We had been told that we should keep a distance between ourselves, and the people in the church. The reasoning seemed to be sound enough. The purpose was to keep us from getting hurt by church members who would later leave, or those who might discover how human we really are, and then later use it against us.
It was a philosophy of ministry which seemed prevalent at the time I began pastoring. Yet, somehow I could never bring myself to accept it as gospel. It is a convenient theory of leadership. It sets me apart from the people, and elevates me to a less vulnerable position. It establishes an “air of holiness.” (After all, distance is to a great degree, our view of holiness – i.e. set apart.) It keeps me from becoming close to those who potentially could hurt me the greatest. And, we do know, that those who are closest to us, hurt us the most.
This philosophy of ministry could have kept me from dying a thousand deaths, if I had followed it, but I did not. I have been cursed by those to whom I gave the most. There have been people who we have helped financially, with our personal, and limited resources, who have joined sides with our enemies. Others we have befriended have left without saying thank you, or even goodbye. We have had the best of friends turn, and leave over issues which were really their own personal problems. People we have trusted, have turned others against us, and even lied to further their evil cause, of getting people on “their side.”
Why didn’t I listen to the pundits who told me to keep my distance from the people? Why didn’t I heed their warnings, and save myself from a thousand deaths? Because, I thought they were wrong then. I know they are wrong now.
Jesus “came to His own, and His own received Him not.” He chose 12 disciples, and one of them was a devil. He picked three of the 12 to share His most intimate and difficult moments, and one of those three denied Him.
How can I expect ministry to be anything more, or anything less, than the example set by Jesus? True ministry is going to hurt sometimes. I will die, but so did He. The purpose of the ministry of Christ was to restore the broken relationship between men and God. As intimacy with God is revived, relationships with people are expected to improve as well.
Jesus came to break walls down, not to set them up. Why then, would I establish my ministry on a principle, which sets me apart from others? I am convinced, that the largest part of the position of a pastor is relational. Anything short of this, falls short of Christianity.
Unfortunately, we are keeping our distance from that which offers us the greatest comfort, and that which promises the fullest life. Giving up our lives is what Christianity is all about. Our knee-jerk response to flee from the pain caused by close relationships in the church, is our attempt to save our lives. It will backfire. The scripture promises: those who save their lives will lose them instead. There is personal loss, when we try to set ourselves apart from the people in our churches. It is, probably more often than we could guess, the reason for what has been called “the lonely whine of the top dog.”
There is a sense that we are all alone, and that no one cares, when we minister from a distance. There is loss in the church itself, when we model non-relational Christianity. What you feed your people is what you make your people. An apparently uncaring leader will develop an uncaring church. A relational and loving leader will create a relational and loving church. The overall tone of the church will never be something different than the leadership model they follow. There is even a loss in the power of the church to be a witness to the community if ministry is not modeled through relationships. We are told that the world will know that we are Christians by the love we have one for another.
Don’t keep your distance from people because it hurts. It will hurt worse in the long run if you do. Like Paul, we pastors die daily, but we rejoice eternally. In the small church, this is all the more true. Our ministry is relational because we deal with people one-on-one, or in small groups. We make friends, and we get hurt. But, I will gladly die a thousand deaths that I may gain a million lives.
Phil Wyman, pastor of Church on the Coast in Carlsbad. If you have any questions or responses, or if there is a subject you would like to see addressed, write to him at 4740 Dalea Pl. Oceanside, CA 92057 (e-mail [email protected]).