Nothing Pastors Do Right Now Will Be ‘Right’
What a crazy time to be a pastor. The only thing you can be absolutely sure of is no matter what you do, or don’t do, church people will tell you did the wrong thing. If you ask the church to abide by your state’s health orders you are bowing down to Caesar, if you ignore the guidelines you don’t care if people die. If you express support for President Trump you don’t care about character, if you disagree with Republicans you don’t care about unborn babies. If you speak about racial reconciliation you are pushing a far left agenda, if you don’t you’re a racist.
To make it even more challenging, people have more channels than ever before to express their disdain for your decision making.
- Verbal attacks on Sunday morning between services
- Passive aggressive emails, voicemails or posts on Facebook
- Tried but true gossip with like-minded church goers
And it goes well beyond the personal attacks; it is heart breaking to see people you have cared for for years not only leave your church, but act and speak in ways that are clearly not what you’d expect to see in a maturing disciple. We are seeing people mold their faith into whatever best fits their personal beliefs and political persuasion, while high profile leaders egg them on.
It is not surprising we are seeing pastors leave their churches and, in some cases, leave vocational ministry entirely. There comes a point where the hurt is too much and the disappointment is too painful. Surely you can follow Jesus without ending every day feeling like you’ve been run over by an 18-wheeler. It is easy to relate to Elijah when he ran from Jezebel.
‘Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”’
1 Kings 19:10 (NLT)
That last line feels personal, “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” It was in that moment that God showed up for Elijah in a gentle whisper. Elijah wasn’t the only one left, and God was not done with him. God told Elijah to go back the way he came and he gave him important work to do on the way.
God is not done with you either. Sure, people are displeased, but that has always been the hazard of ministry. None of the Old Testament prophets won popularity contests, and Paul likely won “Most Likely to be Beheaded” at the first annual Apostle’s Conference.
The reality is God is using this pandemic to sift the church, to separate wheat from the chaff. I have no doubt when we emerge from this mess many of our churches will be smaller in attendance, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As painful as it is, I feel like we are getting a “do-over”, a second chance at leading people toward true discipleship.
So where do we start? I wonder if we begin where the Reformers began when they looked at a church that had wondered far off the path of discipleship, the five solas of the Reformation. As a refresher, here is my crude synopsis:
- Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”): Our faith is not based on what we think is right or what we feel is fair and just, our faith is based on careful examination of God’s will as revealed in scripture. I recently saw a comment to a pastor’s post that we pray for President-elect Biden that said, “I know the Bible says we should pray for our leaders but…” We’ve lost sight of the fact there is no “but” in that sentence. We need to return to an understanding that scripture cannot be bent to our worldview.
- Sola Fide (“faith alone”): We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Our people need to understand there is no litmus test between the sinner and the cross; there is no political test to pass. Paul said if we confess with out mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead we will be saved. Full stop. The sentence “you can’t be a Christian if you [fill in the blank]” has no place in the church. Paul’s harshest words (see Galatians 5:12) were reserved for those who created hurdles to salvation.
- Sola Gratia (“grace alone”): We are saved by the grace of God alone. We have to reorient our people to the concept of true grace rather than a merit-based ladder. A grace where black and white, rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans stand shoulder to shoulder “without God and without hope”. Ephesians 2:13 (NLT)
- Solus Christus (“Christ alone”): Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King. Our hope is not in charismatic pastors, powerful Presidents or political parties. Our hope is not in Carl Lentz, Jerry Falwell or Donald Trump. Our hope is in Christ alone. We need to help people understand that people will fail, but God will not.
- Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”): We live for the glory of God alone. We do not live to please people, to grow churches or to obtain fame. We do not live to promote an agenda or protect a legacy. If we are truly Christ-followers everything we do is only for the glory of God. If our words and actions do not reflect glory back to God we are way off track.
As difficult as it is to be a pastor right now, I wouldn’t want to live at any other time. God is trusting us to take up the mantle of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. To defeat anger and meanness with love and compassion. To gently lead the sheep back to the sheepfold and to once again focus on becoming the perfect bride of Christ.
This article originally appeared here.