Jesus selected twelve from among his followers and prepared then for mission. They had observed his teaching, witnessed miracles and his authority over nature, and saw first hand the response of the crowds to him. Prior to releasing them there was a final, long tutorial on expectations. Matthew 10 is a record of that frank, very honest lesson. In this teaching he said, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10: 16). This first mission assignment was their next chapter. Jesus wanted them to know there would be opposition and hardship as they served him. Next chapters aren't necessarily a stroll in the park.
Spiritual leadership is hard. Most of us called to serve him will experience what our staff called the dark underbelly of the church at some point in our ministry service. His promise of abundant living and victory doesn't beam us up to streets of gold or pearly gates before our final transmission to heaven. Yes, we are the beneficiaries of his gracious promises and power, in total "...all things that pertain to life and godliness..." as Peter affirmed (2 Peter 1:3). We have, however, "...this treasure in jars of clay" (2 Corinthians 4:7). Because it rains on the just and the unjust alike, we're not quarantined from the tough stuff of life. In fact, we are promsied more of it because we're his.
Maybe it's the prosperity gospel, or perhaps the visibility of so many super-hero pastors, but there seems to be the belief that next chapters are always rewards for having endured the tests and trials we've experienced in the last one. Every day I meet genuinely faithful servants who are keeping a balance sheet of their hard times and expect, therefore, some payoff in the next chapter, blessings credited to their account because they've suffered through periods of excruciating service. The truth is, however, that even with the promise of eternity, the next chapter may not be about living happlily ever after.
Just as Jesus laid truth out for the twelve, and all of his followers for that matter, we must deal with some facts about the chapters of our calling---
(1) Christ is forming his character is us. This means that we must always be alert for the ways he is attempting to shape us and teach us. Some of these traits are learned in the crucible of service. As a result, tests and challenges will be part and parcel of life as we minister, regardless of the place.
(2) A good many pastors and ministers confuse steadfastness and stubbornness. Of course steadfastness is a spiritual virtue that honors Christ and kingdom values. Stubbornness is about self and is more vice than virtue. When we are hard and unmoving we don't learn. So, there's a tendency to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. They will follow us from place to place if we are stubbornly unlearning.
(3) As menioned yesterday, it's always difficult to let go of past experiences. Crossing a new threshold doesn't automatically download the anger, hurt, grief, or pain of last chapters. In this case, many of those things travel with us and burden us even as we attempt to adjust to a new setting.
(4) In many cases, next chapters are a continuation of the last one. It's the grass is greener thing and a certain idealism that hopes our next assignment will be the perfect match and a best scenario field of service. We must never forget that we live and serve in a fallen world. While we expect more, the truth is the church is a gathering of imperfect people. Life is hard. So is church leadership.
(5) Even with the all of the above, next chapters are an opportunity to grow and thrive in ministry if we are faithful, humble, servant-minded, and constantly learning and living the character of Christ.
Ministry service isn't a fairy tale. Yes, there are $60 million dollar airplane schemes and $10.5 million dollar houses. Most of us wil live and serve in humble circumstances and even in next chapters never experience happily ever after or anything like it. But, there is joy and peace and the presence of Christ as we serve him where we are.
And, we must always look forward to the final next chapter, when he greets us at the finish line and says, "Well done, good and faithful servant".