He decided to walk to church because several things were weighing heavy on his heart. After 13 years of pastoring the small congregation, the church appeared worse off than when he had started. It was a warm and bright August day, but the forerunners of fall were in the air announcing that colder weather was coming.
He thought back to the day he visited the church in view of a call. He felt young and fresh and ready to take on the world, but he was also apprehensive about whether he would make a good pastor. The chairman of the pastor search committee had been talking with him for several weeks, and the man was like a beacon of God’s light. This man was the reason he felt God had called him to this church. He knew he would have a mentor and a friend.
When he first became pastor, they saw some growth, but things soon plateaued. As for today, the church he was walking into felt wounded, and they were trying to figure out how it would pay the bills this month. Thinking about the older man left his heart feeling empty. He lost him to cancer about five years ago, and he now felt like a Timothy without a Paul.
He had prepared to preach a sermon on the qualifications of elders this morning. He had two reasons for wanting to do so. First, the church needed men to step up, and second, he wanted the rest of the church to know that they are not exempt from most of these qualifications either. God expects all believers to be above reproach, sober-minded, not given to drunkenness, self-controlled, hospitable, gentle, sexually pure and not lovers of money. Just because you are not an elder does not mean you are exempt from exhibiting these characteristics as a Christian. However, the more he thought about it, he did not have the heart for that this morning.
He did not feel like preaching on these qualifications because he thought his life did not measure up. Though he still met the standards for ministry, his heart had darkened a bit since that pivotal event two years ago. He thought back to the two men who visited him one day to use the church for their wedding. After he did his best to let them know there was no malice in his heart toward them, he let them know they could not use the church. He was thankful they only went to the media and did not file a lawsuit, but the damage had been set in motion, and the current state of the church proved the decline was real.
All he ever wanted to be was a good pastor, so he took it on himself to bear as much of the burden as possible. Over time, as the media scandal caused about 40% of the members to leave the church, fewer people remained to do the work, so he shouldered the load. The problem was there are only 24 hours in the day. The more time he gave to the ministry, the less time he had to be alone with God and nurture his most significant relationships. This lack of balance had made him a little more defensive, a little less gracious, and a little more anxious.
It happened so slowly he had not realized how much he had changed until last week when he snapped at his wife, who asked him to spend more time with her and the kids. His first temptation was to tell her God’s work comes first, but something caught him. It was only by the grace of God that he recognized that the pain on her face was his fault. After studying the qualifications of elders this week, he knew his family responsibilities were just as much “God’s work” as anything he had to do at the church. In fact, they come first. With all of this stirring his heart, he did not feel right preaching on the topic.
He was defeated and needed to preach to his own soul, so he changed his text last-minute. He needed to remind himself from the word of God that the Lord can use broken things to accomplish his purposes, and Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians had been feeding him with encouragement since the incident with his wife.
When he finally stepped up to the pulpit, he noticed a woman had snuck in during the singing. She did not look familiar to him. She looked slightly irritated, but there was a sorrow in her frustration. As he was preaching, he relayed the story of the church’s struggles over the past two years. Everyone else in the congregation already knew the story, but specific points in his sermon would not make much sense to her without the background.
He saw her looking at the broken light, the one he had been saying he would fix for some time now. It reminded him that he had reached his limits. He was burned out, and he began to wonder if God was using him anymore. As he preached Paul’s words about being afflicted, but not crushed, struck down, but not destroyed, he hoped it was true. He was praying that death in him could be life to others. Even if some of that death he was feeling was the result of his own waywardness.
He brought the sermon to its crescendo by telling them that Christ’s death made it possible for us to have life. It is the only way our numerous sins can be forgiven. He was talking to himself more than anyone when he said, “God specializes in healing self-inflicted wounds. You may be sitting here thinking that you are not the person you are supposed to be. You have drifted from the truth you once knew. God is calling you home. It is time to break up your fallow ground; it is time to seek the Lord.”
He glanced at the woman, and her eyes had softened. She was still looking at the broken light, but she no longer seemed irritated. Instead, they were filled with grace. That was when he noticed the familiarity. She had a striking similarity to his old friend. Could this be the daughter he had been praying for until the day he died? He hoped to catch her before she left, but she walked out during the final prayer.
What the pastor did not know was the Lord was about to rain righteousness on him and that small congregation. They were about to become successful, but it would look nothing like the world’s success or the ideas held out by many church growth strategists. The change in the air he felt on his walk was signaling more than a change in the season; colder weather was coming for him and the church, but it would be the catalyst for God’s work. All he knew was he was glad the Lord was shining a light on the darkness that had shadowed him, and he was looking forward to spending the afternoon with his wife and kids.
Read the woman’s perspective here.
Read old friend’s perspective here.