Of all the airports I’ve frequented in my travels, Freetown, Sierra Leone’s Lungi International Airport is by far and away the most difficult to get in and out of. To leave Freetown, you first have to wait for the ferry that will take you across the bay to the suburb of Lungi. Once on the other side, you have to drive a number of miles to where the airport is located. Then, mix in the controlled confusion of a third world airport and your own exhaustion – and you haven’t even left yet!
Back in March of 2006, Pastor Richard Rubi, his son Marcus, and his brother, Pastor Herb Rubi, were making their trek home to the U.S. They checked in their bags for the flight to London, were processed through immigration, and finally found themselves alone in a kind of VIP lounge replete with air conditioning, cold drinks, and a television set showing highlights from England’s Barclays Premier League. Wow, this was nice! They had been there about an hour when someone entered, obviously upset, and announced that this was a restricted area. He began turning everything off, preparing to send them back to the hot, humid, uncomfortable waiting lounge. It was then that Herb spoke the magic words: “We’re here with Harold Warner.”
It was like a switch had been flipped. Suddenly, the official’s entire atmosphere and demeanor changed. “You’re here with Harold Warner?” We did plant and support the church in Freetown for more than 20 years, and regardless of who you are, the travel adage of “Hurry up and wait” was still in effect. But the pleasant end result of the story was that they allowed the Rubis to stay in the relative comfort of that lounge to while enduring the long wait for the flight to actually take off.
Since I am Harold Warner, I can laugh at the story and all of its moving parts. However, there exists in the minds of some Sierra Leoneans a pretty significant bit of confusion: is Harold Warner a short Mexican, or is he a gray-haired white guy in a wheelchair?! I know I am dating myself, but this reminded me of the old TV show, To Tell The Truth. The script was basically the same every week: three contestants each tried to fool a panel of four celebrities as to their real identity. Each would tell his or her story with just the right amount of devised twists and turns, and the contest would always conclude with the dramatic question: “Will the real ______ please stand up?” After a series of feints and jockeying, the real individual would stand up, and we’d all know his or her true identity.
One of the core features of ancient Greek philosophy is summed up in the phrase, “know thyself.” I’m not an expert in Greek culture or philosophy, but I do know that, like all of man’s wisdom and proposed meaning of things, it ultimately fails, leaving people empty. A healthy sense of self-awareness is crucial to a fruitful and well-lived life and ministry.
Reggie McNeal talks about The 7 Disciplines of Spiritual Leaders. At the top of the list he puts self-awareness, and sees this as fundamental to the other six. McNeal says: “Great leaders know where they’ve come from, what makes them tick, how they come across to others, and why they make the decisions they do. They are aware of their mission and their calling in life. They are well acquainted with their own failures and flaws, their sinful tendencies and recurring temptations.”
When I started writing this blog in 2009, it was my intention to keep separate the things I would write about, and the truths I would preach on. Great idea, yes, but in the real world with the pressures and deadlines of ministry that line becomes blurred from time to time. The truth of this post was originally going to be a writing project, but it morphed into a sermon. I was going to leave it at that until I saw an advertisement for a new book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, which was the pulse of the message. It made me realize there is still a need, and the EQ (emotional quotient) of pastors and leaders is patently real, so I urge you to read on.
Okay, back on track. There is one story in the Book of Acts that gives us a scriptural basis for this message. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas go to Lystra and a notable miracle occurs: a man who had never walked, lame since birth, is miraculously healed, and the response goes viral in the community. In this idolatry-based culture, the narrative was “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men,” and they were prepared to offer sacrifice to Paul (Mercury) and Barnabas (Jupiter). Hearing this, Paul and Barnabas tear their clothes (which was not a Hulk Hogan routine, but a sign of deep repentance and reverence for God), ran into the midst of the mob, and barely succeeded at stopping this madness by reminding them, “We’re men; humans just like you.”
The amazing reality is that in the very next verse, this same group of people were persuaded that Paul was a plague and stoned him, leaving him for dead on the outskirts of the city. In less than 24 hours they go from being considered god-like to being stoned as criminals. I like to look at this as an illustration of the ministerial emotional life cycle of a pastor/leader. This same attitude has caused many to ask themselves, Who am I? Hence the title, Pastoral Schizophrenia.
