Advice to Pastors and Other Christians: leave people alone – sort of.
It’s a diverse world out there. Gloriously diverse. Within the walls of the church, however, it’s a different story. I scroll through facebook and find that “prayer is the key” and “serving the poor” is the center of the gospel. So is “ending human trafficking” and “bringing all the churches together”. Buying local? “Vital!” Sexual Purity? “THE defining issue of our day!” Making sure that any given local church is racially diverse? “You can’t have a healthy church without it.” The environment? Missional Communities? Healthy marriages? “The main thing!” – all of them are the main thing, the thing everyone needs to focus on.
This is the sense I get sometimes from Christians. We become advocates, not for inviting people into God’s story, but for inviting people into our chapter of God’s story. We smile condescendingly when someone says they work for Boeing, because we’ve read Wendell Berry and know that the economic machinery of our time is enslaving us all, or the opposite, as the person who works for the man views the idealist as immature. We’re passionate about Africa, and meet someone who’s leading a Bible study for business people downtown and we think, “someday they’ll get it” Or we’re a stay at home mom, and wonder how anyone couldn’t be, and still be a good parent. Or we killed our TV a long time ago, and are certain everyone should. In the world, my thing is my thing. I don’t sanctify climbing, skiing, backpacking, and impose it on everyone. And others don’t impose their passions on me.
Ah, but this is church, this is the Christian life, this is the place where there are answers, right ways to live, singularly absolute priorities. I’ve found them, and when everyone’s matured, they will too. There’s word for this:
There’s an antidote for this.
We need to get over ourselves. How?
Recognize different gifts and callings:
All through the Bible the message is the same – humans are gloriously unique, with gifts and callings and passions that blend to make singularly marvelous expressions of God’s image. This is further enhanced when one comes to Christ, because each person is given unique gifts. This can be enhanced even more when Christ followers gather together, because what they’ll be, at their healthiest, is a unique blend of gifts, passions, and callings which, taken together, will offer a unique expression of Christ’s life.
Pastors spoil this, though, when they deem themselves to be the head of the church, declaring that “My church will be about diversity”, or “We will be the environmental church” or “We will be the church famous for all night prayer”. Though this is called vision casting in some circles, I’d argue that it’s vision killing. Make the environment your “big thing” and people passionate about prayer or racial reconciliation will feel marginalized. Make social justice your central identity, and you run the risk of pushing people trying to reach the business world for Christ off the field.
The pastor’s job isn’t to make the church about their thing. The pastor’s job is know his/her flock well enough to know the unique gifts and callings present within, and then fan those gifts into flame so that people will be able to use their gifts for their calling, rather than trying to use gifts they don’t have to fulfill a calling they don’t have, but have been told is their church’s vision. After all, I Corinthians 12 says that God has given everyone a gift, a unique way of contributing to the story God is writing in the world. It’s the job of the pastor to equip people to find their gifts, and help them find ways of using those gifts. When this works, the church that arises isn’t the result of the pastor’s passions – or at the least, the only the pastors passions. It will be an expression of the uniqueness of that gathering of Christ followers. In our case it means there’s a homeless shelter, a community meal, a 12 step program, a meal bringing the generations of our church together, a prayer meeting, a wilderness ministry, a team presently in Africa, and more. These things arise from gifts within the body more than the passions of the leader. The leader is called, in other words, to serve the church, not the other way around.
This principle though, applies to more than pastors. I’m of the conviction that we need to give each other space to grow and be transformed by Jesus, recognizing that God is shaping each of us in God’s own timetable. For some people, the sexual ethic changes first. For others it’s economics, or social justice, or the environment. We see our own areas of transformation with 2020 vision and can’t imagine why everyone isn’t on board, praying, or fasting, or giving all their stuff away. We’re also blind to our areas of resistance and stagnation.
Rather than imposing our transformation priorities and timetable on others, we’d do well to heed Jesus words about not judging. Instead, why not approach each person has possibly having something to teach us so that we can, over time, gain insight into our own ongoing weaknesses? Why not set out “looking for Jesus” in each and every person, following Paul’s advice to no longer consider any person “according the flesh”. If we do this, more conversations will be delightful, more relationships will be redemptive, and the unique expressions of Christ found in various individuals and churches will be more celebrated, rather than judged because they’re “not like us”. Judgement, especially with respect to how God is maturing another or how another is serving Christ, is not mine to give. Learning IS mine to receive. Are you with me?