Selfless or Selfish?

Something occured to me the other day that I have never thought of before.

We think of those that go into ministry or some other type of service to humanity as selfless individuals. They are seen this way because of the great sacrifices they seem to make while serving others. These people are regarded highly because they seemingly forsake their own needs to meet the needs of others. One of the things we applaud these people for is their willingness to forgo the financial stability that might come from a “secular” job. We admire, respect and, in many cases, support them because they are willing to serve selflessly.

But is that actually the case?

Is it possible that what passes for selflessness and sacrifice is actually selfishness and indulgence? Think about it with me for a second.

As a former pastor, I have recently given thought to the idea that it was very selfish of me to pursue my passion of ministry even though it meant many personal sacrifices for my family. I indulged my dream and “call” while my family often struggled financially. I selfishly spent many precious hours building my ministry while my family observed from a distance, waiting for me to get home. We uprooted and moved away from stability to instability while I chased my dream. And each and every Sunday, while I was serving others, my family came to church without me, sat without me and most days went home without me… all for the sake of the ministry.

And at every place I served I was applauded and thanked for the sacrifices I made.

Sacrifice? SACRIFICE? It wasn’t a sacrifice. It was me feeding my ego… subconsciously mistaking my “need to be needed” as a call from God.

Of course, I know that no one else can relate to this. As a matter of fact, I am probably just talking to myself here. Yeah, I am certain of it. I am completely alone on this one.

Yeah… it’s probably just me.

Comment Fast

Several weeks ago I did something I had never done before… I fasted.

Now, I had done one of those 24 hour fasts with the youth group to help them gain an idea of what it was like for hungry people around the world and we would raise money for “World Vision” or whatever… but let’s not kid ourselves, that’s not a real fast. We would drink “smoothies” throughout the night and have some fun, playing games, and then the next morning share a big breakfast together to talk about our accomplishment.

But this was real… at least for me. I decided to start with a three-day fast to gain an idea of how I might possibly work into a longer fast at some point in the future. Coupled with the fast, I wanted to spend some time reading books that had encouraged or challenged me over the years. Many of these books have been the impetus to bring me to where I am today with SCP. For me the fast meant evaluating where I was in all facets of my life, of which SCP is an important part.

Physically the fast was demanding. It was a juice and water fast only. I learned a lot about how I would approach it the next time when I do this, because I just jumped right in, not knowing that I really needed to prepare my body better for this. However, the cold-turkey (pun intended) approach certainly shocked my system. My last meal was on a Thursday at lunch, and by the next day when everyone at work was heading to Del Taco for lunch I was pretty hungry. But I kept to it, drinking my home-made juice (bought the juicer and everything) and consuming plenty of water.

By Saturday morning, I was feeling better from a hunger pain standpoint, but worse everywhere else. My body ached, I felt feverish and later I came to find out that this is normal. They say the first three days of a fast are the hardest part because it resembles the flu. The good news is by Saturday night I felt much better, lighter, and actually I felt stronger physically than I had prior to the fast…. although I was a bit tired and listless. I also slept really well while I was on the fast, something I am not able to do normally.

When Sunday morning rolled around, I was feeling really good. One of the odd effects for me was how things around me seemed to slow down. Life moved more slowly when I wasn’t eating and the little things didn’t seem to bother me as they normally do. The small stuff became just that… really, really small and unimportant.

The thing I noticed was how I had seemingly lost my cravings for solid food and in some strange way, didn’t want to end this fast. I wanted to taste food but didn’t necessarily want to eat it. It was like I just wanted to suck a burger, not consume it… it was weird. It sounds strange, but I was almost frightened to eat again and preferred the way I felt now to how I felt before. I didn’t want to go back… but I felt like I had accomplished my goals and so that afternoon, I broke my fast with some soup.

So how does this all relate? First, I would recommend a fast to anyone that hasn’t done one. It was great for me physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Just the sheer feeling of discipline and accomplishment was important to me.

Second, it put things into perspective for me. It made me see that there are some things you just need to let go in life. I let go of some things that weekend.

Third, I was determined to share with my friends at SCP what I had re-read during this time that motivated me and inspired me over the years. More importantly, I wanted to take myself out of SCP for awhile. You see, I could have written these things and regurgitated what Aeschliman or Peterson wrote, but why not read it for yourselves. No need for me to re-invent the wheel.

So when I saw the direction the comments were going… off-topic, nit-picking, back and forth trying to “be right” instead of seeking to learn more about each other and our journeys… I was pretty much done with it. To me and in my opinion the comments are the “small stuff” I can do without if they detract from the bigger picture at hand. So for me, I felt SCP needed a “comment fast”.

