Eugene Peterson writes in his book Under the Predictable Plant,
“The congregation is not the enemy. Pastoral work is not adversarial. These people in the pews are not aliens to be conquered – defeated and then rehabilitated to the satisfaction of the pastoral ego. Thomas Merton wrote, “it is both dangerous and easy to hate man as he is because he is not ‘what he ought to be.’ if we do not first respect what he is we will never suffer him to become what he ought to be: in our impatience we will do away with him altogether… and the congregation is not stupid and lumpish, waiting for pastoral enlightenment. Condescension is pastors is even worse than hostility.”
This are some great thoughts from one of my impersonal spiritual mentors. Those of us who are pastors know how easy it would be (and sometimes is) to wish your congregation was something else or acted different ways. Really, when it comes down to thinking this way, we just want them to be what we have for them rather than what God has for them. Or, at least, we’re pretty sure we know what God has for them and we’re pretty sure they don’t. There is a fine line between shepherding a community and assuming to always know what is best for them.
I think when you are shepherding a community, its a very relational process. Learning together what God has for the community. When as pastor is assuming what is best its not a cooperative effort anymore. It becomes the pastor telling everyone else what to do. In this approach, it doesn’t seem like there is that much listening involved.
Alan Roxburgh says that the spirit of God is among the people of God. If that’s the case, as pastors we’d better be taking the humble approach of cooperation rather than the arrogant approach of assuming to know what is best.
Remember that old saying, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”… Sometimes I think pastors take the approach, “Your Pastor loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Too bad pastor’s aren’t quite as accurate with those plans as the Holy Spirit is.
Our congregations aren’t stupid. At least, not any more than the pastor is!
Remember, the Spirit of God is among the people of God.