Last year I returned to speak at the church that was my first pastorate. When I first went there I was a naïve, ignorant child, full of pep and vinegar, ready to extinguish hell with a water gun. Equipped with a fresh ordination papers and a new red Bible, I worked hard to demonstrate that I knew everything there was to know about leading a congregation. Heck, I knew everything about everything.
When it was whispered in the gossip parlors of the church and the greater community that I did not know everything about everything, and that I was far too young for the responsibility now thrust upon me, I worked all the harder to prove my critics wrong.
This hard work paid off, because in the process of proving myself, the membership rolls grew, the coffers of the church swelled, buildings were built, baptisteries were filled, the church became a sensation, and the critics quieted their murmurings. By the end of my tenure I had gained a great deal of success. But I also lost a few things along the way: my youthful idealism; my religion; my marriage; my way, and almost my mind. Most of all, I lost touch with the very reason I had entered the vocation in the first place: the love of Christ.
See, I became more concerned with growing a bigger church than with the well-being of individual people. I worked tirelessly to keep the “right” people happy and tithing, and neglected those on the “wrong” side of the tracks. I wanted a prosperous religious career by impressing the suits at the denomination’s headquarters and by meticulously managing my public image. Only years later did I realize that Jesus was not very much involved in any of this.
So that’s what I told my first congregation. I told them that I had indeed been too young to be a pastor, that I had done them a disservice by spending too much energy on my own attempted accomplishments, and not enough energy pointing them to the grace and love found in Christ. I told them that “Christ has shown me that what I thought I knew is worthless…Nothing else matters but this: To know Christ and to know that I belong to him.” I now know a whole lot less than I once thought I did; but what I know now, I know for sure.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.