In the last week or so, I’ve seen a couple posts/writings on “weakness.” Each of them encouraging because I’d been thinking about the subject. Not in a vacuum of course, but while also thinking about the necessity for God’s strength in life and ministry.
So yes, I think about doing ministry again. We pray about it. I’ve asked a few friends to pray about it for us. We fear it like we fear God. And think about it some more. And struggle to talk about it. So we pray a little more. (Please don’t read into this more than necessary, we are thinking and praying, not planning. We are very unsure but feel the need to consider returning, if only because we feel often like we are in the belly of a whale.)
Just the other day I looked at pastor job postings. Bethany did it first. Nearly all of them had their must-haves and their requirements and such. You know, some postings were admirable and a couple were actually moving.
But most were just like postings for insurance companies and banks in one particular way. They were interested only in how a person’s strengths could help the church. Don’t get me wrong, this is reasonable. I don’t even think its wrong.
But I can’t help but wonder about weakness.
Where does weakness fit in? Where does the weakness of a candidate and even the weakness of a church fit in? Is this even on anyone’s radar? And does anyone see the weakness as a way for God’s strength to be made manifest?
I confess I’ve imagined sending in a résumé of weakness. One that details all the reasons not to consider me. “Left the ministry and swore to never return. Has lived in the belly of a whale for about two years and smells like fish and seaweed. Has children the Vision Forum would be appalled at. Has most likely teetered on the edge of the dark chasm of depression. Has no money. Owns three vehicles, all have a check-engine light burning bright.” You know, things like that.
Every search committee and church knows every candidate for a position has weaknesses. They will even ask about them at some point. And discuss them. But will anyone see them the way Paul saw them?
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”(2 Corinthians 12:7–10 ESV)
Paul…and God, seemed to think the weakness he had, whatever it was – physical, emotional, spiritual – was something to boast in. And Paul did so, not to be contrary or to excuse behavior but so that “the power of Christ” would rest upon him.
Now I don’t know all the implications for this in ministry, but as I think about going forward and praying about pastoral work possibly one day in the future, it strikes me as being at odds with the prevailing wisdom.
The prevailing wisdom and practice is to treat résumés and interviews in the pastoral search process like a first date. On a first date you do everything you can to impress the other and you do everything you can to hide weakness. You borrow your parent’s Audi instead of picking a girl up in the ’79 Chevette with no reverse. You go to restaurants you would normally not go to. You spare no expense. You dress in clothes reserved for special occasions. You put your best foot-forward and keep all things negative at bay. It’s usually only later, you let your guard down and allow weaknesses to show.
College students do this in dating and churches and pastoral candidates do this in the search process. And it’s understandable. It’s reasonable. And we’ve all done it, in dating and in the search process.
But Paul’s words give us something to think about, don’t they? While all this first-date behavior and thinking is reasonable, Paul’s conviction about the place of weakness in his life and ministry may be a help.
Pretty much everywhere I went to work in ministry I soon found out that each congregation had glaring weaknesses no one felt the need to discuss with me but these weaknesses brought about constant issues that were at the forefront of the life of the congregation.
And my own weaknesses showed up pretty quickly too.
How do I go forward? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe you know.
My tendency is to be embarrassed of my weaknesses. I want to smooth over the craggy edges and obscure the dark valleys from view. But I also want to believe my weaknesses can deal a blow to my conceit and make it possible for the power of Christ to rest upon me. And if I ever return to the pastorate, is there any other power I’ll need?
tomorrow in a few days…