To My Brothers in Arms
We are weary.
If you are feeling like I am, it is a bone deep exhaustion, brought on by many factors, including the length of the current situation and the resulting disconnection, frustration, in-fighting, and checking-out. We really do not yet know who is still a part of our church family and who is not, and there certainly has been a shuffling of people according to whoever is handling the pandemic the “right” way. It is a daunting task indeed to minister to an unknown group made up of the disconnected and discordant.
We are struggling.
There is a very real sense in which nothing could fully prepare us for our current reality. Seminary classes, ministry experience, church history - there is help in all these resources, but they ultimately do not have all the answers to meet the full complexity of these unusual times. The eyes of our church family are on us to make decisions and have all the answers, something we often do not feel we have or can do, and if, like many, you shepherd a flock on your own, the pressure at times feels unbearable.
We have probably thought about quitting.
Thom Rainer recently posted an article entitled “Six Reasons Your Pastor is About to Quit” and perhaps you resonate with some or all of them. Maybe it only flitted through your consciousness for a moment, but there have been low moments and, in those times, a return to working construction or some other job far from people looked incredibly attractive. The mountain of contradictory emails, texts, and voicemails seems to form a never-ending cacophony of unanswerable questions, unresolvable differences, and unhealable wounds. We know our God is able, but privately we are just about at the end of our ability to keep leading.
Brothers, you are not alone, and I trust that these few words of encouragement will help remind you of key truths that will continue to arm us for the days ahead.
You Cannot Do This Alone
This is something we know but often do not practice. We are self-reliant personally, separated ecclesiastically, and disconnected denominationally. Among the many things God has exposed during the pandemic, the spotlight has in many ways shone brightest on the level to which we are isolated.
God forgive us for the sin of self-reliance. The Maritime “stiff upper lip” mentality has served us well through many hardships but as a lifestyle is sorely lacking, especially where it runs counter to the gospel.
- We Are Weak, Not Strong
Ultimately, self-reliance is a denial of the gospel, a daily rejection of the very core of what we say we believe and preach. We cannot save (Ephesians 2:1-10) or sanctify ourselves (Philippians 2:12-13), so why do we function as though we can? Deeper than that, to the degree that we think we do spiritual transformation on our own, in our own strength, to that degree we rob God of the glory due His name for that which He alone does. Also, as we project our lack of dependence on God, why would people listen to a message we functionally deny?
Practically, Paul writes that “…when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Humility and submission should characterize us, not bravado and the deception of supposedly “having it all together”.
- We Are Not Gifted in Every Area
In Paul Tripp’s excellent new book “Lead” he gently reminds us that no leader possesses giftings in every area, and we do immeasurable harm to those we lead and serve with when we falsely believe we do. We all have weaknesses and areas we are not competent in; we also have numerous blind spots that require the input and accountability of others. Especially when everyone seems to be coming to us for answers on everything from epidemiology to government regulations, we need to rely on others around us who are better equipped in certain topics and areas than we are.
- We Must Be Honest
Our people are hurting, some in ways that far outpace anything we are experiencing. We think we serve them best when we are a rock, an immovable and always steady presence, loath to show emotion and reticent to share our own personal reality. While we must be an example of trusting in God’s gracious sovereignty, and it would not serve our people well to be the opposite, we help others best when we are honest about our struggles and emotions in appropriate ways. Jesus was open about His pain, tiredness, sorrow, and anger, to name a few. While He was always steadily trusting in the good will of His Father, He was not stoic, and neither should we be. We pull our people away from the true Saviour when we pretend we are Him, all while reflecting neither His perfection nor His true humanity.
Tribalism was killing us before COVID-19 and it may well finish the job before this pandemic threat lifts. There is no denying that foundational differences exist under the broad banner of Christianity, and these differences ought to be taken seriously. There has however been a repeated splintering of the Bride of Christ that is increasingly more pedantic and whose only end is extinction. How have we drifted so extremely far from the core reality that Jesus prayed would define His church (John 17:20-23)? At a time when people are, more than ever, looking for answers to big questions, we who have the truth seem to be more focused on fighting the wrong battles and each other than reaching out to the hurting and proclaiming and showing forth the good news. If there was ever a time to band together it would be now, but too many of us seem content to retreat even further into our corners as we shout at each other across the room. Can we blame people for believing that our cure is worse than the current disease? Please, brothers, do not allow your isolation to widen between those that you should be linking arms with to meet the waves of people who are looking for truth in a sea of confusion.
We Can Do it, United to Christ
The deep, abiding message of the gospel is so much richer than the platitude “we’re all in this together”. That statement is well-meaning, but Maritime neighborliness alone cannot provide the comfort that can only come through union with Christ. Knowing our relationship with our Creator is secure whatever happens, we can rest in His perfect will as we glorify Him through reflecting His character and acting out of His heart for those that are lost, hurting, disconnected, frustrated, and confused. Confident in our relationship with God the Father through Christ by the Spirit, we can move away from self-reliance to an ever-increasing reliance on Him that evidences itself in honesty about our weaknesses, struggles, blind spots, and inadequacies.
How often have you reached out to a fellow brother in arms to ask for prayer, wisdom, help, and support?
Who have you reached out to comfort and pray with for strength, patience, courage, and wisdom?
Who have you linked arms with for the sake of the gospel and the help of those in need?
How has this pandemic exposed your isolation and how are you working to correct it?
My brothers in arms, you are not alone. Our graciously sovereign Heavenly Father has not abandoned us and He has blessed us with brothers in arms to help us spread the gospel, advance His Kingdom, and encourage one another in the fight against fear, worry, division, and despair. Reach out, often, and let us continue to edify each other as we seek to live out the good news in a world that desperately needs it and seems increasingly to be seeking it.
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