I have had the opportunity throughout the years to speak at summer camps and conferences, and almost without exception there is the inevitable end- of- the- week program put on by the children showing what they have learned about Jesus. The children gather in the front to say some memory verses and to sing some special songs they have learned. The average person would probably take a Dramamine at this point if they didn’t have a kid in the program.
However, being an old psychology major in college, I have noticed that the same personality types and behaviors are present no matter what group of kids is performing. There is always the little boy who has no idea what is going on; who is just looking around like he’s a walk-on never having seen any of these people before. There is also the little girl (and it usually is a girl) who knows every verse and every word to the songs, and is singing at the top of her lungs like she is trying out for American Idol. Finally, there is the kid (boy or girl) who while singing, is waving frantically to his/her folks as if they are about ready to go home and leave her/him at camp for the rest of the summer. I love it! Check me out on this the next time you witness a children’s program. These kids are just being who they are; they can’t help it!
John Miller, in his book The Contentious Community, compares the church to a children’s choir singing about Jesus. “Innocence and guile are perched on the edge of the platform, waiting to burst forth in song or shove some unsuspecting freckle-faced being to an ignominious landing three feet below. And it isn’t that Bonnie is innocent and Bobby is full of guile; it is that innocence and guile, the ideal and the real, are coursing through the veins of each.”
My friend Marshall Shelley, in Ministering to Problem People in Your Church (highly recommended), writes “The church, indeed every Christian, is an odd combination of self-sacrificing saint and self-serving sinner. And the church, unlike some social organizations, doesn’t have the luxury of choosing its members; the church is an assembly of all who profess themselves believers. Within that gathering is found a full range of sinner/saint combinations. Ministry is a commitment to care for all members of the body, even those whose breath is tainted with dragon smoke.”
As a pastor, I have learned that much of the unsettledness and criticism that people have of their church come from the issues they are facing in their own lives. The anger we have because we’ve been passed over for that job or because of what’s happening at home often gets redirected at the church. Our feelings of frustration or increasing insignificance due to where we are in life often flashes out when we feel we are not heard or our preferences not honored at church. All this is not to say that the church is perfect, but to hallmark the fact that the church is made up of imperfect people; “innocence and guile, the ideal and the real, are coursing through the veins of each.”
How do I know all this amazing stuff? It is because I too am a unique combo of sinner/saint with the faint odor of dragon breath (ok, maybe not so faint). We pastors need to recognize this and not to play the victim by thinking that we’d be better pastors if we just had better people. George MacLeod said, “I’ve never met a man who wanted to be bad.” This is who we are; this why we have needed the grace of the gospel to save us as well as to sanctify us. It is also why we need one another, though thrown together in an unlikely children’s choir, to help each other sing praises to Jesus and to keep his Word in our hearts.