“I, the servant, am inadequate and unworthy. We, the Lord’s people united by His Word, are inadequate and unworthy. But that’s OK; that is exactly the way Jesus wants it to be.”
At Immanuel Lutheran Seminary, students will often sense inadequacy toward their role as future ministers of Christ. Their inadequacy is more than just a perception. It’s the only right response when looking at oneself with honesty and in view of what the ministry requires and deserves from those who serve. All things considered, the proper realization is this: “I, the servant, am inadequate and unworthy. We, the Lord’s people united by His Word, are inadequate and unworthy. But that’s OK; that is exactly the way Jesus wants it to be.”
As forerunner to the Messiah, John the Baptist understood this truth and how it pertained to his role in serving Jesus. He said in John 3:28-30: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John knew the key to success in the work of proclaiming the Gospel. It’s not about the preacher or the missionary; it’s not about the members or the prospects either. It’s about Jesus. He, the Savior and Lord of the Church, must increase; but we—pastors and teachers, students and members—must decrease. Easier said than done, one might say. We all know how to make the work of God’s kingdom be about us in some way: our increasing workload, our lack of time and resources, our inability to do this or that. Our flesh makes self-awareness become self-absorption. As we increase in our own eyes, that too is a part of our inadequacy.
However, if we step back and trace John’s insight from God, we see the blueprint Jesus has for His ministers and servants. It includes the fact of His divine call extended to His ministers for His people. The Lord calls pastors, missionaries, and teachers to serve both Him and His Church. They did not put themselves into the positions they now have. He did that. And along with that placement comes a steadfast promise to each servant. When the Lord sends you to do something in His behalf, He does not leave you to your own inadequate devices. He always provides what is needed for the task at hand. He especially supplies the heart-changing, mind-convincing truth of His Word. On that basis we can approach all the opportunities, challenges, and problems before us with a confidence that the solution will come from Him.
This month, called servants and delegates from our CLC congregations and institutions will meet in our biennial General Convention in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In our collective work as a church body, we will certainly pray, think, and discuss. Floor committees will meet, and reports will be delivered. We will plan and propose, vote and resolve. But at every point, it is the Lord Who must grant the blessing of the outcome, an outcome that He leads us to pursue. It is part of His causing it to be so that He will increase, while we decrease.
In a short time our nation will have its presidential candidates lined up for the pending election of the next U.S. President. In the build-up to November, we expect zealous campaigns to do whatever they can to make their candidate increase and the opponent decrease in the eyes of the voters. However, despite millions of dollars spent and countless hours of work, for many it will become a losing cause when the opposing candidate wins.
We, on the other hand, as part of the greatest campaign ever, can go about His business of promoting a winning platform of Gospel benefits for all. There may be long hours, millions spent, trials and tribulations. But victory is assured for the all-triumphant Savior and His happily-inadequate team of ministers and members. As we learn to let Jesus and His Word have the limelight, we also experience the increasing joy of John as we accept our self-shrinking role of relying on the Lord, glorifying Him, and leaving to Him the matter of results in our labors for His heavenly kingdom.
Steven Sippert is president of Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.