It was the late 1980s. Our church was buzzing and growing. God was moving powerfully. We had just moved into a new Worship Center and all of a sudden, transition was inevitable. While our numbers gained greatly, we also saw a few individuals and families depart. As any pastor would be, I was troubled.
This Was an Important Moment for Me
God had raised up a man to walk with me through those days of transition. His name was Ron Lewis. He joined me on the journey to help the church as we advanced toward reaching our region with the Gospel, and he listened to me share about a few individuals and families who had departed our church. As a pastor, you know what it is like: we do not want to lose anyone and while God is bestowing our church with countless blessings, Satan sidetracks us with one little issue.
I will never forget what Ron Lewis told me that day.
Ronnie, Never Let Anyone Outside of Your Circle of Love
Sitting in a Bonanza restaurant, we were working through how we could sustain momentum in our church. Ron looked at me and said, “Ronnie, never let anyone outside of your circle of love.” I will never forget those words.
Ron expounded on his remarks. He shared that if my heart was big enough to forgive continually and love unconditionally, the very same people who may leave today may come back around in the future. Even today I hear those words resounding continually: “Ronnie, never let anyone outside of your circle of love.”
How Our God Has Used Those Words in My Life and Ministry
I took Ron’s counsel to heart immediately. Additionally, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the words of the great scholar and teacher of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Oscar Thompson. He taught us continually, “The moment you experienced the love of Jesus Christ at salvation, you chose to forfeit the right to whom you would love.” Boom! At that moment, God did a major work in my life personally and as a pastor.
Starting that day, I have never let anyone outside of my circle of love! I do not have the right to love this person and not love that person. Jesus sets the bar: Love all people! Yes, unconditional love for all people. Even for a pastor and his family, there are times we are pressed on this issue. However, love and forgiveness always win!
Pastor, Learn to Forgive People
Pastor, let me share three simple actions you can take to never let anyone outside your circle of love. Every pastor needs to be a forgiver!
1. Take People to the Lord in Prayer
Pastor, there will be people in your church who will hurt you and even offend you deeply. Others will lie about you or cause problems in the fellowship. Still others will leave the church, even after you have won them to Christ, loved them, discipled them, and cared for them through some of their deepest pain. How should you respond?
Take them to Jesus in prayer one by one. Call their name out to the Lord in prayer. I am convinced that if I pray for people who have hurt me or tried to hurt the church, I will never let them outside of my circle of love. Sometimes we want to talk to everyone else about what they have done. Insure that you talk to God about them. He is the only one who can keep your heart soft and sensitive to Him and others.
2. Forgive Continually
Forgiveness is a way of life for a Christian, especially for a Christian leader. Please do not take it lightly. Do not try to turn the rattlesnake of unforgiveness into your pet or friend. If you do, it will strike you with a poison that will eventually destroy you and eventually your ministry. A pastor and his wife cannot let Satan win this battle! He will destroy you, your marriage, your kids, and perhaps even your leadership in the church. Unforgiveness and bitterness never has a place in the life of a pastor and his wife. Forgive continually.
3. Let it Go
Regardless of what has been said, written, or presumed about you, let it go. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Forgive continually. Then, let it go! You cannot go forward holding on to a past hurt. You cannot go forward resenting people, situations, or the church itself. Let it go!
Never Let Anyone Outside of Your Circle of Love
When you do not let anyone outside of your circle of love, eventually many will come back to you. I’ve lived long enough and pastored the same church long enough to see this occur. If I had not prayed, been forgiving, and let my personal pain go, my heart would have never been open to someone’s return or been able to invite them to return to us as a church family.
My challenge to you is very simple: Pastor, never let anyone outside of your circle of love! Remember, the moment you received the love of Christ into your life, you forfeited your right to choose whom you would love.