Letters to CWLA: Pastor Brian

“It is an inescapable conclusion that God made Cornerstone. And he made it good. And I am happy.”

In conjunction with our “Letters to a Healthy Church” sermon series, each pastor has written a letter to Cornerstone in a similar style to Paul's pastoral letters. We pray they will be a blessing and encouragement to you.
Dear Cornerstone,

You are one of my favorite things.  

I remember the first time I heard a pastor talking about how challenging it was working with his church.  He was lonely, a bit burnt out, but still faithful.  He was navigating power struggles among leaders, tons of criticism from long-time members, being blamed for the church not growing as fast as the church down the street, and his wife was being put to work as a “pastor’s wife” (which apparently meant functioning as an unpaid staff person).  All the while you could tell being the pastor meant not being a full part of the church.  He was apart from everyone else, at best a leader to follow and at worst an employee to critique.  

I’ve heard that same story lots of times.  Pastors of churches that are growing every week still feel like they’re constantly on trial.  Pastors who have been at the same church for ten years still feel like they don’t have friends.  I’ve sat in rooms full of pastors who say they need to make sure they have friends outside the church who they can really talk to.  I’ve been to conferences where pastors have traveled for miles, at great expense, just to be around other pastors so they won’t feel lonely for a few days.  I’ve heard about the constant tension in the pastor’s home between “work” and “family.”  I’ve heard about the monthly conversation between a pastor and his wife where she asks for the umpteenth time, “How long is it going to be like this?”  I’ve heard about “pastor’s kid syndrome,” where the crushing expectations of the church trap his children in a glass house, their moral performance scrutinized by every adult they meet.  They stop being children with names and stories and growing to be done.  They’re just faceless “good kids,” only standing out when they make a mistake.  

I hear about all of it, and I don’t know what to say, because that’s never been my experience.

I feel constantly encouraged by you.  I have never once felt like an “employee,” nor some distant “leader.”  This is my home, my family, my community, my people.  You have always made me feel like I belong, even though I have not always made it easy.  I have never felt like I was valued only because of my performance.  I have never had to find friends from a different church so I could be the “real me.”  I have never had to go to a conference so I could avoid loneliness.  My wife has never been put to work as staff or asked to perform as a Christian superwoman. You know my kids names, and you don’t stare at them if they misbehave, as though that’s not how pastor’s kids should act. Instead, you help me parent them. They have more “aunts and uncles” than I ever thought they would. When they throw tantrums we are just another family that you love, raising kids who sometimes throw tantrums.

You are so amazing, so gracious and gentle, so much of a family to me that sometimes I can’t talk about it with other pastors, because I’m worried it will depress them. Cornerstone is so awesome, I actually have to downplay it.
There are two things that don’t add up to me in my life. First, that my wife married me. I’m not just being sweet, and this isn’t false modesty. Given the quality of her character and what I put her through when she was “just a friend” for five years, the “yeah, I guess I was worth it” ship sailed a long time ago. Second, that I would end up a pastor of a church like you. Much better men than I are at churches that don’t love them a tenth of the way you love me.  I’m not sure why God sees fit to do things like that, but I am very grateful.

Sometimes I want to take some credit for how great you are. You know, “I must have done something right as a pastor to have a church like this,” that sort of sneaky self-congratulation. But it just doesn’t add up that way. It is an inescapable conclusion that God made Cornerstone. And he made it good. And I am happy.  

And that is what I will always encourage you towards:  the knowledge that God is not withholding, and, while sometimes it is difficult to trace his hand, we can always trust his heart. The gospel, the great substitution of Jesus for us—rejection for acceptance, death for life, no mercy for mercy—is who God is, what he has done, and what he is like.

That’s the reason why you know my kids’ names. It’s the reason you don’t value me only for my performance. It’s the reason you see me as a person before you see me as a pastor. The gospel is like that. It knows names, it loves for Jesus’ sake, it sees people and stories instead of goods and commodities. And the God of the gospel is what you love most of all.

Some people claim that. They are gospel-centered, and they love their Bible, and Jesus is their first love. It says so on their website. But they save their excitement for something else, some Christian hobby horse. When they get worked up, or overjoyed, or angry, it’s about some other thing, some non-gospel thing. It makes for a church where people talk about grace but then evaluate on performance.  

But you don’t just claim it, you live it.  It’s the other things—even the other important things—that can’t eclipse that one thing of first importance: the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  When you lose sight of him, fight to find it. When you fail, lean on him. When you are weary, rest in him. When you are insecure, hide in him. When you are tempted, take greater pleasure in him.

He makes us the church we are.  His presence is what gives us love, and grace, and peace with each other. He makes lonely sinners into a family of saints, one that I can’t believe I get to call my home.

We are going to enjoy God together for a long time. You will always be one of my favorite things.