Every once and awhile, God gives us an insight to help us understand a bit better who He has made us and why we are the way we are. Just such a thing happened to me late last year.
It's no secret to those who know me that one of the hardest things I deal with is people leaving my church. I know that part of it is an insecurity I have, and that I continue to pray about. And I know part of it is an intense love for the people that connect with us and join us...maybe TOO intense. (LOL) But the Lord helped me see a third reason...
He showed me for the first time something I never really realized: I've never just left a church in my life. That's right. I'm 42 years old and in my entire life, I've never walked into my pastor's office and told him what I've decided to do or just faded away. Never. (I've been fortunate I've not had to deal with any spiritually abusive situations.)
In fact, I've only been a member of 3 churches in my adult life: Gethsemane Baptist Church in Maryland, Abundant Life International here in Virginia, and Calvary Alliance/CRCC.
I left home for the Navy when I was 17 in 1987. Until shortly after I got married in 1992, even though we lived in Virginia we tithed to my church in Maryland, where I was given my first minister license. Finally, with my pastor's counsel and encouragement, we joined Abundant Life since it didn't look like I was ever going back to Maryland to live and my family needed a local church close to us. Donna (my wife) and I just had dinner with my pastor from Maryland recently, and he was at CRCC to preach a few years ago. Our relationship remains strong. I love him so much for all he did for my family when I was growing up.
Then after serving Abundant Life faithfully and being further trained in ministry, my pastor sent me to plant a church in 1997. When I began to feel like maybe God had called me to be with my current pastor and Calvary Alliance (2000-2001), I submitted that thought to my pastor with the understanding that he had the final call. I wasn't going anywhere if he didn't agree...and would have happily stayed until there was agreement...which in my mind would have been a clue to whether God was really leading me and if I was in God's timing. But he sent me quickly and with his blessing. In fact, he and I spoke about this just recently. He remarked that it was a hard decision on his part. I thanked him again. I preached at his church in 2010. Our relationship remains strong ten years later.
And then there is my current pastor whom I love with all my heart and to whom I'm committed until I meet Christ. These words probably sound crazy to some, but not to me: Faithful to Christ and His Word first, faithful to Donna and my children, faithful to my family, and faithful to my pastor and the people I lead. Without this mental and spiritual construct, my computer crashes. LOL!
So what is the point? God showed me that He wired me a certain way. NOT BETTER than anyone else...just different than some. The way people leave marriages, churches, friends...it just doesn't compute in my software. I try to process how people you've served with for years act like they don't know you and I get error messages. I try to imagine being disrespectul and dishonorable to my leaders and my screen goes dark. The thought of ever being without Donna and my children totally crashes my hard drive! LOL!
Now, having the privledge to serve other pastors has shown me that even pastors struggle with this! I'm amazed that we expect commitment from our congregations but sometimes don't seem to know how to demonstrate it. Amazing! :)
The Lord showed me that I struggle with this behavior in part because I'm not wired to do it to anyone else. Barring apostasy, blatant, unrepentant sin, or the systematic teaching of false doctrine, I'm just going to be there for my leader. The new things I learn I see as opportunities to bless those who lead me, and I'll wait patiently until I can. Disagreements are opportunities to grow closer in God's truth and learn together as long as integrity is intact and repentant hearts are present. To my programming, the relationship is more important than another pastor's program, building, gee whiz teaching, or laser light show. :)
Again, in our individual and consumer culture, this may all sound funny; but it's who I am. And I thank Christ for showing me because it has really helped me not only see myself better, but also to examine how this character trait could create undue pressure on people not wired like me. (For any who have felt that pressure, I was wrong and I repent!)
This post isn't about anyone, written against anyone, written to anyone, written to hurt anyone, and certainly isn't meant to press this into a doctrine or something. It's just about me. Feel free to disagree; it's really ok and we're still friends!
But as for me, I say to all the people I love....I ain't goin nowhere. :)