- I’ve become less possessive of God’s church, and His people, yet more confident in His power.
This is might be the strangest. Shouldn’t the pastor be super fired up about his church, love the people, and own the vision? Of course, I am! But through many difficult experiences I’ve come to appreciate in a new way that I am not the shepherded of the flock, but an under-shepherd. I am responsible for the pasture God placed me in. When the sheep end up on the other side of the mountain where I can’t see them or moves onto another pasture it doesn’t mean I’ve failed.
The best ministry that happens is done by the Holy Spirit, and I didn’t always believe this really but now I believe God doesn’t stop talking to every single person, we just choose and learn to ignore Him. He is doing so much more than what we see when we pray. I think we’ve made a huge mistake turning the organized church we serve, into the fence around the sheep. I think we sometimes go too far in defending the need for Church (maybe from an over-reaction from other generations that focused so heavily on your own personal relationship with Jesus), especially when it’s just is our understanding of what Church is, or worse our Church in particular ‘which does it best’. It is really freeing to just love God’s people as just that, as God’s not mine.
I am called to speak with spiritual authority, and point people to the Lord and away from all kind of sin out of love, but I don’t need to carry the pressure of thinking that I got to at all times try to pull in, or pull back in every single person I meet or love into this organization I happen to serve. The hope of every soul alive is Jesus alone, not me, or my particular Church. The sower is responsible to sow the good word faithfully, not for the harvest of every single seedling. I’ve learned that I can neglect to pastor the flock that is among me when I have an unhealthy sense of ownership of those who left. Some sheep do need a search and rescue mission… Others just need the gate left open for when they are ready to return, and still, others might find another flock that fits them, where they will grow. I’m learning to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit in these areas
When we seek increasingly demanding contracts for membership, and preach the Church more than Jesus, we really need to be on the lookout for the ugly head of spiritual abuse to pop up.. For those Church planting Pastors who may be skeptical about this, maybe over time you’ll learn too that regular people out there don’t “need” your vision, or your Church or you to save them. But you need to love them with open hands because God has loved us and calls us to be His witness!
- I’ve become hungrier for a ministry of healing
It seems to me that, at least in the church circles I’m familiar with there is an overemphasis on equipping the saints, more than, and sometimes at the expense of healing them and even just loving them. When you plant a Church in a community in need, that draws people from the neighborhood in, you can’t just jump into giving them a simple, reproducible method, that they take on and just goes viral. We don’t want to just spray on a new thin layer of paint, teaching people a few habits, a new way to talk, a new social media hashtag and profile filter, leaving the old bones of racism, abuse, addiction, pride, or deep depression untouched in the tomb. Before we can be on mission with Jesus, we need to be saved by Jesus, before we can be equipped and trained for ministry, we need to be deeply ministered to and set free. The Gospel isn’t just the good news of forgiveness for those who violated His laws, it’s also good news of healing for those who have suffered deeply and its good news of freedom for those who are in bondage and trapped by demonic power.
When those with relative emotional, familial, and spiritual health are searching for usefulness, maturity, and a sense of community, a ministry of focusing on equipping (modeling, training, empowering people to go out there and do ministry) might be helpful. But how can you prepare saints for the ministry when they need to be repaired first? Serving the Lord is exciting but pushing a guy who needs a hip replacement to push through the pain and train for a marathon isn’t wise or loving.
- I’ve seen new heights and depths of what it means to be a Christian community
I love my Church; err the Church God has given us to serve (see I’m still a work in progress for lesson #1). One of the things that have blown me away is the deep loyalty and love they have for one another. I’ll be on my way to meet with a mother whose child is going into crisis, and one or two others from the Church will already be there loving, supporting, and praying for them. By the time I find out someone in the Church had a dire need, that need often has already been met by someone in the Church community. Through the loyalty and generosity of Epiphany Gloucester City, I’ve seen a picture of who God is. When one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers, and when one part of the body rejoices the whole body rejoices. I’ve learned that Church isn’t just learning doctrine, living in the presence of God, and being transformed out of destructive habits. It’s also throwing a bunch of “you no longer have cancer parties, your kid that was in crisis is getting B’s and C’s now, you’ve been sober for six months parties, you no longer rent and own house parties..” Just as it is being there for each other when everything falls apart.
- I’ve dived deeper into receiving and extending God’s grace`
From the day I became a Christian, I have had the privilege of being around Christians who taught and lived by God’s radical grace. But this is a well that doesn’t end, there is life-giving water 10 feet down and a thousand. I’ve heard confessions of every kind of illegal, and unethical act you can possibly imagine. Most people carry around with them that backpack full of boulders, of all the sins they have done in the past. At the same time, we are constantly comparing ourselves with others, ‘at least I still got my kids’, ‘I would never do xyz to someone.’ Carrying around with us so much pain, pride, hatred, which is all a poison in our souls.
Sometimes we paint on a religious happy face to cover over the terror that the bad decisions we made are going to wreck our lives and possibly a bunch of others. I have experienced again and again, no matter how deep we go down in the well, no matter how dark it is, God’s grace will meet us. I’ve needed this grace again and again for myself, and nothing is more freeing than to know that I am not the total of my failures, bad decisions, bad habits, or shortcomings. God poured out his blood for me, and I belong to him now. He poured out his blood knowing exactly how slow I would be to learn and grow. He does the same thing for every single person who puts their trust in Him. What I am sure of is that NOBODY is going to be transformed by your ministry of annoyance, disappointment, or frustration, they might change their behavior outwardly or around you, but their hearts will not change. But when we love and challenge big those who have really messed up, God does some amazing things in our lives.