For years during my theological training and service to local churches leading to my calling as Lead Pastor, I was constantly told to view church members as people, not projects. Normally the idea was that pastors who viewed their people as nothing more than projects to work on and fix would end up steamrolling their church members with their theological or methodological agendas. Good wisdom comes from this understanding, but more needs to be said. Indeed, pastors should not steamroll their church members with their ideas of what it looks like to be a church in twenty-first century, but the idea that people are not projects does not actually flow from the pages of Scripture. In fact, the Bible clearly teaches that people are projects, and since I’m a person, I am a project too.
Until the day of Jesus Christ.
Writing to the churches in Philippi, Paul begins with his customary prayer. Within his prayer he writes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Paul’s Philippian letter often finds itself classified as the letter of joy, but frequently missed is the awareness that part of Paul’s joy stems from his understanding that people are projects. Until the “day of Jesus Christ” Christians remain as projects continually in process. As people this side of heaven we are in need of fixing, pruning, and restructuring, and for pastors in the twenty first century this should offer great encouragement.
We aren’t there yet.
As a pastor, it is easy to get frustrated with those who do not share my passion for preaching Christ from the Old Testament, international missions, or racial reconciliation. Lashing out at church members for their lack of commitment seems to help me cope with my frustrations. Yet realizing that Jesus suffered a terrible death on a wooden cross so that his people might be sanctified (Hebrews 13:12) helps me to regain the focus of Paul when it comes to our church members. People are projects, and I am too. Thankfully that means Christ is not done with me yet, and he is not done working in my fellow believers within the church I pastor either. The process of sanctification has an end goal, Christlikeness, but on the way toward that end goal there are many difficult seasons of brokenness, battles against sin, and struggles with our own passions. Apart from a project mentality, these seasons will leave us frustrated and bitter.
Comfort in the gospel.
The gospel reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 5:8). Even as Christians, we struggle with sin. Paul even loathed his battle with sin (Romans 7:15-20). Yet part of the good news is that Jesus lives within believers through the Spirit (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:13-14), and by the Spirit we are being sanctified day-by-day. That truly is good news, and it should change the way we view ourselves. But more than anything, it should change how we view those around us. As pastors, we should be comforted that the same journey we are taking toward becoming like Jesus by the power of the Spirit is the same journey our church members are taking.
So give grace to the student who continues to cause trouble by her constant episodes of telling what is not hers to tell. Show patience to the elderly Sunday school class who doesn’t understand why anyone would want to go to our foreign country to talk to unreached peoples about the gospel. Help the deacons understand their role within the church. Just as we need grace, patience, and help, the people of our churches do, too. Because in the end, we are all just projects in process, aren’t we?