by Dave Miller
Have you ever noticed how many weird, messed-up, difficult people God saves? I could start a forum in the comments and we could share stories about the odd people we’ve encountered in our ministries, couldn’t we?
- People with mental and emotional difficulties.
- People with severe relationship dysfunction.
- People whom life has deeply injured.
- People with skeletons in their closet they don’t want anyone to ever know about.
- People who can’t handle the stresses of life.
- People whose lives are a constant emotional Hiroshima.
- People who leave a swath of destruction behind them wherever they go.
Then, a “normal” family joins your church, one that has it all together and you are relieved. You scratch the surface of fellowship and find out that the only normal in that family is the setting on their dryer.
Wouldn’t it be great if the church of Jesus Christ was made up of nothing but emotionally healthy, socially adept, personally winsome, and relationally desirable people? Honestly, I think I’d pastor a church like that for FREE! Well, probably not – I’ve grown accustomed to eating and paying the mortgage, so I probably couldn’t swear off my salary altogether! But I’d sure feel guilty when I deposited the check.
In reality, though, that is almost never the case. God’s people are redeemed, cleansed, bound for glory, infinitely loved, and still brutally dysfunctional. The sin that we are born in, that we wallow in for so much of our lives does not relinquish its hold easily. It leaves its mark on our lives and on the churches we gather in.
I am afraid that churches miss the boat here. We try hard to be country clubs of normalcy, places where the emotionally healthy can gather for a respite from the messed up people of the world.
NO! NO! NO! It is more than a cliche that a church is a hospital for sinners. Jesus invades the lives of messed up folks and begins to redeem them. BEGINS! The church is the place where people who are in the process of transformation gather. Since they are in that process, that means that they bring with them the baggage of the past. The church becomes a baggage collection center.
Yes, pastor, you’d like your church to function neatly and smoothly. You can have that if you keep out all the people who really need to be ministered to.
I was reading the story of David’s flight from Saul last night and a verse struck me, 1 Samuel 22:2.
And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.
That was quite a bunch David gathered around him, wasn’t it? Men who were in distress – messed up, frazzled, stressed out. I’ll bet they were all pleasant to be around, weren’t they? Men who were in debt. Because not being able to pay your bills is always something that puts you in a good mood, right? Men who were “bitter in soul.” Wow. That sounds like a great bunch of men to work with, doesn’t it?
These were the kind of men who made James MacDonald decide that congregational government was satanic!
Jesus would have failed every leadership course you’ve ever taken! “Surround yourself with solid, capable leaders,” we are told. But Jesus did the opposite. He surrounded himself with misfits, malcontents and knuckleheads. When you read the gospels, the disciples come off more as the Keystone Cops than as the foundational leaders of a worldwide movement.
This is a fundamental church principle. Church, done right, is always going to be messy. Maybe one of the problems with the Southern Baptist Convention today is that we’ve become so respectable! But the church is God’s refuge for messed up, sin-burdened people who are in the process of transformation. The country club mentality has to go.
You are called to God’s ER, not to Augusta National. You want to sit in your office in peace and study, then preach sermons to people who jot down notes and apply everything, who walk in the Spirit always, who always treat one another with respect and never misbehave? I hear Stepford Baptist is looking for a pastor.
Real ministry is hard. As morals and families break down, the dysfunction in people’s lives grows worse. When they enter the church, they bring that with them. Your ministry will be hard, messy, frustrating. You will have to turn the other cheek, love your enemies, endure hardship, insult and betrayal, make ministry about Christ and others, not about yourself.
In this world, ministry is not for wimps.
Wouldn’t it be great if only functional people were part of the Body of Christ? But wait a minute.
If all the churches were functional there’d be no place for dysfunctional pastors like us!
Dave Miller serves as senior pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa.