Why Forgiveness is so Hard
It’s easier to go to war.
I’m not talking geopolitical battles, although it is likely true regarding international and cultural conflicts. I am talking about the battles that rage in our homes, communities, workplaces, and churches. The wars that rage inside of us and around us are just as real as the wars we hear about in the news.
I have been rereading Matthew 18 and realize that for the most part, it is about relationships and the value of embracing lostness, conflict, sin and forgiveness from the perspective of there being real people on the other end of each of these things.
It’s easy in conflict to turn people into problems and begin to relate to them as objects. Truthfully, the problems and the people are intertwined. Here’s an example:
Sue and John were a newly married couple working full-time jobs. Between the two of them, there was enough money to pay the rent, car payment, buy groceries and have a little bit, though not much, extra.
Their schedules were out of sync so they often met for a quick dinner at cheap fast food restaurant. They didn’t see each other again until they were exhausted at the end of each night. Mornings were always a rush to get ready for work and get out the door.
Sue often felt like John put work first. It fact, she jokingly referred to work as his other wife. John felt underappreciated for the things he did like helping with the laundry and other household chores. He also wished they had more time for physical intimacy. Sue wanted intimacy but had very different ideas on what that meant. She liked walks and talks and maybe a movie.
Both of them were tired. Reading and good cup of coffee in the corner of a coffee shop tended to energize John. A long talk or the synergy of working on a task with John tended to energize Sue.
In time, their “out of sync” personalities, schedules, and perspectives began to wear on their relationship with each other.
John began to feel like Sue didn’t understand him. She really didn’t know much about his needs, desires, or cares. She didn’t appreciate how hard he worked or how much he pitched in around the house.
Sue felt like John’s commitment was to everything but her. He was a doer so everything was about how much got done. She felt like John’s “get it done” behavior was actually part of the problem. His deeds done were a list to be held against her, instead of a help coming alongside her. He wanted intimacy, but not “intimacy.”
In time each began to identify the problem(s).
Sue saw the problem
- Work is more important than me
- Tasks are a list to use against me
- Time with me is nothing more than another task
- He doesn’t care about me
- All he wants is __ __ __.
- He really doesn’t know me
- He doesn’t understand my needs
John saw the problem
- She doesn’t appreciate the things I do
- She doesn’t even notice when I help out
- She doesn’t really care about me
- All she wants is a guy who acts like a girlfriend…. Talk… talk… talk.
- She doesn’t understand me or my needs.
John began to see Sue as negative, unappreciative, uncaring, nagging, and needy. Sue began to see John as passive-aggressive, non-relational, and work-obsessed.
When Persons Become Invisible
The more they saw, the more they didn’t. Yes, they saw “things.” And that became part of the problem. It fact, it was the problem. They began to see the problems, “things,” more than the person who the problems began to represent. In fact, the person became “the problem.”
Pretty soon the person began to fade into the background and the problems became the person.
One might say, that each person lost their personhood in the eyes of the other. In time, even seeing each other began to be painful because the problems were really what was in view. Each person began to relate to the other from inside of a box, justifying their feelings and behavior because the other person was uncaring, insensitive, and lacking understanding.
This happens in marriage, work relationships, other family situations and nearly every conflict imaginable. People begin to see problems more than persons. They objectify the other people and begin to justify their own behavior based on their perceptions. The more they justify their own behavior the more they “see things” and the less they see the person. Both want the other person to change their behavior. Neither realizes how much their own behavior is contributing to the conflict.
The First Step of Peace
The first step toward peace and forgiveness is often the most overlooked. This is true in marriage, work, community, and church relationships. The reason it’s overlooked isn’t because we don’t know we should forgive. Forgiveness is difficult because we don’t understand “why we don’t forgive?”
Admittedly, some forgiveness in hard. When a person has physically or sexually abused another person, forgiveness is still necessary, but so is justice. Forgiveness doesn’t mean abuse is ignored.
Addressing “Sin” and “Why We Don’t Forgive?”
Sometimes addressing sin is impossible because we don’t understand the root of sin and the beginning of forgiveness. It’s possible that the reason we “sin” against others and “why we don’t forgive?” are actually tied together.
