Becoming Velcro for Good News
“I thank my God every time I remember you…” (Philippians 1:3)
This afternoon, I have just come home from a congregational meeting to dissolve a pastoral relationship. It was not an easy meeting. It concluded over three weeks of difficult conversations to work out the terms. But it resulted from hard work on the part of many people who loved the church. Those who thought the pastor should stay and those who thought the pastor should leave may have disagreed on what was best, but they agreed they wanted the best. And they put it long hours to reach agreement.
Last Sunday I gave the charge at the installation of a new pastoral relationship. It was a joyful and hopeful occasion. But it too came from long hours from many people working to help the church emerge from a difficult season.
Especially for leaders, church life can be emotionally strenuous. We come seeking respite. Instead, we often find ourselves exchanging work or home politics for church politics. At those moments, it is easy to focus on the problems. It is easy to complain.
At the pastors’ retreat in late January, speaker Laurie Ferguson cautioned against two very human tendencies. First, we tend to repeat patterns of thought until they become habitual. And second, we tend to focus on the negative. “We are Velcro for bad news,” she said, “and Teflon for good news.”
I recognized myself in Laurie’s words. I approach Presbytery life assuming all should go by the book. I get disappointed when it doesn’t. And then I dwell on the “problem people” who get in the way. I become Velcro for bad news. But what if I started making a practice of seeing the good news and harboring it instead?
In response to Laurie’s caution, I have found myself rethinking the demanding places in my work. Yes, congregational struggles require a great deal of attention. But they have also revealed faithful servants of the Church, servants for whom I am extremely grateful.
I think of the COM liaisons who have spent uncounted hours helping congregations sort out their tangles. Some of them have handled the straightforward-but-time-intensive work of helping PNCs in searching for new pastors. Others have struggled through the formula-resistant challenges of restoring congregations’ trust in Presbytery and finessing entrenched relational systems. I am grateful for them.
I think of the Session members and Pastor Nominating Committee members who have worked late nights to conclude pastoral relationships and initiate new ones. They have filled the pulpits and managed the properties. They have carried their congregations forward, sometimes for years, until the right person comes. I am grateful for them.
I think of the special task forces who have worked for months to sort out churches’ disagreements, whether those disagreements be internal or with the Presbytery. I think of their sometimes-disheartening efforts, always coupled with a desire that the Gospel as we understand it would flourish. I think of their tenacity that has often produced a better solution than I could have predicted. I am grateful for them.
I think of pastors who have made the hard choice to stay when congregants turn up the heat, because they are convinced the church needs them to stay. I think of other pastors who have made the hard choice to leave, convinced that the church cannot resolve its conflicts as long as they are there. I am grateful—for both.
Most of these have done so with no quid pro quo in mind. They have done so merely out of a love for Christ’s body in their congregation and beyond. I am grateful.
Certainly, congregations and presbyteries include members driven by their own need for self-importance. John warns against the one in our midst who “likes to put himself first” (III John 9). Others seem entirely unable to hear another point of view. So not all energy directed toward the church is for its good.
But most leaders I have met really do want the best for the Church. Many have offered their “energy, intelligence, imagination and love” for the good of their own congregations and other congregations in Los Ranchos Presbytery. And for them all, I am grateful.
So this Lent, I’ll seek to starve the grouch inside. Instead, I’ll feed the good gremlins of gratitude, starting right here—as I think about you.
Somewhere along the Way—