I’m one of those people who always ask ‘Why?’ I have to know why something is being done, what the purpose is, what end-goal is in mind. As a result, I like to know the answer to “why?” I find comfort in knowing, “I’ll take this step, the world will respond to that step in this way; I’ll take that step, the world will respond like this; In the end, this will be accomplished and will serve this purpose.” The problem is that the world seldom plays along, and this mentality often leads one to almost act as sovereign and forget that God, the only true sovereign, may actually take actions to knock us down a peg. His plans are not my plans. His plans will be accomplished; mine have no such guarantee.
This mentality becomes especially troublesome for those of us in Church leadership. We tend to tie our personal sense of worth, or self-image, our plans and hopes to the actions of our church. If the church is responding to our leadership and moving our direction, we feel valued, and useful. When the church pushes back (as all churches will eventually do) we feel unappreciated and can get burned out and discouraged. When the church is growing, we see this as a pat on the back saying, “Good job! Look what you did!” We would never express it that way. We are taught to at least give lip service to the idea that God alone grows his church. However, we know this is what we are actually saying when we see the usual response to the church not growing. We look at the church, see a lack of growth, see stiff-necks, hard-hearts and ask, “What is wrong with me? Why am I failing?” Well, if it is for you to fail, then it is for you to succeed.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying a pastor can’t fail. I’m not saying that a lack of growth is never the fault of the church leadership. What I want to address is the self-critical thinking that often torments the church leader in these times when nothing seems to go our way.
Imagine if you will the pastor of a church. This person feels the weight of growing the church. It is not just himself who feels this. If the church doesn’t grow it is natural for the church to look to him—even when the lack of growth might actually be the people’s fault. If the church doesn’t grow, it affects the pastor in many ways. It makes it hard to find another position—“We shouldn’t consider this pastor; his last church failed.” It makes it hard to keep going, making the pastor want to give up. This can become self-defeating.
We might respond mentally to this problem is different ways. Since we see ministry success as God using us, we often project thoughts onto God:
- “Why is God not using me?” This shows we tie being used to being successful—if I’m not ‘successful’ I’m not being used. Perhaps God is using you or working on something within you that requires failure from the human perspective.
- “Am I unworthy of being used by God?” This usually means we believe there is something unworthy within us, something making us useless to God. Now, if there is sin in your life, deal with it. Don’t pretend it isn’t there. However, seek forgiveness; repent; move on. Forgiveness from God comes quickly—Jesus already paid the price, all of it. The difficulty comes in forgiving ourselves. We feel unworthy and unconsciously sabotage our own efforts because we don’t yet ‘feel’ forgiven. Don’t dwell on your unworthiness of being used. Since no one God has ever used deserved to be used, I can assure you that you do not deserve to be used. If you did deserve to be used, then God would not use you. Actually, if you could deserve to be used, then God would be reduced in majesty.
- “Is God not willing to use me?” This thought makes several assumptions. First, it assumes that I am doing everything right, but perhaps God has simply chosen to not use me, for whatever reason. If God has chosen not to use you, you can safely assume there is a reason. Is it possible God wants to use you in a way you have not considered? Is it possible you are not where God wants to use you? Is it possible you are insisting on being used in a way different from God’s intention? If he is not using you there, ask where he wants to use you. If he is not using you in that way, ask if there is another way he wants to use you. It is good practice to find what God is doing and join in, rather than demanding God bless what you want to do.
Is God in charge of his kingdom and expanding it? If so, then he decides how it grows. This brings us to another mentality displayed by such thinking. Often we ask, “Why is God not using me?” we are mentally prefacing it with: “God should use me,” “God should use me here,” or “God should use me in this way.” It is God who decides whom he uses, where he uses them and how he uses them. If God is not using you, then perhaps he wants to use you elsewhere, or perhaps he wants to use you in a different way. Is it possible God is already using you in a way you just don’t recognize? Perhaps his using you just doesn’t match up to your assumptions on what “being used” looks like?
One friend of mine has a wonderful way of handling such situations. Whenever anything happens he wonders, “God, what are you teaching me?” Now, don’t take this to the ridiculous. When a light bulb burns out, don’t ask what God is teaching you—just change the light bulb. However, when things in life and ministry are not going the way you would hope, or expect, ask if God is teaching you something about yourself, about him or about life/ministry.