When Words Hurt

Most people when they see me probably think I don’t care what other people think. I have to admit, I project that. I have gotten better at letting things bounce off me and not stick, but the truth is I am a sensitive soul and I take things more personally than I should more times than not.

But what can really compound the hurt feelings for me is when I don’t know who is saying it. You see if someone disagrees with me or has a critique I want to engage them. I want to understand where they are coming from so I can better understand their disagreement or critique. I want to share with them why I am who I am or why I believe what I believe.

However, anonymity doesn’t allow for that. Every pastor gets them. You know those notes placed in the offering or slipped in the office mailbox. Those notes that critique. Those notes that say someone is not happy with you or the way you present yourself. Those notes that lack a signature or a name.

Those notes that carry with them a deeply cutting arrow that pierces the skin, the heart, the soul and leaves wounds at every level. When a name is attached you know that person. You have an experience with that person that helps you to understand where they are coming from. You can identify what is being said and possibly why it is being said. When there isn’t a name, it is like a buried land mine that you don’t see and all the sudden explodes leaving you writhing in pain. You didn’t see it coming. You don’t know how to avoid it. You don’t know what to do with that pain.

People always tell me those notes should just go into the trash can and be forgotten, but even in that action the words still hang. The words have already penetrated and hurt. Even seemingly harmless words carry so much damage when done anonymously.

Pastor Justin-
We have nothing against you as a person, but think more dignity should be shown at the 9 am service. Hanging onto a bottle (as a prop) during the sermon is not acceptable, nor is telling jokes during the service. As a pastor you should be properly dressed (shirt and tie)(no blue jeans) and lets put a little formality into going to church. Could you stand for the sermon?

I shouldn’t be so bothered from a note like this, but the words hurt. Mostly because it conveys a sense that person believes I don’t properly revere God at this worship service. It hurts because I can’t engage the person and explain and ask further questions. I can let go of most of these critiques because some of them aren’t even close to the norm (like what I wear which usually is what that person is wishing I wore (shirt, tie, khakis, and suit coat or sweater). What I can’t let go of is this: why can’t the person sign their name? Why can’t they engage in a conversation by owning their feelings? Why am I the one receiving the note when everything that has been leveled as a critique in this note also applies to the other minister? Why me?

In the end two things help me process these moments. (1) The realization that this person is more than likely writing from a place of uncomfortableness with the way church (and the world) has changed and longs to have the comfortable world they once knew back. This is their way of processing. (2) In these moments I have to remind myself that I serve God and that my faithful following of Christ and leading under God’s guidance is what matters. In these moments I have to remember that Christ looks beyond blue jeans, water bottles, humor, and sees my heart and knows where it stands. I have to remember that Christ loves me.

P.S. It kind of sucks to have this as the beginning of Holy Week sitting in your box, but in a way I needed it to really remind me of how much I depend on God’s love and how thankful I am for the way that God came down to show me and others what Agape looks like.

Disciples or Apostles?

So a question has been running through my head a bunch lately at it is this question:  Should the church be “making” disciples or apostles?
I put making in quotation marks because really I question the whole “making” language as truly (as many have said in the past and present) it is God who “makes” disciples and the church just helps in the process.
Okay, but seriously I am wondering if our language of discipleship basically gives us a bunch of passive learners/consumers.  I mean if I am supposed to be a disciple doesn’t that mean I am a learner or “pupil.” The images that come to my head when I explore that is a student at a desk just furiously taking notes and learning from the one who has the knowledge.  Sound a little familiar?  Many of my acquaintances and friends who are Christians often approach church in the same way:  they go to worship but also mainly to “learn” from someone who has a knowledge.  They want to know what they are to believe.
Our language doesn’t exactly challenge that notion even though most pastors I know cry about the lack of “ministry of all believers” being actively done.  Well what do we expect?  We say we are “making” disciples…. and what we are “making” is learners who need us (pastors, you know, who have the knowledge…even if that isn’t what we want).
I have been reading Jim Walker’s book Dirty Word, and a quote stuck out to me that connected with this thought running through my head.  He writes:

Koinonia isn’t something we talk about, read about, or sit and watch.  Koinonia is action; it’s what we do.  When I was learning to drive, I was told and I was shown.  I even got to use one of those driving-simulation machines in high school.  But it wasn’t until I actually got behind the wheel and hit the gas that I learned how to drive.  Does the church teach people to drive by putting them behind the wheel?  Do we help people experience the kingdom of God?  Or is church a big tour bus where everyone piles in, and there is one driver who points out the window at the kingdom of God, but no one actually gets to get out and experience it? (emphasis mine)

What a great picture that I feel captures some of my frustration.  To me it feels like our language of making disciples creates nothing more than tourists on the journey of life, hearing about the kingdom of God and believing it is there but not actually going out into the world and stepping off the bus to experience it.

But what if we were about “making” (loosely used) apostles.  You know apostles (definition: one sent on a mission), those people Jesus gathered and gave the command to in Matthew 28.  Maybe instead of living the command of the story we should enter into the story.  What if we were about intentionally saying that we are going to send people out?  You are here and we will help equip you and then we are sending you out:  you are an apostle!  Currently, we have the language of apostles but in most circles it is the “clergy” who are in the category of apostle.  What greater way to reinforce the sense that clergy are the ones who do the work of the kingdom and the rest just sit and learn.

Personally, I would love to see an image of the church as a bus where the bus stops and the driver opens the door and says don’t just look at it, GO EXPERIENCE IT!  Don’t just learn it, GO DO IT!  YOU ARE SENT!

P.S.  Thanks for taking the time to read my rambling.  It is not polished.  It is not finished.  I just had to let it out.