Early summer is Baptists-go-to-meeting time. Our national conventions and affinity groups apparently love to gather in summer. That means it’s a great time to catch up with friends who attend those meetings, most of whom happen to be pastors.
Pastors are faithful Christian servants, but they will break the Ninth Commandment—“You shall not give false testimony …”—if appropriately provoked. And that provocation would be asking how things are going at their church. In other words, they’ll lie to your face.
(True confession: I’m not much different. When people ask, “How’re things at the Standard?” I try to discern if they really want to know. If I think they’re actually interested, I tell them. And if not, I say, “Fine.”)
Moving vans, funerals, church?
One dear brother must have detected at least a modicum of interest in his congregation when I inquired. “How’s church?” I asked. He responded, “Well, I don’t have any big problems a couple of moving vans couldn’t haul away.”
In a flash, I recalled a similar—although less pastoral—reply I received to that very same question several years back: “We don’t have any problems a few funerals won’t fix.” That was so long ago, his church should be in great shape by now.
Both pastors smiled when they described their ecclesiastical angst in terms of moving vans and hearses. But their humor barely masked the pain they and their colleagues endure as they attempt to shepherd their flocks.
Just ask yourself …
This raises an important, not to mention unsettling, set of questions church members should ask themselves from time to time:
• Does my presence make my church less friendly and inviting?
• Would our church’s fellowship be warmer if I passed off the scene?
• Do I hinder others’ ability to worship?
• Would my church be more resilient and adaptable without me?
• Do I obstruct ministries my church needs to launch?
• Do I impede the generosity and missions-mindedness of my church?
• Would others feel liberated if I left?
Unfortunately, far too many churches are hamstrung by members who deserve a “yes” to one or more of those questions. Doing church is hard work, and it’s often made infinitely more difficult by members who overlay their own agendas, needs, desires and plans on top of their church’s mission.
While I’ve never known a pastor who prayed for the opportunity to preach a few strategic funerals, I know many who felt excited for their congregations’ futures as they stood beside freshly dug graves.
Shortly after that conversation about the strategic value of moving vans, I heard a sermon about the time Jesus sent 70 of his followers out in pairs to minister on his behalf (Luke 10). In his orientation, Jesus told them to seek out a person of peace and stay in that person’s home. But he also instructed them to shake the dust of a city off their sandals if they were not well-received.
Christians often think of that story as we consider how to conduct mission work and how to spread the gospel to unbelievers. But the principles apply to work within a church.
People of peace cooperate to advance Jesus’ mission. They set the good of the congregation over their own self-interest. They are humble, industrious and steadfast. But the dust of others is not worthy to remain on the shoes of the faithful. Their churches would be better off without them.
So, ask yourself: Would my church improve if a moving van pulled away from my house? Would my congregation be stronger if I rode away in a hearse?
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