Real Eldering

I got this email the other day and in answering it felt I should let a few others look over my shoulder. I know he is not alone in his concern and perhaps others will be encouraged by this exchange:

Over the past year my wife and I have had some close friends go into deep funks in which they won’t return phone calls, emails, etc. These are folks we have known for some time and fellowshipped with on a pretty regular basis. Each situation is independent of the others and in all cases no one seems to be currently having any relationship with Jesus and are instead showing signs of addictions, depression or…well, funk. Over the past year we have both repeatedly left voice messages and sent emails but have received virtually no response from any one except one who has simply said she would rather feel numb right now than deal with her life.
 
I know that Father has called, or maybe better put, wired me to pastor. I know what that doesn’t mean but I guess maybe I’m struggling a bit with what it does mean. Over the years I (we) have tried hard to simply be friends with people and have positioned ourselves to be in the messes and struggles with them and not control them. We have offered help and input as we were led but steered clear of controlling people or distancing ourselves if they chose not to take our help. 
 
I know this isn’t the end but rather a season and nothing but nothing can separate them from the love of Father. I’m not sure what my question is but hope you can hear my heart and what I am trying to express. I feel like I could have/should have done more for these friends and that I still should. I understand the old saying, “you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink and if you force him to drink it’s called drowning.” But I can’t help but wonder if I had been more authoritative they would all be in a better place right now. As painful as these situations have been for Kim when I express this to her she thinks I’m nuts.

Honestly, I’m with your wife on this. 😉

I’ve had it on my heart of late to spend more time with people who want to help others live loved, than just spending time with folks who want to live loved. I think people have lost all sense of what a true pastor or elder is—someone who knows how to help and encourage others to live inside a relationship with Father in a growing journey of learning to live in his love and share that with others. Your note seems to be a further nudge that direction. I’m not sure how that will work yet, but I know people all over the world who are really gifted as pastors and elders, not in the traditional sense but in the Biblical sense, but simply are unsure how to do it relationally. Without the position, title, or job description they seem to drift aimlessly unsure how to really help others. I want to spend time with people like that, those who are already learning to live inside Father’s love for themselves, and now want to find creative ways to help others. But that’s something God is going to have to show us how to do going forward.

That said, one of the worst things we do to ourselves is second-guess what we could or should have done or said, especially when we are feeling responsible for how someone else is responding. This would have killed Jesus, I’m sure, long before he got to the cross. He invited people to the kingdom, and he didn’t seem to get too freaked out when people missed the open door, and wandered off to spend more time in their self-effort or religious performance. Paul didn’t either. If people weren’t listening yet it was because their eyes were veiled and they weren’t ready to see. Neither of them blamed themselves for not being more authoritarian. The kingdom is an invitation for the hungry not a demand on the complacent. As sad as it is, some times people just need to stew in their mess a bit longer.

Sure an authoritative approach might have gotten them to conform their outward behavior to please you, but the inner life would have been more at risk. Thinking they are doing OK by how they look on the outside, they wouldn’t be dealing with the reality of their mess on the inside. Freedom is all about letting people live inside their choices, even when those choices are hurtful to themselves and others. You can always be lovingly, honest with them, helping them see a better way as God gives us insight and grace. But you’ll come to recognize those who are hungry and want your help, and those who aren’t ready yet and shy away. Don’t think that’s a bad thing. Keep praying and keep loving without badgering them. When they are ready to find healing and life in Jesus, they will fight their way through every obstacle to embrace it.

Perhaps the most difficult part of loving is letting others have the very freedom they are using to destroy themselves. I see the Father of the prodigal son doing exactly that. I’ll give you the freedom to ruin your life, in hopes that the ruin will invite you back to me! That’s more painful loving than the euphoria of welcoming them home when they come.

So don’t be too hard on yourself, Bro! If being more authoritarian wins the day, then I’m not sure you haven’t lost the greater prize for them and you.

Share this Post!

