And I don’t need to be.
I’m not saying I should not strive for excellence. I should certainly desire to glorify God in everything I do.
And certainly we should want to impact our community, and reach people with the Gospel.
But I’ve often thought that success meant being well known, or pastoring a growing church, or at least having some kind of thriving ministry.
But even if I fail at all of these things, I’m just as much accepted by God as I would be if I were to succeed at them all. God accepts me not on the basis of my works, but on the basis of Christ’s work.
This is great news, because no matter how great I try to be, I never seem to get it right. And I’ve noticed that when I think I do get it right, it’s usually because I’m grading according to the wrong scale.
In fact, I’m learning that it’s better not to grade myself or my ministry at all, but rather simply to rest in the grade that God has already given me through Christ. Though Jesus, I am 100% forgiven and accepted.
And when I do that, I begin to strive to glorify God not to earn anything, but simply rejoicing in the God who loves me, despite my lack of greatness.
…but I want to start back up.
Sometimes I feel like I need to write about what’s going on in my church’s life, or the life of my denomination, or even in terms of my own personal pastoral growth. Although I’ll soon be starting my tenth year as a pastor, I still have a lot of growing to do.
So I hope to write more soon. But knowing myself, this might be my last post for awhile.
As a part of the youth conference that I’m at this week, I got to hear Tenth Avenue North. Not only did they put on a great concert, they led us in worship in such a way that made me cry. It was beautiful. But I was disappointed in one aspect of their concert.
They didn’t sing my favorite song.
I’ve heard Tenth Avenue North in concert at least twice before, and both times they sang their song, “You Don’t Owe Me.” It’s a great song about how God doesn’t owe us anything.
But they didn’t sing it this time.
In fact, they didn’t sing a single song that I knew. At least not any that I knew well. I think I knew one line of one of the choruses they sang.
And yet I still was able to worship and enjoyed the time of worship. Why? Because worship isn’t about me. It’s not about my favorite songs, my favorite genre, or even whether they sing any songs I even know at all.
You see, God doesn’t owe us anything. When we get entitled about our worship preferences, we make worship more about us than about God.
But this only scratches the surface of the conversation that springs from this topic. Because this applies not only to what we sing, but to every aspect of our churches and every aspect of our lives. God doesn’t owe us anything.
And yet, God gives us everything good we could ever need and desire in Jesus. It’s true. Hebrews 13:21. James 1:17. Matthew 7:11. 2 Peter 1:3. Look ’em up. Believe it, and worship.
I’m spending a few days this week at a youth conference. I brought three teenagers with me who are eager to worship and grow in their faith. As I write this post, they are standing and listening to Lacrae, a well-known Christian rapper. And they’re with a couple thousand more teenagers who are shouting and praising Jesus. It’s awesome.
I just came back to my seat a little bit ago. I was in a room full of teens who were giving their lives to Christ. I got to pray with a couple teens who were rededicating their lives to Jesus. It was awesome.
It reminded me once again that we have and lot of hope for the future of the church. God is still in the business of calling out a people for Himself, including the next generation. And that’s awesome.
It sure seems like a lot of teens are taking their faith seriously. They’re taking worship seriously. And I bet if we give them the opportunity, they’ll take service seriously.
The preacher tonight said something I’ve heard before, known for awhile, and firmly believe. He said that youth are not the church of tomorrow. They’re the church of today.
I read an article last night encouraging pastors to make sure their Christmas service is done with excellence because there will likely be several people in attendance who don’t regularly gather with the church. Among other things, the article encouraged me to preach an extra special good sermon on Christmas day. The rationale was basically that we want to leave a great impression on our guests so that they’ll want to come back again.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the motive, but I think the article generally gave bad advice.
I often need to fight (in my own heart) the tendency toward professionalism in the church. Yes, we want to do all things with excellence, but if that means telling someone they can’t sing a special because they don’t have a good voice, we’re defining excellence wrong. Excellence in the church is not about doing things in such a way that we can all nod in approval and say, “Yes, good song” or “Yes, good sermon.” Excellence is worshiping with the mindset that we have an audience of One: God Himself.
If that’s our goal in worship, then the day of the year and/or the presence of guests makes little difference. We should always seek to do everything with excellence. That should be the norm in church. That should be our “average.”
Whenever I prepare a sermon, I study the Scripture text, wrestle with it, and once I feel like I’m beginning to adequately understand it, I prepare the message that I feel God wants me to preach from that particular text at that particular time. And I don’t stop preparing until I feel like it’s perfect (or at least as perfect as I can possibly comprehend and state it. I often have to go to bed Saturday night and pray, “God, I’ve done all I can possibly do; please speak through this broken vessel.”)
My sermon preparation leaves no room for attempting to preach a more excellent sermon. I’m not saying I can’t improve in my preaching. I definitely can. I’m not saying I shouldn’t give it all I’ve got on Christmas morning. Of course I should. But I give it all I’ve got every Sunday. That’s my normal. That’s my average. Because that’s what my Audience deserves.
So if you come to Grace Baptist Church to worship with us this Christmas morning, know that everything said and done is how we normally worship God week after week. It’s not flashy. It’s not professional. We’re a real family worshiping a real God, who always deserves our very best.