Having been in ministry for over 30 years, I understand. The church is sometimes not easy to love. People claim to be Christian but act like the devil. We say the words, "I love the church" while knowing our heart isn't there. When you've had enough bad days in ministry, love for the church seems to disappear completely. Still, though, we're called to love one another (John 15:12). Here are some ways to begin reigniting that love:
- Read 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:4a, Paul wrote, "I thank my God always on your behalf." In the last verse of that book, he wrote, "My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus." In between these sections, however, the apostle essentially said, "You're an absolute mess." Paul thanked God for and deeply loved one of the messiest churches in the New Testament. That's a good model for us to follow.
- Read the Gospel of Mark to see the portrayal of Jesus' disciples. They were untrained and uneducated men who often did not listen, seldom fully understood and sometimes failed miserably. Meanwhile, they debated who was the greatest and fought over the best seats in the kingdom. Still Jesus loved them—and we must love our church folks who are often quite like them.
- Check your heart. Sin still haunts us, even as church leaders. Sometimes we hold bitterness as an idol. Be honest: we're not always lovable ourselves. Nevertheless, even those who know us best still love us. We owe to the church the patient love that others give us.
- Count your supporters. Just a few opposing folks in a church can make it difficult to love the whole church. My experience is, however, that leaders often overestimate the opposition and give too much attention to a few people. Count your supporters instead of the opposition, and you might be reminded of lovable people in the church.
- Take a vacation. Sometimes our lack of love for others is really just fatigue. The little things get magnified when we're tired. Frustration sets in. Love gets strained. Take a break to recover and replenish, and you might find yourself more open to loving your congregation.
- Take some folks on a mission trip. Get away from the day-to-day grind of church work while also taking the gospel to the nations. Something unique often happens among a team of believers on the mission field. Get them to focus on those who need to hear the good news instead of on themselves, and you will likely see them as more lovable.
- Hang out with a few members who want to grow. Loving the church is not possible without loving a few. Rather than trying to immediately love the whole body again, focus on a few. Find some believers who are open, and invest in them. It's amazing how just a few healthy relationships can change your perspective about the whole church.
- Get a vision about something in the church. Ask God to help you concentrate on one area of the church's ministry that most motivates you. Just as focusing on a few believers can be helpful, finding that one area can begin to reignite your love for the church. An outward focus just does that: it takes your eyes off self, and renewed love often follows.
- Seek reconciliation with that person. Whether we recognize it or not, one sour relationship can color the way we feel about an entire congregation. Maybe it's time to say something like, "I'm sorry," "Please forgive me" or "I fear you have something against me, and I want to fix it."
- Keep doing ministry. When your love for your church is strained, withdrawal is not the answer. Nor is laziness or disobedience. Real love demands that we continue to serve the church even when we don't feel like it. Be faithful in doing loving ministry for your church, and you might find your heart catching fire for them again.
The church that has worn you out is still God's church. Perhaps undiscipled and often stunted in their growth, they still need our love. Ask Him who loves them enough to have died for them to reignite your love for them.
What else might you suggest for this list?
Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This article originally appeared at chucklawless.com.
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