Not long ago, God gave me a wonderful reminder about ministry through a woman named Deacon Pat. She is the youth minister at St. John the Baptist in Orlando, and she has served as a deacon for many years. I wouldn’t put anybody beside her in terms of passion, talent and genuine heartfelt love for the people she serves. She’s tough, too. You don’t want to mess with Deacon Pat.
Just as we were beginning a Communion service for a youth event at Camp Wingmann, Deacon Pat walked up to me. She waited for me to open my hand, and she shoved something inside and closed my fist over it so I had no idea what it was. With Pat, it really could have been anything, even a lizard. But it wasn’t moving, so I slipped it into my pocket, and we began the service together.
Submitted to Jesus
What she gave me was a wristband imprinted with the words “I Am Second,” meaning “I am submitted to Jesus Christ.” And if there’s anything I want to say to someone entering the ministry, it’s that you are second, too. Peter makes it very clear as he’s writing to people who are in ministry, “Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).
You are second; Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. We are, in essence, the undershepherds, brought into this calling by God to live lives of transparent vulnerability. It is not an exaggeration to say that you step into this office with a certain level of fear and trembling, because it feels at times like a tightrope. On the one hand, you love God. He’s the one who brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You owe him your very life, and if there’s anything good that comes out of this sinful, broken person that you are, it is to the glory of God and not at all a tribute to talent, to education or to social connectedness. All of those are worthy of pursuing, but in the end, if they’re not touched, and even transformed, by the love of Christ, you just come across as a smooth operator, not a servant of Jesus.
Servants of Jesus
Because that’s what God calls us to do as ministers: to live as servants of Jesus, especially in a culture that actually admires smooth operators, people who “just know how to get things done.” We know people like that, and we do need people who know how to deal with our complex world. But when it comes to the house of God, while some of those gifts and attributes are certainly helpful, they can mitigate against any level of humility. And that makes it foremost in your life to be able to remind yourself that you are second.
And therefore, you are to live a life under the obedience of the Holy Spirit, with all the demands that are coming your way. After all, you wrestle with the same kinds of fears and insecurities and demands that occasionally feel overwhelming as even top executives do, along with everybody else. And you must do so as a servant of Christ.
Strong in Jesus
In the midst of all of that, what does it take to lead a flock? “Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:9b). That was God’s word to Joshua before he took on the leadership of Israel. He had to lead them into the promised land and fight the battles that came upon that small nation whom God had chosen to literally occupy a place in history that would never be taken away from them. To be strong and to be courageous in your responsibility as a minister means having the humility to shut the door, to go into your own room and to be before God, transparently naked, and say, “If I have any strength at all, God, it’s got to come from you.”
In other words, strength and courage are procured in the secret place, when you shut the door, and there’s nobody there, either to praise you or blame you, because both are an everyday occurrence. You must be before the presence of God in such a way that God begins to pour his power and his grace and his mercy in way that is far beyond anything you could ever create for yourself.
And what does he do with that strength? That’s the topic for next week’s blog post.
What does “I am second” mean to you? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
(This post is an adaption of Bishop Brewer’s sermon on February 26, 2017, at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Lakeland, Florida.)
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.