Help write my new book and provide me feedback on this article. Please comment at the end after reading this article! – Kent
Ministry is riddled with stress. Whether you’re a full-time church worker, volunteer leader, or involved in any ministry of the church, sooner, rather than later, it is likely you’ll experience significant stress. It is in these stressful times that God builds character and that character is a key to our spiritual growth. The Apostle Paul was either a nutcase or writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (there’s really no other option) when he said, in Romans 5:3-5, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” (New Living Translation)
In the first congregation I pastored, I found myself in a very challenging ministry. My first church as a young pastor was in the inner city of Detroit, Michigan. It was an old Anglo congregation in a young African-American community. My church consisted of mostly white-haired Anglo lifelong Christians and the neighborhood consisted almost entirely of African-American young families, many of whom were unchurched.
One day, I made the naïve suggestion to the members of our church that we reach our neighbors for Christ. You have to understand, these neighbors were neighbors to the church building, but not to my members. The members of our church had already, years before, moved to the suburbs. They called the area around the church the “old neighborhood.” I lived there, in a parsonage, but my members did not. For my neighbors, the African-Americans, it was not an old neighborhood, but a new neighborhood.
My suggestion that we reach our neighbors caused, to some degree, a firestorm. The president of my congregation was so upset about the possibility of inviting “those people” to our church, he showed his bigoted hand by interrupting a worship service. Imagine this: I’m a young pastor, preaching to about six hundred people in the late service, I’m about ready to close the service with the benediction. Standing before the congregation I take a deep breath, and just as I start the benediction, the president of our church stands up from the front row turns toward the congregation and says, “Think about what our pastor is proposing. Do you really want ‘those people’ in our church? We’re going to have a meeting after this church service and you better come to express your feelings about this!” I thought that this behavior in a worship service only happened in movies!
It not only happens in churches, but it happened to Jesus.
In a very graphic story that is not at all just a blow-by-blow description of an event, Jesus says, “…I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this?’ No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put Your Glory on display.’” (John 12:27-28, The Message).
Do you get it? When we face challenges in the church, according to Jesus, it is an opportunity for the Father to put His Glory on display! Guess what? That’s exactly what God did in my congregation in Detroit. The president of our congregation, showing his bigoted hand, drove many more people to that meeting after church more than I could have rallied. The large room was packed at standing room only. I had never seen a meeting at this church with so many people. In his naiveté, my president started the meeting, thinking the masses would to rally to his prejudicial cause. It was just the opposite! The people rallied and said, in effect, “We cannot be Christians and continue to fail our immediate community. It is our privilege and responsibility to reach our neighbors for Christ.” This result was completely out of my control. It was also out of the control of the president of our church. He was so humiliated he left our congregation. I pleaded with him that God is a God of forgiveness and that, if he gives God a chance, the Lord can heal him of whatever attitudes need improvement. But he couldn’t get over his self-humiliation. He moved to a church in his own neighborhood in the suburbs.
God does this kind of stuff all the time. It seems like God does some of his best work in us, with us and through us in the middle of a storm. Think about your own life. Think about your own church. Hasn’t that been your experience?
Help write my new book and provide me feedback on this article. Please comment below! – Kent