As a pastor, I am called upon to do a lot of weddings. While marriage may not be as popular as it once was, there are still enough people who want to get married and who want to have the ceremony in a church with a real minister that I am quite familiar with the wedding process. In all of the available ceremony booklets that I know of, part of the commitment the couple makes to each other is a commitment to be there for each other in both the good and bad time–often expressed with the phrases such as , “in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse”.
These marriage commitments also provide a good basis for Christian community. Real community forms around a willingness to accept people as they are–for better or worse. From the perspective of a person entering the community, this means they need to be willing to offer the community their best and their worst, their strength and their weakness.
In the last post we looked at the difficulties of offering our best to the community. And as hard as that can be, it is made easy when we compare it to the difficulty of offering the community our weakness. We generally don’t want to deal with our weakness ourselves, let alone offer it to a group of people.
I am a pastor and so I enter a Christian community with certain expectations–some that I have and some that the community has. Often, the expectations involve the pastor having it all together–or at least being able to appear to have it all together. I expect to offer the community my gifts, my wisdom, my insight–my strengths. I used to expect that I was supposed to act as if I didn’t have weaknesses or needs–my job was to be the pastor, the one to help the rest of the congregation deal with their needs.
Good Christians don’t have needs. Their faith is strong and effective; their prayers are all they need for any less than perfect area of life; they are to make a net positive contribution to the community. Good Christians have no fear of offering their best to the community and the community gratefully accepts it.
But none of us, not even we who are pastors, has only good and positive. And to be the real, honest, effective Christian community that God has in mind for the church, we need to be willing to include our weaknesses in the offering of ourselves to the community. And for many of us that is really hard.
I can remember as a beginning pastor believing that I could and should do anything that the church needed to have done: preaching, teaching, visiting, counselling, painting the building, solving all problems, singing in the choir, doing evangelism–I was the pastor. I worked with church people who were equally positive and hard working. None of us struggled with depression; none of us were dealing with family issues; none of us were grieving some loss; none of us had problems. In fact, the rare times when one of us admitted a problem, all of us were shocked and deeply concerned, feeling that perhaps that person was losing their faith.
But as I continued in ministry, I began to admit the truth. I wasn’t perfect and neither were the deacons, the choir, the trustees, the laity in the pews. We all had something contribute–but we also all needed something. And as I began to recognize and accept and speak my limits and needs, I began to discover that far from being an outcast, I was helping a real community develop. I might not be able to sing–but there were people who could. I might not be able to avoid bouts of depression–but there were people who would pray for me when I was depressed and even more, who would still listen to my sermons and my teaching. In fact, they listened even more because my willingness to share my needs allowed them to offer their help–and between us, we developed a stronger community.
The Christian community needs my strengths–but I need the strengths of the Christian community. Offering the community both my strengths and weaknesses allows all of us to grow and develop and become the believers and the community that God has in mind.
May the peace of God be with you.