During these summer months, I spend 12-14 hours each week on one of several grass mowing machines. Often, my five-year-old granddaughter rides with me. Power steering and a spinning steering knob on two of those machines make the situation safe and possible for her!
As I mow, we must keep a sharp eye out for various obstacles along the way. We find chewing toys for our two dogs, Frisbees, various toys (or pieces of toys), a few large sticks or branches, and other items along the way. Emily dutifully climbs down from my lap and removes or relocates each obstacle. The other day, we even spotted a dinner fork!
Most of these objects can all be seen fairly clearly. But two items frequently escape our watchful eyes: groundhog holes and baseballs. The former usually causes a jaw-jarring bump on the ride; the latter makes a loud noise and usually renders the baseball useless. Both are unexpected and unwelcome obstacles on our way.
Every church has at least a few obstacles which can impede or disrupt the ministry. Many of these are not immediately obvious: a would-be power broker who wants to be in charge of everything, a finance committee who insists on being a bean counter rather than a stewardship cultivating force, a financial secretary who does not wish to share any giving information with the pastor, a small group who wants to engineer a change in pastoral leadership, a person who withholds offering money in an effort to get his or her way, and others. Most of the time, such forces arise unexpectedly and can be hurtful. Many times, the persons involved are struggling with issues in their own lives that seem out of control. So they lash out at the church.
I remember a man in my first appointment who said to me after a very short time in that church, “Watch out for these people; they will cut your throat.” I had no idea what he meant, but it was a jarring and uncomfortable early concern in my ministry.
This is part of the reason I worked very intentionally to balance my preaching between pastoral care and prophetic witness. Worshippers need to be challenged in accordance with ample biblical witness. Worshippers also need to be given hope and grace from that same abundant witness. And the “obstacle” generators need to be loved, understood and cared for along the way.
Most of us can locate the obvious items or events which get in the way of effective ministry. Many of these can be carefully set aside, out of the way. The less obvious ones required more careful attention and a sensitive response.