By Nathaniel Gamble — My words below reference pastors, but my message is meant for all Seventh-day Adventists, including lay members and leaders. It is a stark-but-necessary wake-up call that we need to be more interested in passionately and deeply loving Jesus than in hating and bullying each other. According to Jesus, the clearest witness to his deity and union with God is the unity and love of the Church (cf. John 17). When we lack these attributes, we become the best evidence that Jesus isn’t real. By the mercies of God, let us embrace the Advent mission to love Him and each other.
I am the pastor of three churches: a dying church, a church that is missionally paralyzed, and a church that has been divided since its inception – which, unfortunately, describes a large number of our churches. For each of these churches, I have spent the last two years working on refocusing their attention on Jesus so that He can give them increased love for Him, increased missional purpose and activity, and increased unity, respectively.
But my ministerial efforts have met with frequent challenges. In addition to the usual fights among church members over congregational resources, positions, and power, I have faced more insidious pushback to my ministry for the last several months: threats of death or bodily harm from church members about every other week (recently down from once a week); parishioners undermining my pastoral authority and Christian witness to get their way; efforts to spread lies and misinformation about me to other Adventist congregations and even to people who are not members of our church; belligerent messages from a sizable minority in my churches to stop talking so much about Jesus; and a general unwillingness by many to change, give up control of their lives and their churches, and allow Jesus to shape them into passionate disciples.
All of this can be very depressing and discouraging for a pastor. So, what am I doing to respond to these challenges, and what can you do if you’re facing similar challenges in your churches?
First, focus on what you can change, not on what you can’t. You might have made mistakes in trying to deal with these issues, but you are not the problem; these issues existed in your churches long before you got there. You can’t control other people or these situations, but you can control how you will respond to other people and these situations.
Second, preach the gospel to yourself. You tell others God loves them and wants a relationship with them, so sit under your own preaching. Copiously remind yourself that. God loves you, He thinks you’re pretty great, and He wants to spend time with you. You are what He thinks of you, not what others think of you.
Third, turn your churches over to Jesus. Jesus is the senior pastor of your churches, not you, so get out of the way! We Adventists love Jesus, but we sometimes love other things even more. Only Jesus can give us greater love for Himself, which means Jesus needs to be in control of you, your ministry, your people, and your church.
Finally, share your struggles with others. If you trust your Conference, tell them; if you trust your pastor cluster group, tell them. Don’t share to vent or get advice. Instead, share with people who you know love and care about you, so that God can use them to love you through the dark times and unite their prayers for you with those of Jesus and the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8). And be thankful, which is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. God bless.
–Nathaniel Gamble is pastor in the Rocky Mountain Conference. Adapted from article initially published in RMC Pastor’s News, October 9.