There is an occupational hazard for pastors — we often see the dark side of people and the soft underbelly of the Church. While there are many in the Church who shine brightly like those referenced in 2 Corinthians 4:6 (the majority in most churches I’m personally acquainted with), it is those who disappoint us that tend to get an inordinate amount of our attention.
I recently received a letter from a pastor who described what he had to offer the Church, his insights into what was wrong with the Church and his ideas on how to fix the Church. What I didn’t see in the letter was his love for the Church, the Bride of Christ. I have learned what happens when relationships are more about “fixing” than loving, and the result is not positive for anyone involved.
I’ve also seen this tendency in some church planters. They have a long list of what they don’t like in the existing Church and their motivation in planting is more about what they’re against than what they are for. A critical spirit is at the heart of their motivation and overpowers a missional vision invigorated by the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Again, the result is not positive for anyone involved.
Over the years, I’ve learned that because I am a spiritual leader in the Church, God will give me discernment. I believe this discernment is so I can pray specifically, speak in a way that edifies and lead in a way that makes the Church healthier and stronger. But if not diligent, that discernment degenerates into cynicism and criticism. (Have you ever noticed prayer groups that start out interceding and end up critiquing?) The idealism that fuels pastors (including me) in the early years of ministry, without diligence, can devolve into a cynicism that drains pastors (including me) in the later years of ministry. No one wants to be shepherded by a cynic.
Loving the Church means taking the risks to keep it vital and fulfilling the purposes for which God created her. In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul articulates a profound mystery, drawing a comparison between loving the Church and marriage. Christ’s self-sacrificing love for his bride, the Church, provides the example and also sets the standard for me as a spiritual shepherd serving under the Chief Shepherd (I Peter 5:2-4).
Keep loving the Church.
Keep telling people you love the Church.
May I love you and Your Church until my last breath, Christ Jesus.