Before we get to the post, which originally appeared on Ministry Matters, just wanted to clarify something.
In the last post, I mentioned that I wanted to N to wear slippers vs. rain boots.
I forget that you non-residents of Hawaii may call what we call “slippers” (and really, its correct name) by something else. You may call it flip-flops or even thongs. That’s just silly. They’re called slippers. Or even bettah: slippas, brah.
So there I was, on my knees in the office bathroom with the carpet squares soaked in only God knows what. I had to peel off the carpet squares because our toilet had overflowed for the umpteenth time and the squares were probably dangerously contaminated. I had three rubber gloves on each of my hands, but they weren’t holding up. My fingers were breaking through and making contact with the carpet squares, as were my knees because there was no other way to get leverage to rip out the squares.
I didn’t want to do this job. In fact, I felt that this job was beneath me. I’m the pastor of the church, don’t we have someone else to do this? But an 80-year-old parishioner originally volunteered to remove the carpet squares. There was just no way I could let her do that. So I begrudgingly — of course with a big smile — volunteered to do so.
With my fingertips and knees soaked in contaminated water, I couldn’t help but laugh.
I struggle with ego and pride. And God has a way of reminding me of humility through painful, embarrassing and/or humiliating ways.
When my first Converge Bible study, Practical Prayer, was released, a lot of my church members wanted to do a small group study on it. I was excited and proud. I put a lot of work, prayer and thought into that study and was ecstatic that my folks were just as enthusiastic about doing the Bible study as I was about writing it.
After the four-week session was done, I checked in with the person who led the group asking how everything went.
“Joe, we’re so proud of you! This was a great study for us. But really, the best part of the study, hands down, were the questions you asked after each session. They really were thought-provoking and started great conversations! Those were some good questions! Awesome job!”
Everyone who participated in the study came up to me and said the same thing — they loved the questions that followed each session.
Except… I didn’t write any of the questions. That was done by the editors. When I told them that, every single person responded:
“Oh… Well don’t get me wrong, the content was great, too!”
That kept me in check. God always has a way to keep me in check.
For me, to keep a grounded head, I learned to try not to expect anything. This may only apply to me, but I found that the line between expecting and feeling entitled is very, very thin. As a pastor (and as a person of faith), I fully believe that rather than being entitled to anything, I’m entrusted with everything.
I’ve stopped expecting people to give me praises and compliments, as well as criticism. In my heart, I know how I did. And those who are close to me, those whose opinions I trust and take to heart, they’ll let me know how I did. And that’s enough. I don’t need to go fishing for compliments or projecting false humility by seeking criticism.
I try not to expect deferential or preferential treatment. I grew up in hierarchal culture. Titles meant something. And oftentimes, folks would abuse their titles of pastor, elder or deacon. My friend’s wife worked at a dentist office. One day, her pastor brought his entire family in to get some dental work done. At the end of the visit, he didn’t pay the bill because not only was he a pastor, he was her pastor. She could do her part in serving the church by waiving the bill. Unfortunately, I have many more horror stories like this to share. So it’s rather easy for me to fall into that line of thinking: I’m a pastor. But I don’t need to be doing that.
Titles aren’t something for us to exploit or hide behind or lord over others. As John Ortberg wrote, “Titles are only opportunities to serve.”
When I take that sentiment to heart, there is no task too small for me. Nor is there anything that is beneath the office of the pastor. After all, the Messiah didn’t think twice to get on his knees and wash the dirt off his disciples’ feet.
And perhaps, constantly reminding myself that I’m called to serve will continue to keep my head and heart in check by keeping my ego and pride at bay.
As for the bathroom, once I let go of the idea that this work — or any work — was beneath me, ripping up those carpet squares became easier and therapeutic.