I’ve had the privilege of serving in full-time ministry for almost 22 years. Looking back, there is much to be thankful for. It hasn’t been all picture-perfect or easy-breezy, but it has been richly rewarding.
More than anything else, I’m thankful for the relationships built over the years with wonderful, real people.
Just yesterday, I received a text message from a friend in Yakima informing me that one of my former youth ministry students was in the hospital recovering from an emergency surgery – and the young man was asking for me. I called to talk and pray with him for a few minutes.
It was humbling to realize how much of a place I had been given in his life – as a friend and pastor.
I don’t have many regrets. Not that I think everything I’ve done in the past 20-some years of ministry is particularly praiseworthy or commendable. No, there were plenty of mistakes and poor choices and embarrassing things done and/or led by me.
There is one regret I’m clear about. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would give more grace. I would be kinder, gentler, more compassionate, less-judgy, less controlling… I would be more grace-filled, gracious, and grace-giving.
I’ve never regretted giving grace. Never. Sure, there have been times when I’ve given grace and I was taken advantage of, run over, abused. And I still don’t regret giving grace in those circumstances. I would do it all over again.
On the other hand, I do regret NOT giving grace. I’m embarrassed at my quick-to-judge and condemn response to the apparent “failures” of those in my care.
This story will forever serve as a reminder to me of HOW NOT TO DO IT…
As the session of Summer Interns wrapped up at our church in Yakima, two students – let’s just call them “Pat” and “Kyle” – celebrated their new freedom by renting a couple of the Hannibal Lecter movies (one of the many Summer Intern rules was absolutely no rated R movies). Within a day or two, word got back to me about the movies.
Armed with my new information, I confronted them on the crowded gym floor of the Stone Church Youth Center after our mid-week service…
“So, I hear you guys celebrated the end of Summer Interns by watching the Hannibal movies. Is that right?” They both looked like they wanted to crawl under a rock and die. Sheepishly they nodded in agreement.
“Oh, well great. Good for you! And while you were at it, did you also smoke some crack cocaine and get some hookers since the rules are over and you have so much freedom?”
At this point, they looked horrified—on the verge of tears. They shook their heads “no,” and mumbled apologies.
I was angry. My voice was dripping with sarcasm. No love, understanding, compassion, or grace was present in my attitude. None. It was all law and consequence. And I’m terribly embarrassed that I reacted this way—that I said those things to my students.
I regret not giving grace. What I did was destructive and wrong.
Looking back, I don’t even know if what they did was wrong or not—but I do know that what I did was sinful. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it satanic. After all, the name Satan means “accuser,” and that’s exactly who I was on that gym floor with Kyle and Pat.
Here’s what’s particularly sad about this story: the same thing happened to me when I was a young leader in the church. Sure, it was a different movie (Terminator 2), and my pastor didn’t ask if I also did some crack and hookers (he said if I have to watch rated R movies, please do it in another town), but the same accusing and condemning message was given.
All I know is this: I don’t ever want to be the accuser again.
From this day forward, it’s my mission to go with grace.
PS: Pat and Kyle – I love you both very much and could not be more proud of you. Please forgive me for being harsh and judgmental. What I did was not right – I knew it then, and I really know it now. I’m so sorry.