The Pastor’s Pen (June)
I learned this lesson in my recent weekend at the Coburn United Methodist Church in Zanesville, Ohio. I had the pleasure of being a part of a consulting team for their MCCI (Missional Church Consultation Initiative) weekend. Over three days, we literally sat down with hundreds of members of their congregation to hear their hopes and dreams for their church. We listened as they shared their strengths and the ways they hoped to grow. We listened to demo- graphic data and feedback from mystery visitors who stopped by for worship. We talked with the pastor and staff. We talked with new members and long-time members.
One thing I observed was just how much they all loved Pastor Justin. Every time his name was mentioned or his giftedness was lifted up, the people would applaud. Admit- tedly, Pastor Justin is gifted. He’s a strong preacher, he’s musically talented, and he’s filled with energy and enthusiasm. It doesn’t hurt that he has two boys who are as cute as a button and a wife who is a strong partner in the journey.
They LOVE their pastor. They LOVE to love their pastor. It made me smile. It was almost like driving a new car with the window sticker in the rear window. They loved it when others noticed and, given half a chance, they would share their opinion on all the new features. Pastor Justin was pretty easy to love.
Love is part of our water- mark. It should be evident when held up to the light. As with any human institution, sometimes we fall short. Resentment, misunderstand- ing, selfishness, judgment, fear, and disappointment creep in. It doesn’t take much to come off as less than loving.
This church loves their pastor, and while I couldn’t be happier for them, I wondered if it would last. I hated to admit it, but I felt a little cynical. I don’t like being cynical. Cynicism is like a little black rain cloud in a Winnie-the-Pooh story — a disguise for the purpose of selfish indulgence. Was I hoping that this loving to love affair between congre- gation and pastor would be short-lived? Most definitely not! It seemed more like the ideal than a target of cynicism. I turned to prayer for some clarity. A verse popped in my head as I drove to the church on Sunday morning: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” Matthew 5:46a.
As followers of Christ, we are not to love just the easy to love, but we’re called out to love the hard to love. Pastor Justin is pretty easy to love. I’ll humbly put myself in that same category. I don’t like giving people a reason not to love me. I wonder though, as a pastor, if I am doing my whole job if I am always easy to love.
Over the next couple months, I am going to unpack the lessons I learned at Coburn UMC in my newsletter reflections. I hope you will journey with me and share any reflections you might have on the topic.
Here are some reflection questions for you to consider:
- What makes it easy for you to love?
- What makes it a challenge for you to love?
- Does your love look different when it’s easy or when it’s challenging?
- Does God’s love look different from our love?
- Is there more to glean from Matthew 5 for our world today?