If you were not aware of the full-blown controversy that raged over the National Football League’s use of replacement officials this season, you may also not know that Calvin Coolidge is no longer president, the tsars no longer rule Russia, and there are more than three channels available on TV.
Due to a management-union spat, NFL referees were replaced with college officials who did the best job they could, but ended up making really bad calls in nearly every game.
True, the pros (the regular officials) make mistakes. But the number and kind of errors happening with the replacement officials was unprecedented. And the fans were outraged.
Even as I agonized over the poor calls on the gridiron, I also can identify with the replacement referees and commiserate with their impossible task. The speed and complexity of professional football makes quality officiating a daunting, if not impossible, task.
Imagine trying to do a job for which you feel ill-equipped and poorly-prepared while everybody around you is screaming their displeasure at your performance. This is what the replacement officials experienced….or what many pastors regularly suffer…or what missionaries, teachers, youth workers and average Christians often experience.
I recall early in my ministry as an assistant pastor a young couple came to me after church one Sunday and said they wanted to talk to me. They pulled out a list of sixteen items that I was doing wrong. I wish I had that list today.
Oh, if only they knew! Their issues were minor; I can do much worse than anything on their list. And over the ensuing thirty plus years, my errors in ministry could have filled a large notebook.
As I write these words, I am in New Hampshire for five days of teaching and preaching on the advance of the Gospel throughout the world. I am fully capable of inflicting havoc on the body of Christ were it not for God’s grace and power in my life. And when I do inflict havoc, as I have been known to do, I rely on God’s grace and power to protect from harm those to whom I minister.
And so I approach this ministry with a sense of inadequacy and lack, fully aware of the daunting task that confronts a bumbler such as myself. The spread of the fame of Jesus’ name is enormous, complex, and challenging. And it often seems that there are many others who can do a better job of it than I can.
We live in a day when, because of social media and technology, some Christians have “celebrity” status. They are household names, write popular books, have radio and TV programs, and hold conferences. It’s very tempting for the rest of us “ordinary” Jesus-followers to feel like they are the A-team and we are the “replacements.” They can do the work of the Great Commission flawlessly, effortlessly, and with style. We bumble and fumble and stutter and fall in our desperate attempts to serve Jesus.
The Apostle Paul understood this dilemma. He mentions “…we are fools for Christ’s sake…we are weak…we are without honor…we have become the scum of the world, the dregs of all things…” (I Corinthians 4:10, 13).
Does that sound at all like you? If so, take heart! Church history is replete with examples of people who have stumbled repeatedly in their pursuit of obedience to the Great Commission. The stories of William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Adoniram Judson, and a host of others are full of blunders, miscues, weakness, sickness, poverty. The amazing thing is that the Gospel goes forward on the shoulders of people just like you and me.