Pentecost Musings: Learning My Limits

We see them all the time. They are everyone in town and easily visible when driving on streets and highways. I’m talking about speed limit signs.

Yes, I know these symbols that appear on the side of the road are often interpreted as “suggestions.” We don’t often press to drive exactly the MPH that appears in black and white, but if we drive too far over that number we’ll see another “black and white” with sirens appearing behind us.

Sometimes bridges have limits too. I’ve seen these warning signs posted for drivers to see before passing over it. Many bridges are constructed to withstand a certain amount of weight. Any thing over that can result in tragedy.

People have limits too, it’s just that we don’t often go through life with that in mind. One of my favorite Clint Eastwood quotes from his Dirty Harry character is “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Being in the ministry is tough. One of the more difficult aspects of this kind of work is realizing what your limitations are and then living within them. It doesn’t have to do with how much faith you have but rather an awareness that human beings only have a certain stress level threshold before things get ugly. Each person responds differently to stress, and some of us are better at it than others. However, the ugly little secret in the ministry is that pastors and others in vocational service can get so discouraged that depression can set in. Even worse are the discoveries that seemingly healthy people have taken their own lives because of the pent up frustration and despair.

Another tough part is that no matter what you do there will be disappointment. You will disappoint some people because of what you do, others because of what you do not do, and still others who aim a continual beam of disappointment in your direction. The latter situation isn’t due to you necessarily, but rather an inability to control circumstances in their own lives. They have to control something, and since it can’t be their own circumstances, they will seek to find fault in what you are doing. And, for pastors like myself, it can be terribly frustrating and painful to realize that others around them. There is something within that wants to “fix” what is wrong.

Of course, that doesn’t always work. I acknowledge my own shortcomings and hope that they don’t cause problems with others. Regardless, living with disappointment is difficult but hopefully for a finite period of time.

In a recent blog entry, “Looking for God in Our Limits,” Peter Scazzero said: Limits are one of the most counterintuitive, difficult truths in Scripture to embrace. They fly in the face of our natural tendency to want to play god and run the world. Yet it remains a steady truth that we return to, over and over, in our role as leaders under Jesus.Yet God reveals himself to us, and to the world, through limits in unique and powerful ways—if we have eyes to see.

Like some of you, I follow trends in ministry and Christianity in general. There’s already been a lot written about the latest Pew Forum research findings about the demise of the church. CNN printed an article about it entitled, “Millennials are Leaving the Church in Droves.” I didn’t find anything particularly new, other than a reminder that the church needs to do a better job at communicating the faith to the next generation.

I’m preparing a sermon for Pentecost Sunday from Acts 2. I’ve been thinking about the reaction of the crowd to the disciples upon the arrival of the Holy Spirit: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is that each of us hears them in our own native language?”

I am trying to get a better handle on the problem the church is having, namely that of speaking to our culture and this generation in a language that is understood. Millennials (not to overuse that demographic) need to be addressed in a language with the gospel that is relevant and practical. The institutional church has struggled with this reality, and I am slowly and reluctantly coming to the realization that the church is choosing to respond with this mantra: We don’t care.

That’s a tough thing to say, and I hope I am wrong.

Darrell Guder put it this way, “For many people in North America, the church is a place for individuals to go passively to receive goods and services.” I translate that to mean that many of us are accustomed to “having our needs met” and if we don’t, then we leave for another place (church).

One of the other tough parts of ministry is taking time with people in their darkness and pain, and then having those people tell you that they are leaving because their needs aren’t being filled. In a similar manner, there are people who come into the fellowship for the same reason. I am finding it ironic that in some cases, people leave and come in for the same reason. It’s just that there are different reactions to the same situation.

At times, I don’t have a grip on my emotions like I need to, and this might be one of them. There are so many good things to accentuate about life as a community of faith, but some things bother me more than they probably should. Maybe that’s a sign of caring about people and what’s going on. However, I am grateful to Scazzero’s email a few days ago to remind me that I can only control certain things, and how people react isn’t one of them. There’s always something for someone to be upset about, and if I seek to control what I can’t I will lose a grip on my own emotional health. I also live with the awareness that if enough folks in the constituency agree that I’m not getting it done, it could mean I’m “out” in terms of church ministry. This has happened to many good people in the past and can happen again (cudos to MTM for their ministry).

The Holy Spirit came upon those disciples with power and in a such a way that their witness changed the world. My desire is that the same power will help me to live boldly. I ask that the Lord and His people will forgive my failures and allow me to live with my shortcomings. And, on this Pentecost Sunday, my prayer will be that I have trust in God with no limits while acknowledging my own weaknesses (limits) and trust Him with the rest.

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