Confessions of an Insignificant Pastor:
What Pastors Wish They Could Tell You
CHAPTER 1: EXCERPT #1
I’m a nobody! I went to average schools with mostly average kids and average teachers. Since it was all that I knew at the time average was very good. I wouldn’t change it for the world because God has used it to craft me into the person I am today. I love you Orleans, Indiana 47452!
There is nobody famous from 47452 that I know of. Mine is a background of pain, poverty, simplicity, obscurity, small towns, and relative insignificance. Yet, perhaps my life is not much different than yours. We all have a story to tell! Perhaps your story line includes similar people, similar small places, and similar results with just a different zip code. Maybe you too are a nobody from nowhere like me.
The Bible is full of nobodies from nowhere. David was the youngest (least) in his family. Are you the baby of your family? Joseph was the despised baby step-brother in his family. Do you feel lost in the shuffle of a blended family? Moses was abandoned by his mother in the Nile River, later found and adopted, and went on to become a murderer on the run to Midian (Exodus 2:1-15). Were you a foster child or an adopted child into a stranger’s home? Samuel was left off at the synagogue by momma Hannah and then raised by Eli the prophet as a preachers’ kid (1 Samuel 1-2).
Were you abandoned emotionally or physically as a child? Peter was an uneducated, dropout, blue-collar fisherman. Perhaps you had a mid-course career change into pastoring? Perhaps that is your future. Perhaps you are a sacrificial bi-vocational pastor? Ruth was orphaned and later widowed. Naomi was widowed. Are you single again? Jesus was viewed as an unexplainable illegitimate child. John Mark was a momma’s boy still connected by an emotional umbilical cord. We all have a storied background! What’s your story? How did you grow up?
Despite their insignificance, God raised each of these biblical heroes up out of their obscurity and did amazing things through their dedicated lives. He can do the same thing for you friend! It’s not so much about where you come from (47452) or who your family tree includes. It’s more about who you are becoming today as a citizen of the kingdom of God. Our “doing” cannot dictate who we are as a “being.” Our “being” instead needs to determine what we are “doing.” Pastor Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Washington DC says, “God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. But the right place often seems like the wrong place, and the right time often seems like the wrong time”. I’ve had those confusing times too. How about you?
CHAPTER 1: EXCERPT #2
I had a distraught middle-aged mom in my office recently sharing with me how “God was turning her misery into a ministry.” I was amazed by her faith. God gave Joseph the ability to interpret the dreams of those around him in prison. Joseph began to minister to those he worked and lived with in the prison (Genesis 39-40). By cooperating with God, Joseph had turned his miserable prison situation into a ministry center. Perhaps God wants to do the same for you with those things that have you bound, imprisoned, or falsely accused. Be open to new ministry opportunities in your latter years.
Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants and then eventually interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh himself (Genesis 40-41). Pharaoh pardoned Joseph and made him Vice-Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41:41-57). He gained this position of authority because he had been faithful to God while in the dungeon of obscurity. He was now in an influential position to make significant contributions to his generation and his family.
His highly lofted childhood dreams came true that day as his brothers bowed down in respect and fear to Pharaoh’s right-hand man (Genesis 42-47). When we humble ourselves, nurture our dreams, and lean upon God in the midst of conflicting situational messages, we are able to be raised up out of insignificance to significance through the anointed sovereignty of God.
God is in the business of making somebody’s out of nobody’s from nowhere because it brings a greater glory to His Name. The Bible is full of examples of the life-altering work of God in a yielded person’s life. God is able to do what NO man can do. God can open doors that NO man can close. God can close doors that NO man can open. It’s more about who He is and whose you are in him my friend. Christ has all the significance you and I need. Tap into it!
CHAPTER 2: EXCERPT #1
Most of us in the world are Joe and Jan average. Is that really all bad? Is it fair to expect everyone to be exceptional? Are we born with giftedness or is it dormant, later discovered, and then developed over the years? If life is lived in stages, can a person be average in some stages and excellent in others? Perhaps as we grow through these common life stages, we come to the final summit of above average in our last stage in life. How can anybody expect to be extraordinary?
