Cruciformity and Knowing Your Limits

Mar 25, 2021 | Refreshment

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We can make several points about cruciformity that will help us to see that this is the most hopeful reality possible for pastors and ministry leaders. First, being a person claimed by the cross means that God is pouring out resurrection life on me to renew the image of God in me (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24). That involves God’s transforming me into a true and renewed human in the image of the Son of God—a human who is enjoying life in God’s good world according to his original design. An essential part of that design is following the Sabbath rhythms of creation—work and breaking from work in order to be refreshed. Pastors who are shepherding communities in the way of Jesus, therefore, keep themselves refreshed by following the rhythms of renewed humanity. Sundays are “workdays” for pastors, as they lead communities in celebration of our identity in Christ. They would do well to select some other day on which to take a break from responsible care for the life of the church.

Cruciformity also provides a wonderful framework for considering this. The sources of burnout for many ministers are our ministry ambitions and our fears. On one hand, we may want to see our churches grow, so we forego rest and refreshment and involve ourselves in far more than we should. We push ourselves to do more than we ought to in an effort to cultivate interest in ministries or perhaps to curry favor with someone we hope will remain committed to the church. Alternatively, we may fear that if we’re not doing enough, the church will fail. If I don’t make this meeting or attend that event, people will notice and I will be subject to criticism. I may want to avoid making someone angry if I maintain my need of refreshment, so I will allow myself to be dragged into more activities than I should.

As someone claimed by the cross, however, I must regard my ambitions, along with my fears, as nailed to the cross, along with any other motivations that keep me from living a truly renewed and refreshing life in Christ. Paul states this theological reality and applies it to another issue, but the truth is just as relevant to the life of pastors:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit

within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your

own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in

your body. (1 Cor. 6:19–20)

We are claimed by the cross and we do not have the right to determine our ministry agendas. It takes a clear vision of this reality and the courage provided by the Holy Spirit to maintain our place on the cross, which is the only site on which God pours out resurrection life. Glorifying God in our bodies involves living in such a way that we are enjoying God’s sustaining power that is renewing us in the image of Jesus Christ.

Preaching and teaching on the centrality of the cross will also provide a framework to help congregations see the rhythms that pastors have set in their lives. Cruciform pastors are dependent on cruciform churches to give themselves fully to the life of the community so that they can relieve pastors of having to do everything. And if there are community aims and desires that go unfulfilled, that will have to be a reality that pastors and churches accept. Just as an individual pastor’s ambitions and fears are nailed to the cross, so, too, are the ambitions, fears and demands of a community. Some programs or dreams may go unfulfilled, but as long as people are taking care to cultivate renewed human patterns of life in order to be re-created in the image of God’s Son, then so be it.

Cruciform ministers will learn to know their limits and study their own lives in order to keep themselves in places of refreshment. This will keep us in places of humility. We are not the builders of the church; that task is God’s and God’s alone. We are agents of his grace and love in the life of the church, but the responsibility for holding on to God’s people is his. The church has one Savior, and it is not us! Maintaining this place of humility flows directly from a cruciform identity. Cruciformity, therefore, does not at all mean that we allow ourselves to be pushed and pulled in all directions. It keeps us in the safest possible place—inhabiting the death of Christ so that we may enjoy the life of Christ.


Excerpted from Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry by Timothy G. Gombis ©2021 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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