A couple of weeks ago I started my yearly spring class at Reformed Theological Seminary here in Orlando, Theology of Ministry. I absolutely love it because I get to leverage 35 years of ministry into future pastors. Having been the quarterback for a lot of years, now I get to be a QB coach. Actually sometimes I feel more like a cheerleader, though I struggle with that image in my mind. We need these young leaders out there! So on the first day of class after I get to know the students I launch into a talk I’ve labeled The High Call and High Privilege of the Ministry. For those of you who have been around, you’ll recognize I took that from the title of a book Gordon and Gail MacDonald wrote years ago. (I believe in R & D in ministry…rob and duplicate).
Ministry is a high call and a high privilege. We spend a long time listing all the ways that in fact what we get to do as pastors is such a home run. I mean, we get paid to study God’s Word; we are expected to stay close to God so we can help His people get and stay close to Him. We usually don’t have someone looking over our shoulder all the time and get to set our daily schedules. If I want, I can slide from my DAWG (daily appointment with God) into my sermon prep. Now that is just plain awesome.
Of course ministry is also a challenge. I tell my students: “If you don’t like doing an exegetical paper every week AND communicating it, then don’t be a senior/lead/preaching pastor.” Every seven days you gotta stand up and explain The Book and The Gospel in powerful and creative ways.
I loved that! But…
Here’s where sometimes I get confused and frankly befuddled. Maybe you do too. Sometimes I feel pretty juiced up and prophetic, like an Elijah or a John the Baptist or a Paul…and I just want to call my people out: “Come ON! Step it up! Look at all Jesus did for you! His love is amazing. God is faithful. Let’s get out there and evangelize, serve, forgive, tithe, love our neighbors…come on there’s so much to do. We have a world to win!”
On other days the prophetic urge feels more like a manipulative use of guilt and my message morphs into something like, “Look, Jesus is the High Priest and the sacrificial lamb. There’s nothing you can do to earn the Father’s favor. God isn’t angry at you because He used up all His anger at His Son. It’s not about what you do for God it’s what God did for you on the cross. Now that’s grace! Live it, experience it! Worship Him for it and enjoy it!”
Calling people out and preaching grace can seem contradictory but you know where I’m going with this. It’s never either/or. It’s both/and. I just forget that sometimes. I forget that the indicatives of Grace always lead in the imperatives that flow from them. What makes us as preachers into seeming legalists is when we forget or minimize the indicatives/truths of Grace and major on the imperatives/applications of Grace. What makes us seem like a TV preacher who can’t mention hell is that we’re so taken by the passion and love of the cross that we forget the peril people are in who ignore the cross and it’s everyday implications.
So the other day I stumbled (actually I think I was skillfully led by the Holy Spirit) to I Corinthians 13:11:
“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
Now in context, I know Paul is illustrating in the “child to man” idea that when Christ returns all of this incompleteness we experience will be turned to perfection. Love continues forever however, in contrast to the spiritual gifts of knowledge and prophecy and speaking in tongues that seemed so important to the Corinthians.
We can't forget the imperative!
What snuck in to me was Paul’s determination not to be “ruled by childish attitudes” (with a little help from Leon Morris here). It’s amazing to me how easy it is for me to be childish spiritually and emotionally and relationally. Paul calls me out as a man following Jesus. I get the indicatives of Grace but often just stay, well, childish.
The Gospel always calls us up, and out. After laying out the indicatives, the truths of God’s grace in Christ, the apostles always seque into the imperatives and tells us where the Gospel leads us behaviorally. Indicatives and Imperatives. Grace calls us up, and then out.
So that’s what helps clear up my confusion in preaching and teaching at times. Do I wear a priestly robe or a prophetic mantle when I preach? Yes. I’m the most free in preaching when I act like an apostolic author and give them the indicatives and the imperatives. With guys I’m also trying to emphasize a lot about how what Jesus does is to free us from what we thought we wanted to be to what we were originally designed to be and what we desperately want to be in our male spiritual DNA. Haven’t we preachers found eventually that calling God’s people out can be prophetic, yet still very skillfully done? Done like a priest?
What have you found? We need you out there, and I’m so thankful for you!
Strength and Courage,