"Think of it like a bootcamp"
GodGod generally speaks to me in phrases. It is like He does not have to say more. That phrase was enough.
There are many great metaphors in the sacred scriptures that help us understand the church, the family, the nation, the bride, the temple, the army... They are all beautiful and powerful. The church is such a mystery that not one of them is sufficient to fully describe this exquisite divine creation. She is beautiful, complex, eternal and fully flawed - that is why he loves her.
Yesterday I received one of those texts that we pastors hate - the "I love you and am so grateful for all you have done for me but I have decided to go to the other church" kinda texts. The backdrop is that this is a young dating couple that I walked through their pain. I don't want to dishonor them with the detail but it was a very heartbreaking journey for them to face the full weight of their pain and the reality of their breakup.
What makes it so painful is how much one grows to love these precious people. The deep love you begin to develop for your "sheep", is hard to describe really. It is not like someone leaving your company for a better job. This is family! This is what we are building. I despise the "church as business" model. It is so cultural but not culturally neutral. It is biblically incompatible. It is oil and water. It simply does not mingle.
We love so deeply. We walk these precious people through their pain. We pray, we lie awake at night, we cry out to God for wisdom. We spend hours meeting with them in person, plus emails, calls and texts...because we love them. This is not "butts in chairs to make me look good". This is a father's heart to help them find their future, then craft the key steps toward their future, then aid them in walking into their future. That is what we do and that is why it hurts so deeply.
When the Father spoke to me about the church as a boot camp, I had recently left the South African army as an infantry officer. This phrase meant something to me. Add to this the familial hermeneutic that has so gripped my lenses, and that I love being a father...it all made sense to me.
As with my children, my fatherly assignment is to get them ready to leave home. Raise them up to stand on their own feet, then release them to their global assignment, just as God said to the first parents - Adam and Eve..."increase, multiply, fill the earth".
Both family, boot camp and the church is to raise your kids up to leave home or ready your new recruits for a life on deployment or "equip the saints for the work of the ministry" - "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the world".
These are beautiful pain moments. Walking my daughters down the aisle, to marry their man, then to change their name, on this marital mission, is a beautiful pain - and you pay for their goodbyes. That is family at her most celebratory, white dress, romantic setting, delicious cuisine and many tears followed by crazy dancing (esp uncle so and so and embarrassing auntie so and so, in their full 1990's regalia)
Our dream was to empty the church every 5 years. That was enough time to ready people for mission. This "beautiful pain" of fond farewells is as true to New Testament Christianity as is miracles and church planting. Everyone leaves the church - on assignment, in rebellion, or in a box!
But those who leave for other reasons cause such "ugly pain". A pastor told me recently that the average American Christian attends a Sunday service approximately 1.8 times per month. They perceive that to be normal commitment . I find that extraordinary. He then told me that folks leave their local church "family" every 18 months to 3 years. Isn't that tragedy? We talk family but live divorce. We are so easily offended and move on so readily and then wonder why the church is so weak, so defeated, so divided. This is "ugly pain" indeed.
My dear pastoral cadre, we don't have a choice, do we? This "ugly pain" is in our glove compartment. As they left Jesus. As they left Paul, so will they leave us. Other pastors will offer them a better gig and they will go. Other churches will offer them more money or a paid gig, and they will go. We will unwittingly offend them and they will go. The endless seduction by other places and people, in a culture of business-like church, is so saddening, as ones we love, are wined and dined away. And then on a whim, they will just leave. This is brutal pain. Ugly pain!
But I have chosen to live with that pain. The alternative of leaving vocational ministry is not an option. I have nowhere else I want to go. This is where He wants me, no matter what the pain might be. The drift towards a professional ministry is not an option. I simply cannot close my heart off and be a distant vicar.
There is grace for this gig. My dear fellow soldiers, we have nowhere else to go. We need to fight to live with privilege of this pain - both beautiful and ugly, loving deeply, no matter what the cost may be. Guarding our precious hearts, so we can continue to love in all the mystery and wonder of this gorgeous bride is essential. This is our grand assignment. She is his and we are her servants.
"For the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions...
to purify for himself a people for his possession
who are zealous for good works" Titus 2:11 + 14