I woke up sometime around 2.30 am this morning, as I often do. I rarely sleep through the night. Apparently, your brain and body stay very busy while you sleep. I’ve read that while sleeping, your brain does the work of filing away new information, removing toxins, and nerve cells communicate and reorganise to support healthy brain function.
My brain is very busy and often doesn’t want to settle down and do its thing while I sleep. While amid its nightly routine, my brain likes to wake me up to ruminate on things, past, present and future. I sometimes feel as though my brain is waking me up to say, “What do you think about this bit of information, should we throw this out and forget about it, should we file it away for later, or should we keep this handy just in case?”
One of the things that my ever-restless mind was chewing on last night was this blog. I have had a multitude of positive interactions with people over the years. I have also had a substantial amount of negative interactions with people. Jesus had many positive and negative interactions as well.
One of the things I was thinking about last night was how to navigate and share some of these stories, both positive and negative, in a way that might be helpful or even interesting.
As I mentioned last week, God has not blessed us with a memory so that we might feel nostalgic but to help us learn lessons from the past.
My memory is what it is, and I don’t believe my recall of the past, or anyone’s, is that great. I think that’s why we often feel nostalgic about the past, we don’t remember the past as it really was. That’s why we sometimes hear people talk about the “good ‘ol days”.
The problem with feeling nostalgic about the “good ‘ol days” is that it’s a lie. There’s no such thing as the “good ‘ol days”. Of course, there were good times in the past, but there are also good times today, and every time and place has its problems and issues.
In my personal experience, people having a feeling of nostalgia for days gone has been one of the bigger obstacles to overcome in ministry.
Cultural change in a church is a ship that turns slowly. One of the bigger cultural shifts and challenges I’ve seen take place in churches during my time in ministry has been music. You wouldn’t think a topic like worship music would be so difficult. In some cases, I have seen it become an outright war.
I’ve known people personally whose families once attended church together, but now families attend separate churches simply over preferences in worship music. But I suppose along with worship music comes the different ways or styles people express worship.
Some tend to be more lively than others, and solemn worshippers and lively worshippers sometimes struggle to get along. That has more to do with personal preferences than any bible doctrine, although there will always be those who dishonestly claim bible doctrine as their reason for acting the way they do.
This may sound unexceptional, but one of my goals as a pastor has always been to lead the church to be a church. Not an old church or a young church, or a traditional or contemporary church, a hipster church or a boomer church, just a church. I’ve learned that’s more difficult than it sounds.
Many wars in a church could be at least kept to a dull roar by stronger leadership on the pastoral front. A pastor must have a Christlike attitude. People often mistake a Christlike attitude for being “a nice guy”.
What it really means is being tenacious to the point that you are willing to lay down life your life in service to the ministry for which God has called you. Do anything less, and you won’t last.
Sometimes that means going to the mat with people who want you to serve their preferences more than the Lord’s calling on your life. At other times it means loving people who hate you. Sometimes it means bearing up under a heavy weight and enduring an undeserved beating, all while being a nice guy. The pastoral office is not a place for the weak or cowardly.
One of the very first things that challenged my idealistic view was when I began to use the iWorship videos I mentioned last week.
There was an old metal stand I found in a storage room at the church. I’m not sure what it would have been for originally, but I had purchased a power point projector out of my own pocket. As a side note, most ministry-related purchases made for the first few years of ministry were out of my own pocket. Our church bank deposits at the time were somewhere around $350 per week.
I don’t think I was even over jet lag yet, as I picked a couple of songs to play for our Sunday morning worship service. My experience with worship and music was pretty limited. We played two or three songs that were not great but better than nothing.
When we arrived in Australia, there was one family in particular who was very eager to have us over for dinner. I had a friend once say, “It’s the wolves who run up and sniff you first”.
During the dinner conversation, the husband mentioned that at their previous church, the pastor had come to their home and asked them to leave the church, but apparently, he didn’t know why. This should have been a red flag, but remember I said I was naive.
There have been two or three other times I have heard of a pastor randomly showing up in people’s homes and asking people to leave a church for no apparent reason. For the sake of the Gospel, sensibility, reason, rationality, posterity, and all that is holy, I must say pastors do not, one more time, DO NOT randomly go to people's homes and ask them to hit the road. If this happens, it is because the pastor is doing his job as a shepherd and chasing off some wolves.
I wanted to be transparent and open with people and do my best to keep them abreast of what was happening in the church. Every Friday, I sent out an email to everyone talking about what had happened during the week and to encourage church attendance on Sunday.
One of the multitudes of mistakes I have made was not blind-copying everyone on that email. I received an email from a well-meaning church member asking if I had seen something that had apparently been emailed to everyone.
It was an email from the couple who had invited us for dinner. They had copied all of the addresses from my weekly email and started an email campaign that would last for a few months, stating something along the lines of I was a tool of Satan, leading the church astray, using worldly methods to attract a crowd, and I should be chased out of the church.
The emails were mostly word salad with links and random out-of-context scriptures sprinkled throughout, so they didn’t make much sense. It was difficult to understand how this had all been triggered because I used a couple of iWorship videos on Sunday.
I don’t believe the author of the email campaign intended that I see the emails. The emails were always signed by both the husband and the wife, but quite frankly, and this is speculation on my part, I think only one spouse was the perpetrator, and the other mostly didn’t know what was happening.
I’ve always been annoyed by jointly signed emails. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I like to know who I’m talking to. Maybe next week, I’ll tell you about how the Lord bailed me out. So many stories to tell, some of them will have to wait.