Last week I had the privilege of sitting in a room with 15 other pastors of similar-sized churches in our denomination from around the country. It’s an annual meeting where we devote 3 days to conversations where we learn from and encourage each other. (Well, in my case, 2 and a half days. This year we met in San Diego, and I may have skipped one of the afternoon sessions to go bodyboarding with my daughter).
It was a great blessing to be in that room. I learned things that will help me be a better pastor, a better husband, a better father, and a more godly man. Hopefully I was able to be an encouragement to some of the other guys. But you know what was one of my biggest take-aways from that time? They’re just guys.
Pastors are just people. Often very gifted people. Often very godly people. But we are very human. Almost every single one of the men in that room was dealing with a situation in his own family for which there are no easy answers. All of them have struggled to lead their churches through COVID-19 in this past year. All of them have received angry emails from church members about how they have responded to COVID-19, and wrestled with the temptation to respond out of their flesh rather than the Spirit. Everyone is stumbling along, doing their best, seeking wisdom from God and praying for His grace to make up for all that we lack.
Last summer we did a sermon series here at Community Church called Forever Family. We talked about how when we trust Jesus, the Bible says we are adopted into God’s family. He becomes our heavenly Father, and Jesus our elder brother. The New Testament writers were constantly calling their fellow believers “brothers and sisters.” The church of Jesus is not primarily a business or civic organization; it’s a family.
So let me make an obvious statement: pastors, and other church staff, are a part of that family! There’s a funny thing that happens when we pay people to give their time to the church. We can’t help but put them in a different category. In some ways, we think of them as being more central to the church than we are. And in other ways, we can actually treat them as being less a part of it. They become servants rather than family. Now their role is to serve the church, and everyone else in the church receives what they give.
Our Bible doesn’t talk about church like that. There’s nothing in there about one group of people who do ministry while others receive it. According to the Bible, all believers should be on both ends of ministry: the giving end and the receiving end. Obviously, what we do for each other will depend on the ways God has gifted us, the responsibilities we’ve been entrusted with, the amount of time we have to give, and so on. But our perspective makes a huge difference. When you walk into the church on Sunday, are you the customer (who is always right!) and the worship team are there to serve you? Or are they brothers and sisters who have sacrificed their time and offered up their gifts so we can serve God together? Do you have responsibilities to the people on stage, to the Sunday school teachers, to the people in the sound booth, the ushers, etc., or is it only they who have responsibilities to you? Are they just servants, or a part of the family?
It has been a joy to get to know the staff of Community Church over the last several months. I am so proud of, and grateful for, this group of people who love Jesus and His church and this community. They are generous, sacrificial servants. But let me tell you a secret about our staff: when we get together for our weekly staff meeting on Tuesday mornings, fully one-third of our time is spent sharing personal prayer requests and praying for each other. Why? Because we need God to care for us before we care for others. Because our lives are messy and difficult, and God uses us anyway. Because we don’t see one another just as co-workers, but as brothers and sisters.
It has also been a joy to begin to get to know the people of Community Church. COVID-19 has made that process much slower than I expected. It’s strange to have been here this long and still not know people very well. I feel badly about that, and look forward to more opportunities to get to know each other in the coming months. But already I’m grateful for the people who are treating us like family. Many of you have made an effort to make sure that Carey and I and our children know that we are on the receiving end of ministry as well as the giving end. Thank you. Let’s continue to honor Jesus in the way we serve one another well, and also in the way we allow each other to be human and imperfect. Let’s continue to treat each other like family.
And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. —1 John 4:21