During Advent, I generally add to devotional reading books, poems, and reflective articles that cause me to pause and think. The essence of Advent that has been lost in a culture that never stops is learning to wait. We have lost the art of patient self-reflection. We have traded introspection for over connection. We have never been more connected yet more alone than we are right now. We in our hurried age with hurried souls need the Advent season to slow us to remember and focus on what is really life.
Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust, they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands. The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come.
Bonhoeffer is saying that those who can not wait never experience the fulfillment of a promise. Advent is the reminder that we don’t have all that we need in our gifts and abilities. We need God’s help we need rescue. Waiting on a word from God is not something we do well. Listening is not a skill that most people excel in. We must learn to wait on God, wait for a word from Him. Advent is a season of recalibration where we are reminded that doing the most things isn’t the most important thing. That the Messiah doesn’t come in the way or in the form, you would expect.
Waiting challenges our expectations our presuppositions and makes us beggars of truth rather than dispensers of it. Waiting teaches us that our desires and petitions find their fulfillment in seeing God revealed in a baby. Even though scripture doesn’t give us much detail on the years between Jesus’ birth and his ministry, I think the silence of scripture magnifies the truth that even when the Messiah was here he waited until it was his time. Likewise, we must wait. Waiting for the Messiah is something that we have done since the promise of the snake crushing seed was given to our first father and mother. Seven hundred years before Christ the promise was renewed by the prophets telling us not to lose heart the Messiah was coming he was on his way. The people of Isaiah’s day waited for the coming Messiah. It is that coming that we celebrate. It is for that coming that we recreate that sense of longing and waiting for the Advent of Christ for which so many of the true offspring of Abraham patiently endured. We don’t just remember and imagine the longing they must have felt in waiting for the fulfillment of every promise. We wait. We wait for the final Advent of Christ his second coming that was promised to us by Christ himself that is confirmed to us by Scripture.
One of the temptations in ministry but particularly in youth ministry is to be a preacher who pastors. Pastoral ministry is tough there is no way around it, it just is. Preaching is generally immediately rewarding with people telling you that you did a great job or how what you said impacted them positively. Pastoring generally results in very few positive short-term results. Pastoring people is getting down into the middle messes and walking people through dark valleys. It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t get lots of likes on Instagram. Pastoring is the necessary hard spirit transforming work of leading your people to a long obedience in the same direction.
The problem is that we like instant feedback we like being told of our impact, so the temptation is for us to become preachers who pastor on the side. If we only ever look at pastoring as the necessary evil that allows us to preach, we have missed what it means to be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. When youth Pastors see what they do as a means to get more people there to heart them preach they have missed the point and have failed to have a broader understanding of what Pastoral Care looks like in the Bible.
We need to change our paradigm of discipleship. Preaching is a powerful means of discipleship, but if those we are training and leading only see us on stage they will fail to understand how that message is formed in years of pain and tears and think that standing on the stage in front of kids as what the Greeks called “Summum bonum” the highest good. Jesus confronted this in his disciples through his radical call to authentic discipleship. Do you want to be great? Yes? Be the least. (Matthew 20) Do you want to follow me? You can’t if you love anything. Anything. Including the good things, he gives us more than God himself (Luke 14). Jesus modeled a life a self-sacrificial love showing us what the highest good actually is.
One of the greatest temptations in ministry is to find value in the wrong things. To find our identity in what we do rather than whose we are. Not in the fact we can preach really well or if we can gather a crowd or if our Instagram photo of us preaching gets enough likes, or by getting good feedback on our facebook page after we preach. Our job is not to preach a tweetable message but to proclaim the fullness of God’s word to a generation who doesn’t want to hear the gospel.
What I have found in over twenty years of ministry in the same church is that even my best sermons are forgettable, but the moments I loved those who are the least of these those moments were never forgotten. Pastoring is showing up to pray for an 8-year-old boy in the hospital about to get his tonsils taken out and is scared. It’s walking into the room where a family is gathered because their dad just when home to Glory. It’s sitting in a living room telling a family that even though their dad left them that Jesus isn’t like that. Those moments are when you better be ready to know when to speak the hope the gospel provides and when to be quiet and weep with those who weep. It is in those moments of pastoral care that your life connects the dots preaching creates. Young pastor be a pastor who preaches not a preacher who pastors.
One of the mottos of the Reformation was Semper Reformanda which means “the church reformed, always reforming” With the strength of the Evangelical Protestant Church this seems like an antiquated motto for the Protestant church in its infancy.
