailed as heroes of the kingdom and went around holding seminars on “How To Grow Large Like Us.” For years I suffered under this false goal and the churches I served suffered as well. When spectacular growth wasn’t achieved I put the blame on our church board. In turn, they placed the blame on me.
Looking back at it all now I realize God had gifted me for an entirely different ministry. For all those years I was trying to alter my ministry to be something for which I was not suited. I am reminded of David when he was about to face Goliath. King Saul outfitted him with the royal armor but David soon realized that it wasn’t suited for him. Since Saul was a very big man and David’s stature was rather small we can surmise that the armor was way too large to fit the young shepherd boy. So David went back to what he was gifted at, the sling, and God enabled him to win the battle. “David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s…’” – 1Samuel 17:45-47.
I believe the church is filled with pastors who have spent their career carrying around the wrong-sized armor, striving to be something God never gifted them to be. The result is thousands of unsatisfied congregations and thousands of depressed ministers who are questioning their calling and doubting their Lord. Christian pollster, George Barna, has gathered some rather sobering statistics. “On average, fifteen hundred pastors in this country leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce. Eighty percent of pastors…feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors. Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living. Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years. Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.” Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong.
I believe we have been making the wrong alterations for the body of Christ, shaping it after our own traditions rather than according to the pattern we see in Scripture. Rather than expanding the kingdom by multiplying small groups of believers, the pattern we see most exampled in the New Testament, we are constantly trying to enlarge each local gathering into bigger and bigger assemblies. In the process we are reducing the need for every member to be highly involved in the work of the ministry. We are also losing the corporate intimacy necessary for spiritual growth.
In addition we have been forcing those who believe they are called and gifted for ministry to fit into our man-made image of what a pastor should be. We have greatly expanded their job description to include business administrator, staffing coordinator, real estate agent, fund raiser, motivational speaker, visionary, author, and community activist. It’s not that any of these activities are necessarily wrong for the church. They just require certain spiritual gifts which rarely turn up in those who likely committed themselves to the ministry in order to make disciples and lead believers to maturity in Christ. Tragically, when a pastor is immersed in these traditional, human-ordained endeavors, he or she has little if any time to actually shepherd the flock. We have taken the function of a pastor and transformed it into a CEO. No wonder so many are feeling inadequate for the task and burned out in their ministries.
So what is the solution? Like David exampled for us, we need to make sure the ministerial role of each individual Christian servant matches his or her spiritual gifts. Trying to force someone to “wear another’s armor” could end up being disastrous for both the church and the minister. In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul describes the ministerial team which Jesus gives to His church. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” – Ephesians 4:11-12.
The point here is that it takes a team of gifted individuals working together to help the kingdom grow in any given locality. In any church gathering, no matter what the size, there likely exists a plurality of these gifted people. Some theologians are convinced that every believer in Christ is gifted in at least one of these five categories of ministry. Unfortunately, we rarely see churches where everyone is using their gifts. They seem to prefer instead letting the brunt of the ministerial duties fall upon one individual or upon a tiny group of professionals.
Why do so many churches insist upon heaping unrealistic job expectations on their pastors? And why do so many pastors accept such impossible roles? I believe it has a lot to do with this thing called vanity. Many of us feel the need to appear larger than God has created us to be. So we spend our spiritual lives trying to make alterations on the outside, while the Head of the body is desperately attempting to alter us on the inside. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2.
I believe there are countless numbers of pastors out there who have been made to suffer by wearing armor which didn’t fit. Some of you have already given up and quit your positions in the church; others continue to plod along making alteration after alteration hoping to find the perfect fit for your personality and gifts while wondering why God seems to be so stingy with His blessings upon all your hard work. As one who has long suffered in a similar fashion I would love to hear from you. I would also love to tell you about the Head of the Church who hasn’t given up on you, but who passionately desires to redeem you from the world and from ministries where you don’t really fit in order to send you back into His harvest field as a gifted member of His ministry team charged with planting churches and expanding His kingdom. More than ever this world is in dire need of “giant slayers!” And as always, “the battle is the Lord’s.” I invite you to respond to this message.

Bill, a child of God, refitted for His service

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