eCare - The Impotence of Cymbal Clanging

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eCare - The Impotence of Cymbal Clanging

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Dear Friends in Christ,

In last week’s eCare I promised I would use this forum to speak about Jesus’ call for us to love one another and to be guided by Paul’s famous I Corinthians 13 text. I’ve had at least 3 conversations this week about upcoming weddings and I’ve been reflecting on how this biblical text on love is so universally associated with the marriage ceremony. My guess is that in almost 200 weddings I have performed 90% included a reading of I Corinthians 13, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

What is important to note, however, is that the original purpose of I Corinthians 13 was not to provide a sweet reading and challenge to couples in the process of tying the knot. The Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, identified love as the antidote to struggle, party-spirit and strife in the life of that local congregation.

The church in Corinth had all kinds of internal stressors and was in danger of busting up. Eating foods offered to idols, incest, lawsuits between Christians, improper celebration of the Lord’s Supper and so much more had brothers and sisters in the church at odds with each other. What was the solution? The answer, typical in any age, would be “leadership.” What a church in that condition needed was a leader whose words had the sound of heaven, whose preaching was powerful, whose knowledge was unquestioned, whose faith was unshaken and whose life was exemplary in stewardship! Rarely is thought given to the improbability of those characteristics being incarnated in one individual.

But, as important as any and all of these things are in a church leader they are neither the sole builder of unity in the congregation nor do they serve as the antidote to strain, struggle and strife. What does build unity in the congregation and what does remedy division in the body is love.

Over the years I have been privileged to receive affirmation for my leadership of the congregation through the potential minefields of the departure of a portion of the congregation to establish another church, the separation from our former denomination, a capital campaign and the departure of staff members. It has been a real ego-boost to hear my gifts for ministry affirmed in, sometimes, rhapsodic terms. But vision, wisdom, pastoral sensitivity and skill in communication is so much gong-noise and cymbal-clanging in the absence of “a still more excellent way” – the way of love.

Without love we are nothing, we gain nothing and we have nothing. That is not to say that skills in pastoral ministry account for nothing in church leadership. When I assumed the senior pastor’s position many years ago my experience in ministry was as the solo pastor of a small church in Boston, an assistant’s position in New York and the solo pastor’s position in the Oklahoma oilfield. I had very little pastoral leadership expertise. However, the congregation loved the Lord, loved me and the congregation loved one another and, as the electronic church sign just up the street declared this week “Love Wins!”

Of course, that didn’t mean that some people weren’t disappointed in their new pastor; they were. Some also found me to be a cold New Yorker, others said I couldn’t preach and still others thought I was misplaced in the ministry altogether. And so, over the years, people left, some, it seemed, with love in their hearts and some without, though only the Lord knows.

The point is that everyone has his/her own idea of what pastoral leadership looks like, how a church staff should be comprised and what directions the ministry should take in the future. With divergent opinions, strong personalities and the Damocles Sword of people threatening/planning to leave the church if things don’t go exactly as they’d like or think they should the possibilities of strain, stress and strife are clear and present dangers faced by our congregation.

Strong leadership on the part of our Staff Leadership Team and Session is truly called for in our day and time. But nothing is better, stronger, more effective or divine than that we love one another. What that means in the particulars is the subject of future eCares.

Two things to keep in mind as the weekend approaches: First, there is still opportunity to attend the Grand Parenting Matters seminar here at Beverly Heights on Saturday, 9 AM-3 PM. Simply come and register at the door and enjoy what is promised to be an encouraging and helpful event for those of us privileged to care for grandchildren of our own or others.

Secondly, this Sunday is Pentecost Sunday on which we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit and the formation of the Christian church. Join with your church family in prayers of invocation for the Holy Spirit to come among us that we may have the love of God which is the fruit of the Spirit’s presence in and among us, that our church might continue to thrive and bring glory to our great and majestic God.

Faithfullyl in Him,

Rick