confessions of a pastor - pt 4: my sifting (a.k.a. 3 years + 3 minutes = 3000)

Here's the math: 3 years + 3 minutes = 3000.

I'll explain that in a moment.

First, a confession... I have a messy work history.

This wasn’t something I planned on, and I actually had an incredible experience in my first leadership role. I became a Christian in one of the greatest student ministries in the country, eventually taking on an internship after graduation. This “leadership lab” helped me understand the calling God placed on my life, but it also became both a pillar and a hindrance to the ministry that followed.

Sometimes after a great experience you expect that everything that follows will be equally as great.

Not everyone understands how professional ministry roles work, but the bottom line is that every Christian is called to be a minister. The role of a pastor is designed by God to "prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." (Ephesians 4:12). People in full-time professional ministry often have a unique journey that leads them to understand this calling - for me it was a mountaintop experience, and I mean that quite literally. That's another story for another time, though.

I only mention the calling because it is often what keeps you sane when life gets insane.

I've certainly had such moments, including a defining time when I was pushed out of a role in a church by a pastor who felt success was measured differently than I did. I disagree with his thoughts even to this day, but the bottom line is that God called me to that church and I couldn't leave because it became inconvenient.

After all, following Jesus means following Jesus.

What began was a process that included me being professionally humbled and crucified in that context, then later having to sell my house and move my family in with my in-laws, eventually taking another hill to plant a church (that was squelched by denominational politics), and finally to a place of busyness where I worked four jobs just to stay afloat.

I got angry with God. I grew jaded toward the church. I wrote blog posts as therapy.

That season of life lasted three years.

Then it happened – my heart began to weep over the larger Story versus merely my own. Every pretense I had about God, others, and myself was stripped away. As this unfolded, I began to see the kind of faith Jesus had in the Church, and if He had that kind of faith in us how could I not do the same?

I stopped asking the question, "What's next, God?" or "When will you put me somewhere useful?" Instead, I began to offer myself to Him each day and inquire, "Show me who to love today, God" and "Let me be useful wherever you put me." Along the way, it seems, I became such a tool in His hands.

Perhaps that's why I was given three minutes this past weekend.

I shared this story to a group of youth workers at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference, many of whom I guess needed to hear it. While I actually spoke for more than five minutes (thanks to the permission and generosity of the team who put it together), I aimed for the three minutes I was given to sum up the thought as best as I can - we are called to carry our cross, even when you get shin splints on the climb up Calvary and know the taste of blood in your mouth from biting your tongue to honor God.

Not counting those watching online, the conference was for 3,000 attendees.

None of the math sunk in until my wife brilliantly summed it up for me.

3 years + 3 minutes = 3000.

At least, that was the case for me. Perhaps your math will play out differently.

Speaking of the stage, that may have been a once-in-a-lifetime window for me... and while I didn't crave it, I celebrated the window it gave me to share some hindsight that could help another person's foresight.

Then again, who needs a stage when you have the next person in front of you?

I don't know what you're enduring these days, but I know this - your history will define you or refine you... and the difference is whether you self-righteously hold onto the story of what happened to you, or release it into the One whose Story we get to take part in.
"And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27)


  1. tony...there's a great play by Shakespeare-Henry V. your story, like many of our stories reminds me of it...and what God calls us into. I'm grateful for your ability to share. And your bride is wise. Our wounds matter...and your willingness to share gives them even deeper meaning. We don't see it in the midst of the battle...but i love this speech at Agincourt on St Crispens.

    This day is call'd the feast of Crispian:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
    And say, "Tomorrow is Saint Crispian."
    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
    And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
    But he'll remember with advantages
    What feats he did that day: then shall our names,
    Familiar in their mouths as household words . . .
    Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
    This story shall the good man teach his son;
    And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
    From this day to the ending of the world,
    But we in it shall be remembered.
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. (Act IV, Scene III)

    The English go on to win the battle-a true story and one of many we need to keep at hand in our journey. Praying those 5 minutes are an encouragement to the hearers as they return home and take part in what God is calling them to in the Kindgom.

  2. That's a great reminder... and thanks for the prayers/encouragement. Hoping one man's hindsight can bless another person's foresight.