Midterm Exam

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” If Socrates was right, then many people I know are in serious danger, even pastors. Every time I share my personal reflections with the leaders that I mentor, some respond by saying, “I wish I could recall things like you do, but my life is just a blur.”

So if you were taking a midterm exam right now, how many of the questions below you could answer with an honest “yes!”
  • Have you been growing through the COVID crisis or have you been merely going through it?
  • Are you living with a healthy life-giving rhythm right now?
  • Is your attitude reflecting a deep settled confidence in the sovereignty of God?
  • When you are struggling with fear or anxiety at times, do you candidly confess your uncertainty to a trusted few?
  • Are you living and leading with congruency and authenticity?
Everyone wants to be authentic, especially leaders in ministry.  After all, the opposite is phoniness and hypocrisy. But even if we don’t outright lie, it’s common to confidently speak about things we know little about. I was convicted about that when recently reading someone’s description of a profound and life changing experience with God, the likes of which I have never personally enjoyed. Even after over six decades of following Christ, when it comes to matching their experience of joyful rapture, I was left humbled by how much I have missed!

Being authentic is one of the occupational struggles of  ministry. When it comes to Christian living, those of us in church leadership are not only supposed to know what the Bible says about the practical issues of life, but we’re also actually expected to have some experience in successfully putting our core convictions into practice. While few expect us to be perfect, we’re at least expected to be making some progress in that direction.

To be candid, some days I find it a struggle to be as joyful, hopeful, non-critical and calm as those I mentor would reasonably expect me to be. Even after lengthy times in the Word I can quickly descend into my old snarky, sarcastic and critical ways. As a matter of fact, that just happened again the other day. I immediately tried to excuse my bad attitude by blaming it on a bad nights sleep as well as more bad news concerning the corruption of our culture. But then I thought of what C.S. Lewis said about rats in the cellar. He made the point that when we suddenly turn on the lights the rats run for cover, but they were actually there all the time. The suddenness of the light revealed them but didn’t cause them, it only prevented them from hiding.

Evidently the rats of negativity are always lurking in the cellar of my soul. For example, the reason I at times still struggle with irritability and impatience is because I have yet to fully confess my sin of self-centeredness and allow Christ to cleanse my heart. I’m coming to the conclusion that I’ll never outgrow my need for grace, either from God or from those closest to me.

It’s clear that even old preachers still need to preach the gospel, to themselves! This is not about making light of missing the mark but rather making much of the solution. So, instead of condemning myself I’m learning the value of confessing my faults and praising my Savior. As the old song goes: “Jesus loves me this I know.” And as someone else put it: “Jesus knows me this I love!”

How long has it been since you reflected on your sin and rejoiced in your salvation? This doesn’t happen easily, it requires intentionality. In his book, Hidden in Plain Sight, Mark Buchanan talks about the danger of Christian leadership. He says, “I have a friend, also a pastor, who calls it ‘trafficking in unfelt truth’ - commending to others a life we’ve never lived, posing as tour guides to territory on which we’ve never set foot.”

It’s impossible to effectively lead others during normal times, much less through uncertain times, without both authenticity and humility. I just finished mentoring a business leader over an outdoor lunch. The weight of the current challenge has exhausted him, but by the end of the lunch he was visibly lighter and even leaning back and laughing again. Why? He felt that I not only heard him, but as a former elder of our church he knew that I could relate to the heavy challenges before him.

One of these days, these days will be history. When we get to the end of this season of struggle, and we will, how do you want to be remembered? In Hebrews 11 we find a long list of Biblical heroes from Abel to Abraham, all of whom are being commended for their faith. Then we read this line: “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God…”

May we live these days in such a way that would make our God proud of us, and maybe even cause Him to smile and say, “That’s my kid!” The smile of God is the ultimate reward on any exam. Now is the time to press pause and examine ourselves.

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