It is not easy to pastor a church. Eugene Peterson describes the church as mysterious and messy. The mystery of the church is often overshadowed by the messiness of the church that we encounter on a regular basis. So Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s statement in Life Together always shocks me and humbles me:
Pastors should not complain about their congregations, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to them in order that they should become its accuser before God and others.
The only church we know is the local church found in a neighborhood. The only church we know is the mysterious and messy church made up of people with depth and maturity, and those who have many miles to walk on that journey. This local congregation is the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Spirit. This local church is the one that has been entrusted to teams of pastors and lay leaders.
Pastors start complaining, not without good reason. The work becomes burdensome. The hours are long. The accomplishments are sometimes difficult to see. The criticisms flood in. Still, pastors are called to task of faithful service. Pastors are to ambitious for the gospel, not in a hyper-productive, success driven sense, but rather pastors are called to nurture a congregational environment where the presence and power of God might be manifested among the people leading to a missional vocation in the world. This local church will be characterized by beauty and vitality and flourishing, not by destructive habits, corruption or mediocrity.
The task towards congregational renewal does not rest solely on pastors. Rather, it is the call of the entire congregation, guided by the Spirit, to discern the movements of the Spirit and then to obediently follow. Still, it is the responsibility of pastors to humbly and joyfully tend to and draw a congregation towards greater fruitfulness. Pastors, church leaders, don’t get to complain. Pastors enter into service anew, strengthened by the Lord, and yearning for extra measures of patience, and grace.