Related post

20 Comments
  1. Nancy March 14, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Freedom for all, that is what Jesus gives. That sense of personal responsibility is so very strong in the Christian literature I have read, and has been both an incredible burden and a hugely prideful thing in my life. And I had no idea for so long….. Thank you, Wayne. I often think of you as the little boy in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. You help us see the truth (unlike that boy, you share the positive Truth too!) And every day now, and usually in very small increments, Jesus puts one more bit of truth in my heart that sets me free to live in his love.

  2. Nancy March 14, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Freedom for all, that is what Jesus gives. That sense of personal responsibility is so very strong in the Christian literature I have read, and has been both an incredible burden and a hugely prideful thing in my life. And I had no idea for so long….. Thank you, Wayne. I often think of you as the little boy in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. You help us see the truth (unlike that boy, you share the positive Truth too!) And every day now, and usually in very small increments, Jesus puts one more bit of truth in my heart that sets me free to live in his love.

  3. Amy S. March 14, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    This area is a hard one for me… just had a conversation yesterday, and walked away from it bewildered that the person could not see the message of freedom I was talking about.

    Absolutely beautiful said, Wayne! You can offer them the treasure, but they have to reach out and take it. To force them to open up their hands and take hold of it will not last. It’s quite a relief to tell you the truth! That I don’t have to make them take it… that’s the Holy Spirit’s job… to bare witness in their hearts and unveil their eyes.

    Phew!

  4. Bones March 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Wayne, this is an excellent exchange between you and your friend! Thanks for sharing in! Our experience confirms what you’ve described, in that the more authority we exercised in the lives of believers around us, the more insecure, complacent, dependent, and immature they were. As we began to alter our approach, and rather than giving advice began asking, “So what are you going to do?”, we began to see people making choices and living with the consequences, and thus growing in maturity as we walked with them through those consequences. It was frustrating for some that we wouldn’t just tell them what to do! How freeing this has been for us and for those God has given us to walk alongside!

  5. Amy S. March 14, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    This area is a hard one for me… just had a conversation yesterday, and walked away from it bewildered that the person could not see the message of freedom I was talking about.

    Absolutely beautiful said, Wayne! You can offer them the treasure, but they have to reach out and take it. To force them to open up their hands and take hold of it will not last. It’s quite a relief to tell you the truth! That I don’t have to make them take it… that’s the Holy Spirit’s job… to bare witness in their hearts and unveil their eyes.

    Phew!

  6. Bones March 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Wayne, this is an excellent exchange between you and your friend! Thanks for sharing in! Our experience confirms what you’ve described, in that the more authority we exercised in the lives of believers around us, the more insecure, complacent, dependent, and immature they were. As we began to alter our approach, and rather than giving advice began asking, “So what are you going to do?”, we began to see people making choices and living with the consequences, and thus growing in maturity as we walked with them through those consequences. It was frustrating for some that we wouldn’t just tell them what to do! How freeing this has been for us and for those God has given us to walk alongside!

  7. Rick Creech March 14, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Thanks Wayne, I really needed to hear this. Thank you for letting us look over your shoulder on occasion.

  8. Rick Creech March 14, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks Wayne, I really needed to hear this. Thank you for letting us look over your shoulder on occasion.

  9. jenny March 15, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    This might be a side issue to what you are saying, but your sharing gives me something to think about concerning an issue I’m facing. I have a family member who is engaging in very self (and to others) destructive behaviours and I have worried that my love for her is inadequate because I do not continue to persue her. I did involve myself heavily with her for a long time (to the detriment of others who needed me at the time) and she seemed to change to some extent for a time, but maybe that was only an outward thing to conform but there was no corresponding inner life as you mention can happen if we pressure poeple too much. The father did not go wallowing around the pig pen trying to pull his son out but waited for his change of heart, didn’t he? Sorry if I am using your words in a way they are not meant; let me know if you think I am going too far. I have realised too that I have to be careful not to make “loving others” another rule that I have to ‘measure up” to.

