Recently I was with a group of “young” pastors, young that is not so much in age as in experience – all in their first stint as the one in charge of a congregation.  As they sat and talked, the tone was mostly frustrated, cynical, and angry.  They were angry because their people were not doing what the pastors thought they should do. As I listened to them chat I was taken back in memory to a time when I was an angry pastor.  It is a fact that pastors are dependent on the people to make things we want to see happen in the church happen, but we can’t make them do these things.  Also they pay our salary, which  makes us even more dependent in some scary ways.  Voila!  Angry pastors.

In order to cope during this period of my life I went away a couple of times a year for silent retreat.  On one of these retreats I picked up a book of letters written by an English bishop in the mid-1800’s.  These were mainly letters of advice and encouragement written to pastors under his care.  Many of them were struggling, many were discouraged, some were angry.  What struck me in his responses to these pastors was this refrain: love your people.  Love your people, he said it over and over again.  Pastoring begins with loving the people.

These were not words I particularly wanted to hear at the time, but now I realize it is the only way.  It is all too easy to use the church as a means to further our own rather murky personal agendas- often we slip into this without even realizing it. The  call to love the people – no matter how unlovable they may be – is one way God makes sure that  we  are really working God’s  agenda in the church instead of our own.  Before he went to the cross Jesus COMMANDED his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:12).  A more fractious bunch never existed than what he had to deal with.  In the same text He also talked a lot about the Holy Spirit.  I don’t think this was a coincidence.  The love Jesus commands of us  comes when we put God – not the church – first in our lives.  Loving people who get in our way and frustrate our goals is not human.  It only comes from God.  And it is the most powerful thing in the world.  It can even make angry pastors loveable.