“This is not about you, pastor.” 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 to ever say to another human being. Rather, it is something a minister should say to himself frequently.

Think of it as a mental adjustment, a refocusing.

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

The congregation welcomes you, applauds, “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.

A pastor I know 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 it 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 34 years ago and I might 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.

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 (the point of Luke 10:16), the church must not overdo it. I know, I know! Most do not! Nor must the pastor expect it and desire it.

Think of yourself as the pizza delivery boy.

My friend John Alley, veteran pastor of great churches and now retired, agrees that “This is not about you, pastor.”  John says, “You are the pizza delivery guy. You didn’t cook it and you are not allowed to alter it. Just deliver it.”

Jeff Phillips, a much younger pastor 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 suit 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.

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), all is well.  Shrug it off.  God knows and 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.

You may illustrate Christ’s message with insights from your own life. But try not to preach yourself.  (Ask a good friend if you are talking too much about yourself in sermons.  If he/she even hesitates, 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 love Jesus.  Keep in mind a little historical lesson from Israel’s history. It goes like this…

The church in the wilderness praised Abraham and persecuted Moses. The church in Canaan praised Moses and persecuted the prophets. The church of the first century praised the prophets and crucified Jesus.  Later, they were to praise the apostles and persecute the preachers of their day. 

Beware when they all speak well of you.  And when no one speaks well of you, be wary.

“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).


3 thoughts on ““This is not about you, pastor.” What that means.

  1. Bro. Joe, thanks for this column. I’m going to consider it an ‘early birthday present.’ I’ve just begun a sermon series called “And in Conclusion…” which will (the Lord willing) carry me through my retirement on June 1. I am going to blatantly steal (with credit) John Alley’s statement about the pizza delivery guy!

  2. So Good brethren! Was it Spurgeon who said that’a time will come when the sherpeds will no longer feed the sheep but clowns feeding the goats.’
    Silence is golden before the Lord and I appreciate so much your tremendous contributions in this field.
    Blessed and really blessed.

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