Quote taken from Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child, A Word Before.
There have been times…when the felt presence of God was more real to me than the chair I am sitting on; when the Word ricocheted like broken-backed lightning in every corner of my soul; when a storm of desire carried me to places I had never visited. And there have been other times… when I identified with the words of Mae West: “I used to be Snow White – but I drifted”; when the Word was as stale as old ice cream and as bland as tame sausage; when the fire in my belly flickered and died; when I mistook dried-up enthusiasm for gray-haired wisdom; when I dismissed youth idealism as mere naiveté; when I preferred cheap slivers of glass to the pearl of great price. If you relate to any of these experiences, you might want to browse through this book and pause to reclaim your core identity as Abba’s Child.
So begins Brennan Manning’s classic book, Abba’s Child.
So there I am. Sitting under the colorful blue umbrella, gazing at the beautiful swimming pool, pondering what the Lord has to say to me this delightful Monday morning in Florida. I expected a conversation about doing ministry. Coaching pastors. Helping other leaders be set free from the ugly 3-B Syndrome. But that was last year.
On this day, in June 2012, the Lord quietly whispers, “Marty, I want to go deep inside you and talk about your core identity.”
When Brennan Manning talks about reclaiming your core identity, I’ll have to be honest with you and say that I’m not sure if I’ve ever spent much time in the past ‘claiming’ my core identity, let alone re-claiming it! Last summer, I do recall how the Lord began to reveal to me how my worth as a person, and as a pastor, had been wrapped up so intimately with my ability (or inability) to handle the 3-B’s.
If you’re not a regular reader of my blogs, let me stop for a moment and fill you in on what I call the 3-B Syndrome.
This ministry syndrome works like this: In order for a pastor and a church to be ‘successful’, by Americanized standards, we must focus our ministries on the 3-B’s: BUILDINGS, BUCKS, and BUTTS.
If a pastor can lead his or her church to bigger and better numbers in each of these 3-B’s (bigger buildings, increased giving, and more people in the pews), the pastor is a ‘success’. It all sounds great when these 3-B’s are on track. But unfortunately, for those pastors who fail or falter in any (or all) of these three arenas of ministry, our net worth as a pastor, and our success as a church, begins to crumble.
So, as some of you know from reading my blogs, over the last few years, my lofty pursuit toward ‘success’, using the 3-B Syndrome as my model, has taken a huge hit. After starting our church in 1998 and experiencing steady growth in all 3-B’s for nearly ten years, suddenly, in 2008, the wheels began falling off my 3-B buggy. As I look back now, I believe I understand why God began to shake me to my very core. While I didn’t know it then, this was (and still is) a God-quake determined to shake me off my continual pursuit of ‘success’ as defined by the 3-B Syndrome.
So as my big building expansion project in 2009 failed; as the recession hit mercilessly at our giving numbers, and there were continually less and less butts in the seats on Sunday mornings, the proverbial cheese started to fall off my proverbial cracker. (Thanks Brennan…I’ve always loved that proverbial expression of yours!)
So, like any good conscientious 3-B pastor would do, when the stuff began to hit the fan at my church, I blamed myself for these calamities and began wondering if my days as a pastor were beginning to come to an end. It’s at that point, the Lord finally had my attention and, as I now see it, it was actually the beginning of a lot of good stuff I truly needed in order to be the real pastor Jesus wants me to be.
But more on that later. For now, let me say that a quick read through Brennan Manning’s list of up and down experiences at the beginning of Abba’s Child truly describes my life and ministry over the last four or five years.
How about you?
So let’s do this.
Know that if you can identify with Brennan on this list of up and downs, also know that you are not alone! Actually it was last summer in Florida, when the Lord began showing me how so many other pastors across the fruited plain of America are equally discouraged with their on-going plight for ‘success’, as defined by American church standards.
But now, rather than go deeper into the externals of this 3-B monster, I sense the Lord is saying to both you and me, “My friends, let Me go deeper inside of you and help you find your core identity in Me!”
Good news, pastors. We are, like Brennan Manning says here, ‘Abba’s Child’ first and foremost. And now maybe it’s time to come out of hiding to claim and re-claim this core identity Manning is referring to here.
How about you? Wanna come along?
My prayer: Thank You, Lord, that brute honesty about my life has never pushed You away from me. Like Brennan Manning, I confess to the ups and downs, the highs and the lows, the mountains and the valleys of my journey with You. Thank You that You never forsake or leave me, even when my cheese is falling off my cracker! For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Has my theological approach to Christianity allowed for the ups and downs Brennan Manning describes here in his journey with Jesus? If not, why? Secondly, what do I need to change in my viewpoint of God (or myself) so that there is much more grace in my life for this bumpy landscape Manning describes?
So what is God speaking to you today about His Gospel of Grace?