(Please understand, I am not making light of those that suffer from this actual mental malady, or of those who live with others who do. Instead, I am using the word in reference to the multiple perceptions of the pastoral ministry, and the identity-battle that can ensue.)
The text that inspired me was 1 Corinthians 4:1-7: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
Paul wants us to have a clear understanding of the nature of spiritual leadership.
THE CHALLENGE OF LEADERSHIP
Stuart Briscoe has made the classic observation that the qualifications of a pastor are: the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child; and the hide of a rhinoceros. We get into trouble when these become mixed-up, for instance someone with the mind of a rhinoceros and the hide of a child. The leadership challenge has always been how to toughen your hide without hardening your heart. The turf of ministry is not for the faint of heart, or the insecure. Paul hints at this in verse 3:“It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” One translation says, “where I rank in popular opinion” or “evaluated by you or by any human authority.” This infers that one of the occupational hazards of the Christian ministry is personal criticism. Warren Wiersbe wrote: “The way we respond to criticism pretty much depends on the way we respond to praise. If praise humbles us, then criticism will build us up. But if praise inflates us, the criticism will crush us; and both responses lead to our defeat.”
I love the story of the man who made a career change, and was no longer in the pastoral ministry. When a friend questioned him about how his new job was going he said, “Really well. Those days people get mad at me are only once or twice a year. When I was in the pastoral ministry, it seemed like someone was mad at me every other day!” This is because a fundamental misconception people have is that your job as a pastor is to make people happy. In truth, your task is to point people to Christ, the ultimate solution all people’s needs and problems.
I can’t tell you how many times this has been repeated over decades of ministry, along with the confusion and mixed signals that have caused me to ask myself, “Who am I?” Recently, our church secretary felt I might need a bit of an emotional boost. (Along with our IT head, she filters all the nasty messages sent to the church web site, so I can live with the illusion that everybody loves me!) She forwarded this message to me: “I used to go to The Door Church about 3 years ago... I have lived in Phoenix since then and have not found any church quite like The Door. The church was my home. I went on Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays, and Sundays. I went every chance I got because I absolutely loved it there. It felt like a home.... I have never felt so close to God before. It was at that church that for the first time I opened my heart to Jesus Christ and accepted Him... Whatever you are doing, please keep doing it... You helped spread the Word... No words can ever show you how much I appreciate you and your church. You helped change my life, and for that I thank you.”
A really affirming word, to be sure. But what made it more significant was that it came at a time when I had just sat listening to someone else tell me why they were leaving the church. Wait a minute! Uhmmm…. which of these two perceptions is correct: Who am I?
This reminds me of the paradox of Coach Pete Carroll. In the fourth quarter of this year’s Super Bowl, some were speculating that Pete Carroll should be considered one of the greatest coaches of all time. He won multiple championships at USC and was now on his way to winning his second straight Super Bowl as coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Fans and sportscasters declared him a genius, an expert team builder, a “player’s coach” who knows how to pull the best out of his team. All this was true with just 26 seconds left in the game. They were on the one-yard line, down by four points, and with the league’s top running back in the backfield. What happens next still leaves some with their heads reeling. Seattle calls a pass play, and as you now know, it was intercepted and Carroll’s team lost the game. Another Super Bowl victory to the much-maligned Bill Belicheck and the hated New England Patriots. The turn-around was as quick as it was intense. It was immediately hailed “the worst call in Super Bowl history.” In the span of a minute, Carroll went from being praised as a genius, to being criticized as an idiot. Who am I?
YOUR EMOTIONAL SURVIVAL
Paul, along with his vessel and crew, were shipwrecked on the island of Malta. As he was gathering sticks for a fire, a poisonous viper came out and fastened itself on to Paul’s hand. The inhabitants saw this and immediately thought, Ah-ha! This guy is a murderer, and now justice has caught up with him swift and sweet. But when Paul shook the snake off into the fire and nothing happened to him “they changed their minds and said he was a god.” Which one is it? Leadership is always challenging and, even on the great days, not everyone will be happy with your leadership. An old adage says there are three things in ministry you need to know: Number one, it’s never as good as it seems. Number two, it’s never as bad as it seems. And number three, the greatest myth of all is that you can fix it.
