I have been pastoring for 18 years (with about a year’s stint that I was without a church) and in that time have pastored four churches. My first pastorate was in a small town and I was asked to leave because in this very segregated southern town, I wanted to evangelize to those who had more melanin than the people in the congregation. After that my family and I moved up to Indiana, just outside Chicago, and pastored a church, where—once again—I was asked to resign. This time for doctrinal reasons. I had come as an almost Calvinist and settled the issue while there (while one gentleman kept calling me a heretic), became an amillennialist, and then a complementarian. That was too much doctrinal difference, and in my hubris youth, I did not see it. Both of those experiences, however, were very painful for me and my wife. There was much weeping over those two experiences.
My mom didn’t understand why I would still want to pastor after two churches in a row, asking for my resignation. I didn’t have an answer for her then, but I do now. I believe it was my dad. He was a pastor for nearly 50 years. He saw so much wrong in the church, so much animosity, so much division, so much turmoil, but he stayed in the ministry for nearly fifty years (he died shortly before his 50th Anniversary).
My dad loved Jesus and he loved Jesus’ bride. He didn’t have on rose-colored glasses. He knew she was, in many ways, messed up. But he also knew that she belonged to Jesus. He could not love the groom without also loving the Bride. It showed.
I had the rare privilege of being present for many of my dad’s appointments. I went visiting with him on occasion. I went into deacon meetings at times, where I was sworn to secrecy. I was there in adult Sunday School classes where he fielded questions that I found difficult, but he found enjoyable and easy.
I remember one morning finding out something very bad had happened to a couple in our church. He was visibly distressed, but he went to that couple and loved them and counseled them. I was able to see Jesus restore the marriage (and that was nearly 30 years ago now).
What I am trying to say is that my dad taught me, through his actions, that the church is messy, but it’s worth loving. It’s difficult but it is worth it. If we want our children to love the church in tangible ways, then we must all love the church in tangible ways. Like that old 90’s commercial about the kid who was caught with drugs in his closet and the dad asked where he learned that stuff, when we wonder how our kids learned to love the church so well, we should hope they say, “I learned it by watching you.” That does not mean that we ignore our children to love the church, but we also don’t ignore the church either. Our sons learn to love their wives by watching us love our wives. They learn you love them and you have a special place for mom. They will also learn that there is a special place in your dad’s heart for the church.
Love the church for your children’s sake.
Chris is a pastor at Highland View Baptist Church in St. Charles, Mo. You can find him on Twitter (@c_doyle_hughes) or on his website (www.cdoylehughes.com).