Posts

Community: what comes to mind?

by Jenni

You may be an introvert, and extrovert or a bit of both.

You may have grown up in a large rowdy family or a small quiet one.

You may have walked into church one day all by yourself or was ushered in by a friend or more.

 

I remember the ah-ha moment of relish. It was as if the scales from my eyes fell — and I saw it. It was beautiful, beckoning, bountiful. Community.

One day, just like that, a gladness welled up within me. I had a family beyond the one I was physically born into. There was another place, other people, who welcomed me. More than that, they seemed to need me. They asked me to help lead songs, to tell stories, to join this committee and the next. It was great. My gifts started to emerge. I had followers. As a young adult, the scope of this community widened further as I moved further up the church-leadership rung and my influence (or at least presence) widened. I traveled on short-term mission trips, I saw how total strangers welcome and hosted each other because of Jesus. It was very wonderful.

Truly the church is an amazing thing, only possible because of God.

I have had friends from other religious commitments who are utterly lonely as they go through religious motions. I have been in interest groups, study groups, cause-related groups…and they all fizzle out. But church — hey, we stick around!

But as iron sharpens iron, sparks begin to fly.

chinese boats

 

It is part of growing up to be an individual. You need space as you develop convictions. You need space as you figure out priorities. You need space to explore your spiritual inclinations.

And this is where church often starts to crumble formany of us.

The people we grew up with playing games, laughing ourselves silly, eating way too much together — start to move apart – sometimes with great pain. We disagree, we hurt each other, we hinder one another at times.

All community, all relationships must negotiate itself through the seasons.

There’s this popular four stage description: form, storm, norm, perform (Tuckman). But few of us persist beyond the storm. It’s not for want for trying. All good men and women I know regret the losses and try very hard. Perhaps, it’s because w
e don’t know what we are trying to get at, what to work towards… In fact, most of the times, we are trying to bring back the ‘good ol’ days’ which in some cases, was mostly nom-ing {eating}! That won’t do.

What is the Bible’s picture of community? Pastor Bill Hybels used to call it a biblically functioning group/community.

trail starts here

I share here some less common notions of what Scripture calls us to build:

1. where there is no lack

You probably never ever heard a single sermon on this. After forty years, I have not either! But Acts and 2 Cor 8 tells us that the church community must be the go-to place for help. Brothers and sisters should not feel deprivation, hunger, cold…

What we see though is as people prosper, others often get left behind. Yes, we give to different causes. But, what about the actual person seated not far from you? It pains me to hear of members who are struggling while others discuss the latest model of car they are contemplating on buying. admittedly, i do not rush out to welcome everyone under my roof and pay for others’ bills. One has to circumspect – but i sense the Father’s pain that we do not watch out for each other more.

2. where there is love

I have lost count of the number of churches that felt like a refrigerator; people walk by one another as if they don’t see each other. No one knows more names than the same few after years.

My own quest began when a leader asked us, “who will you call at 3am if you had a need?”. I looked around and saw anxious faces everywhere. No one answered.

Seriously, will you tell anyone if you have doubts about your sexuality? if you are struggling with porn, if what you really want to sing is heavy metal?

‘Look how they love one another’ was what the first century church was described as. In a Roman world full of loose sex, there was something that was making people sit up and notice.

This what we are after. The norm. The time comes when you do not stay in a community for what you get; but for what you are meant to help build.

Have your harboured hurt and loss or handed it to God and chosen the way of forgiveness?

Can you distinguish between theological irreducible from ideological preferences?

Are you challenging yourself to grow in love and in meeting the needs of others?

chinese bridge

Yet as the New Testament honestly records, the early church was not perfect. In fact, the letters tell us clearly the things we will grapple with:

Romans – secular cultural pressures, godlessness

Corinthians – spiritual excesses

Galatians & Colossians – our tendency to return to works-righteousness and therefore become a pressure-cooker rather than a peace-carrier

Thessalonians – flawed logic arising from our sinful tendency to sloth and a life of ease

Timothy & Titus – intense leadership pressure

Ephesians – losing sight of the larger Community/Church and the spiritual power we have

 

Do we see something here?

The church is salt and light. We are a prophetic community – that says, look, imperfect as we are; within us are seeds of an incredible future!

So don’t walk away too soon.

related:

how easy to get sleepy in church

what are we thinking/feeling?!

the part-time pastor?

 

 

But of course,  we have personality weaknesses, dark fears, sometimes unhealed hurts… and these can sabotage us.

Can a pastor fail? – and, why we must stand for each other.

Based on the many promises we find, the clear answer is no.

1 Cor 15v58:  says our labour is not in vain.

John 15:  for example speaks of our fruitfulness as being an organic process- and that our bearing fruit is a gift of grace as we stay connected and dependent upon Christ. Isn’t that the default posture we all ought to have? Isn’t that simply the way we are – grafted, given new life, called and anointed? So we cannot fail, right?

Yet –

a pastor can fail:

To be diligent

To be vigilant

The Scripture too calls us to these two postures we are to take: to be diligent and to be vigilant. We are to work hard and follow through; we are to be careful and alert. We are to lead ourselves before leading others.

But of course,  we have personality weaknesses, dark fears, sometimes unhealed hurts… and these can sabotage us.

Or — we   may   feel   like   we  failed:

…. when our flock doesn’t respond.

…. when our weaknesses and limitations are not acknowledged and we are not protected; but expected to perform like another pastor.

This has become more real for us as we enter a different phase as pastors. We are now part of a church-plant, we have young children, we live in a crazed-paced society that demands quick results. There are days when the enemy would love for us to believe we have failed and to bail out. We also see and hear stories of other crestfallen pastors who feel like they failed because all they hear is the critic.

agape

~ unconditional love ~

If you are a pastor, listen:

yours is a high, holy, and difficult calling.

And sometimes you will feel the worst of all of life because it is made precisely worse for the community you build is not the community you can count on. This is not biblical, but it is real. You allay other’s fears and burdens and there seems no one to do the same for you. You reach to love others’ children and there doesn’t seem so many who love yours (especially if they are special or challenging). You are bleeding and you need to attend to and bandage another’s wounds.

In times like these, we must run to Jesus our Author and Perfecter, our Redeemer, our Prince of Peace, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father…. and more…

In times like these, there is one more thing to do. We as pastors must be tender-hearted toward each other. After all, who can understand the woe and weal of the pastoral life better than another pastor?

But I have been a lonely pastor. I have seen many lonely, wounded trying to soldier on. I wonder if we do not reach out to each other perhaps because –

~ we are not reconciled with our calling and our pains?  Most of us at some point are literally shocked at the Cross we are called to bear. Recently, i heard a missionary share how she riled against God for putting her through so much, how she wondered if it was worth it, if her faith was real… these are genuine struggles we go through and our average member may not bear this burden with us. We are then left to stoically press on and perhaps even end up living in some form of denial or avoidance.. ..and as a result, maybe we choose to avoid other pastors because it just reminds us too much?

~ we are too busy building our own enterprise and forget that this is God’s Kingdom and we are all assigned a part; and it takes all of us to see the grandeur of it all?  Our fix-it tendency is to focus our energies fixing ourselves and our problems, rather than sit with a brother or sister and pour our hearts out. The latter seem so fruitless. But we so wrong. Spiritual conversations and burden sharing belongs to the royal law of love. Pastors need community, safe places, safe people.

Our pastoral calling is going to stay. The reality of biting sheep and hemorrhaging congregations is going to persist. We have to find a healthy, godly way to navigate this.

What is yours?

As you think about it, maybe this article can help:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2014/march-online-only/friendless-pastor.html