“You don’t deserve to be a pastor.”
Even though it was three years ago, I can remember him whispering it in my ear as clearly as though it happened a moment ago.
In the intervening month between when I accepted the call to serve my church as pastor and when I actually began serving, I heard him say it again and again. When I woke up in the morning, I heard it. When I had spare moments in the day, I heard it. When I laid my head on the pillow at night, I heard it.
“You are not qualified.”
“You’re a failure.”
“If people knew who you really are, they would never follow you.”
“You don’t have what it takes.”
The enemy plagued me for a month in what remains to this day the most severe time of spiritual attack I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t understand it, so I called one of my mentors and we met for lunch. I asked him what I should do. Should I call the church back and tell them I can’t come? Are all these things Satan is telling me true? He gave me some wisdom that I still preach to myself today.
His advice was simple: “Andrew, when the enemy accuses you, agree with him. Then remind him that it’s not about you.”
“You are not qualified.” Yes, you’re right.
“You’re a failure.” Yes, you’re right.
“If people knew who you really are, they would never follow you.” Yes, you’re right.
“You don’t have what it takes.” Yes, you’re right.
But Jesus has what it takes. He is eminently qualified. He’s never failed. And when was pastoral ministry about my abilities, my qualifications, my successes, or getting people to follow me?
I learned from my mentor that day to preach the gospel to myself.
I remind myself that my standing before God and my calling to ministry can never be about my abilities or what I deserve. In salvation, I’m accepted by God not based on my own merit but only because of the merit of Christ. This is the good news of the gospel: Christ does for me what I cannot do for myself.
Ministry requires death to myself and dependence on the merits of Christ. Paul said, “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). As long as I stand in Christ, I can embrace the accusations of the enemy as accurate and then remind him that although I do not have what it takes, Christ does. On the cross, God judged all of my failures and rebellion by pouring out His wrath on Christ who died on my behalf. Christ’s death on the cross means that I now stand justified before God, not because I deserve it at all, but because of what Christ has done for me.
The moment I think I have what it takes, or that I am eminently qualified, or that I deserve to be a pastor, is the moment when my pride will get in the way of Christ using me. As long as I find shelter in Jesus, I can embrace accusation and continue serving Jesus and my church. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of the church (1 Peter 5:4) and He employs broken under-shepherds to care for His flock. When those under-shepherds fail, as they always will, Jesus still cares for His church. He does just fine as the Shepherd of the Sheep, whether I fail or succeed.
Now when I hear the enemy repeat that old accusation, I’m reminded of the truth spoken by the great hymn writer, Charitie L. Bancroft:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.