Pastors have moments of utter exasperation with some church members sometimes. The power-plays, the self-centeredness, grown men and women acting like selfish toddlers who simply won’t understand why they can’t have everything their own way. Plenty of church members get exasperated with such fellow members too. So much infighting and bickering over who’s in charge, over which factions get the power. Very little discussion of mission, of how to reach others with the Good News of God’s love and kingdom coming in and through Christ and, supposedly, his church.
I’ve had to confront church folk at times. This isn’t because I enjoy such confrontations—I don’t…at all. But for one, I am ordained to the ministry of Word, Sacrament, Service, and Order. That Order part means that it is my job to humbly order the life of Christ’s church, which includes confronting and correcting such power grabs and factions. And two, these people have no idea what they’re dealing with. It’s for their own good that they must be kept from their attempts to control and/or divide the church. This is Christ’s church—the Body of which the Son of God is the Head (Col. 1:18). We’re talking, to borrow from Ghostbusters, “real wrath of God type stuff.” And so, to borrow from Anchorman, it’s kind of a big deal.
So it was in the midst of such grabbing and dividing and general harrumphing that I fled to the Lord in prayer. I hung my head and said aloud, maybe as much to myself as to Jesus, “Don’t they realize you’re the Head?!”
Almost immediately and very unexpectedly, I felt Jesus reply, “Yes, I am the Head. And they are the Body. My Body has many scars.”
Tears came to my eyes as I felt Jesus’ compassion for these ones for whom I could muster only frustration. These are the ones Christ died for. I’m just one of them. Should I expect more from them? For sure. We all are called to maturity, to grow into the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). But should these ones be abandoned because of their selfishness and immaturity? No more than I would abandon my own child for the same reasons.
This Messy Mystery
That said, I must admit that I went through a dark time as a new pastor as the result of too much focus on those “scars.” Though these misguided folks might need some correction or even the occasional hand holding, leaders must be careful not to give them undue attention. The focus should be on the often-silent majority, ones for whom Christ also died, and in whom he lives and through whom he is filling everything in every way (Eph. 1:23). These are the ones pursuing maturity, denying themselves so that they might know Christ and make him known. These are the ones deserving of attention and effort.
The scars are part of Jesus’ Body, to be sure. But most aren’t open wounds. Occasional attention must be given to make sure they aren’t spreading infection. But most of the Body is seeking healing, growth, strength, and wholeness. It is much more life-giving for a church leader, and for a church, to nurture those who want to be well, than to scratch every itchy scab that the children keep insisting on picking at.
Earlier in my ministry I learned the painful lesson of giving undue attention to the misguided vocal minority. More recently I learned of Jesus’ heart for these same scarred and scarring ones. This I know: it’s all a messy, ugly, mysteriously profound, and glorious business. But I dare say, the culture that says it loves Jesus but not the church knows very little of Jesus…or the church…or love.