Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers authorities powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
- Ephesians 6:12
In one of his final conversations before his death and resurrection, Jesus told his disciples he would return to earth someday with power and great glory, and the earth as we know it will pass away (Matthew 24: 30, 35). Though he also said, no one knows that day and hour, some in every generation study the 24th chapter of Matthew and related Scriptures, and then announce when this literal, earthshaking event will occur.
Though I believe, in Gods time, this Scripture will be fulfilled, Ive never been tempted to put my life on hold, and wait for that sweet chariot to swing lowand carry me home. Nor have I joined those who concentrate so much on the end times that they neglect to live in the present - until now.
Its not just the wars and rumors of wars Jesus said must come first, or even that the Valley of Megiddo, where the great battle of Armageddon is prophesied to take place (Revelation 16:12-16), is in the increasingly volatile Middle East. Neither is it the famines and earthquakes, rising Christian persecution or declining morality. Its not even the political polarization that threatens to shipwreck our own government and sink hopes for peace in the world. No, its all these things together and one more: the erosion of the church from within and the weakening of the means to right all the other wrongs.
I have a heavy heart. If it were just one congregation, one resigned pastor, or one person asking me to pray about the problems in our church, I wouldnt be so alarmed. But I cant recall a similar time when the body of Christ has experienced this much turmoil. And I dont mean out there somewhere, but right here.
This may be a trivial example, but a few Sundays ago when our church needed a substitute organist while I was away, it took nine tries before we found another musician, because the other eight were serving somewhere else or otherwise unavailable. About the same time, I was contacted by another church to play for a wedding because our pianist has just resigned. I draw two conclusions from this experience: There arent enough of us to go around anymore; and contention over church music today is driving church musicians away. Yet, as one embroiled organist was recently told, You think you have problems? Just imagine what your pastor is going through.
Sadly, I can think of a half-dozen pastors who have recently left their churches, and more contemplating the same move. Its not worth it anymore, said one. I thought I was called to the ministry, but the stress, the factions, the personal attacks are becoming too much to bear.
In many churches, including my own, October is Clergy Appreciation Month. According to the Web site, www.parsonage.org, Pastors and their families live in a fishbowl, face unrealistic expectations, and are never supposed to burn out or be depressed. Church members, therefore, are asked to do something specific for their pastors this month, such as send encouraging notes, provide meals and pray for their well-being.
I do hope pastors all across the area will be flooded with kindness this month, but the Apostle Paul didnt tell the Church to be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32) just one month out of the year.
Writer C.S. Lewis believed with St. Paul that the answer to the dilemma of the church today is for the membership to be transformed (Romans 12:2) from what he calls contented worldliness. Simply put, dont be so concerned about budgets, buildings or pet peeves about your pastors performance that you neglect the heart of the Gospel or the rest of Ephesians 4:32: and be tenderhearted, forgivingeven as God, through Christ, has forgiven you.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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