Friday, November 23, 2012

Complaining Preachers - Complaining Church Members

I finally finished reading Joyce Meyer's Battlefield of the Mind (which I highly recommend) and have started reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together as part of my morning devotions and prayer time. I read this little book years ago, but had forgotten how powerful it was. Below is something that just jumped out at, rather it screamed at me.....and I want to share it here in hopes of getting some feedback and reaction. The section is a little long, but worth reading. Especially reading it slowly, so that what this saint is telling us can sink in.

   “Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even when there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our  fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ . 
   This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men. When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him in to this predicament. But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray to God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.
   Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases. 
   Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it."

Bonhoeffer said earlier in his book that some love their idea of Christian community more than the community itself, and that when this happens, that person begins to destroy the community. It reminds of the old Peanuts cartoon where Linus says "I love mankind. It's people I cannot stand!" Until we learn to love people first, as Christ loves us, then we will always be complaining. Whether we are preachers, congregation members, or folks who have given up on the church.

Here's my prayer today- O God, let me love the people, not my idea of what they should be. And thank you for loving me so much, that while I was yet a sinner, you sent Christ for me. Amen."


  1. God always teaches us what he wants us to learn by giving us many, many chances to get it right. It happens when we are fed up with the person who seems to never remember what he is supposed to be doing for the program or service. Then God sends him as the only one who is available to work one on one with you on a particularly tedious project and he relieves the pressure of having to do it all alone. I get it, God. I get it. At least for this one particular time. I'm sure I'll have to learn this lesson again and again.

  2. Thanks Mike! That's very convicting, as I often (I'm ashamed to admit) find myself complaining about my congregations. It's easy to be ashamed of being disappointed in them for not being as spiritually "mature" as I'd like them to be, but Bonhoeffer also makes the connection that just as I'd complain about the congregation, I also berate myself for not being everything I believe I could or should be.

    In a culture and a system that elevates statistical results to an often idolatrous position, this is a good reminder that we, as well as our congregations, have ontological value, even right now. And God may like us.