I was unpacking boxes in my study earlier this week. And I opened a box that was filled with pictures, awards, and trophies. I rummaged through it a little and found a frame that I had not seen in some time. I immediately pulled it out and placed it on the shelf behind my desk. It is my personal mission statement.
I began thinking about having a personal mission statement some years ago, as I was reading Steve Farrar’s book, Finishing Strong. It’s a book for men about living with integrity and leaving a legacy. I don’t remember Farrar recommending the establishment of a personal mission statement in that book. But he speaks freely about his own. It is simply, “Don’t screw up.” I was deeply impressed by the writing of this man who had a sense of both God’s goodness to him and his responsibility to God for all that had been entrusted to him. Big things, like your family and your reputation. And his simple goal was to not screw up.
And at some point, I established my own personal mission statement. Here is is: Don’t sell out! I typed these three words in big, bold font and put a copy on a frame to hang in my office. I also made a copy and taped it to the pulpit from which I preached every Sunday, so that every time I stood to proclaim the word of God I would be reminded to preach to please God, not people. It stayed there for years, until the church bought me a new podium.
Looking back, I am sure there was some sense of pressure that I must have been feeling at the time to cause me to select this statement to help direct my faith and work. But I have absolutely no recollection of what was going on with me at the time. Nevertheless, this statement challenges me today just has much as it has at any point in my life.
We who preach God’s word and pastor God’s people struggle with some rather interesting temptations. They are common temptations, in that we are not unique in dealing with them. But they are strange temptations to wrestle with in the context of vocational Christian ministry. I’ll state in them in the words of 1 John 2:16: “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions” (ESV).
Alongside my pastoral work, I have had a somewhat broader speaking ministry over the years. And it has been rare for me to go somewhere without being asked how large my church was. It always felt like an awkward question to me. But that how many people rate one’s ministry. It’s also how many of us as preachers rate our ministries. Unfortunately, we as pastors are often preoccupied with numbers. And we seem to forget that when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he is not going to ask us about the size of anything. He will judge us according to our faithfulness with the things he has entrusted to our care.
I have peers that I love and heroes that I respect that have seemed to compromise in order be deemed successful. As the years past, I have watched their convictions change about things. Not because they have a better understanding of scripture, but because they are following the new, popular trends that the big-shot bishops have embraced. And with God’s help, it has been my prayerful determination to stick to my convictions and to leave the outcome to God. Or, as one well-respected pastor often puts it, “If you take care of the depth of your ministry, God will take care of the breadth of it.”
Recently, the Lord has sent me to a congregation that is larger than the one that I previously served. But I do not feel that I have “arrived” in any way. Rather, it feels like that I have been dropped into a more dangerous base in the spiritual war zone. And I need the weight of my mission statement to shape my thinking and actions now more than ever. I do not want to compromise my integrity, convictions, or priorities. I don’t want to sell out. My goal is to do God’s work, God’s way, according to God’s word, at God’s discretion, for God’s glory. I want to hear the Master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Paul speaks to this matter with great wisdom in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”
Pray for me. And pray for all of us who have been appointed as shepherds of God’s people and stewards of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.