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The Freeing Truth of Your Number One Job

There are those times when someone speaks the simple truth in a way so clear and freeing that it brings me to my knees. The person may actually be addressing someone else, even someone in a different situation or profession, but the words are for me, too, a reminder that clears the fog and brings me back to the clear and simple truth at the heart of our lives in Jesus.

One of those moments came for me as I listened to the words of our executive minister, Justin Kim, addressing Rebecca Thornber during her recent service of ordination into ministry. His words to her were words to me, too, a reminder of God’s call to me as I live his call on my life in the world. And so I share them with you, because there’s nothing more important than this that I could possibly share today.

Our number one job

“Your number one job is not to be a good pastor,” Justin said to Rebecca. “Your number one job is to abide.”

He continued, “Your number one job is to abide in Jesus, for it is in abiding in Jesus that you and I receive the grace to do all that we’re called to do by God as pastors. . . .”

His words echo what I wrote in my soon-to-be-released book, Risking Rest. “Our first—one might even say only—responsibility is to abide in Christ, to make our homes there. As we live deep in Christ and he in us, Christ promises, “You will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).”

What does it mean to abide? First. . .

Justin goes on to ask the crucial question, “What does it mean to abide?” His answer, straight from Jesus’ own words in John 15, is threefold:

First, it is knowing that Jesus is the Vine and you and I are the branches. Eugene Peterson puts it this way, ‘It is knowing that God is already at work and our primary job is to join him. . .’

The pastoral life is never about our ingenuity, our eloquence, our charisma, giftedness, or whatever you’re tempted to place above a life that is fully dependent on God. Rebecca, others are going to try to make you the vine. They’ll want you to be the vine. They’ll campaign for you to be the vine. They’ll have congregational votes to make you the vine.”

I can feel the pressure as he speaks, the pressure I’ve often felt and maybe you have too, to be the Saviour rather than point people back to the one and only Saviour.

“But over and over again, you need to gently remind them, and be reminded in prayer, that you and I are simply branches, and when it comes to pastoral ministry, leadership is this perpetual confession that we are not the shepherd of our congregation. We are simply under shepherds of the great Shepherd who will love our congregation more than what we could imagine we’re able to do. Ever. Period. Because otherwise we run the risk of being so full of ourselves that we are empty of the Spirit. Remember the words of John the Baptist: He must become greater, and I must become less.”

But how?

How do we love well those around us with pressing needs without succumbing to the pressure to be the Vine, the Saviour? Perhaps to answer that we have to ask a deeper question: “What is the source of the pressure we feel to be the Vine?” And a related one, “What do we feel when we can’t meet someone’s need or desire, and what is that emotion telling us about our own unsatisfied need?”

To some degree, the pressure we feel to respond to someone’s need is a simple extension of the way our brains are wired to interact as humans. When I hear a family whom I love on the other side of the world begging for help as they face potential death at the hands of the Taliban, my nervous system responds as God has wired it to respond—with a desperate desire to do something and the fight-or-flight energy to accompany that . We are meant to feel each other’s pain and be intensely spurred to action when someone cries for help. It’s the energy that allows a mother to lift a car off her trapped child. And an energy that is painful when the ability to help is out of our hands.

But most of the time, the pressure I feel to be the Vine, the Saviour, comes from a distortion of this good way our nervous systems are meant to interact. The pressure I feel not just to lead people to the Saviour but to be the Saviour comes from a desire not to fail, not to disappoint someone else. And from the still deeper desire to be liked, loved, respected, approved of, and not abandoned.

Here’s the thing: we’re meant to need love. But it’s so hard for us humans to freely receive and trust grace and so, at some level, we all feel we have to earn that love. And that’s where Justin’s—and Jesus’—second point comes in.

Second. . .

Second, abiding in Jesus means knowing that you are loved. Inevitably, Rebecca, as you are well aware, (and you do this less than I do), you will tank your sermons. Unnecessary discouraging comments will be directed at you. Unrealistic expectations will be placed on your shoulders. Your best efforts will be met with some sort of poor result or turnout. But remember that at no point in your life and in your ministry will God the Father stop loving you—even if everything screams otherwise. In all circumstances may you hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding you of who you are. That you are his child. That you are his daughter, his beloved. We as pastors lead not because we want to be loved, but we lead because we are loved. It is out of the oasis of God’s profound love for us that we are able to love our congregation. So may these words of Jesus cover you over and over again, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”

Third. . .

Last but not least, abiding in Jesus is a long obedience in the same direction. ‘If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and abide in his love.’ Abiding in Jesus involves our wide-eyed attention to all that God has to say, and it involves pouring our lives into whatever he calls us to. This of course is a messy enterprise due to our human condition, and due to all forms of powers that seek to undermine the work of God in our lives and in the lives of our congregation. Obeying Jesus will often lead us to all kinds of places that will leave us stretched, our security disturbed, our complacency undermined. The life of obedience is often fraught with starts and stops, frustrating detours, dark alleys, and twisted and profoundly tough seasons. However, at the same time, there is nothing better than following God’s voice. There is no greater joy than obeying his voice. And as pastors, our long obedience becomes a signpost and a parable of the profoundly thin space between heaven and earth to our congregation.”

These words raise in me at least three emotions. First, gratitude—for Justin and Rebecca and the many other pastors and teachers and spiritual directors I’ve had the profound honor of sitting under as they model for me this life of abiding. Thank you for who you are and for your commitment to abide in Christ and let him live out his life through you.

Second and third, a mix of desire and fear. I want to keep living more deeply into abiding in Jesus no matter what he calls me to. And I know from experience that it’s not always easy. That’s why we can only dare to hear this third piece of abiding in the context of the other two. We are called to obey not just anyone, but the One who is the source of our very life, and who loves us with his own life. We can only increasingly risk obedience as we increasingly grow into experiencing ourselves held in a love that does not rest on our accomplishments.

So, friends, join me once again in soaking in Jesus’ words spoken first to his disciples and now to us? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love.”

May Jesus continue to do in us and around us and through us what only Jesus can do as we seek to make our home in his love.


P.S. I lightly edited Justin’s spoken talk for easier reading. Here’s the link again if you’d like to hear Justin speak this truth himself and catch the few bits I had to leave out. (It’s well worth it.) His ten minute talk begins at 31:25.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Esme Stokhuyzen

    What a timely word for me as I start the Fall grief groupsAND try to juggle my time to give to my Yemeni refugee lady…… her whole family is here too. Our church is also about to adopt a single or couple of refugees. I’ll be involved here too and with general volunteering with Journey Home.

    I have realized my need to abide in the vine if I am to work with Him in all I do. I have been challenged as well to know what His grace is in the promise “My grace is sufficient for you because my strength is made perfect in weakness…..”
    Thank you for abiding in the vine and do blessing and challenging me over and over again,

  2. Connie Storr

    Thank you for this wonderful — and wonderfully clear — reminder that “Only one thing is needed” and all else follows from sitting at the feet of Jesus.

  3. Bonita

    wow. Soo good. I have been struggling partly because I don’t feel I am “doing” very much. So important to be reminded of this and I also often struggle with that fear you mention. Thank you so much for this!

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