A while ago on a windy day, I attempted to dispose of some boxes with packaging material in them. One of the boxes contained those pesky styrofoam peanuts. As I was walking to the dumpster, I dropped the box that contained the peanuts. Well, you probably know where this is going…. Carried by the wind, the light styrofoam peanuts scattered all over the parking lot concrete. Within a few seconds, they were taken by the wind and driven hundreds of feet down the road. There was no possible way that I could gather all the peanuts and cleanup the mess that had been made.
I have been a Christian for over eighteen years and have been active in the ministry for seventeen of those years. My heart and intentions have always been to help people be reconciled to God and grow in their relationship with Him. While my motives have always been genuine, there have been many circumstances where I lacked the spiritual maturity and life experience that I needed to be the minister that others needed me to be. I made the comment to my wife a few weeks ago that I thought pastors under thirty-five had no business being lead pastors. That thought is just my humble opinion. I will turn thirty-six next week.
Sometimes I think back to my earlier days in ministry and I say to myself, “What in the world was I doing behind a pulpit on Sunday mornings at nineteen and how could responsible church leaders put me there?” It is not about the ability, giftedness or talent of preaching well. It is about the maturity that life seasons us with. It is about years passing and your relationship with God being tempered. It is about the opportunity that living life offers to have your faith, as well as your character tested by fire. I was no where near having that experience at 19, 25, or even 29 years of age when I became a lead pastor for the first time.
A month ago I finished up a season of serving as interim pastor at a wonderful church. I filled the pulpit and helped guide the congregation through the process of finding a new permanent lead pastor. It was a wonderful experience for my family and I. As I reflected on that experience, I realized that this interim pastorate was the first time I felt comfortable, completely adequate and confident to lead a group of God’s people. I knew when to speak up, I knew when to bring correction, I knew when to facilitate healing and I knew when to simply be quiet and let God work. It is not just that I had more formal training this time around, nor was it that I studied harder for my sermons and other responsibilities. No, I had just grown up a bit more. I had been through a little more stuff that life had thrown at me. I had learned how to forgive, even when it hurt -really bad. I had learned that things did not always work out like I wanted; so I did not try to force it to. I had learned that Eric does not have all the answers, so I did not pretend like I did. Eric, -had been humbled. Eric, -had been broken. And Eric, -was a better pastor for it.
As I think about those styrofoam peanuts that got scattered in the wind, I think about my first sixteen years of ministry. I think about the very first church we served in. I think about the youth group that Amy and I left after only being there for six months. And I think about the two churches we helped plant, one now on the verge of becoming a “mega-church” and the other “the little engine that could” serving in a neighborhood that is much in need of the light of Christ.
I would NEVER say that God did not use my first sixteen years of ministry, that would be foolish. However, I am grieved when I think of some of the mistakes that I made and the people that those mistakes hurt. Mistakes caused by ignorance, mistakes caused by fear, mistakes caused by selfish ambition, mistakes caused by a young man’s immaturity, mistakes caused by inexperience. -All, mistakes that were made because I had not yet learned how to be a responsible shepherd of God’s people.
The day I dropped the box of peanuts in the wind, I quickly realized that it would be impossible for me to pick them all up; the wind had taken them, the damage was done. Just as with the styrofoam peanuts, I realize that there is nothing I can do to “fix” my mistakes from the past. Most of the mistakes were made years ago and I simply cannot go back. If I were to address some of those mistakes, I would risk opening old wounds and taking that risk for the sake of easing my own conscience would be selfish on my part. Life has gone on and the winds of time have swept all of us further along on our journeys.
What I can do is say that I am sorry to anyone who I may have hurt in the past who might read this post. -I am very sorry for hurting you. I want you to know that I have not forgotten about all those mistakes that I made. I have not laughed them off or blamed them on someone else. I take full responsibility for them. I do not make light of those mistakes and I do not make light of the pain that I might have caused you. Actually, I think about them often. I draw from that experience so that I can be the best minister, and the best shepherd that I can be. I hope you have found it in your heart to forgive me. I hope you realized that those mistakes were made by a young man whose motives were right, but who was just “in over his head.” I want you to know that God has put that young man through a process. He has been broken and he is a better person for it.
I could not pick up all those scattered styrofoam peanuts, but that experience taught me to be more mindful of the wind and more careful with the cargo. “Experience” has branded that lesson into my mind and onto my heart for the rest of my life. I will draw from it often.