Never imagined I would do it. Then a buddy of mine who loves me more than I deserve made me an offer I simply could not refuse. “I’ll pay your fare for a weekender; you buy Nancy’s.” What’s a pastor to do? After all, the brother attends my church. No way I wanted to give offense.

It only took that one time. Sold American. We’ve cruised two other wonderful times in the past. The last-minute deals made for a terribly cost-effective vacation. Talk about the pampering treatment. From the moment you board to the day you disembark, the staff waits on you hand and foot. Your every need gets met 24/7.

So why go on about vacationing on a boat in a pastor’s blog? Blame it on Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler. For researching my book-in-progress, The Peacemaking Church: the Best Church Fight Is the One Yours Never Has, I’m reading through those ladies’ book, Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict (Baker, 2005). Spot on stuff. Would love for the women of my church to get their hands on this valuable resource.

In their chapter on the church, the authors use the analogy of the cruising experience to describe how some folks view church. They frame it as looking to the church to meet our felt needs. Do that, they argue, and expect trouble for sure in the fellowship:

Church conflict escalates when we look to the church to meet our felt needs and something happens to disappoint us. For example, a common cause of conflict in the Peacemakingwomenchurch involves the mind-set many people have that church is like a cruise ship. When we have this view of the body of Christ, we expect everything in the church to be conveniently tailored to our wants and desires. Our expectation is that we will be served, cared for, and entertained by professionals whose sole focus is our happiness. Of course, this misguided mind-set leads us to view people in the church as resources for our comfort rather than valuable members of one body who both need us and are needed by us. As a result, we neither love nor serve them well. In fact, when our expectations are disappointed, we engage in destructive gossip, criticism, and bickering. Instead of keeping careful confidences and protecting members, we often speak ill of others. Church conflict–a terrible witness to the watching world–is the frequent result (209-210).

If you’re looking for a great vacation and can catch just the right deal, then you may well want to consider taking a cruise.

If you’re looking to do church in a way that eagerly preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3), then lose the cruise mind-set fast. Arm yourself rather with a body-mindset where members have the same care for one another  (1 Cor. 12:25b).

The Virtue of Hard Work in the Lord

As I reflected today on last night’s congregational meeting, I gave thanks, among other things, for the gift of serving along side so many fellow workers in the Lord at Orlando Grace. From the building committee members, to the deacons, to the elders, we saw a display of devotion to the kingdom cause that makes this pastor flush with gratitude.

This blessing made me think of the apostle Paul where he sends greetings to the church in Romans 16:3-16. He mentions several people in the fellowship by name, citing reasons for his praise to God for them. Frequently, the virtue of working hard in the Lord and for His church goes down in the biblical record.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus (v. 3).

Greet Mary, who worked hard in the Lord for you (v. 6).

Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ (v. 9).

Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord (v. 12).

What lessons can we take away from a who’s who like this at the church in Rome? At least two come to mind.

First, it takes numerous servants to do the work of the ministry. Paul calls these saints fellow workers. Even the great apostle Paul acknowledged that he could not do the work by himself. It takes teamwork and cooperation among all the saints to build up Christ’s church. Don’t miss, by the way, that women who worked hard in the Lord made Paul’s list just like men. Hard work in gospel ministry applies to both genders. In fact, the term for hard work Paul uses only for women in the context!

Second, it doesn’t come easy. Paul often describes the ministry efforts expended as hard work. The Greek has only one word translated by these two English words. It comes from a root that means to beat or hit or smite something. It means to toil, strive, or struggle to the point of wearied exhaustion.

Spurgeon preached from this text with this exhortation to his people:

It is an honor to labor for Christ, it is a still greater honor to labor much. If then, any, in joining the Christian
Church, desire place or position, honor or respect, the way to it is this—labor, and labor much! Persis had probably been a slave and was of a strange race from the far-off land of Persia. But she was so excellent in disposition that she is called, “the beloved Persis,” and for her indefatigable industry she receives signal mention. Among believers the rewards of affectionate respect are distributed according to the self-denying service which is rendered to Christ and to His cause. May all of us be helped to labor much, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So much hard work went into making last night possible. Many thanks to you all!

We would not find ourselves poised on the brink of so grand an adventure as constructing our new building apart from the faithfulness of God in raising up so many hard working servants with a heart for the gospel and the glory of Christ’s name on display in and through His church.

May we continue to prize hard work in the Lord for the virtue it truly is and may we indeed by helped to labor much, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we move into 2011 and start construction on our facility.