In a fictional letter to a young Pastor, Ian Stackhouse (a non-fictional minister in Guildford, age unknown/irrelevant 😉 contributing to the Baptist Journal Ministry Today UK, February 2018 Edition, writes:
As always, I feel very honoured that you should write to me so candidly about the things you are dealing with, but I am a bit worried, I must admit, by your growing criticisms of the congregation. You may not like me saying this, but I put it down to these conferences your denomination insists on sending you to. Conferences about growing your church are all very well, but if you are not careful you will end up despising the congregation you are serving. The truth is, Timothy, we all feel disappointed from time to time by the place we have been assigned to, and it is very tempting to fantasise about being somewhere else that is more congenial to our personality, more alive in the Spirit, and – let’s face it – bigger. But the tragedy of it is that all the while we are ministering to the people who are not there, planning for the people who we have yet to engage with, we are missing out on the wonders of the people who are there, the treasures that are sitting right under our noses had we but the generosity to notice . . . . .
. . . . So here is a basic rule of thumb – or is it a rule of faith? Love the people God has entrusted to you. As well as worrying about the people you are not reaching, start appreciating the people you are reaching. Take them to your heart. Thank God for each one of them. Don’t let looks deceive you. There is far more going on under the surface than you can possibly imagine. And if at times the church feels a little weird, with more than its fair share of awkward people, just remember that this is the genius of the church. For all our attempts to make the church into a house of decorum, I guess it is always and ever will be a cave of Adullam.
The Peace of the Lord
On the same day I read this, I also came across another great little quote by the former Bishop of Bradford, Geoffrey Paul, quoted in Anthony Thiselton’s Systematic Theology, pg. 321. Whilst Ian Stackhouse is writing to encourage a young pastor to think very carefully about the role of being a local pastor, Thiselton’s point comes across in a chapter on the Church and her necessity:
“There is no way of belonging to Christ except by belonging gladly and irrevocably to all that marvellous ragbag of saints and fatheads who make up the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”
This should help with any wishful thinking, idealism, ecclesial fantasies, and any other realisation that is not grounded in the gritty reality of actual church life, the kind of stuff we see all over the New Testament. Real people with real sins living in a real community centered around a real Saviour who loves real people!