Steering together

On more than one occasion, someone has asked me, “Do you know how long I’ve been coming to this church?”

As you might imagine, they weren’t being inquisitive. Their question was a response to something I said about ministry. If you pressed me more, I would acknowledge that whatever I said about ministry must have sounded like a challenge.

As a pastor, my priority is to walk with a congregation as we experience and grow into the grace and power of God. There are so many ways we share that experience. At the same time, there are many ways to stifle that priority. Part of my responsibility is to notice if we’re doing anything that gets in the way of being and becoming God’s church.

Don’t get me wrong. You share that responsibility with your pastors and spiritual leaders.

Clergy and laypeople alike can let so much get in the way of God’s desire for his church. All you have to do is give it a name and call it a ministry.

Younger me might have thought this was an easy thing to address. Just point out everyone’s mistakes and show them something new. But that’s not what pastoring is. Plus, that model of leadership doesn’t accomplish much for the kingdom of God. Since it can do much harm, I’m all for churches calling out that kind of behavior. There are too many examples of pastors and church leaders taking advantage of their positions and power.

But the kind of pastoring needed is more difficult.

We walk with our congregations. We aren’t separate from them. As we walk, most people would agree it’s our job to identify those things that get in our way of faithfully following Christ. They’ll affirm it and thank God for it…until it’s their baby.

I’m pretty sure that’s what sparked each of those times someone asked me if I knew their church history.

Here’s the thing, God challenges us as we keep in communion. Most people seem to think growing in grace simply means learning more stuff. But it’s much more than that. It’s deeper. It’s meaningful. And it isn’t always enjoyable. As we grow, we aren’t always so agreeable to how Spirit wants to instruct us.

No matter how long you’ve been in the church, there’s room for godly wisdom. At the same time, no matter how long you’ve been in the church, God imparts wisdom according to your willingness to listen.

The apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians that he didn’t show up telling everyone how smart he was. He decided to stick with Plan A: knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified. No big words. No fancy ministry ideas. Just the cross.

But when he knew he was among those who were ready, Paul spoke the depths of God with them.

While Paul had a strong religious foundation, there was a time he was not inspired by Jesus. You may remember what he was known for before becoming the great missionary. Notice what he says in 1 Corinthians 2 about understanding God’s wisdom: None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

He’s right, of course.

At one point, though, he, too, did not understand. It wasn’t until Christ confronted him that he did.

Now, his is an extreme example of holy confrontation. You and I may not have such experiences. But we do rely on each other to hold true to our responsibility. In part, we help each other steer away from that which keeps us from knowing Christ and him crucified–no matter how long we’ve been to church.

Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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