As pastors we know that Jesus teaches us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength (Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27). But when we attempt to teach this love for God to others, we run into obstacles as ministry leaders. Why is this and what can we do?
Pay Attention to the Experiences (Providences) of Those We Serve
It can be hard to say, “I love you” to anyone.
For some of us it just isn’t “manly” or proper to do so. Love is weakness. Love makes a mockery of etiquette.
For others of us, we’ve said, “I love you” to so many people, only to learn later that we were holding on to something other than love. So, we don’t trust ourselves to say it wisely or truly anymore. We don’t trust others to mean it when they say it either. People can use love talk as well as any other thing in order to take selfies and get their own way. Maybe we’ve done this ourselves. Maybe God does the same. We are cynical about it all.
And let’s be honest – saying, “I love you” to someone we cannot see feels weird or risky at best.
A few of us have known the real thing. We’ve tasted that down deep weathering-whatever-comes kind of tasty love. Then our lover died or disease took what was ours. We no longer scold the child who lost her favorite balloon to the sky and declared with pain that it would have been better never to have had the balloon at all. We wonder this ourselves. We don’t want to risk that kind of loss and pain again.
And what if God isn’t an illusion and that too is the problem. We don’t want to give God the idea that we are all in. Maybe there is a good but lesser love that we treasure more than him. We fear he will point that out to us.
So we hold back. If God thinks our relationship is a “love-thing” he might ask of us something that we’d rather not be or do. We fear commitment.
And what if we’ve said, “I love you” to him in the past and meant it, only to turn around and give him the middle finger with our mood, or sin, our pain or flippant resistance. We feel like a fraud.
So, on any given Sunday morning or weekday in the life of a church community – these experiences sit with us and hinder us, no matter how passionately or exegetically correct our sermons.
Invite us to Name and Reflect on those Experiences
What can we do?
1. Start with our own hearts in sermon preparation and daily soul relationship with God.
Pause here a moment. What is your experience like when it comes to loving God? After all, as a leader in ministry, you are a human being too. Do you tend to be:
- Too “manly” or too proper?
- Cynical about love?
- Cautious and on guard with loving a lie?
- Not wanting to get hurt again?
- Afraid of being too committed or radical?
- Afraid he will tinker with the lesser loves you prize?
- Feeling like you are a fraud?
If not one of these, what is it for you?
2. Account for these conditions in the souls of your hearers and fellow volunteer and staff leaders, not with ridicule or distant rebuke, but with shepherding compassion like a wise physician.
In your sermon introduction and/or in application to the message, take into account these categories of heart with tenderness. When you lead a meeting of volunteers pray for those who might struggle with these obstacles.
Now Give Us Gospel Direction
Jesus intends to recover us to our first love (Revelation 2:4-7). That means he works to restore us to the love for God that we wrecked, lost, cursed, neglected or cheapened. He intends to invite us into his love for God, to what it is about God the Father that God the Son finds so lovely.
Now tell us about the loveliness of Jesus!
Jesus died and rose to pay for and free us from our “too manly,” “too proper,” too cynical, on guard, embarrassed, self-protective, fearful, fraud-feeling resistances to true and all out love for God. Jesus has a balm to heal and mend the pains and fears from having been misused in God’s name by others.
With his loveliness set before us, now ask those who are listening to you (and yourself).
“What would it be like for you to share with God what it is that keeps you from an all your heart-mind-soul-and-strength kind of love for him? Or if that is too much, what would it be like for you to risk sharing this with a trusted friend? What would it be like to take a small step of grace toward his loveliness like this?”
I think this is why the willingness of an ancient warrior-king to say, “I love you” to God and then write down this love for everyone to hear and sing about, can offer mentoring help to us (Psalm 118).
(To explore more deeply what it means to say “I Love You” to God, listen to my Riverside sermon on Psalm 118:1 from June 5, 2016)