Isn’t it the ordinary people that make the world go around? Isn’t it the middle eighty-percent of the population that we count on each day to bring continuity and normalcy to our chaotic world? I have my share of spiritual gifts but I’m not overly gifted, how about you? Are you a Christian super-hero? Shall we call you Superman or even your incredible family the Fantastic Four? These are confounding and confusing questions Batman! Captain America, I’m not. Are you?
When did average take on such a bad name? Our wanting to grow and be better than our current state is after all commendable. But we don’t have to frown on our current status and the status of others just because we are not there yet. If we’re all innately born with higher giftedness, higher understanding, and higher righteousness, what would be the challenge and purpose of living out our lives? Isn’t perfection after all quite predictable and boring? Perfection is overrated! Appreciate the process, enjoy the journey, and smile that the grace of God has developed you from the person you were yesterday to the person you are becoming today. Take hope in the fact that the God who has begun a good work in you today is faithful to complete it in his time.
God has used some pretty messed up people along the way. Moses was a murderer. Abraham was a liar. Jacob was a cheater. Rahab was a prostitute. David committed adultery. The apostle Paul had previously martyred Christians and had them killed. God loves to use those unsure of themselves (Moses in Exodus 4:10) and yet, sure of Him. Even when others doubt you (David in 1 Samuel 16:7), you are a candidate for God to use greatly. God loves to use the unlikely underdogs! God will use you despite your insecurities and often even in the areas that you are most insecure. God used all these messed up biblical people to do awesome things. God doesn’t choose the prepared but rather prepares the chosen.
CHAPTER 2: EXCERPT #2
What have others told you that you cannot do? You can’t write a book! What makes you think you can finish college? Are you kidding…you can’t start your own business!? You’ll always struggle with financial debt! How could you forgive someone like that? You’ve never led a small group before. Nobody’s ever done that before! Well friend, I’m that nobody from nowhere who God is going to help become a nobody to do what perhaps nobody else has done before. My name is Mark. You’ve never heard of me. That’s not unusual. No one has ever known any of the nobody’s of this world until they did something extravagant to be known for. Your reading of this book is God’s way of making me known to you so that He can encourage you through His daily story being written in me. It’s about Him!
NFL Pittsburg Steelers Super Bowl coach, Chuck Knoll once said, “Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.” It’s all about we Christians doing the fundamentals better than we ever have before. If we give attention to detail, to the small matters, and commit to finish what we started, we will win more battles than we lose. Do whatever it takes and make no excuses. Success is more about perseverance than most anything else. Do the ordinary better than anyone else.
I remember a Chicago inner-city pastor friend of mine years ago who when asked, “How is it going?” he would respond, “I just keep showing up and praying that God shows up too.” Faithfulness to show up and do the regular, routine, and fundamental things better than anyone else makes us champions for God. Work within the culture of your environment. Tony Dungy, Super Bowl champion coach of the NFL Indianapolis Colts recalls his father’s advice to focus on the job at hand, not the conflicting surroundings, and then decide to embrace the situation rather than trying to change it right away. Don’t panic! Do what you do because it is the right thing to do and it is good to do it. It’s more about character and core values than giftedness. Don’t get distracted by the circumstances, the growls of your enemies, and the wind of your storms. Keep the faith and your faith will keep you.
CHAPTER 2: EXCERPT #3
So how do you move from poverty and obscurity in 47452 to prosperity and significance? Is that opportunity really even possible? Is there a secret treasure map somewhere? Do I need the decoder ring in the bottom of the cereal box? How do you do what you have never seen done by anyone else before? The only super heroes I knew were in TV cartoons and DC or Marvel brand comic books. Nothing incredible ever came out of Orange County, Indiana to my knowledge. What could make me feel like I could be the first? Was I better or smarter than the rest? Why me Lord? Why now? Are you kidding? Is this a cruel joke of God?
Reality television programs such as “The Biggest Loser,” “Beauty and the Geek,” “The Apprentice,” “American Idol,” or “America’s Next Top Model,” are about turning losers into overnight winners. Television game shows are about making contestants into shortcut millionaires. One day I am going to hit the jackpot and win the lottery. We all dream of shortcuts to greatness, quick-fixes out of our average lifestyles, and moving into a big house with a white picket fence on Easy Street. Something within us all strives for more. We don’t want to live the life of Joe or Jan Average but neither are many willing to take the road of sacrifice to attain their wildest dreams.