  10. jenny March 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    This might be a side issue to what you are saying, but your sharing gives me something to think about concerning an issue I’m facing. I have a family member who is engaging in very self (and to others) destructive behaviours and I have worried that my love for her is inadequate because I do not continue to persue her. I did involve myself heavily with her for a long time (to the detriment of others who needed me at the time) and she seemed to change to some extent for a time, but maybe that was only an outward thing to conform but there was no corresponding inner life as you mention can happen if we pressure poeple too much. The father did not go wallowing around the pig pen trying to pull his son out but waited for his change of heart, didn’t he? Sorry if I am using your words in a way they are not meant; let me know if you think I am going too far. I have realised too that I have to be careful not to make “loving others” another rule that I have to ‘measure up” to.

  11. pam March 16, 2010 at 7:17 am

    I’ve found Jesus in my biggest Funks. I am grateful for those who let me stay there, even though I was doing my level best to get them to dance around me. Tell me what I needed to do. Tell me how wonderful I really am etc.

    Now I got, my husband who says, “Ask Jesus.”

    My friend Lew, “Ask Jesus.”

    Or the principal of the Christian school where I teach. When I come in to whine, he looks at me and just empathizes. “I’m so sorry.” He’ll stop what he’s doing and look me in the eye. He is not being one bit snarky. He just quietly reminds me that he can’t save me. (I’m not talking about real school problems he could help me solve.) All funky people need is empathy. I know the journey is really hard; Jesus is the only way.

    Pam

  12. pam March 16, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I’ve found Jesus in my biggest Funks. I am grateful for those who let me stay there, even though I was doing my level best to get them to dance around me. Tell me what I needed to do. Tell me how wonderful I really am etc.

    Now I got, my husband who says, “Ask Jesus.”

    My friend Lew, “Ask Jesus.”

    Or the principal of the Christian school where I teach. When I come in to whine, he looks at me and just empathizes. “I’m so sorry.” He’ll stop what he’s doing and look me in the eye. He is not being one bit snarky. He just quietly reminds me that he can’t save me. (I’m not talking about real school problems he could help me solve.) All funky people need is empathy. I know the journey is really hard; Jesus is the only way.

    Pam

  13. Roger and Gerri March 18, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Wayne:
    So enjoyed your comments to this Brother. Many years ago we received some very wise counsel from Rev. Al Ells of Leaders That Last Ministries in Phoenix. That counsel has stood the test of time through 30 years in ministry. He said, “If you have 50 that you are ministering to, look among the 50 and find the 5 that are sincerely like minded with you. Take those 5 and pour everything you have into them for the season Father has them in your lives. Let the other 45 go. If you allow your mercy to keep you focused on the 45, you will miss the God given opportunity you have to really make a difference with the 5 who are hungry and really seeking to mature into Kingdom sons and daughters. Those 5 will go out and change their world.”
    Wayne, as we have followed this advice, we have found that Father is faithful to continue sending those who are hungry to us. We never have to go out and find them! We call this ‘no sweat ministry’!
    Blessings as always,
    Roger and Gerri

  14. Roger and Gerri March 18, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Wayne:
    So enjoyed your comments to this Brother. Many years ago we received some very wise counsel from Rev. Al Ells of Leaders That Last Ministries in Phoenix. That counsel has stood the test of time through 30 years in ministry. He said, “If you have 50 that you are ministering to, look among the 50 and find the 5 that are sincerely like minded with you. Take those 5 and pour everything you have into them for the season Father has them in your lives. Let the other 45 go. If you allow your mercy to keep you focused on the 45, you will miss the God given opportunity you have to really make a difference with the 5 who are hungry and really seeking to mature into Kingdom sons and daughters. Those 5 will go out and change their world.”
    Wayne, as we have followed this advice, we have found that Father is faithful to continue sending those who are hungry to us. We never have to go out and find them! We call this ‘no sweat ministry’!
    Blessings as always,
    Roger and Gerri

  15. Doug March 19, 2010 at 6:16 am

    I think we generally see just the opposite, the few “core” gets starved, burned out and used up in an attempt by the Pastor to “wake up” the other 45. I have been of this opinion for sometime and so thanks for the “confirmation”.

