Friday, October 15, 2010

An Open Letter to the Laity for Clergy Appreciation Month

To my Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the Laity~

Grace and peace to you in the Name of our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

I write this as it is Clergy Appreciation Month and I am a presbyter in an historic faith, Anglicanism. I have served parishes for over twenty years. Prior to that I sat in the pew for thirty years just like you! So I know what it is like to be both a layperson and a priest. I also know what it is like to be a false convert and a true convert. So this epistle is to you who sit in the pew every Sunday.

As a pastor I ask that you remember a few things about your role in the church as well as the role of your clergyperson.

1. Your pastor is not the only minister. We are all ministers. Each and everyone of you has been given peculiar gifts to serve Christ. So do not expect your pastor to do all the work necessary for your parishes' mission. This is not a new concept. St. Paul addressed it in his First Letter to the Corinthians. By the way, nothing I say here is going to be new!

2. Your pastor is a human being. To put it in theological terms, He or she is a wretched sinner. It is the blood of Christ that washes our sins away, not the office we hold in church. And by the way, you are a wretched sinner as well. No matter how many coffee hours you have hosted, committees served, flowers bought, there is only on thing that can get you into heaven, and that is the cross of Christ.

3. The Cross of Christ is not made of gold, silver, brass or poly-resin. It is wood drenched in blood. Jesus bore the punishment we deserve. See #2 above.

4. Preachers are called to preach the cross of Christ. A good sermon is defined by the heart of the hearer being convicted of sin and receiving the gift of repentance from the Lord. A changed heart is a changed person. This is a lifelong process. So in the meantime, do not judge the sermon by the number of laughs the preacher gets. Nor judge the sermon by it's length. If you are looking at your watch because you have someplace to be, then ask yourself, "What priority do you give God in your life?" In the Church, and everywhere else in life, the most important person to bow down to is Jesus, Lord and Savior!

5. The words "pastor" and "pastoral" do not refer to being nice. Nor do they refer to social work or therapy. A pastor pastors a flock. The image is a shepherd leading his sheep to green pastures and still waters. In my tradition we have bishops. In a liturgical procession, they carry a crosier, a bishop's staff. This represents the staff shepherds carry to prod the sheep along or pull them in a direction necessary for their growth and safety. See Psalm 23. And if your asking what is the rod that is mentioned in the psalm, it is the club to keep wolves at bay. Pastoring involves pulling and prodding the flock towards the Word of God. This means that there will be times a very good sermon or bible study will make you feel uncomfortable. All because we are being coaxed to greener pastures for the sake of our salvation. And by the way, the true shepherd of the flock is Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

6. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Hence, He is shepherding us in our lives. He is not sitting on the couch oblivious to our needs. God has a will for each and everyone of us and He will move us in the direction we need to go in order that we may conform to His image he has for us. Very seldom do we complain when we are happy. But we tend to complain a lot when we are unhappy. Our unhappiness maybe related to our own willfulness, self-centeredness. If we are truly bound to Christ we will go where He takes us. If we lose a job, maybe that was part of God's plan. Not because He is mean, but it is a part of our growth process. In other words, " all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." (Romans 8:28-30) We as pastors are called by the grace of God to help you see God working in your life, shepherding you to the Good Shepherd.

7. Being in church does not make you anymore a Christian than being in a garage makes you a car. When we die we will face the judgment of our life. The judge will not ask you what your pastor did. He will tell you what you did and His word will be final. So do not blame your pastor for things you should be taking responsibility for anyway. Blaming entered our world the moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. And look what happened to them. Take responsibility for your negative emotions. See #2 and #6 above. If someone leaves the congregation because of something they did not like, do not blame the pastor unless the pastor is a false teacher.

8. Read the Scriptures. Attend Bible Study. Listen faithfully to the Word preached. Take responsibility for your daily diet of the Word. In this way you will know the Word of Truth. And this makes it easier to understand when the leader of the congregation must exhort and rebuke the congregation in matters of the faith. (2 Tim. 3:16) The Word of God is our final authority. Also you will be able to recognize the wolf in sheep's' clothing. (Mt. 7:15)

9. Understand that when you read the Word of God, that God gives us commands not suggestions. He never said, "When you feel like it, love your neighbor." Nor did Jesus say from the cross, "Father forgive them but only after I get my way with them." Love is a command. Forgiveness means I have to accept the hurt I feel not seeking revenge. The biblical phrase from the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us, and lead us not into temptation" (Luke 11:4ESV) means that we recognize our own forgiveness through that bloody cross and that we will not make people owe us anything when we are offended. We still hurt, but we will not hurt others "to get even". The temptation that we pray to be protected from comes immediately after this petition as Satan will tempt us to get even. If you fantasize about revenge, that is Satan tempting you. Take responsibility for your thoughts and rebuke Satan in the Name of Jesus! Remember, Jesus is our Lord, not our feelings. Going back to Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, people who live out their feelings were called carnal. Those who live in obedience to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, were called spiritual. There are works of the flesh and there are fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25) You will notice the works of the flesh involve a lot of feelings. The Spirit produces fruits of attitude. Remember, the Holy Spirit produces these in us, we cannot manufacture them. So when I am convicted of my sin and sins, I must throw myself upon the mercy of Jesus Christ, my redeemer. And this goes for everyone in the church.

10. And finally, do not ask your pastor to be something he or she is not. This is idolatry. They are not your parent, therapist, buddy. We cannot be like the last pastor who proceeded us. We are all unique. Remember all the people called by God in ages past who were used to fulfill God's plan of salvation. Noah was a drunk. Moses was a murderer and inarticulate. King David was a murderer and adulterer. Jonah was obstinate. Peter was a liar and a poor fisherman. In spite of his education, Paul was complicit in the murder of many a new Christian, and by his own admission wasn't his own choice to be an apostle. But the majority of the New Testament was written by his own pen. By no means do I believe we can excuse murder and adultery as the Ten Commandments are quite clear about that. And we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and lead us to repentance. But we are not perfect and God does not call perfect people to the ministry. He calls whom He wills! And you are not perfect. But just the same, you are called to join with your pastor to fulfill the Great Commission, making disciple of all peoples. This can best be done by being a disciple, sitting at the feet of Jesus, and setting an example to be followed by others!

So this month, pray for your clergy that they be the person God needs them to be, not the person you want them to be. And remember, they have a holy charge to watch over your souls! (Hebrews 13:7-10, 17)

God bless you,

Your Brother in Christ, a sinner in need of a Redeemer!

Allen. T. Peyton, III+