There are many people who have been. Just like there are many people who have been hurt by families, businesses and various organizations. This was in my thinking as I wrote down…
Sabbatical reflection 7: In our experience of the church here on earth we will always be hurt like in any relationship that matters. We will be hurt precisely because the church and our relationship to it (them) matters. We will also be hurt because we all love conditionally and if our conditions are not met we tend to get upset. Experiencing hurt in the local church should not be surprising and is very seldom a valid reason to leave a particular local church.
The church is a gathering of people with whom we have relationships. These people are all sinners – some redeemed some not. And so as in all places where sinful people gather there will be people hurting each other. This should not surprise us. But it will surprise us and we will be unable to deal with the hurt if we are self-centered and conditional in our love of others.
I think we should encourage each other with the words of Paul in Philippians 2: 1 – 8, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider (value) others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of the others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (used to his own advantage),but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
But at the same time we remember the same Paul’s words, as he struggles with sin and what God requires of him, in Romans 7: 15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” And so we should remember that not only will we be hurt, but we will also be those who hurt others. It is inevitable. Let’s not be quick to leave a church just because we are hurt because it will happen wherever we go – another church or even away from church. And anyway wherever we go we take ourselves who will eventually hurt others anyway.
Instead of running away we should use these opportunities of hurt to grow in biblical love as in 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8(a) (and these attributes only grow in the context of circumstances where they are hard to exercise), “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Instead of running away we should use these opportunities of hurt to grow in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: 22 – 23(a) (and this fruit only grows in the context of circumstances where they are hard to exercise), “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.
Even though there are some circumstances when it will be wise to leave a particular church, I think it is true to say that those who stay and work biblically through hurt will grow much more than those who run away from it.
There are many who love to criticize the church (as many inside as out). And sometimes we must. But we all need to be reminded that it is only by the grace and love of God that any of us are a part of a church that God loves “warts ‘n all” and we must always criticize with the grace and love that God chooses to love us with, even though He could spend all His time criticizing us!
That is really what I was thinking about in the following two Sabbatical reflections:
Sabbatical reflection 5: The church by and large is ill. It is infected by a wasting disease called consumerism (I want stuff, sermons, services, special people that will make me happy). And this illness is so pervasive that the good health of obedience to the call of Jesus to deny self (deny consumerism) and embrace a lifestyle of discipleship which will include, at times, suffering (but true joy) is no longer seen as good health but as being unbalanced.
Sabbatical reflection 6: No matter what the condition of the true church (and I think it has and will always be suffering with some or other illness here on earth) we must remember that those who make up the church are unconditionally loved by Jesus and so should be loved by us too. Those who are in the church are always a work in progress and need love (sometimes tough love) not judgment to grow.
Biblically, these two reflections came about as I thought about the condition of the church in general today when it comes to responding to the call of Matthew 28: 18 – 20 to be disciple-making disciples (Reflection 5 – and I know there will be those who are really a part of the church who will be like this). And then as I remembered (Reflection 6) that the church (no matter what model of doing church is being followed or what condition it is in) is nothing less than those on earth of whom it is said in 1 John 3: 1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
Sabbatical reflection 4: I find it easy to constantly live with guilt over the past and worry about the present and future. As a Jesus follower I must learn to enjoy the present journey with Him, who loves me, trusting in His forgiveness of all my sin and sovereign good for my past, present and future in spite of me.
I often get caught up in feeling guilty about past sins and worrying about the “bad” things that will happen to me in the present and future. And humanly speaking that is normal.
But according to the Bible there is no condemnation for me in Christ, my sin has been dealt with (Romans 6: 1 – 4). And I don’t need not worry about anything today or tomorrow because the same God who has forgiven me my sin also loves and cares for me every day (Matthew 6: 27 – 34). And all this in spite of me. What peace and joy!
Now either I believe these great blessings with the Holy Spirit’s help, or insult my Lord through my unbelief and forfeit the peace and joy that is mine in Him!
What about you?
Sabbatical reflection 3: I need to be a God-pleaser not a people-pleaser. The more I please God and don’t offend Him the more I will be able to love people as I ought to even if it at times offends them. If I live as a people-pleaser I will spend all of my life trying to contort myself and what I do into hundreds of different shapes instead of sticking to the one vision and shape of ministry that God has laid out in the bible.
The Bible commands us to love people and only please our neighbor for their good and to build them up (Roman s 15: 2 – and that would be defined by the bible). But the bible doesn’t call us to be people-pleasers, that is people who do anything people want just to make them happy. Sometimes what will build them up, be good for them and show love for them will not be pleasing to them but will be the right thing to do. The bible also commands us to love God and live in such a way as to please Him. Jesus lived to please Him (John 8: 29). And our lives should like Christ be geared to loving and pleasing God in all things (1 Corinthians 7: 32; 2 Corinthians 5: 9).
And the point of this reflection is instead of focusing on pleasing people let’s focus on pleasing God and then God is pleased and people get the love they need from us whether pleased or not.
Now there is more that need to be said than that but I think that is the key principle. The bonus is as we grow in being God-pleasers and not people-pleasers we also don’t get our lives all knotted up in the emotional roller coaster ride of being a people-pleaser which is probably at the heart of most of our stress in life!
The struggle with this will be that most people want to be pleased all the time and many of us in our weakness can’t help but enable them (in fact many of us just give up trying to fight this battle). So pursuing the life of not being a people-pleaser will initially be really tough but ultimately produces great joy and peace and relieve us of much stress.
Sabbatical reflection 2: As a pastor it is biblical and wise to put my family first. There are many men who could be called to pastor the church where I am but I am the only man at this time called to love and pastor my family in the unique and intimate way that only I can. Jesus said He would build the church and called me to love my wife and children and minister out of the overflow of that. This must have a significant impact on how I use my time… what I say yes and no to.
There seem to be an increasing number of stories of pastors who have reasonably “successful” ministries but families who are falling apart because they spend more time leading the church than their families. Ultimately the family and the ministry will suffer if that is the case.
Whether I am part of a “successful” ministry or not I will leave to others to decide on but it does worry me that I probably spend more time leading others than my own family. Part of that is because I really love what I do working as a leader and pastor. And part of that is that while I love my family very much it is often easier to lead people in the church than my family for many reasons.
But as I reflect on 1 Timothy 3: 4 – 5 it seems that Paul is adamant that if a man is to be an elder and has a family he cannot manage the household of God if he can’t manage his own household. Paul doesn’t say the elder must manage his family perfectly but well and in such a way that they follow him. Now if for me it is easier to lead others than my family then it means that I am going to have to put in extra time and effort in order to lead my family well. And that actually will be good for the church because it seems that Paul is, in a way, saying that those with families must lead the church well out of the overflow of leading their families well? If that is true, and I believe it is, then I need to reschedule my life to spend more time leading and loving my family and learn to say no to some other things that may be on other people’s agenda for me so that I can lead my family and the church of Jesus better.
I also remember hearing a leader at a conference say something that made me realize while there are many other men whom the Lord could use to lead and be the vessel through which He builds the church where I am while I am still alive, while I am alive there is only one me through whom He will build up my family in the intimate and unique way that only I can.
So please pray especially for me and all pastors and church leaders that we would lead our families well and out of the overflow of that lead the church well.
But also please pray also for all Christian husbands and dads and single moms that they would all lead their families well and minister from the overflow of that to the world.