The biggest surprise for me in church planting, by far, has been this:
I thought that our little church would be storming the gates of hell like boy David against Big Bad Goliath. I thought we would be spending the majority of our energies and imaginations discerning how we would make a unique contribution to the flourishing of our city, and then acting on those conclusions. I assumed that what would keep me up at night would be my burden for helping my people get a burden for their neighbors and their spiritual and holistic needs.
I never expected that the things that would keep me up at night were the deep needs and burdens of the ordinary Christians within our congregation. I didn’t anticipate that so much of my energy and imagination, and that of my co-planter, would be deployed in the service of helping our people navigate tough seasons in marriage, parenting, and vocation.
I feel dumb for this.
And I never expected that one of the hardest things for me to do with the ordinary Christians in my congregation would be to diligently keep my heart open to them. I wrote a while back about the necessity of having thick skin and a soft heart. Paul describes it in a similar way. He says to the Corinthian church that at the very same time he is grieved and perplexed by them, and yet his heart is open to them.
The Hard Work of Heart Work
In fact, he says that even though it is their unbecoming words, attitudes, and actions that have grieved and perplexed him (and messed up the life of the church), the barrier to a renewed relationship between he and them comes from closedness-of-heart. And not his heart. Theirs.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also. … Make room in your hearts for us. … I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. (2 Cor 6 and 7)
I’ve talked with veterans in ministry who have dealt with way more Corinthianesque garbage than I have. Some of them are burnt out. They have disengaged from ministry because they no longer want to have open hearts with difficult people. This saddens me, and should not be so. If you want a congregation with hearts wide open to one another, you, as the pastor, as the planter, have to persevere in open-heartedness.
As a pastor, as a church planter–heck, as a plain old Christian–you need to make sure that whatever barrier there might be between reconciliation with other people is always in the closedness of their hearts, not yours.
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