I had a meeting with some of our church members today. They are dear friends of mine, and whenever we are talking, whether it’s speaking about the bible, everyday life, practical wisdom, education, children and parenting, or just about anything else – we almost always have more agreement and unity than otherwise.
That was not the case today though. We were meeting regarding something that we believe very differently on (although even in our rather big disagreements, there is still much that we agree on). I’m obviously not going to elaborate any more than that on the actual meeting, except to say this – it went wonderfully well!
As a pastor, it’s easy to dread going into meetings with your members, because you often don’t know how it’s going to go. I’ve walked into many meetings where people have been angry or upset, or even if they didn’t start that way, by the time we finished disagreeing they were almost hostile! That was not the case today though.
As a matter of fact, it’s almost never the case with my fellow church members. I can actually say that although there are definitely times of frustration or difficulty in working through issues with various people in our church, that I seldom dread those meetings, and almost always, tempers are unseen and disagreement is humble and loving.
Have you ever been in a church like that?
Well, I hadn’t until Hope either, but I must say how much I love it! I love having a church who works hard to search out the truth, and who is willing to disagree, even very much if necessary, but doesn’t let that stop them from loving one another and being kind and patient and understanding. It’s something that’s almost unheard of in other churches, and yet it is commonplace in my church. People disagree all the time, any many times they disagree passionately, and yet it seems that the gospel has penetrated many of our members to the point where they don’t get offended when someone disagrees with them.
Most of my fellow church members at Hope don’t get offended when you tell them you disagree with them. Most of them don’t take it as a personal attack on them if you have a different opinion or belief than they do. They don’t often get frustrated, even in the middle of heated debate and discussion. They are able to stay calm (most of the time, they’re not perfect), and most importantly, to love even those who are disagreeing with them. And this isn’t something that’s just happened once or twice – as I said, our church is rigorous in pursuing the truth, and we are passionate about finding and protecting it! With this though, of course, comes the disagreements over what exactly our doctrines and theology looks like, and this can often bring passionate debate and discussion. But, over and over again, I see our people, on both sides of any given issue, being more concerned with loving one another and prizing the gospel above all else than with being right. And because of this, I can say that I don’t dread those meetings where I know there will be disagreement. I can, in my flesh, still be fearful or reticent to go to those meetings, simply because I don’t like being corrected or questioned or called out, but I can truthfully say that I don’t fear that there will be big blow-ups, people stomping out, name-calling (yes I’ve had that happen before), or anything else of that sort.
And although I’m sure many reasons could be given as to why our church is like that, I truly believe one stands above the rest. I think that our church excels at being “slow to anger” and “speaking the truth in love” because we preach and prize the gospel.
When I don’t feel that I have to justify myself, knowing that God will always vindicate his people, then I don’t have to be obsessed with being right.
When I am tempted to put down others who disagree with me on what the truth is, I can remember that God purchased them just as he purchased me, and for me to be unloving to them is to say that God loved them too much!
And when my joy is found, in part, in seeing other’s joy in God grow, then I am free to not simply “win an argument”, but to patiently work for unity, even on tough issues.
At HBC, we love and prize the gospel – the good news that God demonstrated his love to us in that while we were sinners, Christ came and lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, and rose again, for us.
And that gospel frees us to disagree with one another in love. It frees us to work together toward a more right understanding of the truth, so that we may together find more joy in God, not so that one of us may be proven right.
The gospel is the thing that we set at the center of all else that we do at HBC, and I think it is because of this that we find that our church family doesn’t very often have any type of major disruptions to its fellowship and unity.
I praise God for the gospel, and especially for the way its impacted my wonderful church.