What Preachers Tell Us, Part 2… Brother Joe

The first pastor I remember was named Joe! Imagine that.

He was a young seminary graduate from Texas who served our family’s American Baptist Church in Norwich, KS. I remember my dad enjoying his thoughtful sermons and sincere approach to talking about the Christian faith.

He ministered at the church at about the time my dad wanted us to consider being baptized. My older brother Matt was baptized at the church. I wasn’t ready to be baptized, though. I was young at the time, so some of the details are a bit fuzzy, but I remember Pastor Joe not pressing the issue. Which I have come to find to be unique for a Baptist (no slight, there… because you Baptists know that you can be a bit aggressive on yearly baptism counts).

He taught me something with his patience: the life of faith has a schedule of its own, that God governs and directs. We can’t make God turn up. Wonky and weird things happen when we try to do so.

There is a tension in the Christian life. On the one hand, we are told to never lack in spiritual zeal. (Romans 12:11) We should be eager to make the most of every opportunity. (Ephesians 5:16) On the other hand, anything that happens in the Christian life is inspired by God’s Spirit, for we cannot even call Jesus “Lord” without the Spirit’s enabling. (1 Cor. 12:3)

Pastor Joe showed me the first example of what it means to be “led by the Spirit,” even if it meant suggesting that it wasn’t my moment for baptism. It was a risky response by Brother Joe: what if it made me feel guilty about “not being ready” for God, leading me to resent faith leaders for their heavy-handed decisions?

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to say “no” when it is easy to say “yes” in order to placate or to please. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned that being a pastor gives me a chance to give people permission to seek healing, hope, change, and transformation. At times, it’s also important to say “no.”

I heard a quotation by Chris Liddell, about what it takes to be a CFO,

Essentially, you need to be miserable, you need to be the sort of person who takes drinks away from people at the end of a party.

To lead, to be a pastor, takes some guts and to have a bit of grace-shaped “misery,” if you will. It’s to learn how to say “no” like an affectionate parent, at times.

That’s what Pastor Joe taught me.

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