Today will be the annual district gathering of an organization I used to “belong” to. I chose to go on my own the day after resigning the church and resign my credentials knowing that I needed to walk away.
This is the day that people will gather and the comparison game will begin. The district will provide a slick little booklet with every pastor’s picture and stats. It was one of the most awkward and painful days for me every year.
Funny that I might say that because the church I lead was “at the top” year after year. Our numerical stats were great and never declining. Our ministry income steadily increased every year. My pain was for the men and women that never won in the numbers game.
As unfair and as unimportant as it is, denominations still continue to use the two stats of “nickes and noses” to assess the effectiveness of the local church and pastors. Many times in my thirty years of ministry the connections made with people, families and situations were not something that could be reported. Thankfully God kept track of such things.
Let me tell you one such story. He was an old man that sat on his porch every day behind the first church I pastored. I waved at him often and sometimes had brief conversations. One day he stuck a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I heard about it and made the trip to Louisville KY to see him. He was in the Critical Care Unit and of course never spoke again. He lived for another year or so in a nursing facility. Somewhere during that next year and during one of my visits, he came to know Christ as His Savior. He never spoke but his face told the story of transformation. I preached his funeral and shared his testimony. It is still one of the highlights of my ministry years. Guess what? No part of that story could be reported and none of it applied to the numbers assessment. He never came to church and he never gave an offering. The church I lead averaged about 45 in attendance. Nobody celebrated that. Ever. Thankfully God judges by a different standard and He remembers things that matter.
To those of you sitting there today feeling like a loser please know that God knows what you have done over this last year. It’s not about attendance and offerings but about faithfulness and availability. You’ve been faithful to your calling. Be encouraged. Be strong. Don’t let this day defeat you or discourage you. I am praying for you today.
And to my former “colleagues” in ministry . . . your silence has been deafening. I’m sorry I let you down but I am thankful for the grace of God that I never knew existed. You won’t get it so don’t try to understand. If you ever fall or fail just know that even if others walk away Jesus never does. He knows your name. He hears your call. He will take care of you in ways you can’t even imagine. At some point God’s grace surpasses the grief of failure and the missing of people you thought you knew and had a relationship with.
Filled with thankfulness today . . . for many reasons. Go enjoy your lunch which is often the highlight of the day at district assembly if you are honest.