“Tis mystery all, th’ Immortal dies! Who can explain his strange design?” –Charles Wesley, And Can It Be
In my first semester here at Asbury, two of my friends were taking an evangelism class on Wednesday nights. Every week they came back to the dorm repeating three words; in fact it seemed that through the whole semester, Professor Hong was only concerned that they learn these three words: “Preach Christ CRUCIFIED!” Even in later semesters, I would still hear these two friends repeat the phrase to each other with enthusiasm. “Preach Christ CRUCIFIED!”
Six months ago, in the first chapel of this school year, Dr. Tennant preached a message that had a great impact on my heart. He preached about the foolishness of the Gospel and how we are sent out to a scientific and skeptical world that increasingly labels Christians as fools. He compared us to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, who goes on a fool’s errand to destroy the One Ring in Mordor. Neither Frodo’s task nor ours makes much sense in the wisdom of the world. At the time, I wrote a blog post on this site about my own call to be a fool for Christ.
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been jotting down some notes of my own for a possible blog post, focusing on the things I know and the things I don’t know, the things I am ready to do and the things I have no idea how to begin as I prepare to graduate seminary in a few months and find a job at a church. My mind keeps coming back to two things: I must know Christ in his crucifixion, and I must preach Christ crucified.
On Sunday, the sermon in church was from I Corinthians 1:18-25 and 2:1-5. Then two days later in this morning’s chapel service (the first of the semester), the text for Dr. Kalas’ sermon was the same: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 AND 2:1-5. (This is the point where I suddenly realize God is trying to tell me something.) These are the verses where Paul says that the message of the cross is foolishness to the world but contains the wisdom of God. He says that he proclaims Christ crucified—a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles—but to those who are called, this message is the power and wisdom of God. Paul says that he resolved to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ crucified. His words did not echo human wisdom, nor did they make sense to human logic, but they were given “with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
Know Christ crucified! Preach Christ crucified! Even as I am unsure where to begin when I think about the enormous scope of responsibilities that goes along with pastoring a church, I find an anchor in these two exclamations. My first responsibilities as a pastor are to know Christ and to preach Christ. But what if people don’t want to hear about Christ crucified? What if this sounds like foolishness in their ears?
Dr. Kalas used the example of a jester in a medieval throne room. The jester was paid to play the fool, to be the comic relief for the seriousness of royal business, but in fact a good jester possessed great wisdom. He had to know what would make the king laugh; he had to know which subjects could be joked about and which were off limits. If he was really good, he could even influence policy through his subversive humor and wit. The jester had little dignity or power, yet as he played the fool he could sway kings.
We preach Christ crucified, and people smile at us and say aren’t those pastors pious and quaint and cute. We preach Christ crucified, and people are okay with it because we are just doing our job. We preach Christ crucified, and we tell people about the God who loves them and the Spirit who changes them. And maybe they will always smile and nod at us. Or maybe one day the Spirit will prick their heart and infect them with foolishness, and the reality of the Creator who dies for his creation will become theirs.
I recently saw this advertisement for a youth pastor position:
“Are you a people magnet with a contagious passion for reaching students with the love of God? Are you a leader of leaders? Do you like being on the cutting edge of youth ministry and multi-site ministry? Does coaching a staff team of fellow youth leaders excite you? Do young people actually think you’re kinda cool? If so, you may be just the person we’re looking for.”
I read that job description and thought, “Nope, I’m not the person they’re looking for.” Outside of wanting to reach students with the love of God, I’m no people magnet, nor am I a leader of leaders. I don’t know many young people who think I’m kinda cool either. Basically, this job would not be a good fit for me. I’m not the person they are looking for, and this is not the position I am looking for.
Sometimes I get scared when I read job descriptions such as the one above. I feel like the expectation inside and outside the church is that if I am to be a successful pastor, I must be exciting and passionate and loud and cool, day in and day out. I fear the expectation that I will be an awe-inspiring preacher and a huge personality who always knows the right things to say. I’m afraid that this is the type of pastor that every church is looking for, and that after seven and a half years of college and seminary, I am no closer to being such a pastor than I was when I graduated high school. But I thank God that quiet pastors have a place in the Kingdom of God too!
After seven and a half years, what do I know that prepares me for preaching or teaching or running board meetings or discipling young believers or evangelizing or organizing potlucks or counseling married couples or performing funerals or praying with faith or managing church finances or presiding over the sacraments? What do I really know about these things? Some. Hopefully enough.
But I know, deep down, that I don’t know enough. I myself am not enough. I know that there will be days when I will stick my foot in my mouth or not care enough or fall on my face. And on those days it will be more important than ever that I know Christ and know him crucified. I will never be enough to successfully do this ridiculous job we call ‘pastor.’ There will never be a day when I can save anyone. I am no replacement for Christ; I am but his servant, his errand-boy.
I can’t even put into words right now how important is that I know the crucified Christ. I am unable to express how this is changing me, how this is the one thing that has changed so many leaders in the Church. Whether we are leaders of leaders, whether young people think we are kinda cool, or whether we are quiet and somewhat awkward when we talk, we must know and preach Christ crucified. The crucifixion is the only thing that will ever make a difference. Being a good leader or popular speaker isn’t enough. Being a good writer or pious saint isn’t enough.
Christ will always be enough. And the crucified Christ will always infect the world with his foolishness.