The thoughts and reflections of one who is passionate about Jesus and struggles with sin just like everyone else.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Matt Chandler: ‘You Create Your Own Treadmills’
A great interview from Leadership Journal on applying grace to yourself, pastor.
We’ve all done it. We proclaim the gospel, and then fail to apply it to ourself. We teach grace but fall into legalism. We stand in the pulpit and tell people their identity is in Christ—then base our sense of worth on how many people showed up that Sunday. Leadership Journal senior editor Drew Dyck talked with Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, about how to resist this tendency by applying grace to all of life—even your ministry.
You’ve talked about the danger of making God an add-on to your life. How do you guard against that?
Itry to cultivate a rich prayer life. It begins first thing in the morning. I pray over my calendar. Yesterday I prayed over each meeting I had that day. I asked God for specific things in those meetings. And then, as I began to walk through my day, I’m reminded I’ve asked the Lord to do some things in these meetings. I’ve found that simple practice tethers me to the Lord in a way that doesn’t happen when I just say a general prayer for the day. “Be with me today” is not the same as “Father, as I go into this meeting today, give me courage to say what needs to be said, but guard my mouth not to say more than I should.” Or when I know it might be a difficult meeting, “Let me lead well in this meeting. Let me not take anything that’s said in this meeting personally.” That’s been helpful.
In addition to that practice, I take one Wednesday a month and block it out to be with the Lord. I’ll drive up to this place called Turner Falls in Oklahoma. I’ll spend the day walking around and praying. Regardless of how busy life gets, that day is kind of a sacred. That’s my day with the Lord. I’m going to spend time in the Word, spend time in prayer, just doing some slow thinking about the Lord and take inventory of my life.
Have we focused on God’s love to an extent that we’ve neglected his holiness?
We need to do a better job at defining love. That’s the issue. Love has become this junk drawer word that means any kind of affection. You listen to people talk. It’s almost always referring to emotive love. It’s not covenant love. It’s “I have feelings that make me happy towards you.” But I think that’s the weakest form of love, and it’s exalted as the supreme form of love in our culture. But true love involves much more than just feelings. I love my children very much, and because I love my children very much, there’s discipline and rules, and the occasional spanking. Isn’t that what Hebrews 12 tells us about the discipline of the Father? He scourges those he would call son? According to the Bible, that’s one of the most loving things he does for his children. In fact, if you’re not being disciplined, he says you’re illegitimate children.
Real love involves the will. It says, 'I’m not going anywhere. I’ve seen the worst parts of you, and I’m still going to love you.'
The issue isn’t a failure to respect God’s holiness as much as it is that our idea of love is so ridiculous. We think love is a fluttering of the heart. Which is why people get divorced because the flutters stop. But real love involves the will. It says, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ve seen the worst parts of you, and I’m still going to love you.”
Right now my wife is back home in Dallas. Praise God that our love is built on covenant and commitment to one another and not how she’s feeling in this given moment. Praise God she’s not going to go to the store and fall in love with her soul mate because Cupid shot her in the butt with an arrow while I was out of town. Man, let me tell you, when I got sick with a brain tumor, I was the least sexy I’ve ever been. All my hair was gone. I had a gnarly scar on my head, and I was lying on the bathroom floor trying to get the strength to vomit in the toilet again. Praise God my wife’s view of love wasn’t just about what I could do for her. If Lauren were to leave me in that moment, when I was sick and dying with cancer, no one, not even the worldliest person, would think that what she had done was right, good, or should be emulated. And yet, they’re fine with someone leaving under far less difficult circumstances. It’s crazy. It’s a total failure to understand what love is.
It’s easy to grasp the idea of grace when it comes to salvation, but then revert to legalism for sanctification. What are some of the subtle signs that you see that we’re reverting to legalism?
The litmus test I’ve always used on whether or not you really grasp grace is what you do when you blow it. If you blow it and you run from the Lord to try to clean yourself up and then come back, you do not understand grace and what God has done for you in Christ. But if you blow it and you run to him, that’s an evidence of grace. Ed Welch said, “Everybody thinks sanctification looks like strength. Really what it looks like is weakness.” It looks like failure. Sanctification looks like darkness and difficulty and pain and suffering. Show me someone who blows it and runs to the Lord and cries and snots and lays that before the Lord, pleads forgiveness, rests in it and gets up and continues to walk, and I’ll show you someone who understands grace. You show me someone who blows it, pulls way back for a season until they can either forget about what they’ve done or at least get some kind of control around it, I’ll show you somebody who doesn’t understand grace. They are their own functional savior—I can clean myself up.
What about in ministry? It’s easy to preach grace, but then when it comes to proving your own worth, we fall back on external validation. How big is my church? How much impact am I having? What would you say to a pastor who’s struggling with that?