Why Some Forgive and Others Don’t
Matthew 18:21-35 tells the story of a king who calls the debt of servant. The debt is enormous. A talent was actually a weight measurement, not a coin. A Roman talent was 75lbs. A Heavy Talent was 130lbs.
The first servant (forgiven servant) in the story owed 10,000 talents, the equivalent of 750,000lbs. 6,000 Denarii equaled 1 talent. A single denarii was worth a one day’s labor. As you can see, the first servant owed an insurmountable debt to the king. Since the servant could not pay the debt the king ordered that everything the servant had, including his wife and children be sold, in an attempt to recover some of the debt.
The servant begged the king for more time. He pleaded for mercy. There were likely uncontrolled tears and stories about his precious children and his wife along with promises to pay. The king was moved. He was moved to the extent that he did more than just give more time for payment to be made. He forgave it all. Every penny! All 10,000 talents worth.
Soon after that same servant called the debt of a second servant. The second servant owed him 100 denarii. Remember, 1 denarii was equal to a day of labor, just under 20 weeks. In anger, the first servant (the forgiven one) seized his fellow servant (the un-forgiven servant) and began to choke him. The second servant also plead for patience. It was not given! The first “forgiven” servant refused. He threw his fellow servant in jail for non-payment.
Things that Get in the Way of Forgiveness
One might ask “Why?” Why would he not forgive?
The reason is obvious. The money (thing/object) was more important than the person. From the first servant’s perspective, the money was more valuable than his fellow servant. His perspective can be illustrated in an equation using less than < greater than > symbols.
The Servant < 100 D
D x 102 > S
D = Denarii and S = Servant
The servant is worth less than the object. The servant has been objectified. The servant’s value has been degraded. The servant is merely a means to an end and has no value other than the other servant’s enrichment.
The first servant was treated very differently. He also owed a debt. His debt wasn’t just greater, it was an unpayable debt. Apart from mercy, he had no hope of ever paying the debt. And one might ask, why did the king forgive that servant’s debt? Did the debt not matter?
The debt did matter. However, the king forgave the debt because of his perspective on what was more valuable. The king’s perspective can also be illustrated in an equation.
The Servant > 10,000 T
T x 104 < FS
T = Talents and FS = Forgiven Servant
The Root of Sin
It seems that the root of sin is often the “objectification” of people. When objects are more valuable than people, forgiveness is impossible. Sometimes those objects are intangible things like a demand that the other person change before we forgive them. We are demanding them to pay their “debt” to us. In such situations, the person has less value than whatever demand we are making.
The Beginning of Forgiveness
Forgiveness begins when we relate to people as real people, flesh and blood people, made in the image of God people. The king forgave the first servant because one forgiven servant was more valuable than a treasury full of money. One forgiven servant and his family was “a treasure” to the king and his kingdom. The king’s most valuable asset was his people and their welfare. It was an easy trade. Having one servant saved was more important than having large sums of money.
Relating to Real People
5 Questions for Moving Toward Forgiveness.
Having a heart of forgiveness begins with seeing people, real people, flesh and blood, made in the image of God people, on the other end of every conflict. Some questions that can help us move toward forgiveness.
- Begin to think about the “things” that get in the way of your relationship(s).
- What demands are you making of other people “before” you begin to extend to them the forgiveness that they need?
- What are the most valuable “things” in your life right now?
- Are you demanding that another person changes before you relate to them?
- Based on your demands, what might you need to change before you can properly relate to another person?
It’s hard to make ministry meetings exciting. But they are necessary and there are ways to make them more effective. Here are some thoughts on effective ministry oriented staff meetings.
Prayer is essential. It helps us stay dependent on God! Charles Spurgeon taught, “Sometimes we think we are too busy to pray. That is a great mistake, for praying is a savings of time.” Martin Luther said, “The less I pray, the harder it gets; the more I pray the better it goes.” E. M. Bounds said, “Prayer is our most formidable weapon; the thing which makes all else we do efficient.” The absence of prayer likely means and absence of power. Prayer is the most effective weapon we have as leaders. Yet, it is often the one thing we neglect. Give prayer it’s proper time in all of your meetings. It’s hard to have effective meetings if we don’t have a foundation of prayer!
Use an Agenda
I know it’s boring, but sometimes the most boring things are the things that help us see the holes in the way we are doing things. I actually have a google docs template called Staff Meetings. All of the mundane things you find on a typical agenda are there. Date, attendees, ongoing discussion items, new discussion items, and action steps.
