A Letter to Pastors Like Me
As a church planter turned pastor, I’m tempted to believe almost anything about myself.
On so-called good days, the temptation is to believe that I’ve arrived (to where exactly I don’t know, but feeling like you’re ahead of others feels good even if it isn’t true and it’s only for a moment). I’m tempted to believe that I’ve somehow earned the right to be where I am, that the kingdom of God is a meritocracy and I worked hard to have the platform or social network or influence that’s mine.
Like I said, the temptation to believe outrageous stuff is very real.
On bad days, the temptation is to believe that I should be further along, that the church should be bigger or better or…the list goes on. The gap between where my church is and where I’d love for us to be widens, and self-doubt and frustration grow accordingly. Minding the gap between reality and expectation is dangerous territory.
As a pastor and leader, I’m not only tempted to believe both good and bad realities about myself, but I also carry an expectation to constantly perform for others. It can easily seem like there’s always more to accomplish with less and less time to do it. Another Sunday is coming, the next board meeting is on the books, and I haven’t prepared for the pre-marital counseling appointment that’s later today. There’s always a demand for new content, fresh vision, and enticing the crowds to keep coming back.
So there are a lot of demands on a leader. We all know that. And if you’re honest, there are a few lies that you are tempted to believe, too. The other day, a pastor friend of mine admitted to being terrible at “self-care.” Something tells me he’s not the only one.
So how do we turn the corner and shut down the lies?
Recently I had the privilege of sitting in on a training session of the Urban Church Planting Incubator program with Redeemer City to City. It’s a two-year program that trains and mentors church planters (I’m an alumnus myself). This particular session was focused on gospel-centered preaching, and the first exercise was to read an assigned text and write a sermon to myself based on that passage. I think the point of the activity was to force preachers to practice applying the truths of scripture to their own hearts and lives, as opposed to simply approaching the text from the perspective of preaching it to others. When it was time to start writing a sermon to myself based on 1 Corinthians 1:18–31, I decided to break the rules a little and write a letter to myself as though God was the one penning the words (I’d rather get a letter from God as opposed to a sermon any day!).
After reading through the passage a couple of times, this is what I wrote. May it encourage you to reject the lies of performance and shame and cause you to recklessly re-engage the scandalous love of Jesus once again.
You search and work for indicators of miraculous breakthrough that you create and I’m not in those. You won’t find me there. I’m bigger than that. I have more for you than just the signs.
You look for and strive for and try to prove that you belong at the Intellectual’s table and I’m not there either. I’m beyond what your mind can fathom. I’m outside your best ideas, constructs, arguments or philosophies. Stop trying to put me in a box that you made. I don’t fit there.
Instead, you’ll find me in the brokenness, the side street, and the forgotten places. I keep showing up where no one is looking. That’s where you’ll find me. That’s why anyone who comes looking in the way-low-down places finds light and life and love. Look there and you’ll see Jesus. He points us to real life better than your sought-after signs and wonders or books and lectures.
Shout out to the way Jesus rescued you not because of your ability to perform magic tricks or wow the crowds in auditoriums or go toe to toe with the professor, but because Christ was humbled on a cross, crucified, and conquered death on your behalf. Celebrate that Jesus uses the foolish things of the world to trip up the wise — that’s good news for you. Take heart that, in human standards, you weren’t that wise, influential, and certainly not noble before Jesus called you by name…and now look at you. You’re part of the family!
So, if you want to talk a big game, talk about how you found Jesus and how Jesus found you in the least likely of ways. Have confidence that you have been set apart, been made whole, and drip with redemption because of Jesus! That’s good news.
Keep tearing it up. Love you,
Maybe part of practicing better self-care as a leader involves regularly rehearsing the good news of Jesus in my own life. Maybe instead of constantly providing new content for others, I slow down long enough to let my own heart and mind reflect on the incredible news that Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me (and you, for that matter) not because we performed or worked hard enough or produced at the right level. Nope. Jesus loves you because that’s what he does. Marinate on that, and may you be overwhelmed by the love of Jesus. It doesn’t make much sense, and may even sound foolish, but that’s the way Jesus likes it.
Guy Wasko is the founding pastor of Trinity Grace Church in the East Village and a Catalyst for church planting with Redeemer City to City. He lives in the East Village of Manhattan with his wife, Rebecca, their three daughters, and a puppy named Wrigley.