1 Tim. 1:5 (ESV)
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
In the past I have often heard people express the reason for leaving a particular congregation or church body saying: “I just didn’t leave feeling good about myself.” I haven’t always known what to make of that. On the one hand, I have to agree with the standard response to that sort of sentiment, that church shouldn’t be about feeling good about yourself. In fact, I’d encourage you not to attend a church that makes you feel good about yourself. We are all sinners, and when we contemplate ourselves there is nothing there to feel good about. However the gospel is something to feel good about. The Gospel is there to deliver a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. A person should be able, at least every once in a while, leave church feeling good, feeling joyous. Why else would we sing in the offertory week after week, “Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me…restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” And that is the rub as far as I see it.
A pastor may be able to hide behind defensive barriers and say church isn’t about feeling good about yourself, true enough. There is also this though, people would not be complaining about not feeling good about themselves if they were being made to feel good about the gospel. The gospel is joyous news, and if it is being preached right it ought to create a joyous atmosphere. It ought to leave people with pure hearts and good consciences. So rather than standing behind defensive barriers complaining that the people haven’t expressed themselves in the most orthodox use of language, (which fault might also be the pastor’s btw.) one might take the opportunity himself to stand under God’s law and examine himself, to see if he is preaching the gospel, or has become one of those who is expounding upon the law without understanding what they say or do. One might ask themselves if they have applied God’s law and gospel to themselves, or let another do it.
Pastor’s need law and gospel preached to them, applied to them too. We need to hear that our sins are forgiven too, and it helps if the person telling us this has been placed in that sacred office we also hold. Sure we can hear it from laymen. But it is also nice to hear it from one with a charge from Christ through His church to proclaim it, to declare it, who has been given the authority and responsibility of the pastoral office to do so. Pastors need to hear the gospel. It is good for the pastor to have the Holy Spirit working on him in law and gospel, being cut open and slain with the law, and resurrected to new life in the gospel. It is good for the pastor too, to be restored to the joy of salvation. For where this happens, the congregation will have it happen too.
It is probably true that we won’t always hit the mark with everyone. Pastors themselves might not always feel the joy of salvation, even as they know it is a reality. Church isn’t all about feelings, and yet it shouldn’t negate them either. We are Christians not stoics. We embrace emotion even as Christ embrace emotion in this life. We might not always be happy. We may have days of melancholy, there are sad times too, but through it all there is the joy of salvation in Christ, and where that is these other emotions can be embraced too without fear. Pure hearts and good consciences will know the joy of salvation even amid times of profound sadness. And where they are delivered people will not be complaining about not feeling good about themselves because they will have been directed to feel good about other things, the good news of Christ crucified, the assurance of salvation in his resurrection. And this will be most true for the pastor, who may finally come to terms with his preaching and here his sheep, but finds comfort in the gospel that even saves pastors, the worst sinners of them all, and forgives even lousy sermons. For Christ justifies even the ungodly. For when the aim of the charge hits home, even the pastor will be given a pure heard and a good conscience, and the love that issues therefrom will kindle that faith also in others and give them the same. It is that contagious.