I don’t know what prompted me to start using an agenda for our staff meetings, but I do know our meetings have been more effective than they use to be. Some weeks are awesome! Some weeks are just OK. But at least we have a running agenda of things we have been and are talking about.
Invite the Right People
Every church is different. Each churches staff has different needs. Large churches might need multiple staff meetings for each department. Smaller churches may have a pastor and a few volunteers. Every church has to adapt to their situation and needs. Really small churches may only meet monthly. Larger churches may meet in a weekly staff meeting and daily check-ins. Our staff meeting consists of the Pastoral Staff, our resident in training, our primary secretary, and our facilities director. We meet each Monday for our regular staff meeting and the first Monday of every month for a longer Strategic Meeting.
Review the Previous Week
I know it might seem obvious because it is. There’s nothing sophisticated about these meetings. We tend to begin asking questions at this point. Example questions are:
- What went well last week?
- What needs attention?
- What was missed?
- What didn’t get done?
- What was the best part of your last week?
Prepare for the Week Ahead
Everyone should have a clear direction for what the week ahead looks like. This is an opportunity to share goals for the week ahead with the rest of the staff. Nitty gritty isn’t the goal here. Big Picture is. Questions can help each person identify what needs to be shared.
- Think about your area of influence:
- What’s going well?
- What’s not?
- What is confusing?
- What is missing?
- What’s one thing you absolutely have to get done this week?
- Is there anything the rest of us need to know?
Address Big Picture Ministry Items
This is where we address ministry items that affect the entire church. The most recent items we discussed in our staff meeting were our ministry check-in process, our Sunday morning facilities checklist and technology checklist.
These may not seem like big items. They do, however, affect our ministries in significant ways. Our check-in process helps us identify attendance trends and connect new people to the ministries of the church. The facilities and technology checklists help us train people on every step of getting ready for a service. Checklists make it possible for everyone to know exactly what needs to happen to get ready for a service. If our pastors or key people are gone, everything is more likely to move along without hiccups.
Actions items usually happen outside of the meeting. These are the things people commit to doing between now and the next meeting. Action items should focus on what needs to be done, who is going to do it and by when.
If a meeting is going to be effective then we should spend more time praying about what needs to be discussed and acted upon. Coming up with an agenda 5 minutes before a meeting is bound to be ineffective. Planning for the next meeting begins on the day your most recent meeting is finished. I usually start putting things on our next meeting agenda right away. I review my notes from the meeting, identify items that we need to continue thinking about, and make some notes for our next meeting.
Planning for the next meeting begins on the day your most recent meeting is finished. I usually start putting things on our next meeting agenda right away. I review my notes from the meeting, identify items that we need to continue thinking about, and make some notes for our next meeting.
Here are some resources that can help you think more about good meetings:
The Best Books on How to Have Effective Meetings
Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni is one of the most recommended books on this subject. It’s an enjoyable read because it’s a fable that is enthralling and full of instruction all at the same time. It provides a framework for great meetings that is applicable to ministry and life. It also focusses in on a cure for bad meetings.
In Death by Meeting Lencioni makes a case for good meetings and how they can invigorate an organization and eliminate wasted time and energy.
When Small Town Ministry Becomes a Long-Term Commitment
I was a youth pastor in the largest town in Montana for seven years. The thought of going to a small town was petrifying. I grew up in a small town and never wanted to go back. As a result, longevity in a small town was not the plan because a small town was not in the plan.
When it became obvious that a small town was in my future, I told God, “three years.” Consequently, you can you can imagine my surprise when three years into my stint in a small town, population 1600, I was shaken with the realization that I had fallen in love with my congregation and community.
Since then, I have been asked to consider positions in much larger venues. Over and over again have felt God’s leading to stay put. In many ways, I feel like I would be taking a step down by leaving. I would have to accept a larger salary for the diminished return of not seeing long-term ministry goals achieved. I would accept a much larger congregation with its responsibilities for the deep relationships that have been built here and around the world. And I would accept a more restricted schedule because of new ministry demands for the freedom in my schedule built by years of trust, understanding, and missions work.
