Imagine that you’re severely stressed. Maybe that’s not too much of a stretch for you right now. If you’re anything like me in tense times, then in addition to stress-pounding Skittles to cope, you develop an irrational suspicion of other people’s motives when they encounter you in your turmoil. Someone asks “How are you?” But the inquirer seems afraid, and you interpret the nervous eyes to say: “The answer to my question is any number of positive words, followed by your grateful acknowledgement of my asking.” If you do give an upbeat answer, no matter how dishonest, and you follow it up with your thanks, no matter how insincere, you think you spy in their smiling response not only happiness, but relief. And that makes you boil. Or, someone just looks at you in your stress but doesn’t ask how you’re doing, and you get mad about what seems to be an obvious lack of concern and you suspect that they’re silently condemning you. Either way, they can’t win. Stress and the charitable judgement of others are not natural friends.
Resolving conflict is the most difficult task in pastoral work. Helping two parties who have been at odds – or even at one another’s throats – work through sin issues to reach a point where they can grant and receive forgiveness from one another is a special manifestation of the applied gospel. Like the heavenly miracle of dew from Mt. Hermon falling on Zion is the giving of the Spirit that brings brothers separated by conflict to dwell together once again in unity (Psalm 133).
Yet if years of ministry have taught me anything, it is that this hard-earned peace can be fragile. Wounds take time to heal. Trust requires effort to rebuild. Old patterns of avoidance in the relationship die slowly. Communication can be awkward. Suspicions that others in the church are talking run high. A small slight by one party can reignite flames of indignation. How is reconciliation not only to be maintained but flourish?
We can learn a lesson about reconciliation from the story of the conflict between Joseph and his brothers. After all his brothers put him through by betraying him and selling him into slavery, we know that twenty years later, as recorded in Genesis 45, Joseph, the […]
I’m not thinking about the people who get their keys out during the last song and scurry away immediately after the benediction (or maybe during!). Nor am I thinking about those individuals who only halfheartedly care about church, showing up maybe a couple times a year.
No. I have in mind those families or individuals who are actively looking for a church home. Perhaps they’ve recently moved. Or perhaps they’ve gained new convictions. Whatever the reason, they’re visiting your church, eager to settle down and call the people of the congregation their church family.
Forgive the nasty little phrase, but these folks are church shopping.
Now as you know, there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t stay. Some of the reasons are good. Some not so good. Fastidiousness is a real thing after all.
My fear is that we will lose people in the black hole of time.
Oh, yes, the black hole of time. This is that period of time following the service when the visitor is standing around awkwardly, knowing not a soul. As the church bustles about, clumped together in their familiar groups, catching up and fellowshipping, the new family nervously gathers their stuff, looks about the room and waits.
With hearts still raw from a number of unexpected deaths, we gather together to briefly discuss the role and place of grieving.
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In his beautiful tribute yesterday, James shared the news that a dear friend to a number of us at Gentle Reformation, Pastor David Long, passed into glory on Saturday evening. When I received the news, I had just said “Amen” following a quiet, tearful time of singing and praying with my family for Dave and Jenny and their family. Dave, my spiritual father, is now with the God he knew so well, served so faithfully, and told others of so sincerely.
At a conference last fall at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary on “Experiencing the Fullness of Our Union with Christ,” providentially I gave the final talk on preparing for heaven. At the start of my message and in the journal being published this week, I dedicated this talk to Dave as follows.
At the time of my study and writing of this article, I have been emotionally walking with a lifetime friend and mentor as he fights a battle against a serious form of cancer. Observing someone close to you preparing to meet God moves a discussion such as this one out of the realm of the merely academic and speculative to that of pastoral and personal. So this article is dedicated to Pastor […]
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalm 92.12-15 ESV)
Yesterday our family spent a few hours with one of the elderly couples in our church. It caused me to reflect afresh on the rich blessing of what might be labelled ‘cross-generational fellowship’ but which is nothing more or less than simply ‘Christian fellowship.’ We are blessed in our congregation to have a good spread of ages across the years, and a long and deliberately cultivated tradition of a genuine ‘church family’ ethos, where the young and the old mix in many different ways. Most importantly, we all worship together twice a week. The children are encouraged to go and speak to the most senior saints after the services. We have regular social events which are for the whole congregation, when young and old talk together. Many of our older folk who are able delight […]
We all know a few Me Monsters. And if we’re honest, we’ll do just about anything to avoid getting caught by one at Wal-Mart- even abandon carts or children to slip down a side aisle. Commando crawling isn’t out of the question.
But anyway, I kind of feel bad for Me Monsters. They’re usually nice people. It’s just that they can’t stop talking about some particular point of interest. Forty five minutes later you’re still nodding, standing there, waiting for that small crack of a moment to initiate your departure. But “Oh, wait… I missed it! No! I missed! They’ve turned a corner to a new topic!!!”
I can’t help but think that Me Monsters are ultra lonely or neglected somehow. But then again maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s just selfishness? But could it really be the case that they simply don’t care about the lives of others?
Surely not. Then again…
It wasn’t until I was nearly twenty-two years old that I first became a member of a church. In the college town where I was, there was a small Presbyterian congregation that seemed to fit with my changing convictions. I was and still remain thankful for the three years I spent there before going to seminary. As a dating couple my wife and I were taken under the wings of the pastor and his wife, we enjoyed a lot of friendships and fellowship, I was learning a lot, and it was also the church where I preached my first sermon! However, all of this was mixed with profound sorrow when spiritual tragedy struck our small congregation.
Only weeks after he married us it was discovered that our pastor was being unfaithful to his wife of twenty-five years. His family was left utterly shattered and broken as a result of his sin. But his adultery also affected each member of the congregation in different ways. For my family—as we looked toward seminary and the pastorate—this was deeply discouraging. I remember telling my wife with tears that if this would be the result of my future ministry then I’d rather not even begin […]
A church without conflicts. The ecclesiastical unicorn. Looks great in pictures but doesn’t actually exist. The right question isn’t so much, “How do we create a church without conflict?” but “What do we do when conflict comes?”
Here the Philippian church helps us greatly, particularly two Christian sisters, Euodia and Syntyche. These poor women have had their fight inscribed into God’s Word, and for the rest of this age we will be able to benefit from their disastrous disagreement.
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil. 4:2-3)