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I grew up in a time and place where people came to church to strengthen and sustain their relationship with the Lord. They came in obedience to the scriptural mandate to “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.” They considered it their duty, their pleasure, and their reasonable service to faithfully attend and support their church.
They prayed for the Holy Spirit to lead them to the church of God’s choice for them – a place where they would be fed and nurtured by the Word of Truth being rightly divided; a place of fellowship with like-minded followers of Jesus Christ. So the church did not have to advertise, market, entertain, or compete to get and keep members.
The pastor did not have to coddle, cater, or cajole people to come to church, Bible study, or any other church-sponsored activities. They were not there for the pastor, or anyone else but God, and they were not there to be entertained. They understood that the church is not a social club. It is not a place where you come and go at will and without accountability.
The church is the Body of Christ; and the local church is a part of that Body. So it is sacred. It is not perfect, because it consists of human beings – all of whom are flawed and none of whom is perfect. But it is still a sacred Body. Membership is a commitment. If you stood and publicly made that commitment, you did not just walk away from it because somebody made you mad or something didn’t go your way.
And if – as is sometimes the case – you were truly and genuinely LED to leave, you gave notice to the pastor, or to the Board; especially if you held an office or performed a function in the church. You gave notice, because to simply abandon your church and your post of duty within it is no more acceptable than walking off of a job with no notice – and arguably, even less so.
Back in the day, pastors were respected as people who were anointed by God to lead the church. They didn’t just “decide” to be a pastor for a living. They were called and anointed by God, Godself; and if no one else understood and recognized that, the members of their own flock did. In fact, anyone who does not recognize that in their pastor ought to go find another church; like, right away. It was understood that the pastor was as authorized to lovingly correct and rebuke, when needed, as to praise and encourage. The pastor’s job was not to make people feel good every Sunday. It was to nurture their growth in grace and their maturity in the Lord. So if some came to the church without a church background, they were taught what it means to be a good and faithful member of the Body of Christ. And they were open to that. They were even grateful for that.
I know times change. And I acknowledge, with great sorrow, that there are pastors and church members who have caused many to be justifiably disillusioned. But that is not the case for all, or even most, of us. Most of us are doing our best to discern God’s will for us, and to be the church God is calling us to be. So I want people to know that I still believe in these values. I’m “coming out” as an “old-school” pastor who sees it as my job to watch over your souls, and to speak up against anything that I believe to be detrimental to you and/or to Imani. I promise to do that, to the very best of my ability, consistent with the leading of the Holy Spirit. I cannot even express how seriously I take that.
Most folks who would read this know that my late father was a pastor. One of the unique things he was known for was, when another preacher was preaching, while others were saying, “Amen,” and “Preach!” and such things as that, my father’s deep bass voice could be heard saying, “Deliver your soul.” Or, when it got really good to him, he might say, “Deliver your soul, Preacher!”
Eventually, the time came when I asked him, “Daddy, when preachers are preaching, why do you always say, ‘Deliver your soul?’” He told me to get my Bible and read the 33rd chapter of Ezekiel. So I did, and there it was, in verses seven through nine. This is from the King James Version, which was the only one we used back then:
So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he [does] not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
So my father’s exhortation to preachers to “deliver [their] soul” was his way of encouraging them to say exactly what God had given them to say; to not hold back out of anxiety over how the message would be received. Whatever preachers sincerely believe that God inspires them to say, that’s what they should preach. That’s what they had to preach, in order to deliver their souls.
Church life can get messy. That’s not God’s fault. It’s we humans who bring our issues, moods, and attitudes into the mix. And it can get messy. But there are some things that are really clear; behaviors that operate to the detriment of the church and its reputation. Where I come from, when a pastor observed that kind of behavior, he or she addressed it. It didn’t matter that the perpetrators were “grown.” The pastor spoke from a loving heart and with the authority that comes with the office; the authority that comes with the call. And people – grown and otherwise – respected that authority.
We are studying the fruit of the Spirit in Bible study. I hope as many people as can will come out for this. It’s important, because these attributes, are manifested – or not – in how we treat each other, how we speak to each other, and how we present ourselves to others. They are manifested – or not – in the many ways that we show up in the world, in our church, in our homes, our jobs, and even in social media. And when that is not the case, when we present ourselves in ways that are the opposite of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance – and are known to be associated with Imani – we not only do damage to our own reputations; we do damage to Imani’s as well. At that point, Beloved, I do not have the luxury of worrying about whether perpetrators will be offended. My job is to watch for their souls and to protect the interests of our church, and only by doing that can I deliver my own soul as well.