Confession Time for Pastors

When the dirty task (washing the soiled feet of proud disciples) had been completed, Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to also wash one another’s feet.” Christ is saying, “The attitude I have had toward you, you must have toward one another. My sense of calling must become your sense of calling. The willingness that I have exhibited, you must live out in your ministries.” What is that attitude? What is the commitment that must shape the ministry of every pastor?

You and I must not become pastors all too aware of our positions. We must not give way to protecting and polishing our power and prominence. We must resist feeling privileged, special, or in a different category. We must not think of ourselves as deserving or entitled. We must not demand to be treated differently or to be put on some ministry pedestal. We must not minister from above, but from alongside.

What is the grand lesson, the grand calling of this startling moment? Jesus says, “If you’re not greater than your master, and he has been willing to do this disgusting thing, you must also be willing. If you are my ambassadors, called to represent my will and way, called to be tools of my redeeming grace, then there must be no ministry task that you think is beneath you. You must be willing to do the lowest, most debased thing so that my work and my will be done. You must not refuse. You must not think of yourself as too good. You must be willing to be the lowest of slaves in order that my kingdom may come. You must not be too proud.”

More Highly than We Ought

Let’s be honest, pastors. We are tempted to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. At times, we chafe against things that we think are beneath our pay grade. We are not always willing to do the dirty work of the ministry. I know I’m not always ready and willing. We are too oriented to reputation, position, and power. We desire to be recognized and to be prominent. We are not attracted to redemptive servitude. We want our ministries to be clean and comfortable.  We tend to think of ourselves as more movers and shakers than servants. This doesn’t happen because you’re getting your identity as an ambassador. No, if you and I think any kingdom work is beneath us, we have become identity amnesiacs. And there is a short step between forgetting your assigned position and inserting yourself into God’s position.

The amazing example and commission of Christ should produce grief that leads to confession. We lose our way. We become more masters than servants. In our heart of hearts we know that we will never become what we have been called to become unless we’re rescued by the same grace we have been commissioned to proclaim and live before others. And we don’t have to fear that our silly, delusional, and unearned pride will cause the Father to turn his back on us. He knows who we are. He knows we don’t measure up. He knows we still fall short of his righteous requirement; that’s why he has given us the gift of his Son. We can run to him and admit to embarrassing self-glory and know he won’t embarrass us or slap us away, because our standing before him is not based on our performance but on the spotless performance of his Son.

So, with me right here, right now make the confession that you need to make. Cry for the help that you need. Your Savior is near, and he is both willing and able.

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  • Steve Cornell

    Taking this good word to another level, I thought about a line from NT Wright, “If the Biblical story is told truly, it will subvert the alternative stories. But to tell it truly, you have to be living it” Or, we might say, to tell it with effect, you must be living it. The church is a community that cannot be deconstructed when it is a community of love. Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35 (following his example: John 13:1-5 and 12-17) take on powerful meaning in postmodern times. As Jesus set the tone for what a community of Christ followers should look like with mutual affection and honor, so we pastors must lead the way.

    As NT observed, “if we are to address contemporary culture with the message of the Bible we must get used to combining two things which are normally at opposite poles—humility and truthtelling.”

    But, “it is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation.” (N. T. Wright)

    When we are humble, loving, truth-telling Christians under leadership distinguished by mutual affection and honor, (foot washing love), the world will know we’re His disciples and we’ll offer the badly needed alternative to the uncertainty, anxiety, and angst of postmodern times.

    “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).

    Yes, Paul, a good word indeed! Let us be leaders in displaying mutual honor, deference and humble service. Excuse me as I must pray now!

  • Betty Elledge

    We witnessed a pastor who picked his sheep and sidelined some worshippers in the congregation. That nearly pushed us out of the faith. It was worst than corporate politics in the corporate world.

  • Phil Weingart

    Tempted, heck. “Encouraged” is more like it, and more than that. You lose your job and your salary if you do not function at a level that justifies thinking of yourself that way.

    The expectations that American congregations lay on their pastors is irrational and improper. Far too many Christians expect the pastor to be the Christian that they, themselves, do not have the discipline to be. It’s institutionalized hypocrisy created by pastor-congregant dynamics.

    Pastors need to teach their congregants that pastors are mortal just like they are, and that the work of service rests on the backs of the congregants, not on the pastor. Message to pew-sitter: you want your church to be more evangelistic? Go evangelize. End of sermon.

  • Seth Fuller

    Love this post. Love all your posts actually. Thank you brother.

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