Del Griffith and the Bright Shiny Pastor
"I like me."
You know what? You’re okay.
The problem is, you don’t let yourself believe that.
My friend BJ and I tell each other all the time that we’re lousy pastors. We don’t really think that’s objectively true, but it feels important to get out into the air what haunts us inside. I’m guessing it haunts you, too. You entertain an inner voice telling you that you’re a bad pastor, that you’re a fraud. It’s a lying voice, but you listen to it anyway.
Maybe you don’t believe yourself to be holy enough to be a pastor. I get that. So does Sinclair Ferguson who suggests that we may be listening to the wrong voice.
“The children of God hear the whispers of the Evil One: ‘Look, you have sinned. You have broken God's law. You are under condemnation. You are not qualified to be a believer.’ Nor, surely, is there a gospel minister to whom he has not added the words, ‘. . . far less fit to be a pastor.’”
The pastor who worries about holiness is most likely doing just fine. You’re okay. You need to know that.
And you’re okay even if you’re not the superstar you think you should be. We admire from a distance that bright, shiny pastor who seems to have it all together. Whether such a one exists or not doesn’t matter. We create this perfect standard before which we will always fall short. You are more likely than not a good, competent, pastor. You’re not perfect, of course. But you’re not a bad pastor.
I once knew a pastor who was respected by many and loved by his prospering congregation. He was kind and gentle and wise, and one day he walked into the woods and shot himself. Against all evidence to the contrary he believed himself to be a poor pastor, and the weight of this overwhelmed him.
The voices of imperfection need to be silenced, but not in this way. Sure, you have your faults. But God has gifted you as well. You’re not a bad pastor. You’re a good pastor with faults. That’s okay.
Of course there are clumsy, cruel, and authoritarian pastors, but the bulk of pastors are none of these things. Still, the voices in our heads condemn us.
Not long ago some decisions I had made were questioned, and the criticism weighed heavily on me. The rightness of my choices didn’t matter much when the critical voices joined with my native self-critical choir. They formed a deafening chorus pronouncing me a failure.
But these voices lie.
Scripture commands us not to think too highly of ourselves, but we often sin in the inverse. Among those actions that violate the ninth commandment, according to the Westminster Larger Catechism, is “. . . thinking or speaking . . . too meanly of ourselves or others. . . .”Nevertheless, we do it. To think too lowly of ourselves is to lie. So, quit lying to yourself. You’re okay.
Are there things that disqualify some from ministry? Sure. Lots of things. But we need to let others be the judge of that, not ourselves. We’re very poor witnesses. We don’t tell the truth about ourselves, and when we try, we don’t believe our testimony. So relax. Listen to others for a while. You’re okay.
Sure, you sometimes forget to visit people. That unanswered email sits in your inbox. You are avoiding dealing with your own edition of Euodia and Synteche. You don’t manage the church as well as the books say you should. But you are not a bad pastor, despite the lying voices in your head.
You need a different narrative, one more like that of Del Griffith.
Del Griffith is a shower curtain ring salesman in John Hughes’ movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Del is thrown together with Neal Page who becomes a bitter critic, speaking out loud to Del the things we too often say to ourselves. Del, however, fights back from a place of okayness.
“You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you... but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I'm not changing. I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get.”
That’s the voice you need to invite in for a while. There are things to like about you. So, say it: “I like me.” This isn’t an invitation to narcissism. It’s an invitation to accept yourself as God does, with grace. You give grace to others; accept it yourself. It’s okay to be okay. Practice believing that. Say it out loud: “I like me.”
Because there’s a lot to like, no matter what you’ve told yourself for years.
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Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (United States: Crossway, 2016), p. 133.