We’re in an environment where success is defined pretty narrowly. Every conference, every magazine, features guys who are pretty similar. They’ve been successful in terms of numerics and in getting the applause of men. And so when that is laid in front of a pastor over and over and over again and then you add podcasts and video sermons, it sends a message. But what the Lord has asked of us all is obedience.
This is Paul’s big argument in Philippians. Somebody planted, somebody watered, and only God makes it grow. So we’re faithful where God planted us and with what we’re called to do—preach the Word of God faithfully, shepherd and lead the flock of God well, find trustworthy men and entrust this to them. God decides the rest. Pastors need to learn to preach the gospel to themselves, not feel guilty about numbers, because that’s not what God’s asked them to worry about. It really isn’t. Nor will they be held accountable for that. It’s not like God’s going to go, “Wait, you should have been at 8,000 but you only got to 200. There’s a tendency for us to despise the small things. And the absurdity is, according to the Bible, God loves the small things. So I just want to encourage those brothers to be faithful where they are, to pray, to preach the Word, to shepherd the people of God well, and let God worry about that stuff. Let’s see how everything lands before we go wishing our ministry looked like somebody else’s.
What can be done to address the pressures the celebrity pastor phenomenon places on the average pastor?
I think it is twofold. The men of God who have been blessed with a ton of bandwidth and been entrusted with much must learn to walk in humility and must guard against believing the hype about themselves. That’s the first step. And then they should encourage men not to be clones but to be faithful. They should not tell them “do like me.” They should encourage them to be faithful.
Pastors don’t mind learning from other folks, and thanks to technology there’s more opportunity than ever to do that. But what they resent are prescriptions of models of ministry that don’t fit their context. And here’s what’s kind of crazy. Some of those methods that might give you more people, don’t change anybody’s life. Don’t transform souls. And then, man, those poor brothers. You create your own treadmills. I mean you want to build a super creative church, go ahead, go get it. Just know you’re going to have to keep getting more and more creative because you’ve drawn people with creativity. You don’t want them to get bored. And you’re competing with a trillion dollar industry. There’s nothing wrong with being entertaining. I’m just saying be aware: you create your own treadmills. Eventually you can’t outdo your Christmas Eve service from last year. You just can’t outdo your last performance. So you go, oh Gosh, do we need to hire more people? We need more money. You start to enslave yourself.
Brothers need to be faithful where they are and be themselves. God created them to be them, not someone else. I’m not trying to be Tim Keller. He’s Tim Keller. I love him. But I’m not him. Same with John Piper. He’s one of my mentors. I don’t think he’s ever written or said anything I haven’t read or listened to. But I’m not John. Nor do I desire to be. There are certain aspects of his life that I want to emulate. But our speaking styles are night and day. Personalities are night and day. And I just need to be me. I need to be the most sanctified, godly version of me I can be. I don’t need to strive to be someone else, or to live in someone else’s house. I want to live in the house that God built for me.
You talked about how, if you truly get grace, you’re going to run to God when you messed up and you’re not going to hide it. How do you create environments where people feel safe to do that?
You have to model it. I’ve found my weaknesses actually encourage and help people more than my strengths do. So to stand up and say, “I memorized the Gospel of John” will motivate some people to go, “Oh, I need to do that.” But for a lot of other people, it will be demoralizing. But if I say, “Gosh, I really struggle with this,” then people go, “Oh, he struggles with it. Me, too.” And so I want to be honest about my own weaknesses.
We also create pathways to love our staff well through difficult seasons. One of the things we’ve done is to provide biblical counseling for anyone on staff, eight sessions a year, on us. We’re sending you them to biblical counselors, and we pay for that. So if you’re struggling in a marriage, don’t lie about that. Come tell us, and let’s get you help. We’ll provide financial counseling for guys. We’re there to help you. No one’s going to get fired for being on fire. Because our understanding is that sanctification looks like weakness.
Let me just conclude by asking about your health crisis. Did you come out different on the other side?
I’m sure I did. I don’t know. Nothing theologically changed for me. But it did take me by surprise. I was preparing to minister to others as they walked through this stuff. I wasn’t thinking it was going to be me. Ultimately I’m just well aware that I’m going to stand in front of the Lord and give an account for my life and lean heavy on the blood of Christ.
I’ve grown in confidence—in the Lord and his nearness to me regardless of circumstances. I’m bolder in saying he’s there in those times. I’m far more empathetic than I was before. I’ve learned to number my days. There’s no “we beat this.” There’s no remission. That just doesn’t exist. They’re just doing scans until it comes back. That’s how they’re looking at it. But I’m not looking at it that way. I feel like I’ve been healed. And I’m just walking in that and believing that until something else is revealed.