It is important to realize that membership and ministry in a local church means playing the long game. We will miss much of the fruit of God’s purposes for the church–and our lives–if we don’t take a long-term view, and instead remove ourselves as soon as hardship comes, or change is slow, or people let us down.
Consider what Scripture has to say on this:
In Revelation 3, Jesus speaks to those in the church in Thyatira who have displayed “love and faith and service and patient endurance” (19), and he has no command for them but this: “I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come” (24-25). In other words, simply keep doing what you’re doing—living towards God and one another in love, faith, service and patient endurance—until the end.
In Ephesians 2, Paul tells the believers to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (2-3). This is simply one of dozens of commands that implies that the life of faith in God, lived out in community with other believers, will require much patience, longsuffering, grace, compassion and forgiveness.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul, speaking of his preaching and ministry among in Corinth, says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (6). Faithfulness to what God has called us is our responsibility; fruitfulness—the rate and amount of growth that occurs—is God’s responsibility. We easily lose our focus and get disillusioned when we think we can control the rate and amount of spiritual fruit that is occurring in others lives, or in the church at large. Yes, we have a part to play in other’s lives; we must be faithful to love, serve and commit to others in a local church. But the results are in God’s hands.
Finally, for any who have a role in teaching or leading the church, the words of 2 Timothy 4 are vital: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Teaching without “complete patience” hurts people. For the teaching of God and his truth and will to be effective—even when it must “reprove, rebuke, and exhort—it must be combined with much patience.
What does all this mean? There is obviously a call here for all who belong to the church to practice a kind of patience and faithfulness to one another. But I want to flip this around and focus on the implicit promise this gives to you.
As a church—not just the pastors, but the church members as well—we are committed to practicing this kind of patience and faithfulness towards you. We don’t expect, or demand, growth happen at a certain rate. We aren’t surprised when sin and temptation arise, nor when the battle is a long and messy one. We assume that you will let us down, and we will let you down, and there will be a need to “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). We expect that there will be heavy situations—of either sin, suffering or both—and we desire to draw closer to you in those and walk with you, rather than pull away. We assume love will be hard at times, but know that it is exactly in these times that our love is truly seen to be of God, and distinct from the love the world shows.
What I want you to hear is that we are playing the long game here, because that’s what God is doing with each of us.