“And now, little children….” – I John 2:28 (ESV)
I’ve always loved how John refers to the church he shepherds as his little children; especially at this stage of life. As I turn 50 and reflect on my relationship with my now grown children, the image that best pictures my relationship with my church is the parent/child bond. When they do well, I rejoice in their accomplishments like a proud pop. When they are hurt, I take their hurt as my own.
There are other times, however, when pastoring a church feels like being the parent of Corinthian 3 year olds. Their immaturity is maddening. Their proclivity to wander into sin is frightening. Their tantrums, directed at you as their pastor but that are really the products of their own issues, are infuriating. Those are the times when, like most parents of preschoolers, I’m most exhausted.
Those are also the times when I’m most likely to wonder about greener pastures, to entertain the idea that somewhere in Christendom exists a perfectly behaved church that is easy to “parent.” But that “Leave it to Beaver” church does not exist and the maturity and growth of the church you lead will not be accomplished by abandoning them as orphans. So how do you fight through the immaturity and sin and tantrums and exhaustion?
It starts with acknowledging that we are not always the best “parent.” I have shortcomings as a pastor. There have been times when my missteps and misreads have made the situation worse for my members facing struggles with life and sin. So, like I’ve had to do at times as a parent, I must repent before God and ask a church member for forgiveness. My ability to truly help a struggling church member will never happen if I take a defensive stance.
The next step is to understand that someone has to be the grown-up. I remember times when my children were toddlers and nothing their mother and I did for them was enough to calm their tantrums. They would scream and kick and hit and give every indication that they thought that we were the worst persons in the world. But had I responded in kind, the authorities would have rightly taken my children away for their own safety. As a parent, there is an expectation that you are the grown up.
As I apply that mindset to my role as pastor, I can’t respond to the tantrums with a tantrum. I can’t take how wayward church member is treating me personally. Most of all, I can’t let my exhaustion with the whole process overwhelm my responsibility to guide and discipline and correct. As church leaders, there will be times that we have to remember that we must be the grown up.
The final step is to remember that our children aren’t our own. Though it frequently feels like we are their parents, the people of our church are ultimately God’s children. As stewards of His children, God calls us to labor though sometimes weary and love though sometimes scorned. It would be so easy to give up, but the payoff is worth it as you see God’s purposes and plans begin to flourish.
As in parenting, not every pastoral effort will be met with success. Church members, like children, are willful. The prodigal may walk away. When that happens, we join the Father and pray for their return to His house. We will ache with their Father over their absence. It won’t be easy. It will be heartbreaking.
Being a pastor, like being a parent, isn’t easy.