By Josh Hunt
We came by the dozens, representing diverse congregations and multiple Christian denominations. A local civic organization had invited the Christian clergy of Shelby, N.C., to a luncheon held in our honor at the local country club.
Our host asked us to stand one by one and briefly—they emphasized the word briefly because they knew the stripes of those to whom they were speaking—briefly share about what God is doing in our churches and ministries.
What followed from many of my colleagues was a summary of building projects, budget increases and numbers of baptisms.
Are these the marks of a good church, a successful ministry and minister? Are these the indicators of a faithful people and a faithful God?
Let me pull back the curtain just a bit on this profession and some of the professionals in it. Like the Hindenburg, the ministerial ego is gigantic, fragile, poorly designed, unsafe, and often deflated and grounded only after a spectacular failure and blaze of glory. “Oh, the humanity!” — indeed.
We can be territorial. Competitive. Flashy.
We can be attention seeking and attention drawing. Tenacious.
We can be hungry and thirsty for more money, and more people, and more spaces in which to gather even more money and even more people. Insatiable.
We can be holy headhunters, ordained organizational consultants, glorified investment brokers who are quick to remind our congregations and community that they are, indeed, receiving a fantastic return on their investments in us.
We can project being indispensable and irreplaceable. Some of us love our titles — and we will be addressed accordingly, thank you very much.
God is working tremendously through us and our ministries. Among the many things for which we’re thankful, we’re most grateful for the fact that there’s enough glory for God and us to share.
And if by some chance we’re not like that? Well, there’s something wrong with us, and the congregations we serve are to be pitied.
Sometimes I wish you could hear us, because your presence might change what we say and how we say it. Most of the time I’m glad our conversations with each other are private, because I think the metrics we use to determine success in ministry are embarrassing to the Body of Christ.
The French call it l'esprit de l'escalier, the wisdom of the stairwell. It’s what you wish you had said back there — wherever and whenever back there is. I’m glad the French have a word for it, because it happens to me an awful lot.
I didn’t say this when I stood from my polished oak chair in the country club dining room at lunch the other day. But when I got to the stairwell, I wish I had.
“I won’t — and, quite frankly, I can’t — compete in your…your…certain kind of contest for baptisms, budgets and buildings. I cede that game to you. You win. I might not perform as many baptisms as you do. I might not get paid as much as you do, and I don’t have a building project to speak of. I can, nonetheless, report that God is at work in the church I am privileged to serve, that God is at work in the lives of the people of the church I am privileged to serve, and that God is at work in my ministry and in my life. Oh, the Divinity!”
Josh Hunt is pastor of Ross Grove Baptist Church in Shelby, North Carolina.