Sanctification: Exegeting My Self

It is not what the pastor is out there doing that counts, but what Christ is doing through the pastor.Steve Seamands

The most challenging part of ministry for me — as I assume it is for many other pastors — is that tension that exists between a demanding ministry and the need for personal spiritual health. As an extrovert who is driven by new ideas and fresh challenges, I struggle to “be still and know that he is God” (Psalm 46:10). I struggle to sift through multiple good ideas to set priorities. In the natural, I prefer a crowded life to a focused life. As a spiritual entrepreneur with a natural desire to start new things, I prefer to generate new ministries rather than develop existing ones. What motivates me is both blessing and curse. I can accomplish a lot, but at what spiritual cost?

As a pastor, ministry leader or faithful Christian, what motivates you? Before anything is accomplished through you, what has been accomplished within you?

Transformational ministry begins with a right heart but for too many of us, the motives that move us are less than mature. Consider these symptoms as you perform a little honest self-exegesis:

  • over-compensating for incompetency
  • fear of failure
  • pressure from others
  • unexplained/ unexplored compulsions
  • competitiveness (preaching to myself here)
  • arrogance
  • an inability to self-limit
  • feelings of powerlessness
  • an immature knowledge of what Kingdom advancement requires
  • productivity sheerly for productivity’s sake

Peter Scazzero writes about the havoc wreaked “when we become so preoccupied with achieving objectives that we are unwilling or unable to listen to others and create an unsustainable pace for those serving with us. The shadow motivation might be a desperate need to receive praise from others for our work …”

I’m exposed by Scazzero’s insight. Laid bare. Lord, have mercy.

If immature and unhealthy motives are the sickness, then what is the cure? Sanctification is the work of confronting our impure motives and finding ways to heal them. Scazzero calls it “self-exegesis.” It is the hidden, quiet, spiritual work of examining ourselves, piece by piece, drawing out every impurity and laying it before the Holy Spirit for scrutiny and healing. It is about being still and knowing not just God but what God knows about me. It isn’t just confession, but a willingness to change.

How can we stimulate this spiritual work within ourselves? Seamands offers several options:

  • Seek out a liminal experience. A liminal experience begins with where we are, then breaks with our routines and comforts in order to return us at a higher level than we began. It is to cease being what was for the sake of becoming a new thing. Spending time in another culture can create a liminal experience. Retreats can have this effect. Time in a monastery works. Even a day by the water or in a forest can contribute to this result. Can you make room in this year’s calendar for at least one extended (a weekend or more) liminal experience for the sake of your own sanctification?
  • Experience contrasting views. Intentionally shifting perspective can help to develop empathy as well as create new solutions to current roadblocks. Do you expose yourself to viewpoints or lifestyles other than your own? Are you rubbing shoulders with people who live in poverty, people with disabilities, people from other walks of life? An African teaching says we are who we are because of other people. This is never more true than when we take time to learn from those least like us. Who is teaching you what God thinks, not just about people like you but about the rest of the world?
  • Fall in love. How does one called to advance the Kingdom of God bear God’s missional heart without bearing an undo burden or losing touch with the love of God? It is far too easy to bear the weight of others’ suffering and the brunt of their immaturity to the point that it hardens the heart of the giver and dulls all spiritual senses. How does one avoid that fate? Surely this is why God continually called the Israelites to circumcise their hearts (see Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 4:4, for example). He’d seen them grow hard toward others, so he called for a softening toward the things that break his heart. Fall in love again, God might say to the jaded spiritual leader. Give your whole heart to someone or some people or back to God. In fact, this business of “falling in love” may be at the heart of self-exegesis for the sake of others. When is the last time you gave your whole heart to someone … to your people … to God?

The work we do as followers of Jesus — the work of seeing addicts delivered and lost people redeemed, of seeing broken people healed and lonely people embraced — is glorious but hard work. How do we do it without letting it wear us out? Without letting it harden our hearts?

Steve Seamands has asked: “Who carries the burden of ministry in your life? You, or the Holy Spirit?”

This question resonates deeply with me. Am I working off my own steam, or am I making room for encountering the Spirit, for letting Him lead? When I begin with my natural inclinations and immature motives, I develop a “thin” ministry that will not withstand real-world pressures. If I’m to avoid burn-out or a crusty heart, I must learn to self-exegete — to make room for liminal experiences, for other viewpoints, for wholehearted love. I must intentionally exegete my own soul and pursue my own sanctification. Only then will I have the stamina and wisdom to engage the world as it is, even as I work to advance the Kingdom of God.

What plan have you put in place to intentionally work out your on-going sanctification, for the sake of others? 

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

4 thoughts on “Sanctification: Exegeting My Self

  1. A fitting reminder during this time when I am exhorted to “Be still and know that I am God”, a work begun at my recent Emmaus Walk experience. I too agree wholeheartedly about the inner spiritual excitement of watching God work as we carry out His command to DO the work of ministry. Yet I am so blessed He provides for time of refreshing renewal between times. To walk with our Lord is the greatest adventure of all times!

  2. Carolyn,
    Thank you for your post. I was trained as an exegete and the model you present helps me bear fruit for the process (I recently read Scazzro’s EHS and found him helping me turn my understanding, some of inherited, of sanctification upside down).
    The one thing where I might find things different from your narrative is that when I do see broken people healed, lost people redeemed, addicts delivered, and lonely people embraced I find myself energized precisely because it is God at work. Sitting in weekly with the Celebrate Recovery community allows me the grace to see God’s sanctifying grace at work in powerful ways that spills over onto me (I think this is why early Methodists kept going to class meetings all their lives, it was a commitment to being changed, really changed, by grace upon grace). It is quite a contrast from the mainline congregation to which I am appointed which has fears of sanctification. My task in my appointment is to open that up to them, to take them beyond fear to God.

    1. This is a great comment, Randy. And I agree with you on the point of how some ministry actually energizes. I agree completely. Of course, it isn’t all fun and games with folks in the margins. They get set on fire and are all excited and then they relapse … that can be stressful. But an alive ministry is so much more rewarding than being a “keeper of the myth” in a dead church. Amen to that. Blessings on you as you seek to serve Christ in the world, and wake the people sitting in the pews.

      1. Carolyn,
        Thanks for your kind reply. I appreciate how you keep holiness, a real and active work of God’s Spirit, in front of our tribe (the United Methodist Church). It is tough to see relapses and some of the accompanying drama. Have you read Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue? It really takes a church-community’s deliberate intention to be an alternative community to the culture of addiction to help move people to stability.
        I catch some grief for it from some of my Methodist colleagues and theologian friends, but I have found the 12 Steps (especially as Renee and I have experienced them in the Celebrate Recovery community) very close to early Methodism in the class meetings.
        Again, thanks for the reply and all you do through your writing and ministry. Blessings and peace.

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