This is not about you, pastor. Here’s what that means.

“We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

The expression “This is not about you, pastor” is not something you and I need ever to say to another human being. Rather, it is something we ministers should say to ourselves occasionally.

Think of it as a mental adjustment, a refocusing.

It’s easy to think the ministry is about me.  The search committee wants a preacher with impressive credentials, a glowing record of accomplishments in previous churches, and strong abilities.  Good teeth and a pretty wife will help.

The congregation welcomes you, applauds you, “pounds” you (ask any preacher), and compliments you.  They pay you fairly well, and when the church does well, they brag on you. When it does poorly, they blame you.

It’s easy to conclude it’s all about me.

And that would be wrong.

Bad wrong.

Let’s talk about it….

A pastor I know is being honored upon his umpteenth anniversary in that church.  He’ll be inundated with gifts.

Another pastor friend is bothered that his church members ignored his recent anniversary.  It came and went without a mention.

If I had to choose, I’d prefer to be in the position of the second guy, the one whose people are failing to celebrate the anniversary of his arrival.  That, you might be interested to know, is not a position I would have taken for most of my ministry.

Throughout most of my years pastoring churches, I was pleased to be honored.  I loved  the time I was turning 40 and just before the benediction on a Sunday evening, the minister of music interrupted and took charge. Down the aisles came church members bringing what seemed an endless procession of birthday cakes.  (Were there forty? It seems there were, but that was a long time ago and I could be remembering wrong.)  We had a grand fellowship that night.

I loved the “this is your life” program one church did on my tenth anniversary.  They outdid themselves–it’s far too much to tell here–as a once in a lifetime thing. The other church where I stayed that long might have run a note in the bulletin; I don’t recall whether they did or not.

While it’s good to honor the servant of the Lord, and it’s important to recall that our Lord taught that however the people treat the minister, Jesus takes it personally.  That is the point of Luke 10:16. But the church must not overdo it.  Nor must the pastor expect it and desire it.

Think of yourself as the pizza delivery boy.

My friend John Alley, wonderful pastor now in Heaven, agreed that “This is not about you, pastor.”  John would say, “You are the pizza delivery guy. You didn’t cook it and you are not allowed to alter it. Just deliver it.”

Jeff Phillips, much younger and still on the front lines, says, “I’ve quit saying ‘this is not about me,’ because it sounds like a cop-out. Like I’m trying to shirk responsibility.”

To be sure, we do not mean the pastor is not important. We do not mean to imply he should not use proper grammar and educate himself as much as he possibly can, that he should not wear his best outfit and do his very best in every respect.

So, what do we mean?

What we mean by the expression “this is not about you, pastor”….

–1) Your goal is not to win people to yourself.

To be sure, they will often come to love and appreciate you. Paul said, “You followed me and I led you to Christ.” That’s the plan.

–2) Your goal is not to get yourself appreciated.

They should appreciate you, but you must not expect it unless you enjoy being disappointed. Never forget the lesson Paul learned the hard way in Acts 14.  The people of Lystra were worshiping Paul and Barnabas as gods, then stoning them a few minutes later. The mobs are fickle.

–3) Your object is not to be remembered.

If they leave off your name from the cornerstone or fail to add your photo to the lineup of pastors down the hallway, if they misrepresent your years in the official history of the church and leave you looking like a dunce (or worse), not a big deal.  Shrug it off, preacher.  God knows. His is the only record that counts.

–4) Your message should be Christ’s message, and not all about you, your life experiences, your thoughts, or your convictions.

From time to time you will illustrate Christ’s message with insights from your own life. But try not to preach yourself.  (I suggest you ask a good friend if you are talking too much about yourself in sermons.  If they even hesitate, you have your answer.)

–5) How the people treat you is important only insofar as it represents how they feel about Jesus Christ.

To be sure, some who are crucifying you will protest that they’re doing this because they love Jesus. We think, “Yeah, right.”

Keep in mind a little lesson from the history of Israel that goes like this… The church of the judges praised Abraham and persecuted the judges. The church of the prophets praised the judges and persecuted the prophets.  The church of Jesus’ day praised the prophets and persecuted Jesus.  The church of the middle ages praised Jesus and persecuted the preachers. 

Beware when they all speak well of you.  And when no one speaks well of you, well, I admit that’s tough also.

Keep reminding yourself you are just a messenger, a deliveryman, a nobody.  Luke 17:10 gives us the perfect thing to say to ourselves when we are feeling neglected and unappreciated.  I am only an unworthy servant; just doing my duty. 

We are to say that, not to someone else but to ourselves.  No church should tell you that you are an unworthy servant just doing your duty, nor should we say it to anyone else.  It’s what we say to ourselves in the privacy of our closet, bathroom, or automobile.  It drives a stake through the ego and nails it to the wall.  However…

Egos do not go away quietly, and will be back tomorrow clamoring for recognition and appreciation.  So, nail ‘er to the wall again, friend.  Get used to telling yourself you are an unworthy servant, just doing your duty.

The good news is God does not say that to us.  Quite the contrary.  Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many. (That’s Matthew 25:21 and 23.)

“Now, to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

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