The Presumptuous, Faithless and Reluctant Candidate: Part 1
The Presumed Proposal
I recently came back from a mountaintop experience, literally that was no less geographical than spiritual. As my seminary training came to a close this past week at The Expositors Seminary, I had the privilege to candidate in one of the most beautiful showcases of God’s creative glory in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada. If you look-up pictures of this quaint little town an hour north of Vancouver, I understand if my motives are simultaneously in question!! What I can affirm is the process that took place for the candidating visit to even occur.
Last July, a ministry called Grace Advance through Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA put me in contact with this church. Since then, we began the mutual vetting process for possible placement. Monthly discussions progressed to bi-weekly and then to weekly ones as a ministry marriage proposal loomed over the horizon
The Lord’s hand in bringing these two ministries together was evident. It seemed from each’s perspective that our hearts were being knit together. In God’s precious care over this shepherdless flock, He prepared a group of hungry, teachable men ready for the burdens of ministry. Various events took place that demonstrated the desire for the men of this church to be steadfast in the truth and hold a biblical line even if it cost them personal relationships. There are no qualified elders in this church. Those who have risen to leadership in the vetting process were self-admitted fringe congregants up to a year and a half ago. They had already been submitting to the suggestions of Grace Advance by listening to multiple John MacArthur sermon series and forming a core group of men to study Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch. Every discussion seemed to confirm the validity of this opportunity.
In the training process of TES, we were given categories to think through when assessing a future ministry: 1) What are the needs (strengths/weaknesses) of the church; 2) Does your gifting/qualifications meet those needs; 3) Are there any non-negotiable doctrinal/philosophy of ministry/leadership concerns; 4) Has the philosophy of ministry you will follow been made clear; 5) Have the elders given a “green light” in the process of working through these categories? At every level I grew more confident that this church was ready for an expositional shepherding ministry. All of this backdrop will serve well as to how the Lord exposed my Moses-esque lack of faith in the midst of a candidating visit and possible call to serve a local church.
Excitement was at its apex leading up to the visit. I received word from Grace Advance that the plane tickets for my family had been purchased and there was no turning back now. All of the events leading up to this visit were providentially cared for, and from my perspective it was a mere formality that I would shortly shepherd this flock.
However, I presumed upon the grace of God before a decision had actually been made. Unfortunately, that very thought was what the Lord used to make me eat grass internally for four days during and shortly after the visit. In His kindness, He allowed ignorance to cover what would eventually happen on site to humble me. The trip was under massive amounts of prayer and encouragement from our church. Also, there was no lack of uncovering ministry travails and triumphs during our training at TES. No wool is pulled over our eyes about the rigorous “spend and be expended for your souls” demand of pastoral ministry (2 Cor 12:15). This experience was a personal disclosure of my heart. Although my exams and assignments were complete at that time, the Lord had one last final exam to test me without notice before my training was finally through. There was no syllabus given a head of time for this crash course. This was a pop quiz of faith. Isn’t it interesting how that seems to be a consistent theme in our sanctification!
The Presumptuous Heart Exposed
My family finally arrived after a blessed but long day of travel. On arrival, the fresh mountain air put new wind in our sails ready for the week’s events. Their hospitality was the typical Canadian hospitality and they were willing to serve us at the drop of a hat. Personal testimonies and a Q&A followed that Wednesday evening’s potluck with the congregation. The men’s discipleship/leadership training session the next morning also went smoothly. Every night was a planned dinner with a prominent family in the congregation. Up until Thursday evening, everything seemed to be going according to plan.
The next day, it was as if those magnificent mountains that were surrounding me had now been placed on my chest. Unbeknownst to me, I had already failed the test upon arrival into the classroom and correction had begun. Since the Lord was so kind in the vetting process, all I was seeking was a subjective affirmation to lead this precious flock of God. In that moment, I became a faithless candidate. Each opportunity thereafter to meet with a member or a family exposed my weaknesses and inadequacy. In those moments, I became a reluctant candidate. Sinful fear, coddled weaknesses, insecurities and known inexperience rose to the surface for my heart and mind to realize. There was a mass of reluctance building at the thought of entering full-time pastoral ministry. I was not experiencing what I believed would be this euphoric burden to take Squamish by storm. Not only did fear reign in my heart, but guilt was soon to take place at fear’s right side. Unfortunately, my standard for this possible call was dependent on an internally produced burden instead of God’s providential process of a divine call on my life.
For the next three days, there was a battle of confusion in my heart while candidating. Every objective reality was screaming at me from the top of those mountains to drop the idea to come and lead this flock. But, I gave priority in my heart to affirm a subjective reality. This is faithless and dangerous. If subjective affirmations were going to be the pattern of decision-making in ministry instead of carefully discerning bedrock biblical principles, the sheep were in trouble. This test was longer than expected and from my perspective came at the most inopportune time. As the weekend came to a close, the men of the church surrounded me after the Sunday corporate worship to give an unofficial request to come shepherd them. Many of those men said words that were undeserved and very gracious. It made the guilt of how I was “feeling” all the more burdensome. Unfortunately, by the time we ready to leave, I still had not gained clarity in my heart...
(Part 2 will conclude tomorrow)