Dear Church Family,
As I finish my 50th year of ministry, 3 in Kentucky and 47 in Wisconsin, I find myself thinking about many things. My biggest regret in those years has to do with the various people who shut me out of their lives because they didn’t like something I had done or just didn’t like me period. Usually they shut me out by lowering or quitting giving to the church and not coming to worship. These people saw me as the head of the church and shutting me out had to do with undermining the institution. When these people were in the majority, the church ceased to be a family of God.
Of course I always have felt that God, and not I, is the head of the church. Undermining the church is only defeating God, and not me. I have always seen myself as temporary, and not permanent, like God is. I will be forgotten, but not God. If I have done anything to encourage people to remember God first, then I was greatly successful.
The fact is, that in all those years, I needed people’s encouragement and help, as hopefully people needed mine, and we ALL need each other’s.
A church survey of the congregation, that was taken in a previous church, is a case in point. The church leaders were seeking input into how we might improve our ministry together. It was interesting to me to note that all of the negative surveys, in which the pastor and other church leaders were severely criticized, as well as the general state of the church, were filled with the word “I”. The perspective was narrow. I find myself understanding how easy it is for ALL of us to look at things like that sometimes.
Many harsh words were written, and I realized then how much those words hurt. Although I chose personally to look at it positively and grow from it, as did the other church leaders.
Sometimes harsh words are not forgiven and leave a lasting negative impression in the very heart and soul of the person being berated.
Glad to say, the majority were positive and encouraging and uplifting. Many kind words were shared and made us all want to work together and harder than ever, to make our church ministry the best we could offer to God. Although we like kind words better than bitter words, life seems to be a mixture of both. Somehow we need to realize, as individuals, that whatever we say or do, in a negative or positive sense, it affects everyone and everything around us.
I have personally observed much good ministry, and many good church families and pastors, ruined by bitter words, negative feelings, and talk or gossip, or harsh unfeeling criticism. On the other hand, I have seen much good ministry emerge from church families and pastors who work together, especially pray together. It proves we need each other, and that being together works.
Among the writings of Paul there is this simple yet profound truth: None of us lives to oneself, and none of us dies to oneself.” (Romans 14:7) Here Paul is, or course, talking about influence, and he seems to be looking backward, as well as forward. Each of us has been influenced by the past, by our history and heritage; each of us will influence those around us. John Donne underscored this when he wrote, “No man is an island.” We might better say today that “No person is an island.” And we aren’t, are we? There’s not a one of us who sits alone in life without exerting some influence on others, for either good or bad. That’s something we need to remember, I think. Past influences have made us what we are, and we will have a part in the molding process in the lives of others. Much of what we are today is because of the influence of others upon our lives. I don’t think we often begin to realize the influence we have on other people– not only physically, but morally and spiritually, as well. Every word, every action, is like a stone dropped into a crystal clear pool, setting into motion never-ending and ever-growing ripples.
If only we fully believed that everything we say or do creates a great network of complexities that snowballs in every direction. We do not live to ourselves: Every vengeful action, every loving deed, every biting remark, every considerate word, every “secret” sin, every public achievement—everything we do affects someone else in some way. We affect others; others affect us.
The most instructive, informative and useful comments by parishioners I’ve received, over the years, were POSITIVE, used constructive criticism, and also used the word we a lot. Attitudes and words are powerful and always convey a message.
Lastly, I have discovered that we have the right to choose which words, attitudes, and people will influence our lives. The least helpful words and attitude shared concerning myself, by a parishioner in another parish was a suggestion that I “get out of the ministry.” I chose to respect the right of the person to think it and say it, but I chose not to accept it or believe it myself. I still strongly felt God’s call upon my life to be “in ministry” together with them, the people of that church.
The positive, productive, uplifting, challenging, encouraging words and attitudes and deeds of those around me. I also rededicate myself to be that kind of influence on those around me.
The call of God upon our lives is not diminishing but is increasing. The need for love and understanding and hope that surrounds us is not shrinking but is becoming greater each day. The suggestion to “stay out” or “get out” of the ministry is not pertinent to our everyday situation. The call of God and the world around us is to “get in.”
Let’s “get in it together” in this, another year of ministry and mission. I pray the remainder of this year will be a holy time for you, and that the holiness will lead you to work together, doing God’s great kingdom work. I invite you all to come together into a positive, uplifting, encouraging, challenging ministry together. Of course, instructive, constructive criticism and advice is meaningful, helpful, and needed. Your pastor will need your words of encouragement and so will the rest of this great congregation. God Bless us all as we discontinue living unto ourselves and live instead TOGETHER as the family of faith, the Body of Christ, the Church.
In June you will have another Pastor, and my prayer is that the new pastor will let God be the head of the church, and the congregation will continue to get it all together. May God continue to bless you as you follow the leader– a loving God who always leads us in the right direction.
Encouragement, Hope and Love,
Your Friend in Christ
Rev. Duane E Andrus
“Churches, like football teams, advance with greater effectiveness when members huddle long enough in planning and prayer to get their signals straight.”