However, as we celebrate 501 years of the Protestant Reformation, we are still a church in need of reformation as much from within Protestantism as we are from without. Recently I got into a conversation with several youth pastors from around the country, and the conversation was centered around the question of baptism. The question was posed if we should baptize someone who is currently living with someone in an unmarried relationship. 60% of the people who answered the question said they would baptize someone who is living with a partner. Various responses included “Who am I to judge” “There is no prerequisite in the Bible for baptism.” “Nobody is perfect” “#JesusWould” But would He?
In conversations like these, I am reminded how much Youth Ministry in America needs Reformation. I am reminded of how culture has out catechized our youth, and personal ideology permeated our seminaries. We need a reformation that shakes the foundation of our faith one that places the trust and dependence where it always should have been on Christ alone. One of the things I find helpful in the turbulent mishmash of progressive Christianity and Post Modernity is to look back at old things.
The things that bring sorrow to your life are a pretty good indicator of what is most valuable to you. The things that create tears in us are often from the disturbance of one of the idols of our hearts. We need to ask ourselves what makes us cry? When did I cry last? If you haven’t cried a lot lately, you need to ask yourself why not?
When I was a kid, I would cry about things that affected me. Not getting what I think I deserved. I remember crying when kids bigger than me made fun of me. It was all centered around my discomfort more than anything else. I was young and at the center of my own universe. As I got older my tears changed somewhat I would cry when I received rebuke for my sin by my pastors and parents. I remember sitting in church at age 13 drawing a picture of a weird looking devil thing, and my youth pastor saw me he met with me and rebuked me I was a mess. I felt bad; I was beginning to feel to the sorrow that sin brings into the lives of everyone it touches.
I am thankful my parents didn’t shield me from the rebuke I deserved from my youth pastor. Parents let your kids cry. Make your kids cry. So often we rightly want to console them and pacify them that we fail to allow them to feel the weight of their sin and see the beauty of Christ.
Several weeks ago one of my kids made fun of another kid and said something hurtful. I told them they had to go to that person’s house and apologize. The whole family was eating dinner on the deck. My son said to me “Right now? Everyone is outside.” I said Yes right now go. My son came back broken and weeping. I told him “Do you feel good right now?” he said no. I said this is what sin does to you. Did you feel good about yourself when you were roasting that other kid? He said Yes. I told him that sin will always do this to you. If feels good for a moment but when you and those you love are faced with the reality of what sin does you will weep tears far bigger and feel the pain of that sin much deeper. I told him that this is what sin does it sells you short-term pleasure and shields you from the long-term pain it brings.
What makes you weep? Rebecca VanDoodewaard in this months Table Talk says this.
Have you ever noticed when old people cry? Not bitter old people, but elderly saints?
They don’t cry when they’re scared. They don’t cry about personal slights or disappointments. They rarely cry out of frustration. Instead, they tend to cry about two things: sin and its effects on others, and grace and its effects on others.
With sanctification, old age makes people’s souls strong and tender, not bitter and brittle. And the holier the saint, the more tender they are to sin and grace. Christlikeness makes them tender to the same things that Jesus is tender to. As we grow closer to the Lord, wisdom allows us to accurately identify “a time to weep” (Eccl. 3:4). Those are tears that honor the Lord even as they teach younger Christians about God’s economy: let’s weep for this broken world and God’s grace in it.
This is so true of all of us. One of the signs of the sanctifying work of God in our lives is our tears change. We become more like Christ because we no longer cry about our discomfort but we weep over our the sins of others. We weep at the effects of sin on our world and we weep as Christ is weeping over our own sin.
Leadership is not easy. The reality is that every person leads at some level. The question is not are you a leader as much as how well are you leading. Growing up in the church I saw one insecure leader after another. I never saw them as insecure leaders until I started to work at Redeemer 21 years ago. I began serving Mike Servello Sr. as his kids’ Pastor and currently serve his son Mike Servello Jr. as his Pastor of Families. Mike and his father are by far the most secure leaders I have ever met. It was only through their confident yet humble Christ centered leadership that came to see those other leader and even myself at times as an insecure leader.
One of the things that amazes me most about the church is the epidemic proportions in which insecurity runs through church leadership. One of the most valuable things I have learned in my nearly two decades working with Mike and his father is the importance of security in leadership, if you want to lead for the long haul your security better be found in Christ. Insecure leaders create drama, havoc and pain in the lives of those they lead. If you lead I as that you ask yourself the following questions, as I wrote these I found them convicting, and humbling.
How do you know that you are an insecure leader?
1. You surround yourself with people you can control. – Insecure leaders hinder their organization because they don’t look to hire or attract the best people for a job. They look to attract people who are not as good as they are. People with less experience, who can be controlled mentally or emotionally.