It would be so great if everyone at church fell in line with God’s best plans and genuinely lived out the righteous truth, but in the end most people do what they want. Despite all the good teaching and sound doctrine and powerful delivery, everyone trusts their own opinion. It surprises me — and shouldn’t — when I ask who believes in a relative morality, and half the people in the room raise their hand. I teach that dating early in the “worldly” way is unwise, but twelve year olds with no concept of sacrificial love are gushing all over Facebook with a Married status. Inevitably heartbreak ensues. I know of adults at my own church that are sleeping around, clubbing into their creepy forties, cheating on their wives and cheating their taxes, but still they come to church like clockwork and tithe. As a pastor I ask so many questions: Am I failing here? Did I not present the Gospel? Don’t they know the Bible is authority? Don’t they know holiness is better? What am I even doing up here?
I’m burdened over them all; I cry about it in prayer all the time. At times I feel completely worthless. I hurt over the total defiance against the Bible truth. It’s so easy to look at a church like mine and judge: “Oh they must not preach the right Gospel over there. Did you see that guy’s Facebook? Some Christian he is.” It’s easy to blame the pastor, the preaching, the programs, the millions of things that have gone wrong. But I beg those who judge to look closer. Shepherds are agonizing over their sheep. We care about their choices. I know that I do. I care that three of my youth kids are wasting their lives on weed and flunking out of high school. I care that several girls in my youth group are clubbing until six in the morning. I care that their parents come to me with tears in their eyes telling me to do anything to set them right. And I walk this tightrope between exercising total gracious patience or executing direct aggressive rebuke. I have tried both. Results are random; expectations only wear me down. I keep praying.
Different pastors say different things. “Get in their face, man.” Or, “Love will win them.” Or, “Life on life discipleship.” I wish I could tell you that all these efforts ended with Hollywood catharsis. I wish I could tell you that with enough love and patience and grace, they all learned a valuable lesson. I want to say: Yes, pouring life into someone pays off. But reality gets messy. We learn pretty fast that we can’t control the outcomes: we can only fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. God’s timing is His own; the Spirit goes where it goes. I pour out one-hundred percent, I might get two steps forward and one step back. That’s how it often works. Where I live, where I work, the daily grind is gritty. I’m in the dirt and filth up to my elbows.
I remind myself of Abraham. God promised some great things to him. I’d imagine Abraham asked, “So when’s all this great stuff coming?” God: “In your descendants.” Abraham scratches his head. God says, “A thousand years from now, a guy named David will rally a great nation of your people. And two-thousand years from now the Savior will be born out of your bloodline.”
I have hopes if I persevere, there will be results I cannot possibly see. Maybe that’s an intellectual cop-out, but I always hear the same stuff: “If it weren’t for that third grade teacher; if it weren’t for that youth pastor; if it weren’t for that camp director, I’d be dead or in jail.” And often they follow up with: “I really gave him a hard time. I was pretty mean to her.”
I remember my youth pastor, over ten years ago, and how I walked in with a stupid swagger all in his face like he would never get on my level. I look back and there it is: If it weren’t for him, I’d be dead or in jail. He probably doesn’t even know that today. But oh man is it true.
Perhaps then I can only throw out any false expectations: that even if I present it as authority, most of what I say are not absolutes to them but only probable principles, and everyone in the end will decide for themselves. I prefer that. I want the church to think for themselves. It may be that they mess up and learn; it may be that they mess up and harden their hearts. I resolve to be there either way. I’ll make mistakes; I’ll stay quiet when I shouldn’t, I’ll speak up when I shouldn’t. I’ll say wrong things; I’ll say right things in the wrong way. I’ll try to leave. But I can’t quit. I can’t. In the last minute of the last lap on the last turn, I got to work through the pain in my side. I want to save lives, even at the cost of my own. It’s the pastor’s cross to carry. God is infinite strength — He’s enough.