My wife and I recently watched the first two seasons of The Chosen, a video series on the life of Christ being produced by Dallas Jenkins. We found it to be a spiritually and mentally stimulating treatment of the gospel story. One feature of the series’ portrayal of Jesus’ advent that really struck me regards his interaction with the Jewish religious leaders. The vitriolic reaction to the teaching and work of Jesus by the Pharisees is vividly depicted.
Something the two of us have been noticing in recent years, and more prevalently during this pandemic, is the rising level of intolerance among many. Some of this, for certain, is because we are being restricted in our movement by a resilient virus. Humans crave freedom and being told what to wear, when to stay home and where you can and can’t go — well, it’s just really challenging. People are becoming more irritable and impatient. That’s why whenever I drive anywhere, I make sure I’m clothed with patience, courtesy and a smile. I have found that “No, please — you go first” usually keeps good will flowing down the freeway.
The church of Jesus Christ is not exempt from exhibiting this growing intolerance. And who is to blame, one might ask? Frankly, such behavior is often ‘caught’ by the pastoral leader(s). My dad’s been gone over 45 years, so I don’t recall a lot of conversations with Him. But one I do remember happened 50 years ago during my senior year in seminary. We were discussing denominations, and I, being so filled with knowledge, proclaimed that very few such groups were any good or had any true grasp of the gospel. We freshly minted preachers would straighten things out with our biblical teaching, defending the faith to ensure the preservation of the gospel. My dad was not impressed. He rebuked me gently, contending that there were a lot of faithful pastors and true believers in many denominations I had summarily dismissed. His words stung. And I needed to hear them.
As my advanced years have brought me through more of life and ministry, I am realizing there are fewer issues worth losing my tolerance over. Hopefully, this is due to some measure of increased knowledge, wisdom, love, grace — the fruit of the Spirit. Not because I’m losing my theological grip. God’s people have always reflected the greater culture around them, be it good or bad, because we are saved sinners, still in the world while trying not to be ‘of it’ — learning to live by the Spirit, becoming more like Christ, reflecting his love and grace.
This is not easy, as we have seen in our local churches these last couple of years. Many of the pastors we know report their attendance as having dropped 40 to 50% during this biennium. Some attendees have left because the church was not meeting in person during the first months of the pandemic. Others because of the mask mandates. And then there are the ever-present issues of preaching style, worship music, philosophy of ministry … the list goes on. Some of our friends have left our fellowship in recent months for reasons like these.
Several years ago my wife and I left a church over a theological issue we saw as pivotal, so we can empathize. But while our church is having its own challenges right now, we’re staying. We might not always make the same decisions our leadership does, but we believe our elders and pastoral staff love Jesus and are seeking to honor his Word. Recently I was conversing with one of our staff, acknowledging their hurt and struggle during the last couple of years. She looked at me and commented on how much it meant that the two of us were still here and supportive. I told her “We have a bigger umbrella these days. There’s more room in our lives for the variety of opinions and expressions found in our church family.”
It’s challenging, especially if you’re a pastoral leader, to handle the numerous expectations and perspectives within a congregation. We have the luxury of not being in a ‘hot seat’ pastoral position anymore but do have a responsibility to show Christlike leadership as older saints. Our hope is that we are responding to God’s word as Paul delivered it to fellow believers in Ephesus:
“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:1-3)
While we all have the potential of exhibiting Pharisaic attitudes at times, we ought to prayerfully work on making sure our umbrella is big enough to shelter brothers and sisters whose personal perspectives may be a bit different than our own. There’s a lot more room under there than we think.