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I Was Not Called to be a Shopkeeper

John Gable, Pastor of Tabernacle Presbyterian Church here in Indianapolis, and I are becoming friends. Yes, pastors of different denominations can actually get along and become friends. We're living proof. The other day I was sharing with him my struggles of trying to lead at a higher level without losing my soul. What I mean is that Christians in general, and pastors in particular, can get so caught up in serving Jesus that we forget to be with Jesus. John listened very pastorally to my grousing and griping, and then he handed me a book and asked if I'd read it. The book is Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson.

I'd heard of the book before but had never read it. At first glance, I thought this was not the right book for me, because I didn't want to work any angles anymore. It's partially from the angles of different preferences and sub-groups within church life that I have gotten discombobulated.

But these aren't the angles Peterson writes about. In true trinitarian language, Peterson describes three angles that provide trajectories for spiritual health and "soul care." Without these three angles embedded in the life of a pastor, we can succumb too easily to the temptations of our age for success and the momentary applause of people.

Unfortunately, as I travel among groups of pastors, I experience all too readily the reality of what Peterson describes. What's even more frightening is that I find this tendency in my own heart as well. Peterson writes, "[Pastors] talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills. The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper's concerns--how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money. Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, and develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same."

I was not called to be a shopkeeper. I was called to be a pastor. A shopkeeper's responsibility is to maintain the shop and help it increase its profitability. A pastor's responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. And how does a pastor do that? By working the angles of praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction. The primary job description of a pastor is to pray--"an act in which I bring myself to attention before God"; to absorb Scripture--"an act of attending to God in His speech and action across two millennia in Israel and Christ; and to provide spiritual direction--"an act of giving attention to what God is doing in the person who happens to be before me at any given moment."

If you're a "church person," and many of you reading this are, you might agree that there are far too many "CEO-Pastors" and not enough "Shepherd-Pastors." And while there is much blame to lay at the feet of us pastors, there are also great crowds of people who, intentionally or not, have joined the conspiracy to eliminate prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction from their pastor's life. They would not see it that way, but the evidence proves the case. They want their pastor and church to have a certain image and standing. They assess pastoral value based on impressive attendance charts and successful church-building programs. They do their best to fill the pastor's schedule with meetings and appointments that leave them little time for solitude and stillness before God, to ponder Scripture, and to be unhurried with another person.

Hi. I'm Rick Grover, and I'm a mega-church pastor. I have the same temptations as any other pastor and any other Christian for that matter. How do I lead others to become like Jesus? By first of all leading myself to become like Jesus. I can't lead others where I'm not willing to go. Together, we must be people of prayer, the Word, and spiritual direction. We all need one another. If you're trying to fly solo in your Christian life, I'm convinced that at some point you will crash and burn. As Peterson puts it, "The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in town and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does His work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community." And that responsibility, above all else, is to keep the community attentive to God.

Discipleship – it’s not complicated

I'm in Houston at a Discipleship Conference and I've been sitting all day listening to facilitators help us learn more about how to become a disciple-making church. I have a friend back in Kentucky who would ask me right about now, "OK, so what did you learn?" And then he would add, "Don't give me any of that churchy-seminary talk. Just tell me in every-day language what you learned, and make it short." (My friend usually wants me to get right to the point.)

So here it is. Discipleship is not rocket science. It is not about programs. It is not complicated. Follow Jesus. Let Him change your heart and life. And bring others along with you.

As someone who has spent his entire life in the "church world," I know how easy it is to keep the focus on the machinery of ministry and maintaining the organizational structures of Sunday services, adult Sunday school classes, mid-week classes and programs, children's church and classes, and everything else on the surface that looks good. People are happy (for the most part), tithes are coming in, bills are being paid, missionaries are funded, and weddings are performed, along with some funerals. 

If we're not careful, we can take the Spirit out of our spirituality and make our Christian experience more about the routines of religious expression than the dynamics of a life lived intentionally with Jesus. And this goes for pastors, too. I can do my "job," perform my religious duties, receive a paycheck, and all is good with the world. Or so it seems at first. But if we digress in our devotion, we are no longer fueling our spirit, and our love for Jesus grows cold. We keep going through the motions, but we find ourselves possessing a cavernous heart that was created to be filled with God's Spirit but settles for spirits of other kinds. And, thus, we keep on searching.

The remedy to this malady is authentically returning to our first love. The Apostle John records the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus: "I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:3-5).

The Ephesian church was faithful to God's Word. They were patient and did not grow weary. They stood against false doctrine (Revelation 2:6). And yet they abandoned the "why." May we never forsake the "why" which is our love for Jesus. Jesus said, "Abide in my love" (John 15:9). This is the bedrock of discipleship. Obedience flows out of love. It doesn't create love; it manifests it. If we don't have love, we are not remaining in Jesus, and we ultimately will live lives devoid of bearing fruit.

Right about now my friend in Kentucky would say, "I thought you were going to keep it simple." So I return to where I started. Discipleship is not a program, and it is not complicated. If you want to discover why you exist, the meaning of life, and the fulfillment of daily existence, follow Jesus, let Him change your life, and then bring others along with you. This you cannot do in isolation of others. Love for Jesus leads to love for others and becomes the defining mark of a disciple. Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

Let's take those daily steps, in friendship with others, to love God, follow Jesus, and serve our world.

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