Agape, Motivation, Truth, and Grace

I re-read yesterday's post, and saw it as coming across as judgmental. It needed to be balanced with the same kind of commitment by the community to affirm and disciple our "disciplers" as I was calling for those ministers to exercise toward the laypeople within their congregations.

We -- the laypeople -- are called to love and nurture those whom we pay to lead us, and to put more time into affirming them than into calling them to account for places we feel they miss living what they preach. We are called to a commitment to them over the long haul, just as they are called to the same commitment to us.

Agape really is our central ethic, and is also the core of our ministry. (I'm defining "our ministry" in that sentence as the ministry of each individual -- lay and ordained -- and of the Church as a whole.) Agape is well-described and defined in Scripture, and so understanding it shouldn't be hard -- except that we so rarely actually see it lived out consistently. But our ministers are not to be our primary source of seeing Agape lived out. We are each called to that equally, and so we ought to be able to see what it looks like in the lives of our fellow laypeople just as often as we see it in the lives of our paid ministers.

Agape is not being nice, is it? It is, first of all, characterized by my loyalty to you and to God's purposes in your life, regardless of how well you are "living up to the standards." So I maintain a relationship unless you walk away and make a relationship impossible. But I don't maintain a relationship at the expense of truth -- I maintain a relationship while speaking the truth when to speak the truth clearly seems to accomplish God's purposes best. And I bear the truth quietly but clearly when God's purposes seem best accomplished in your life by allowing Him to speak to you through other means. I pray for you. I encourage you. I do my best to view you the way God wants me to view you, and to interact with you in ways that foster what I believe Him to be doing in you and through you. So the bottom-line to real Agape is abiding in Jesus -- or I cannot view you as He would have me view you, or have the wisdom or power to interact with you in a way that accomplishes His purposes in both of our lives.

We find all kinds of ways to motivate ourselves and each other. We set goals. We go after things that entice us or that we need. Money, sex, power, respect, and accomplishment are just as big motivators in the community of the Church as in the world. But, in both places, that motivation eventually breaks down. Intuitively we know that those things don't satisfy in the end. What we each really need and want is what will satisfy in the end -- and that is to have authentic intimacy with God and with each other and to use our uniqueness in the ways that best accomplish His purposes. Now, that motivates!

To our pastors we often convey the message "Perform for us! Speak TRUTH clearly in ways we can hear it, and live it out in ways that we find attractive, and set ministry goals that make this church a place of successful ministry. If you can't do that, we'll replace you with someone who can." And our churches do it, too, don't they? "Tried that minister . . . let's try the next!" But the message of the Kingdom -- the message that Jesus and Paul taught, and that is conveyed in scripture and in the confessions -- is that God works through real men and real women to change real men and real women to people who abide with Him and then walk in that power. And that embraces the human side of the equation! So the failures and struggles of our leaders are part of what God uses to accomplish His Kingdom purposes, and are not a reason to write them off and look for the next one. ("The qualifications for leadership" is a whole different topic than I am addressing here. The "failures and struggles" I refer to here are the normal struggle with life and success and wisdom that every Christian is subject to. I am not talking here about a public state of enslavement to some sort of repetitive moral failure that would give lie to the statement that the Gospel that we preach brings freedom and full, abundant life. I am talking about not being as great a leader, preacher, and visionary as we might desire in our leaders, or about the quirks of personality and character that show a need for growth or that just irritate me.)

Discipleship is the same whether you are in church leadership or whether you are not. We are each called to take on mentors who will teach us what they know, and will guide us as we struggle, serve, and grow. We are each called to the private spiritual disciplines of prayer, study of scripture, meditation, and practice of other disciplines that lead to personal contact with the triune God. We are each called to full participation in a worshiping and serving community. We are each called to center our "private lives" around whatever God shows as His agendas for us and our families. We are each called to mentor other Christians in the things that God has taught us. And those in church leadership are no less and no more in need of each of those personal commitments.

There is nothing more motivating than actually experiencing God's love, one-on-one from the triune God and one-on-one in real relationships with other disciples. And that is the core of our salvation as we live it out.


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