To me the comments on this site are what drives it. On my blog, when I write something, I want the feedback and the sharing of ideas to help me sharpen my views or opinions on things. Many times I hold back on commenting on things I have written, and I used to have a policy on never commenting on my writings… and maybe that’s what I will do again. But the comments were an important place for the SCP readers to share, dialogue and grow together in understanding and strength for their journeys. I hope it will return to a place where we stop trying to “fix” people (and this goes for all of us), but seek to understand, challenge, and even laugh with and at one another. I say laugh because at the core of SCP, we are all guilty of some pretty stupid thinking that needs to be enlightened – even if we prefer our present ignorance.

A few days away from the things we think are important can clear the mind, let us see things for what they are, help us to re-evaluate and re-focus our energies and mindsets. That’s what fasting is all about in my opinion.

Hey Everybody….


I have been writing for the past hour about how to address my feelings on this site as it currently stands….and I just erased it all, not sure what to say.

For now I am simply nauseated by what I read in the comments section of the past two posts.

Yeah… I never thought I would prevent comments on this site…. but I am now.

Some of you sicken me…

Go back to DOING what you felt was really important. You think what we DO here isn’t important, so stop coming here and telling your friends to come visit our site. Get back to DOING what you FEEL is so important to enhance God’s Kingdom. You have wasted enough of your precious time here. You could be reaching lost people or healing people or teaching or equipping or whatever it is that you actually DO…. instead of spending your time commenting over and over again here, trying to rebuke and correct us reprobates. Remember, there is nothing important happening here…. we are selfish, egotistical, immature, rude, obnoxious, pretentious and egotistical (or did I already say that). SO why waste your time here… you obviously have more important things to DO. So go DO it.

So for now Stupid Church People has gone the way of Tony Jones, Brian McLaren and the other great Emerging Church leaders…. for now this conversation is closed.

But those of you that are interested… please keep coming. We’ve still got some things to say. And we don’t want anyone to talk. Just listen.


The Faking of the Pastor

I don’t know of any other profession in which it is quite as easy to fake it as in ours. By adopting a reverential demeanor, cultivating a stained-glass voice, slipping occasional words like “eschatology” into conversation….not often enough actually to confuse people but enough to keep them aware that our habitual train of thought is a cut above the pew level–we are trusted, without any questions asked, as stewards of the mysteries. Most people…know that we are in fact surrounded by enormous mysteries: birth and death, good and evil, suffering and joy, grace, mercy, forgiveness. It takes only a hint here and a gesture there, an empathetic sigh, or a compassionate touch to convey that we are at home and expert in these deep matters.

Even when in occasional fits of humility and honesty we disclaim sanctity, we are not believed. People have a need to be reassured that someone is in touch with the ultimate things. Their own interior lives are a muddle of shopping lists and good intentions, guilty adulteries (whether fantasized or actual) and episodes of heroic virtue, desires for holiness mixed with greed for self-satisfaction. They hope to do better someday beginning maybe tomorrow or at the latest next week. Meanwhile, they need someone around who can stand in for them, on whom they can project their wishes for a life pleasing to God. If we provide a bare bones outline of pretence, they take it as the real thing and run with it, imputing to us clean hands and pure hearts.

More from the introduction of “Working the Angles” by Eugene Peterson.

This Guy is Angry at Pastors

American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.

A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted…. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists.

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.

From the introduction of “Working the Angles” written by Eugene Peterson.

I Wish I Could Write Like This…

…but since I can’t, I thought I would share this with you.

Learning to love life by living through loss and mistakes
Lessons learned then gradually surfacing
Letting go, stripping naked to scream
I am not perfect, nor do I strive to be
I am alive in this world of face-first falls and public breakdowns
I’m a retarded, disfigured clown
Dying to be heard for the simple art of letting this heavy wall finally fall
I’m an equal being of no race or color
A hallucination if you will
Sneaking into the lives of strangers and letting them fall apart
To a new rhythm, just to feel better

“Retarded, Disfigured Clown” is spoken by Blue October on the album, “Consent to Treatment”.

Days Gone By

I am sharing these pictures because this date always makes me think about my family. I miss those days gone by but also cherish them for the wonderful memories they have given me.

Dad, Mom, Mike, Kathy… Mamma and Daddy Smith…. aunts, uncles and cousins…. all of those dreadful, wonderful summer trips to Alabama…

I love you all.

Mom and Dad

Kathy, Dad, Mike and Me

Kathy and Me

Mom and Kids

Kathy, Dad and Me

The Cousins with Daddy and Mamma Smith

The Family at the Big People Table

Fan Mail

Josh and I get several email letters a week from people who come from all over the world, all walks of life, all manner of faiths and all at various points of their journeys. I am always interested to read their stories and hear their points of view and insights. Some are encouraging, some challenge me, some inspire me and then there are those rare and chosen few that just outdo themselves.

Here’s one such selection of the special people that send us their love from time to time:

Click to enlarge.