Even in our frantic world of task lists and digital leashes there is ebb and flow. Many if not most churches and businesses work off of a school calendar. Summer is to varying degrees the lull before the frantic opening of the season for school, ministry year, and hooray – college football!
In lulls, however slight, we evaluate. Mercifully in most churches the recessional with the pastor greeting each one as they file out, and they in turn dutifully saying, “good message” has faded into disuse. But, if we who preach are honest, as the room disperses we are already evaluating and often looking for affirmation.
This summer as we take stock of the past ministry season, and anticipate the start of another, may I remind us of the proper starting point? If we don’t have it, we will inevitably look at whatever transpired this past season through the wrong lenses. We will either see something (or much) of our sin and brokenness in all we did and go to one or all of the three D’s – Discouragement, Depression, and Despair. Where is God and His gospel in that story?
Or, we will gloss over our past season amplifying our successes and minimizing our failures. We will use front stage performance to justify backstage failure…or the reverse. Whatever comes out of our mouth, internally we play a version of the bad coach track, “ The successes are mine, the failures are theirs.” We may think we are being lifted up, but in truth we are just puffed up. Where is God and His gospel in that story?
How can we escape from this either / or evaluation dilemma? Can ruthless honesty and overcoming hope exist together? Can mercy and truth kiss (Psalm 85:10)?
There is little that we can point to in our lives as deserving anything but God’s wrath. Our best moments have been mostly grotesque parodies. Our best loves have been almost always blurred with selfishness and deceit. But there is something to which we can point. Not anything that we ever did or were, but something that was done for us by another. Not our own lives, but the life of one who died on our behalf and yet is still alive. This is our only glory and our only hope. And the sound that it makes is the sound of excitement and gladness and laughter that floats through the night air from a great banquet.
– Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat
I recommend starting here.