40 Day Walk With God — May 15, 2014Posted: May 15, 2014
Philippians 2:5-7 (5-11)
Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.
When we speak about aspiring to pastoral excellence, it can feel a bit “faddish.” Across my years of ministry, the “in” thing becomes central to our “church speak,” even when we’re not sure what we mean when we say it. We speak to things like fruitfulness and effectiveness and willingness to adapt how we do our work in an ever-changing world as benchmarks for realizing excellence in our ministries. Each certainly has merit.
But the “what” of pastoral excellence, however important it is, pales in comparison to the “why.” And we really can’t do the “what” with integrity until the “why” is named. In the scripture passage above, we find our “why.” In seeking to adopt the mind of Christ as our own, we walk away from all contrivances and aspirations for notice and favor by emptying ourselves to become the least, if need be. Why? Because that’s precisely what Jesus did. And why? Because that’s precisely who God is. God’s nature is revealed through the life of Jesus.
Back in the late 80’s, during my 3rd year at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I was mentored and befriended by Harmon. His passion for the imprisoned and his call for restorative justice rang true to the Gospel as I understood it. I remember asking him what prompted him to invest his life in this work. He spoke of growing up in Memphis, of being in the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, to hear Dr. King deliver what would be his last message, and of living in a household where hospitality and unconditional love were practiced because that’s who Jesus was—that’s what Jesus did.
Many years later, when I was appointed to serve in midtown Memphis, I was honored to pastor Harmon’s mother, Celeste. Even in her mid-80’s she could be found every Wednesday afternoon on the corner of McClean and Union sitting in a lawn chair and holding a sign calling for the end of the death penalty. One afternoon I saw her and stopped by to tell her hello. As I stood beside her she said, “Signs are in the trunk. If you’re going to visit, you’ve got to hold a sign.”
As I remember Harmon and Celeste, I came to know the “why” of their ministries. We live into the mind of Christ standing with and for the ones nobody will.
Pastoral excellence is found in the very life of Jesus. It’s a life made sacred, not merely because of whom he is, but because of what he did…and what He continues to do in and through any who are so bold as to follow.
O God, help us aspire to excellence in our lives and leadership in ministry by adopting the mind of Christ as our “why” for all we do. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Jeffords
Chairperson Board of Ordained Ministry, Memphis Conference