a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.
If an attitude is a “settled way of thinking and feeling,” there are three crucial theological attitudes pastors need to “settle.” And then settle them again. These three attitudes will permeate your life and ministry.
Theological Attitude #1 “It’s not your church.”
It is easy to have a sense of ownership of the church. You pour your life into it; you know that it is the only “institution” that will endure for eternity; you grasp that the lives of men and women are at stake.
The primacy of the Church is an easy thing to clutch on to.
But it’s not your Church.
Jesus never said he was building our church, but his Church. “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18 (ESV) The Church, the ekklesia, is made up of the “called out ones.” Certainly, they are called out unto God, not to pastors.
When our attitude is that our church is God’s, we hold on to it more loosely. We don’t have to act like everything depends on us. We realize that we cannot save, we cannot sanctify others, and we cannot add to the church fruit that will endure. It is humbling to realize that. And that is exactly the point.
When we humble ourselves and realize the church is not ours, our posture will be more prayerful, less controlling, and more hopeful. The God of hope can fill us with joy, peace, and the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
Theological Attitude # 2 “Your church is not your identity.”
Our local church is not our identity.
I used to bump into “Bill” regularly. We pastored churches two miles from each other, had children in the same school, and my children took music lessons from his wife. Every time I ran into Bill, I would ask how he was doing. And every time, he would tell me how his church was doing. “We are doing great,” he’d say. Attendance is running 20% above last year and we have building plans.” (By the way, how come attendance always “runs?”)
Once I finally said, “I didn’t ask how the church was doing. I asked how you were doing.” He just stood there — speechless.
Let me quickly say, mea culpa. I understand Bill, because a part of him lives in me. In the church I served in those days, I remember walking into the foyer each and every week. There was a table there, and the ushers would take the attendance and leave it in a drawer. The last thing I would do each week was check that drawer. Not all bad, in and of itself. But my mood was too often determined by that attendance sheet.
When it was bad, I was bad. When it was good, I was good.
We all may over-identify with our work, but it carries more weight when that work is the church. First, there is so, so, very much beyond the pastor’s control. If we place our identity in something so in flux, we are at great risk. As Peter Drucker noted, pastoring is a leadership task second to none. Very few pastors go from success to success over the course of their ministry.
Secondly, circumstances change, and we as pastors change. I think of one dear friend who was a church planter. His first church did very well. It grew to over five hundred. A number of years later, he planted another church. Essentially, it failed. Different time, different location, different stage of life. He wrote openly of his dismay and discouragement. It was a painful time. Gladly, he took a position in an established church and is doing well.
We are terribly unrealistic and set ourselves up for failure when we tie our identity to the “success” of our church. Our identity comes from being beloved of God and in union with Christ.
Theological Attitude #3 – “We are called to be servants.”
Richard Mouw told a memorable story when he became president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Shortly after his inauguration, he received some “junk mail.” It was addressed to the “Resident” of Fuller Seminary.
He was not the President, he was the Resident!
He reflected on the reality that he was a steward of the seminary. Someone had gone before him, and someone would come after him. He was called to be a servant leader in-between those times.
How true! We are “residents” of the churches we serve. We are there for a season, serving Christ as the Head of the Church, and serving our people, his beloved saints. People know when you love them and are there to serve them. As Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matthew 23:11 (NIV)
Lastly, what more can we say about “theological attitudes” than this?
5 The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:
6 He always had the nature of God,
but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
7 Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being
and appeared in human likeness.
8 He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—
his death on the cross. Philippians 2:5-8 (GNB)
Pastor, what are your theological attitudes?