This is an exciting week in the life of Stevens Street Baptist Church. This Sunday we will have the opportunity to call a new pastor for the first time in twenty years. The candidate will be arriving at our church this evening to begin a series of meet-and-greets with the congregation, and he’ll be preaching on Sunday.
With everything that’s going on, the church has been on my mind more than usual lately. Whenever that happens, it’s easy to criticize. Our church makes an easy target, because, like every local church, she’s imperfect. We’re a messed up congregation full of messed up people. There are some things I wish we’d do or teach differently, and people in the church sometimes aggravate me (though perhaps not as much as I probably aggravate them). It’s a family, after all, and sometimes family members get on each other’s nerves!
The thing is, intellectually I know that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” church; that every congregation has its faults. But under extra scrutiny, like Stevens Street is under right now, the flaws seem rise to the surface, and it’s more tempting than ever to become frustrated or cynical.
You know what I’ve found, though? If I pay close attention, the things I love most about my church are most apparent during times of testing, too. So this morning I thought I’d share just a few of the things I like best about our church!
- Filled With Love — Like I said: we’re family! I love these people, and love spending time with them. My wife and children love them, and we have been loved by them. Furthermore, this is a group of people who love and serve our community in many ways. Best of all, this is a congregation marked by a love for the Lord, a love for his Word, and a love for doing His will.
- Led With Integrity — Sure, I have my occasional differences with the men who lead our church, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a group of men I respect more. Submission is supposed to a joy, so I am glad to be able to submit myself to leaders that I trust. Also, it may surprise you to learn that sometimes (maybe even often?) when we disagree, it turns out that I’m the one who is wrong! I am grateful to be led by men who are able and willing to provide a stern yet loving rebuke to provide me with much needed correction. They do this because they love me and desire good for me. It’s no accident that Stevens Street is such a loving church; we’ve had this love consistently modeled by those God has placed in authority over the Body, as they submit themselves to Jesus Christ its Head!
- Strong Where I Am Weak — I’ve listed it last, but this may be the most important thing here. An honest self-evaluation reveals that the two greatest weaknesses in my personal spiritual life are probably the two greatest strengths of our congregation. I don’t pray well, or nearly enough, and I am not a very merciful or “missional” person. But Stevens Street is a praying church and a going church. Being surrounded by prayer warriors who desire to take God’s Word around the world while meeting physical and spiritual needs in our local community is a constant encouragement to me. It helps me grow in the areas where I most need growth. I’ve also found that thinking about the church in this way helps me to see the “differences” (at least the ones where I’m not boneheaded and wrong!) as opportunities to use my gifts to love and serve others. It should be no surprise to realize that perhaps Christ has made me strong where others are weak so that I have something to contribute to the growth of my fellow church members, just as they have contributed so much to my own growth.
I look very much forward to meeting our pastor candidate this weekend, and to a hopefully long and fruitful gospel ministry with him. I don’t know much about him (though I have read his book), but there are some things I know for certain. He’s going to be imperfect, and we’ll probably have a few differences, but if I see these differences as opportunities for growth and not for criticism, the end result will be a stronger personal walk with the Lord, and a stronger bond with my church family. And that’s a reason to be excited!
P.S. — Here are two things that I’ve read recently that have helped shape my thinking in this area: