We still wonder sometimes (read: most of the time) why God seems to be stretching out the church planting timetable until we are ready to break. And then He does something to let us know why.
Etta, except for a few college years in Arkadelphia, had never been just a church member. She had always been part of a staff family, even after we married. I started in the ministry when I was 20 but was not real knowledgeable of church goings-on prior to that. So, for both of our most vivid memory banks, we had been on the inside of decision making and saw all the behind-the-scenes activity that translated into church decisions. That all changed when we joined the church we attend. Now, though we occasionally hear some reasoning for decisions, for the most part, we are as in the dark as everyone else.
Then there is the whole “upset church member” thing. As part of the staff, as long as it wasn’t immoral or unbiblical, I supported the decisions of the pastor/staff and I never had to blow the whistle on immorality. I saw what was done and why and said, along with the rest of the staff, that it was what was best and folks could go along or get along.
But now, we understand how that feels to a church member:
We now know what it’s like to hear a result of an event spun to fit a particular mold or expectation.
We know what it’s like to have staff members fired (or asked to leave or given an untenable choice or whatever) and miss them and think they should still be here.
We know what it’s like to not be happy with a particular part of the church but love enough parts of it not to leave.
We know what it’s like to sit in the congregation some Sundays and be so prepared to hear from God that every word of the pastor is directed right at us.
We know what it’s like to sit in the congregation and be so blasé that it seems the pastor is mumbling in Swahili for all the effect it is having on us.
We know what it’s like for the actions of one or two to ruin the entire worship experience for us.
In short, we know what it is to be church members. Thank you, Lord, for the lesson. I pray it makes us better ministers when the time comes to lead a congregation. I’m afraid so many of today's ministers started when they were 20, never sat as an active member of a church (only as an air-headed teenager), and then have attempted to lead congregations with no real knowledge of how their actions effect the people in the pews.
I pray that other ministers, along with me, can admit that still God teaches and, I pray, still we learn.