When a relative, formerly a pastor and missionary, came down with a degenerative disease, he noticed himself losing friends. Fellow church members, leaders, choir members, and others, stepped out of his life one by one.
When his family asked the church for help, a pastor told them that people quite simply weren’t comfortable around this man anymore.
Apparently the pastor didn’t consider this a contradiction of the gospel he preached from the pulpit.
The sick man’s family then asked if they could present the situation to the congregation, as they’d seen someone do at another church. This way, they hoped, one or two church members might step forward as ‘volunteer friends.’ But the leadership told them this was impossible.
“You’ve got to understand our culture,” one staffer told them. “You just can’t do that here.”
In short, the retired pastor/missionary had outlived his usefulness and his welcome in the church. Even the pastors didn’t want to see him, ignoring the family’s request for the occasional drop-in visit.
His family was expected to accept his loneliness, that their church family wouldn’t be involved in his life any longer. Except at the funeral, perhaps.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me… (Matthew 25:34-36)
When it comes to reaching outside our comfort zone to love a neighbour, we’ve cultivated a subtle disconnect between theology and everyday life.
Many Christians would agree in principle with Jesus’ parables like the good Samaritan, or the passage about the goats and the sheep. We know these stories from Sunday school, and pastors also preach them from time to time.
Knowing them is good. But living them is another thing entirely.
Too many of us are like that pastor defending ‘personal comfort’ as a reasonable excuse not to visit someone in need of a friend. Except, we wouldn’t be quite as blunt about it. Not out loud, anyway.
I know what some of you reading this might say, that people aren’t perfect and that we can depend on God’s comfort when others let us down. And you’d be right.
But this doesn’t mean we need to let sin, especially a ‘respectable sin‘ like the idol of personal comfort, go unchallenged in our lives or our churches–especially in church leadership.
We need to examine our hearts, and we need to invite our pastors to do the same. We need to see how far we’ve let our culture’s gods–happiness, leisure, comfort–become our own gods. We need to release our white-knuckled grip on those idols and, instead, find our comfort in Jesus Christ.
And then, if the Spirit is alive in us at all, we need to see growth.
We also need pastors who don’t make excuses for sin. Ones who don’t limit their teaching to “platitudes, subtle hints, or over-principlized ‘sermonettes,'” as Byron Forrest Yawn writes in his book, What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him:
[Pastors] must put their proverbial finger in men’s faces and tell them exactly … how they’ve wasted years of spiritual opportunity. Not with belittling harshness, but with frustrated optimism. (p. 164)
In other words, we need real leaders, ones who’ll teach us how to put our faith into action when it’s UNcomfortable. We need our leaders to model this in their own lives, and we need them to expect us to follow suit.
And in doing so, we’ll discover a secret: Serving others brings surprisingly more fulfillment than anything we’ll find inside our comfort zone.