Found Benefits of Long-Term Small Town Ministry
- Longevity produces an incredible amount of trust. People share deeply with pastors they know are going to be around in the next year or two. And the church tends to give longer-term pastors more freedom in decision making.
- Longevity allows pastors to work on super long-term goals. No exit plan, allows a pastor to build long-term discipleship models and ministries that couldn’t be built in a year or two.
- Longevity allows pastors and churches to celebrate their history together. Furthermore, celebrating the good times happens best when the challenges times have had a chance to pass by. A history of salvations, baptisms, family dedications, ministry successes, and God moments will always trump the lean times, conflicts, and tragedies.
- Longevity and developing spiritual health in a church often go together. One of the key factors in developing spiritual health is discernment, and discernment often takes time. A lack of discernment about sin, barriers to growth, and spiritual ruts sabotages maturity. Long term ministry allows for discernment, insight, and observation. It takes time parents to raise children to maturity. The same is true with believers. Maturity develops with time and attention to what matters most.
- Longevity allows small town ministers to realize that BIG ministry happens in small settings. Small town churches are often changing the world in big ways. Some small churches are doing more ministry that other churches double, triple and even quadruple their size. Their vision is as big as the world.
- Longevity allows small town pastors and leaders to plan BIG ministry goals. Enough said!
Small Doesn’t Mean Small Ministry
I truly believe that small town pastors and leaders are changing the world in big ways. And I believe that God often uses the small to transform the community and the world.
Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin… Zechariah 4:10
Why Small Town Ministry Still Matters!
Sometimes it seems like small town/small church ministry has fallen off the radar. Urban and Suburban churches get a lot of press. Their size, resources and public persona are impressive. They often have a large budget and large staff. And we should celebrate the work God is doing through this ministries.
Small Church ministry isn’t as exciting. Things happen more slowly in small churches. Small churches often have a pastor or two and a small group of committed volunteers. Small church pastors live in anonymity with very few people having any idea of who they are or what they are doing. It’s easy for small church pastors/leaders to get discouraged!
Persistent Persevering Ministry
There is a place for the small town/small church. In fact, these churches might be God’s way of preserving Christianity in antagonistic cultures.
I want to encourage you to read the article I linked to below. Here’s one paragraph from the article that I found interesting. It has implications for small town/small church ministry.
Despite many centuries of Muslim domination, the Coptic Church has pressed on as an embattled and marginalized minority. What made the difference? You guessed it. Villages. Small Towns. Rural Areas. When the Christian faith sunk deep roots into the lives of the common people in the local language in rural areas, the church survived the political and religious turmoil that devastated the churches in major cities. (Karl Dahlfred)
I once heard Chip Ingram suggest that small town churches are, in many ways, the last front for Christianity in America. Hmmmm….
Here’s the link to the article I reference:
Why Villages Matter: How the Church Died in North Africa, but Survived in Egypt
Twitter In recent years, it has become popular among evangelicals (especially Reformed evangelicals) to emphasize church planting in big cities. Numerous books, articles, and blog posts have put forth the call to plant churches in the major urban centers of the world,under the belief that what happens in the […]
Click here to view original web page at dahlfred.com
Karl Vaters is one of the most prolific bloggers on small church ministry. His recent article on why small churches don’t grow is excellent.
Small Churches and Small Church Pastors
I have been pastoring a church in a small town for the last 16 years and know how often questions like these come to mind. They’re good questions that deserve good answers and my prayer is that pastors of small churches can find encouragement as they work through what it means to thrive in a small church situation.
Small Church Doesn’t Mean Small Ministry
Small church ministry doesn’t mean small ministry. Thriving in a small church has a lot to do with considering where God has you now and how to minister well in your context given your resources and the vision God has put on your heart.
My own opinion: there are far more resources in the small church, and small churches can do far more than ministry than they give themselves the opportunity to do.
Consider following the link and reading the article by Karl Vaters.
Small Church Growth
Why don’t small churches grow? When you run a website, as I do with NewSmallChurch.com , you get to see the search terms people use to find it. That question is one that pops up all the time. So today I’m going to take a stab at answering it. […]
Click here to view original web page at www.christianitytoday.com
Big Church Assumptions about Small Churches
Christianity Today recently published an article titled 7 Big Church Assumptions that Unintentionally Hurt Small Churches by Karl Vader. If you’re a small church pastor, you will identify with several of the points. You can read the article on the Christianity Today website, but here’s a summary of the 7 points, in my own words.