    I have heard again and again that in any congregrations only about 20% are actively involved. I personally think of that 20% at least half are involved for all the wrong reasons, leaving maybe 10% really seeking. I’m still wrestling with this (so this is not a rhetorical question), does it make sense to maintain a building, provide child care, invest resources, etc for a meeting where 80-90% of the group are not involved?

  16. Doug March 19, 2010 at 9:16 am

    I think we generally see just the opposite, the few “core” gets starved, burned out and used up in an attempt by the Pastor to “wake up” the other 45. I have been of this opinion for sometime and so thanks for the “confirmation”.

    I have heard again and again that in any congregrations only about 20% are actively involved. I personally think of that 20% at least half are involved for all the wrong reasons, leaving maybe 10% really seeking. I’m still wrestling with this (so this is not a rhetorical question), does it make sense to maintain a building, provide child care, invest resources, etc for a meeting where 80-90% of the group are not involved?

  17. Martin Dodd April 1, 2010 at 4:07 am

    HI Wayne, thanks for sharing that story. It reminded me of the grapevine in my backyard.Every autumn I prune it right back to almost nothing and every spring it shoots and grows like crazy again. Now I know you know more about vines than me but I’ve noticed that after pruning and through the winter that vine looks completely dead. In fact if I knew nothing about vines I might even think it was dead. But in actual fact there is something taking place deep inside in secret that’s preparing it for the next crop of fruit. What I’m getting at is that there maybe something going on inside some people, something God is doing in secret, that we can’t see, and it might appear to look hopeless from our perspective but not from Gods. I’m sure you’ve seen that many times, I hope that poor guy doesn’t get too discouraged he’s sure got his heart in the right place.

    Another quick thought, sometimes God gets us into a situation not so we can change the situation but so the situation will change us. Amen..

    Marty.

  18. Martin Dodd April 1, 2010 at 7:07 am

    HI Wayne, thanks for sharing that story. It reminded me of the grapevine in my backyard.Every autumn I prune it right back to almost nothing and every spring it shoots and grows like crazy again. Now I know you know more about vines than me but I’ve noticed that after pruning and through the winter that vine looks completely dead. In fact if I knew nothing about vines I might even think it was dead. But in actual fact there is something taking place deep inside in secret that’s preparing it for the next crop of fruit. What I’m getting at is that there maybe something going on inside some people, something God is doing in secret, that we can’t see, and it might appear to look hopeless from our perspective but not from Gods. I’m sure you’ve seen that many times, I hope that poor guy doesn’t get too discouraged he’s sure got his heart in the right place.

    Another quick thought, sometimes God gets us into a situation not so we can change the situation but so the situation will change us. Amen..

    Marty.

  19. Joel April 1, 2010 at 10:41 am

    “When they are ready to find healing and life in Jesus, they will fight their way through every obstacle to embrace it”

    So true! I love God but He loves me so much more. I love others (most of the time) but God loves them so much more. Even if we do get a chance to speak the Gospel of love into someone’s life unless the Spirit of Jesus breathes life into the words they will be interpreted as a moralistic set of standards that they need to fulfill. No matter how great I am at talking or how much they are absorbing my words it is the grace of our Father that gives life. That is so humbling!

  20. Joel April 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    “When they are ready to find healing and life in Jesus, they will fight their way through every obstacle to embrace it”

    So true! I love God but He loves me so much more. I love others (most of the time) but God loves them so much more. Even if we do get a chance to speak the Gospel of love into someone’s life unless the Spirit of Jesus breathes life into the words they will be interpreted as a moralistic set of standards that they need to fulfill. No matter how great I am at talking or how much they are absorbing my words it is the grace of our Father that gives life. That is so humbling!

Comments are closed.