Learning to love one another (changing our culture)

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So, how do we develop  a culture of grace within the church where one another love is witnessed and experienced? In this post, I want to make a couple of suggestions. 

First of all, it has to be modelled by pastors and leaders.  This means that we need to prioritise choosing elders and appointing pastors who are able and willing to relate to others not just those who have intellectual/theological and communications skills.  The qualifications identified in1 Timothy and Titus start with a heavy focus on this.  Do they love giving hospitality? Do they welcome people? What is their family life like? And yes, on a very practical and very provocative level, I think this means that we shouldn’t in the majority of cases be sending young lads straight out of University straight off to theological college after a year’s training with a church. We should be giving them several years to spend time as part of a congregation. 

It also means that we need pastors who are willing to make their life in a community.  That’s why as far as possible, the aim should be for long term ministry rather than 4 or 5 years in one place before moving on. It may not be possible to spend our entire pastoral ministry in just one church, we are having to move on after ten years. However, committing for the long term and demonstrating that for example by buying a house and putting your kids in local schools show that you are putting doen roots.

Secondly, we need to love one another by seeking to be a blessing to each other. That should be our default concern.  This is something to encourage everyone in the church to consider. The best way to start is with small groups. Ask the question “how can I bless the others in this group? How can I encourage them? How can I support them?”  This might involve reframing and reprioritising some of the discipleship and Bible study questions we ask.

Think about how often the sorts of questions we ask are ones like

  • What can I learn from this Bible passage?
  • What will I do differently this week?
  • How does the sermon help me prepare for the week ahead?
  • What prayer requests do you have?
  • How can I discover, develop and use my gifts

On one level, they are not bad questions but they do turn the focus inwards. I want to suggest that if we prioritise the question “How can I bless others” then those questions will be answered too -and more than answered.

Of course, the equivalent to this, is that also need to learn to give space for others to bless us. At a home group some time ago, we were studying Ephesians 5 and we asked the question “how exactly does a wife submit to her husband?” One insightful lady looked closely at the text and said “Given what is expected of the husband, she submits to him by allowing him to love her.”  How do church members submit to the elders? They do so by allowing the elders to love them. How do we submit to one another, we do so by allowing others to love us.

Now, I was struck recently by a someone’s comment about a former pastor of their church. They said, “he never gave the church chance to love him.” What they meant by this was that the church wanted to love, bless and provide for the pastor but before they could freely offer to show him and his family kindness and concern, he was telling them what he needed with an expectation that those things would be provided as a right.  As I’ve said before, the relationship works best when the pastor is saying “don’t worry about us” and the congregation are saying “but we really want to.” So we let people bless us by giving them the chance to spontaneously bless us, by not leaping in with our expectations.

It also means that we also have to accept the blessings given.  I struggle with any sense of dependence.  So, when we came through theological college and then into the early days of ministry, I really struggled when people wanted to give us things including money. In my mind, we did not need those things and I was embarrassed. I shared this with someone expecting them to confirm my position and advise me on how to politely decline. They didn’t. Rather they corrected me and challenged me to learn gratitude and to enjoy the blessing given by others.

There’s Biblical precedent to this and missiological purpose too. Think about how Christ, the one who invites us to his hospitality, the one who has everything willingly accepted meals from people, the anointing of his feet with perfume and even asks a woman for water from a well even though she should be asking him for living water.  The missiological edge to this is that often we encounter cultures that love to give hospitality. We model our missions around going to serve and to give into communities, but we may find that people are more able to hear the Gospel when they are able to serve us and offer us hospitality.

So a culture of grace will be one where we are actively seeking to bless others and it will be one where we are in turn allowing them to bless us.

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