In my previous post, I referenced the weekly email sent out by my District Superintendent. I want to share something else from that email. It's about cynicism and forgiveness. It's hard not to by cynical when you're in a pastoral position. While we take it too far sometimes, I enjoy hanging out with another pastor friend in Gardner and just letting the cynicism flow as we make each other laugh at our stories.
But it's also good to know that I'm not the only pastor who struggles to forgive and to stave off cynicism. Enjoy this challenge from a colleague who is very talented as a leader but secure enough to admit his shortcomings.
Good morning, Pastor
This morning I prayed that God would help me to forgive you. Relax, I don't mean “you” specifically, I mean “you” generally as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes the cumulative effect of disappointment over how God’s people act leaves me …. well, disappointed. Truthfully, over time that disappointment can become anger. I ended up there by Sunday night after several instances of receiving reports of people talking, acting, gossiping, and assuming in ways that leave me with a significant expectation violation to deal with. My expectation is that holiness people will act like it! When that doesn't seem to happen, my temptation is to become angry (including anger with myself). If that anger is not dealt with appropriately it can turn to cynicism, and that is a major red-flag that the problem is no longer with “those people” – the problem is with me. Some time ago God confronted this temptation in me and gave me a way out (1 Cor. 10:13). I was at College Church listening to a sermon from Dr. Graves. It was a sermon on forgiveness. I went to church that day smarting from some tough exchanges with people that week, probably feeling a bit sorry for myself, and no doubt being tempted to fall into a cynical attitude about the church. As my brother David preached on forgiveness I didn't really see the connection at first (I'm sometimes slow on these things) but then the Spirit opened my heart and I heard the clear message: cynicism and unforgiveness live right next to each other! I realized that the most powerful way to ensure that cynicism cannot get a foothold in my life is to drink deeply of God’s grace that enables us to pray, Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
I did not want to write this today because it exposes one of my many flaws. I just wonder if perhaps pastors as a group face this temptation because we are on the front lines of the work of the Spirit in the lives of people who are broken by disappointment, fear, and hurt? May I offer to you this Jesus-taught strategy for those times when you are tempted to anger and cynicism toward the very people you are called to love? Forgive them. As God has forgiven you, forgive them. And the peace of God that is beyond understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.