This post was written by Stephen Hess, a Rhode Island native and recent graduate of the University of Richmond, Virginia. Stephen will be heading off to St. Louis in August for the 4-year M.Div program at Covenant Theological Seminary.
About a month ago, I came across an Acts 29 Network Boot Camp message from Darrin Patrick, Lead Pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, entitled, “Cultivating a Culture of Repentance.” Presenting some observations from his own pastoral experience, and insights from Dan Allender’s Leading with a Limp, he discussed the need for leaders to have a healthy God-honoring reluctance. Exploring the Scriptures, Patrick elaborated on reluctance in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Just a few months away from entering seminary, I have been trying to figure out what God-honoring reluctance looks like. When does reluctance in the life of leader fail to honor God? As I have been searching the Scriptures myself, God’s calling of Moses in Exodus has provided some initial answers for me. Moses is certainly reluctant to God’s call on his life.
But, what is the nature of Moses’ reluctance? When God tells him that he is being sent to Pharaoh that he may bring God’s people, the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moses replies, “Who am I” (Exodus 3:11). Later in that same conversation after God has revealed Himself as “I am” (Ex. 3:14), Moses’ reluctance is voiced again, “O, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Ex. 4:10). These two initial responses by Moses strike me as possible examples of God honoring reluctance. Moses hears God’s call of his life, and then examines his life. Who am I to lead Your people out of captivity? How am I qualified for this task? How can I possibly address Pharaoh, the very person who had the power to enslave Your people? I do not have eloquent and wise words. As Moses examines his own position and his own abilities, reluctance emerges.
Why do I not harbor that same reluctance as I head off for four years of pastoral training? The truth is that I rely more on my perceived spiritual gifts than the Spirit himself. Shouldn’t we all be reluctant to lead in any sphere of life when we examine our own abilities and motives? Maybe I am not as reluctant because there is pride in my heart that needs to ripped out. Do I honestly believe that I am such an excellent communicator that my own words and not God’s Spirit produces heart change? Do I honestly think that just because I read theology and listened to sermons in my spare time as a college student, that those very assignments that I am excited about will not war against me, just as the curse God placed upon man in Genesis 3 reveals? Reluctance to lead and follow God’s call on our life may in fact be honoring to Him when that reluctance arises from a close examination of our own lives.
I love God’s response to Moses, even while there is part of me that begrudges His response. After Moses raises the honest question, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt,” God replies, “But I will be with you” (Ex. 4:10). The improper motivations of my heart to pursue pastoral ministry lead me to begrudge this response. When I think about my own reservations about seminary, I want God to respond by telling me how great a communicator I am, how I have a commanding stage presence, and a bright mind. But He does not respond that way!! When He responded to Moses, and as He responds to me, He does not try to build up our self-esteem, He reminds us of His sovereign power. The strength to lead and follow God’s call does not come from our own strength, but rather God’s presence in us! Our reluctance should never flow from this knowledge.
Reluctance to lead that fails to honor God comes when we not only doubt our own spiritual gifts and heart, but God’s sovereign power and desire. When Moses doubts his own rhetorical skills, God responds, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now, therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex. 4:11-12). “Therefore go,” be reluctant no longer. God has all the authority. It is Moses’ persistent reluctance after God’s response here that dishonors Him. The righteous “anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses” (Ex. 4:14) because Moses’ reluctance was a belittlement of God’s strength and power.
As I ask God to prepare my heart for seminary and possibly pastoral ministry, I ask that I would be reluctant for the right reasons. I pray that He would root out all the pride in my heart that speaks only of self-sufficiency and skills. But I also pray that He would provide me with courage to go where He already has all the authority (which is both in heaven and on earth)! I pray that He would mold me into a reluctant leader that is always confessing and repenting from sin, from improper motives and attempts to build up my own name. I pray that we would all have a reluctance that makes Him great and us small.