I ran across a marvelous quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his book Life Together:
“A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.”
It reminded me of some basic minstry principles.
God is at work in people, it is His work and He works in His own time. My job is to come alongside and assist. Much like a nurse in surgery, I simply supply a service to God and His people by ministry. Since growth is a work of grace in the life of a believer I should show grace to those who are not as “far along” in their maturity process. My job is to help people find their next step in growth not to complain that they aren’t mature. This is hard because we then have to “put up with” or as Paul puts it “forbear with one another.”
People are the object of God’s love, not program and not event. Often the source of pastoral grumbling comes when the people God has placed in my charge get in the way of my goals. I get frustrated at inconsistency and immaturity, half-hearted effort, shoddy work and have to remind myself that people in church often are on the way, not finished products. When I don’t have this view I get caught up in a process by which to manufacture the outward signs of success in ministry. Large crowds, new programs, “excitement”, and other fun things but not always appropriate to ministry to the body. This kind of ministry often excludes those who are not easy to deal with or who have little to offer the machine.
Growth in Christ is a life long project not a quick fix. Longevity in ministry is not the norm any more. Studies vary but show that the average length of time in a church is somewhere around 54 – 58 months (Moving on Moving Forward: A Guide for Pastors in Transition by Michael Anthony and Mick Boersma). About the same length of time that people finance their car. You may be shocked by this, but it takes longer than that to arrive at maturity in Christ. Since we have a short view we have conceded to short term strategies that match that length of service to judge pastoral and church success.
These ideas are critical to the minds of not only pastors, but congregants. People often switch churches based on marketing and whim. Problems in church with people and pastors are not necessarily good reasons to move on to another church. Church is not Starbucks vs. Its a Grind. Church is community, the Scriptures often using the family metaphor as descriptive of the church. This is a connective metaphor; it is hard to leave family. Even more connective is the body metaphor: I can’t do without my little toe; I am very reluctant to part with it. When my body is sick, unaffected members don’t jump ship, they suffer together. When we stay at a church over the long haul we begin to learn something we cannot learn on the church circuit. God doesn’t quit on me; and He is remarkably still at work in you. Our job is not to complain about one another to one another and to God, rather it is to recognize the path of grace in each and every one. God is at work in us. Let me help you on the way. Help me along the way.