Friday, June 21, 2024

Better Door than a Window...

 


Better Door Than a Window…

 

2 Corinthians 6:1-13
6:1 As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.

6:2 For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you." See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

6:3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,

6:4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

6:5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

6:6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,

6:7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;

6:8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;

6:9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see--we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed;

6:10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

6:11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.

6:12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.

6:13 In return--I speak as to children--open wide your hearts also.

 

When I was a kid, and playing on the floor of our family room, it was usually in front of the TV, since this was the largest “free” space in the room. The TV may or may not have been on, but we would spread out our Legos, the Lincoln Logs, or a board game to play in that “expanse” before the TV. (The TV was always one of those large console models that was basically a piece of furniture with a TV tube and circuits built into it. It was always fairly large, but since we were one of the first families in Oil City to get a COLOR TV, that made the TV even a larger, more prominent item in the room.) However, in the evenings, when my dad was home for the night, he would sit in his easy chair in front of the TV to read the evening newspaper and watch something on the tube. My brother and I would again land on the floor in front of the TV for additional playtime, but every once in a while, one of us would unconsciously stand up, not paying attention that we were now between dad and the TV. This prompted my dad to utter an expression I’m sure he got from his parents, at some point: “You make a better DOOR than a WINDOW!” We go used to this being his way of saying, “Please sit down so I can see the TV.” This is exactly what Paul is saying in this passage from II Corinthians:

 

We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…

 

A key in ministry, whether that of clergy or laity, is “don’t be an obstacle,” keeping anyone from seeing Jesus in us, or in what we are doing on his behalf. It happens far too often.

 

Just this week, another “popular” Christian leader has stepped away from ministry because of some “moral failure” that has come to light. Doesn’t Luke tell us in his gospel, “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” We all make mistakes, for sure, but Paul tries to set a standard in the earliest days of the Christian church, that we who are leaders should do our best to NOT become a “stumbling block,” or a DOOR, when God wants to install a window. Mistakes are one thing, but “secret sin” that has the power and magnitude to derail one’s ministry WILL come to light, at some point. At least that’s what Luke says in chapter 12 of his gospel. 

 

Not all “doors” or obstacles are sins. Sometimes they are things like racism or bigotry. When these are either manifested by church leaders, or even “excused” by them, they become a huge stumbling block to the church becoming a functional community, let alone helping it reach its goal of being a “beloved community.” Clergy who short-change being “life long learners” can become stumbling blocks, too. One of my disappointments in leading our Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry for four years was seeing how resistant so many of my colleagues were at attending to their continuing education requirements, and most certainly to being “accountable” for doing so. A blue-ribbon committee we called together formulated a rigorous, yet reasonable four-year plan of continuing education based on Conference goals and vision. It included annual meetings with the Staff-Parish Committee to both report on the clergy’s progress AND to write a report for the District Superintendent. Both clergy AND lay church leaders resisted being this accountable, and the whole system was eventually discarded, giving way to a lack of accountability and watered-down standards. Much like doing away with mandatory driver training for teens has resulted in highways full of careless drivers today, so reducing or deleting required continuing education for pastors will—and already has—resulted in less competency in church leadership. “Stale” pastors certainly become more of a “door,” in this case, when God calls us to be enlightened, and enlightening windows through which our people may see Jesus. Either “stuckness” or ignorance in church leaders can block the view our folk need to see, if we are to be true servants of the Risen Lord.

 

As Paul often does, he champions how the “afflictions” he and his team faced as they engaged their itinerant ministry were formative, developing in them “great endurance.” They were, for Paul, a “badge” of dedication and a certificate of experience. He never let them become an obstacle. In this text, he lists some of the important values our people should be able to see in their leaders: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, and truthful speech, all of which demonstrate and even “bear” the power of God to the church. When we examine these values, it is plain to see how easily they can be obscured by negative behaviors, excessive griping and complaining, or most certainly habitual moral failure. It’s hard to see “genuine love” modeled by a pastor or leader who harbors a critical spirit, who is always complaining about something, or who holds on, white-knuckled, to doctrines or theological perspectives that suppress or harm the people whom God loves. 

 

I have been deeply saddened by clergy colleagues who have given in to what psychologists label “counter transference,” to the degree that it damages or even destroys a marriage. All seminary-trained clergy have courses in pastoral counseling and/or counseling therapy wherein we learn of “transference.” An overly simplistic definition of transference is that it is what happens when a parishioner or counselee, who is being comforted and helped by the clergy through conversation, listening sessions, and other supportive ministries, begins to have “feelings” for the clergy—a version of “falling in love with the doctor” syndrome. If and when this happens, and is expressed either directly or hinted at by the “patient” (parishioner), it is incumbent on the pastoral counselor to explain what it is, so it may be disarmed. “Counter-transference” happens when the pastor (therapist) responds to the indicated transference by reciprocating on these affectionate “feelings.” Clearly, the resulting “smoke” in these situations may quickly become a fire that can destroy one, if not two, marriages. And in a great many situations I have witnessed, it has. Talk about an obstacle that obscures “genuine” love! Obviously, ignorance of the transference/counter-transference cycle may give way to relationship disasters, but so can the clergy who allows her/his own self-esteem to become so low or battered that they are ripe for failure in this arena. Maybe this is why Paul cites, over and over again, how he regularly EXAMINES his experiences that might typically erode his self-image and chafe his emotions. By doing so, he purposely turns them into “positives” that build character, rather than threatens it. This is good counsel for pastors and other church leaders.

 

These truths are what Paul fully lays out in this text from Second Corinthians. Why? Because he had a unique challenge in Corinth, and the young church there was always on the edge of imploding, due to its “diversity” of potential threats handed it by its sitz im leben. The church today faces these issues afresh, due to OUR rapidly changing culture and the challenge the “nones” (those who choose not to have anything to do with the church) put before us. Speaking a word of grace, love, and acceptance to an apathetic audience is never easy, and most certainly requires making our message as well as ourselves as the “medium” is as transparent as possible. Like Paul, we must do all we can to assure that our integrity is impeccable, or no one will hear us.

 

I fear that we spend too much time “defending” the church, our rules, and our doctrines, and by doing so, are indirectly bashing the people we are trying to reach. What good does it do to put so much energy laying out our “requirements and rules” to people who, frankly, are not interested in the church, to begin with? Most of us believe God is doing some amazing things in the church today, and if we develop a missional attitude and issue invitations, we have the hope of being windows for salvation and grace, rather than doors that shut in the face of potential members. For the remnant United Methodist congregations (post-disaffiliation), we must flesh out our message to be far more than “We did away with the anti-LGBTQ language, so Y’all come now!” Transitioning to a welcoming church will take time and intentional strategy, or we run the risk of missing the wave.

 

When we were kids, often all we needed to do to “be a better WINDOW than a DOOR,” in my dad’s words, was to sit back down. This, too, is a strategy that should not be ignored. As clergy, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be made the center of attention. In fact, we are at our gospel best when we are encouragers, supporters, and prompters of vision, such that our people “catch it” for themselves and run with it. Like John the Baptist, “we must decrease that Jesus may increase.” Some of us are old enough to remember a popular campaign in United Methodism that said, “Catch the Spirit!” When more of our people “catch the Spirit,” we clergy may fall back into our encouraging, teaching role, and let the people lead. Windows, not doors, friends. Windows, not doors! Amen!

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