We all want to strike it rich like the “Beverly Hillbillies” and make something of our pathetic, average, and insignificant existence. We’re waiting for our ship to come in. We’re looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We love infomercials, “get rich quick” schemes, “no money down” real estate seminars, chain letters, rich dead Nigerian ambassadors giving away their fortune to any and all who will send their social security number and bank account information. If only it were that easy. There is no Easy Street! The Bible says you reap what you sow. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. Most of life is just good ole’ fashioned hard work, perseverance, and doing the ordinary better than you did yesterday. That makes for an extraordinarily blessed person.
CHAPTER 3: EXCERPT #1
Elijah takes a forty-day camping trip to Mt. Horeb and hides in a cave there. God comes to Elijah one day and asks him what he’s doing there. That’s a fair question. What if He were to ask you that question today? How would you answer Him? Where does Elijah’s forty-day camping excursion fit into the will of God? Is Elijah hiding from Ahab and Jezebel or is he running in fear from God’s will? What are you doing here? I don’t know what I’m doing or where I am going.
Elijah is off course. He took a rest stop at wilderness highway exit #40 in Mt. Horeb’s famed, Fear Factor Cave. He is floundering. He doesn’t know what he’s doing or where he’s going at this time in his life. Who ministers to the prophet? Who coaches pastors? Elijah’s hiding out in his cave named fear. Have you visited there? Where do you hide when things get tough? How do you handle life when it doesn’t make sense? Do you hide or avoid the very thing that you fear the most? Elijah then experiences the heavy winds, the earthquake, the fire, and finally the gentle whisper of God. It’s in the quiet place that God wants to speak and give us direction. Can you hear His whisper? Are you listening for it?
Elijah had been on the fast track of success and now the rug had been pulled out from under his feet. He didn’t know now where he was going or what he was doing. God tells Elijah to go back where he came from and to anoint two people to be kings and also Elisha as the new prophet to succeed him. How often has God had to tell me to go back to a point where I stepped off the beaten path of His will for me? I’ve made a left turn instead of the right turn I should have taken. I’ve run the red light or squeaked through the yellow caution lights here and there. I’ve done 50mph in a 30mph speed zone. I’ve done my share of back tracking and back pedaling. I’ve been lost and drove around in circles.
When’s the last time you asked God for direction? And yes, as a misdirected man, I have even stopped or been stopped in my tracks to ask God for directions. My shortcuts weren’t always so short and often added miles and days to my journey through life. My return to God is to say to Him that I was wrong, I repent, and I agree with Your direction for my life Father God. Lord, I submit to Your leadership.
I often feel like I am in over my head. I don’t feel like I know enough to do the job. I don’t feel like I am good enough of a person. I’ve made too many mistakes. Notice that Jesus didn’t pick the religious, smartest, or most gifted persons. He used the ordinary ones. When I went to college…I was in over my head. When I planted my first church…I was in over my head. When I went on staff at a church of 6,000 regular weekend attenders…I was in over my head. When I came to pastor the church in Oshkosh…I was in over my head. When I was writing my Doctor of Ministry dissertation project…I was in over my head. I doubt at times that I know what I am doing or where I am going myself let alone as the pastor/leader over my church. I often feel like the blind are leading the blind.
Sometimes I am just going through the motions, spinning wheels, sitting under a broom tree, doing what I’ve done before, and faking it till I make it. I have to trust in the faithfulness and sovereignty of God. I believe God knows what He is doing even when I don’t seem to have a clue. I simply must trust God to lead me forward into His will and my destiny. I may not always be sure of myself but I do need to be sure of God. God can be trusted when my feelings cannot be trusted. He is faithful when I am not faithful.
We must take faith risks. We cannot give in to complacency. Without faith it is impossible for us to please God. We cannot live our lives trying to eliminate risks. What big risk have you taken in the past year? Are you taking the safe path? Is your God too safe? What will it take for you to become firmly convinced that God is trustworthy? You have to step out to find out! You will never know what God wanted to do through you until you take the leap of faith. So what are you waiting for? The fear of failure is natural. We don’t enjoy pain. But an even greater pain is the ache of regret. No one wants to say, “I wish I would have…”