On Saturday, I found out about a situation that unfolded a while back where a well-known 60-something pastor was put on blast by a guy in his 30s. The 30-something sarcastically dressed down this pastor (and several other pastors) with biting language bordering on viciousness. You may know the situation I speak of, but there’s no need to name names in the comments. It’s not important who the parties were.
What I’m concerned with is my OWN heart – and YOUR heart. Believe it or not, my heart has never really felt at home in church. Since I heard about Him, I’ve always connected with Jesus, but often not church. Many of us had or currently have issues with the church.
As I wrote the 30-something guy a letter (which I never sent), it occurred to me the letter could easily be addressed to me. I’m not often angry, but am disillusioned frequently. Instead of post the letter, I re-purposed it from the point-of-view of the 60-something pastor and how HE might respond to 20- and 30-somethings frustrated with church. These are the words and thoughts I attempted to teach myself tonight.
I’m a 65-year old pastor. I’ve been serving Jesus Christ for 40 years – longer than most of you reading this have been alive. I’ve long been perplexed with how frustrated you are with me and my generation for “messing up the Church.” My sons and daughters, are you so sure you know how things ought to be run? Do you know why your soul is so thirsty? I will freely admit to you that I’ve been largely clueless about how to run my church. I’ve listened for God’s voice to the best of my ability with other people in this congregation. But imperfection has been my constant companion since the day I first arrived here. I haven’t done everything right. But I’ve done everything the best way I knew.
Like Joshua, I too will soon go the way of all the earth. My lungs will breathe no more and you will inherit the church which was, for a season, entrusted to me. My children, you will see that flock work is work indeed. The babies you today kiss on the forehead will tomorrow call you a hippie, send you angry emails, and leave your church in frustration. It will happen many times and break your heart at every occurrence.
In all your current anger, you imagine yourselves the clearinghouse of truth. It is not so. Just because you’re angry doesn’t mean you’re right. When you imagine you’re “exposing” the hypocrisy of the church, you expose more about the bitterness in your own heart. When you imagine you’re creating a movement of other like-minded people, you’re really just rallying more and more to divisiveness and discord. Your life is not characterized by peace, but war.
Perhaps I have messed up, my children, and led this church poorly. Perhaps I really am the cause of these problems. And, if so, perhaps it is for this reason: that you might know the truth. Your hearts are not clean. My messed up life may have existed to make you this way – that you might see your heart and be so dismayed with its helplessness that you’re forced to talk with God Himself, to inquire why such a depth of negative emotion exists in you for mistaken infractions that were not intended for your harm.
If the measure of your emotion is so great that you can’t explain it, perhaps there are other flammables that are blazing hot in the hidden corners of your heart – problems for which I am not responsible but problems that increase your anger toward me. Pursue the reasons for your discontent because that will lead you to the reason church exists. The firefighter of your heart is Jesus Himself – not cooler leaders, not new worship music, not different preaching, not better programs. You will never assuage the anger in your heart with written or verbal abuse.
Sons and daughters, I assure you it is not an enjoyable life to suck on lemons every day. Your protesting heart is not against me. It is against anything that keeps you from God. I do not believe you could name a punishment for me to endure that would atone for your frustrations. The problem is bigger than me. But in whatever ways I’ve kept you from Him, I sincerely apologize. It has been unintentional. Remember, I am only a man. God will cover my mistakes. Do not allow your previous energy spent in anger toward me to prolong your absence from Him. Ask God to make clear the path forward and restore your heart that you may be bitter no longer. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Someday, perhaps you will be the 65-year old writing letters to young adults. Have something powerful to tell them about our God. I entrust you to Him.