“Pastor, I’m concerned…” These are three words coming from the lips of those under "our care" that create tension for every pastor. A deluge of subsequent words that convey a personal dismay over a church wide matter or a personality challenge most often follows these three words.
There have been times where I was grateful for a person taking the time and courage to address an issue that needed attention. In such cases, damage and unnecessary trouble were avoided.
There have also been times where the perceived issue was a result of unfounded fear, needless worry, and even unhealthy self-righteousness. The pastoral task of providing guidance and direction can be invigorating and at the same time bewildering.
In his book “Great Leader – Great Teacher” (Moody 2006) Gary Bredfeldt brilliantly likens pastoral leadership to driving in a blinding “whiteout” snow-storm (something few coastal Californians understand). I’ve driven in many-a. Since you have very little to guide you, your objective is to veer neither to the right nor the left as you progress toward your destination.
Leadership is especially challenging in the twenty-first century….Leadership has never been easy. If it were, leaders would be in abundance. No, leadership has always been a challenge, and great leaders have been few in number. That is because leadership demands discernment, and discernment demands a knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, and that which is wise and/or unwise. Discernment is the ability to choose the best among highly attractive alternatives. Great leaders know that some paths, though eye-catching at the beginning, turn out to be dead-ends – or even worse, a tragic misdirection leading to unexpected consequences.
Leadership is indeed challenging. Pastors find direction in such passages as Acts 20:28:
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Notice the care starts with self. That is something that needs to be modeled. 1 Peter 5:2&3 also gives us leadership insight:
“Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
Combining the two principles, it is easy to see that we need to begin with looking inside our own lives and having that provide an example.
It has often been my experience that those who express “concerns” are fearful of “tragic misdirection leading to unexpected consequences.” With that, I’ll ask us to think back . A somewhat recent occurrence of “concern” came about with the publication and release of Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code.” I shared in that concern. What I thought might happen did not occur. Many Christ Followers were equally “concerned” that the firestorm would take time and much effort to quench and that the Church would suffer a serious setback.
What happened…? God surprised us! Something we never imagined occurred. The surprise came about when many secular sources quickly criticized the blatant inaccuracies and revisionism used by Brown. “60 Minutes” and “The History Channel” were among those who discredited the writing and movie. Most had – at best – a waning interest in the survival and longevity of the church. The controversy had a very rapid demise. It is very likely that you had forgotten about this book and movie until I mentioned it.
A current topic that is creating misunderstanding and invigorated conversation among Christ Followers is the concept of the “Emerging/Emergent Church.” Just go to any search engine and you will have hundreds of thousands of links provided. Everyone has an opinion on it. Among the opinions you will find both support and “concern.” Depending on what and how you read, you may find yourself identifying with either.
Having read and benefited greatly from many authors who would fall into the “Emerging Church” category, I have to say that presently I would not consider myself as one that has “concern.” The majority of what I have read has caused me to look more closely and probe more deeply into the teachings of Jesus in the 4 gospels and the rest of the New Testament. I will acknowledge that having read some of the blogs and critiques online, I’ve been prompted to listen and read more cautiously. I have seen a few red flags, but not anything that should derail what I sincerely believe is the curious work of God.
Much of what I read and hear reminds me of what took place and caused the church to grow rapidly in its infancy (the “Apostolic Period”). The pages of the Gospels and Acts have been given a renewed animation that was lulled in the past. In those pages we can see the curious work of God breaking down every cultural barrier as His transforming power goes to work in the hearts and lives of men and women once considered as “unclean” (See Acts 10 & 11). We see people actually trying to live out the challenging words of Jesus by dying to self (see Mt. 19:21, Acts 2:45 & 4:32) and ministering to others. The result is that multitudes are being saved.
Even more illuminating, we can look back now and recognize how God worked his plan to invade our world by sending Jesus - outside of what we have perceived and dictated as his proper template throughout the whole bible. God visits Abimelech, the pagan king, to protect and correct Abram; Saul expels mediums from the land, yet he visits one to hear from the deceased Samuel; The Magi (astrologers) visit and worship Jesus as an infant. Yes, we scratch our heads and don’t quite get why the revealed Word contains such stories, but God is much bigger than our perceived templates. It’s all part of his sovereign way to provide the means of our redemption through the Messiah – Jesus Christ.
I could go on and am willing to discuss this at length if you have any further interest.
In my effort to obey by looking inside my own life and provide an example, I share what has helped me when I am challenged by “concerns.”
I ask myself “Why am I using the word? What is causing the “concern?” Is there an actual threat to the Body of Christ where dark consequences are beginning to take seed? If so, there should be prayerful follow up.
Or is it perhaps shrouding anxiety? I have to ask that because I have learned many times that I have been anxious (e.g. The DaVinci Code). There are times that I forget God’s insights provided in his Word. I am not casting my anxieties upon him knowing he cares for me (1 Peter 5:6&7). I become anxious for everything, not praying with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). I am worrying about tomorrow ignoring the life and opportunities that are right in front of me with the present (Matthew 6:33&34). I keep learning that God is much bigger than my concern or even the combined concern of many. His promise extends immeasurably (Greek “huper-ek perissos huper” – literally “above and out, far beyond above”) beyond all we ask or even think. (Ephesians 3:20).
I will put myself “out there” by acknowledging that perhaps I may end up being mistaken about seriously considering the challenging innovations to clearly and relevantly communicate the Good News of new life in Jesus Christ. In my ongoing vision and passion to be consistently aware of the ever-changing culture (which God has always and can still transcend) I can seem “trendy.” That is why when I read and research, I am continually praying for discernment so that I do not drive into the debilitating proverbial snow on either side.
In concluding this post, I do find comfort once again in the book of Acts, chapter 5, verses 33-39 - where God’s immeasurable power and will prevails over human power and will.
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."