"Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches." ~Paul
What minister cannot relate to this verse? We may not relate to all of Paul's list in the prior verses summarized in "beside those things that are without"; we may not relate to the word "all"; but the word "care"--that is a weight that those in the ministry know.
Last year I shared some of that weight in my meditation on the failings of one young person in our church. (I shared that here 2 weeks ago.) December to January for our ministries here seem fatal at times to the spiritual growth of many of our young people. We have few adults in the church, so we often concentrate our hopes and efforts on a number of teenagers in our church, who are faithful regardless of parents' lack of spiritual influence on their lives. We hope that "getting them young" will help them to be solid church members as they grow older. About now is the time when we should be seeing some of this glorious hoped-for fruit, as many of those who were teens when we began the church are now entering into adulthood.
But alas, as they get older, the temptations also get stronger--more adult-like. This last month, I might have written that meditation a few times over. Many of our youth have fallen into different sins--fornication, drunkenness, disrespect to parents, lying, having an unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend.
In fact, at times I have to remind myself to still feel the "care" of the church, to not be weary in well-doing. I have to fight against the temptation to not care anymore about people's failures or to be cynical when I see spiritual growth, to not think when someone professes Christ, "Well, we'll see..." But after numerous failures, you feel protective for your heart against great excitement, because then the surprising plummet into discouragement can be long.
While writing this, I just received a text message from a former church member who recently had a baby out of wedlock, asking to restore her relationship (I'm not sure to what degree) to the church. Before that, I was meeting with a current teen church member to discuss lack of church attendance because of several issues of unsavory character over the Christmas school break. Before both of those cases, in the last two months, we had more than a handful of similar counseling sessions with other church members.
So for these latter two cases, I wanted to ignore them.
"Oh Lord, can't I please go hide in a book for a while and forget scraping my shins on dark, treacherous mountain passes trying to rescue another trapped lamb?"
"Lord, please, I already filled my quota for visitation this month! I'm trying to improve at reaching out to the women, but did you have to send five my way at once?"
"Lord, I already visited three others and sat in on sessions with others. I've already heard of the failings of too many this season. Can't I let this one go? I'm tired. I'm feeling lazy. (And they're willfully disobedient.) Can't I just let this one come back to church when she wants without having to be proactive to try to warn her from her way?"
And sometimes, you might even get the impression that the flock thinks, "What are you all worked up for? What are you hurt about? You chose this job. [especially missionaries] We didn't ask you to be here. And anyway, you're just a white person. You don't understand our culture."
So do we give up?
Of course not. What a futile question. Paul, who had the care of several churches, also said, "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."
And aren't you glad for the parable of Christ, the Good Shepherd, how he went seeking for the lost lamb and called others to rejoice with Him when He found it? Nowhere in that parable does He complain that He's had to do this before, in fact, too many times lately (99)! Will He always have to do this?
Yes. We will always have this job. Because we have been given a gift from our Heavenly Father: the opportunity to care for His church--the one He loved so much that He gave Himself for it to wash it clean.
Others have their weaknesses. We have ours. "Who is weak, and I am not weak?" And one weakness we shepherds need to watch out for is thinking too highly of ourselves, and thus, losing patience and care for others with their burdens.
"But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another."
And let us not be weary, fellow shepherds, brothers and sisters in Christ, in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.