Thursday, June 26, 2014

They Went To Their Friends

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Act 4:23-31)
“When they were released, they went to their friends.” This line keeps coming back to me. It strikes me that Luke says they went to their friends. This was the relationship Peter and John had with this first congregation. They were friends. I guess it strikes me because when dealing with pastoral ministry it seems this is one of the biggest pitfalls. Pastors are often cautioned against developing friendships in a congregation. Familiarity breeds contempt they say. I suppose I understand that if you are an officer in the Prussian military. But it strikes me as odd, when Christ would call his disciples his brothers and his friends. People tell you to develop friendships outside of the congregation, and that is fine too. No reason why your friendships should be limited to your congregation. I dare say you would be hard pressed to do any sort of evangelism if you weren’t cultivating friendships outside the congregation. But at the same time, I find it easier to develop friendships with those who share my beliefs.
Being a pastor is more than a job.  It easily consumes your whole life. And to be honest, you wouldn’t become a pastor if your faith hadn’t already consumed your whole life. At least that is where most pastors start out, and I think for most where they end. But once you have those hands laid on you, you are a pastor 24/7, until you check out and even then… a retired pastor, still a pastor. You go on vacation and the people at the dinner table on the cruise ship are going to have you talking shop in no time. But you are still a human and like others, you need friends. Inside or outside the congregation. And it is natural that you are going to be closer to some than you are to others. This is true of everyone in the congregation. They have their own relationships.
But that ministry tends to consume your whole life that is a hard thing. I read an article the other day talking about the pitfalls in ministry. That only 1 in twenty who start ever retire. Only twenty percent of all pastors a content in the ministry. 1,500 pastors drop out of the ministry every month citing burnout and contention in their congregations. Most don’t actually last five years in the ministry. It seems like an easy job. It isn’t physically demanding which is part of the reason pastors tend to have waistlines not betraying a disciplined body marked by fasting… But it can take a toll on a person both mentally and spiritually. Yeah, spiritually. I wonder at times how many pastors actually believe in Christ after five years in the ministry. Those pastors that drop out of the ministry, how many of them do you think maintain the faith, easily find a place in the pew at another congregation on Sunday morning.  Christ knew what he was saying when he talked about putting the hand to the plow and counting the cost. There is a lot of wisdom in not letting the neophytes, new believers go into pastoral ministry. It shouldn’t be something decided over the weekend at youth camp when all the girls are fawning over the young youth pastor with the guitar.
It can be an incredibly discouraging occupation. No, perhaps you won’t experience the same as the apostles standing before the Sanhedrin and being threatened life and limb. No, for us in the west it will be faint praise… it will be silent rejection, it will be sharing the gospel time after time and seeing no result. It will be seeing a new family start attending church regularly, having all the kids be baptized, and then quit coming when football starts never to return. It will be criticism over a sermon you slaved hours over… not because of what it said, but what it didn’t say! It will be old ladies at church who think they know your job better than you, and would rather gossip than pray in their closets about their concerns. And then you are told not to have any friends in the congregation…. No, that is where the disciples were right. In their moment of discouragement they went and prayed with friends that they would continue to speak God’s word with all boldness, because that is what this job is about. It is to continue to speak God’s word with all boldness despite whatever results we may or may not see. And this is why God gives us friends. No one can be a Christian by themselves. To be a Christian is to be part of a community of friends, of brothers and sisters incorporated into the body of Christ. And this is true of the pastor too.

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