Big Churches Sometimes Think:
- Small Churches are broken churches.
- We’re the professional, you’re the amateurs.
- Our victories will automatically work in your setting.
- You’re lazy and or stupid, which is why there’s less growth.
- Small equals, God’s not working.
- Since you’re not growing in size, you must be unhealthy.
- You can’t teach us anything.
It’s important for those of us who pastor small churches to remember that an article called 7 Small Church Assumptions that Unintentionally Hurt Big Churches could easily be written. All of us have made wrong assumptions about each other. And those assumptions sometimes hurt the other. Maybe a heart check on both sides can help us see the benefits we have in each other. Furthermore, it’s important for us to remember that sometimes we read too much into each others assumptions.
If you’re interested in reading the Christianity Today article there’s a short excerpt below along with the link to the article.
7 Big Church Assumptions that Unintentionally Hurt Small Churches
If you were trying to help someone, would you want to know if you were unintentionally hurting them? Of course. Sometimes that’s what happens when big churches try to help small churches. Not every time. Not even most of the time. But often enough that […]
Click here to view original web page at www.christianitytoday.com
Small Church Leadership
Ministry in small churches and small communities looks different. Unfortunately, most of the books on how to “do ministry” are written by pastors of larger churches in suburban or urban areas. Their ideas are relevant to an extent because the body of Christ is the body of Christ. At the same time, the body of Christ is diverse and it has diverse needs.
As the pastor of a small church in a small community for the last 16 years, I understand some of the unique needs of these churches. I also want to encourage you as you seek to minister in their communities.
I am concerned because a recent report published by Faith Communities Today found that congregations in small towns and rural areas are the least likely to grow. This stands to reason because most small communities have static or limited growth themselves. That said, a good portion of people in your community are not connected to a local church.
If you are a leader or pastor of a small town church, consider the following.
- Ministry in a small community has to target a wide spectrum of people simply because there aren’t as many people to reach.
- Ministering in a small community requires flexibility, constant evaluation, and a willingness to change because the diversity of ages and needs demand it.
- Ministry in a small community should always maintain a sense of urgency to reach the lost. Other good things like church services, visitation, congregational care, church socials, weddings, and funerals will be all consuming and apart from an urgency to share the gospel, reaching the lost will be lost to the tyranny of other demands.
- Ministry in a small town requires credibility. Both the church and the pastor have to maintain a high level of credibility or it will affect everything the church stands for and tries to do.
- Ministry in a small church or community still requires a clear mission, vision, and strategy. Healthy churches are clear about who they are, why they do the things they do, and what they are going to do to live out the gospel in their community.
- Ministry in a small church and community needs to have a particular focus on families and young people. Ministry is always focused on every age and stage. That said, ministry should also focus on raising up Godly young people.. Spiritual birth by Godly parents and grandparents ensures the gospel will continue to be shared generation after generation. The healthiest small church/small community churches I know of always have a strong focus on children, youth and family ministry.
- Ministry in a small church emphasizes relationships over tasks. Getting things done always takes second place to doing things together.
- Ministry in small churches requires optimism particularly in the area of change. Being willing to try new things even if there’s a chance they will fail encourages risk taking and future successes. It’s hard to celebrate new victories if nothing new if happening.
- It’s good for small churches or churches in small communities to know “what makes them different” than every other church in their community and region. Answering the question, “What do we do better than 10,000 other churches?” can motivate ministry and unleash the power of your church. The Holy Spirit uniquely gifts churches with strengths to do ministry in their local setting. What are your unique gifts?
- Worship in small churches needs to be inspirational, joyful, encouraging, thoughtful, and full of the presence of God. The music and service elements should be organized and done well. Music can be a blend of styles, done well, and thoughtfully put together.
These things should be true of all ministries:
- Ministry needs to be Biblical. In a small community, the one thing that might unite us when other things don’t is the Bible. Certain Bible passages may speak more strongly to us about what unity looks like in a small community because diversity is the norm. The whole church needs to find its motivation for ministry and guidance in life from the Bible.
- Churches should also make every meeting a spiritual event by recognizing that the real leader of the church is Jesus. Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He is the head of the church. And He is interceding on our behalf.