Having a healthy self-awareness (Who am I?) is a fundamental spiritual and scriptural exercise. After Paul’s primal exhortation that we are to be “living sacrifices” before God, he tells us one way we can do this: “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Rom.12:3). How to become a more secure leader? Tim Keller wrote, “If our identity is in our work, rather than Christ, success will go to our heads, and failure will go to our hearts.” Identity theft is a major concern with homes and businesses today. Verse one of our text says, “This is how one should regard us.” The Message paraphrase says, “Don’t imagine us leaders to be something we are not.” Have a correct view of identity.
I was drawn to this text because it offers us building blocks for a healthy self-image and for our emotional survival in ministry. First, we must grasp the true nature of ministry. Verse 3 says, “Regard us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” In this age of the celebrity pastor, we need to remind ourselves that as pastors, we are servants and not rock stars. What was that famous line from the film, Anchorman, where Will Ferrell’s character says, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m kind of a big deal. People know me.” Not exactly the words of a “slave of Christ.” The second building block is a focus and emphasis on character, as it says in verse 2: “It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful.” I was thinking recently about former President Bill Clinton’s re-election bid, right along with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was mystifying how the media’s narrative of these events amounted to the idea that “character doesn’t count.” When the bar was set that low, why are we surprised at the downhill spiral of corruption and incompetence that defines our government officials today? Thirdly, Paul tells us to keep in mind the fickleness of human opinion, describing it in verse 3a as a “very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.” He is not being dismissive of others, or saying they are unimportant, but reminding us that the same crowd that shouted that they were gods was the same crowd that picked up stones to stone them. The final building block in our text is in verse 3b, the unreliability of our own self-judgement: “In fact, I don’t even judge myself.” This is not to remove the place of honest self-examination, but to remind us that our opinion of ourselves is unreliable as the court of final appeal. People can feel good about anything they want to do. How can we trust our own hearts when Jeremiah says, "The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be" (Jeremiah 17:9, 10).
I think the words of former baseball player and coach, Leo Durocher resonate: “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.” Amen, to that! Who am I? Well… somewhere in between those two realities.
THE ULTIMATE ASSESSMENT
The heart of the Apostle’s reasoning is we are all performing to an audience of One. Paul’s logic is “it is the Lord that judges me.” He tells us in verse 5, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (TM: “only then will anyone of us get to hear the ‘well done’ of God”). The truth that stands out is that life and ministry can only be viewed effectively in the light of eternity. There are so many biblical references to this fact. Hebrews 13:17, for example: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Clearly, an eternal perspective is called for.
The advent of HD technology threw a lot of actors, actresses and TV personalities into a panic, because HD is very unforgiving; it shows everything. It goes beyond the comments about film making you look larger. I love my younger brother, Willy. For years we have maintained mutual respect and friendly competition between us. I remember sending him a picture of myself finishing a bike race. He emailed me back a question about my visible paunch in the picture. I wanted to tell him, “Well, you know, when you cinch a dual seatbelt that tight and in that position, it just makes your stomach look bigger than it really is,” but the truth is, he was a little bit more on target than I wanted to admit. It’s like the operation of the God’s Word. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4:12, 13).
In his book, The Making of a Man of God Alan Redpath wrote, “The Bible NEVER flatters its heroes. It tells us the truth about each one of them in order that, against the background of human breakdown and failure, we may magnify the grace of God and recognize that it is the delight of the Spirit of God to work upon the platform of human impossibilities.” Our lives are the canvas upon which God works His greatest masterpiece. The Message translation of verse 7 of our text says, “For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? Even if there was someone who really knew us in this manner, would they find or discover anything that is not the result of the sheer gift of God?” Alan Redpath again wrote, “The best place any Christian can ever be in is to be totally destitute and totally dependent upon God, and know it.” Paul’s view of his life is summed up in these words, found in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” A grace-informed way of looking at ourselves is essential to any kind of lasting and fruitful life of ministry.