(This will be my last post this week. I'm leaving town for a few days to recoup from workshop-mania!)
When one has been around a single congregation as long as I have, there are so many enormous discoveries over time. I am like the prospector who really strikes gold. I keep finding huge chunks of "value learning". Such discoveries are part of what keeps me young, hungry, and ambitious for kingdom life.
Memorial Drive became a different church when I quit preaching brotherhood issues and began to preach about Jesus. For my first few years the church was in a bothered tizzy. It was always agitated about something. Upon every annual anniversary of moving here, I evaluate my work and pretend I just moved to town to replace myself. I would ask myself, What if Walling or Harris or Atchley were to move to Memorial? What would they do to improve the place? And then I would set out to measure what I needed to do to improve my work.
One year I discovered this major discrepancy in my preaching. The reason the church was grouchy was because it had an irritant in the pulpit....me. I kept fanning the flames of frustration. When I transitioned to preaching about Jesus some of the grouches didn't get happier but they discovered I would not fuel their need to argue. Jesus calls us to focus upon the Father's business; not the shallow waters of bickering.
I heard one of my elders comment on a guest speaker as to how kind and gentle the man was. The elder was not addressing me through the back door, but I picked up that this guest was kind and I wasn't. At first I wanted to deny it. But in replacing myself, I realized I didn't possess a gentle heart. I was reared in harshness, then converted to harshness in the church, and was instructed in harshness in preaching school. At first glance, for a man in the pulpit to be kind and gentle was cowardice "as we all need to take a strong stance".
Over time, I could see the wisdom in this elder's passing comment and the sheer lack within myself. Memorial's pulpit is no longer perceived by me as a bunker from which I toss grenades. It is a place where family gathers and hears the scandalous and courageous love of Jesus. Just as He desired, I try to gather Memorial under my wings as a hen does her chicks. The fun part of this story is.....they cheerfully gather.
All preachers and elders might take a good look at the joy factor in their congregations. I believe it will reflect the identical joy factor of the leadership. We at Memorial believe Jesus when he said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. The carrot in front of us is His abundant life.....we want it!