Love for the Immigrant Church is Patient
My last two articles addressed conversing about the immigrant church and its structure. Now let’s take a step back to look at the way we talk about the immigrant church.
Some in the immigrant-church conversation are tired and ready to quit. Others insist on immediate change. How should we approach this discussion? Rather than pushy or passive, what we need is patience.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “We exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
We are to have a particular disposition depending on a person’s condition, whether it’s admonishing, comforting, or helping. And we are to have a general disposition of patience toward everyone. Our conversation about the immigrant church will be wasted without patience. God’s truth should be coupled with his patience.
PATIENCE DOESN’T DESPAIR
Patience requires hope. Immigrant-church conversations can be dominated by complaints about the church and overlook its blessings. Despair looks at flaws and ignores the good. But we should be slow to give up on the conversation. Many of us grew up, heard the gospel, and served in immigrant-church contexts. We should be hesitant to pronounce ichabod on our upbringing.
The flaws of the church do not cancel its beauty. A church that needs to grow is still Christ’s bride, and Christ’s bride will always need to grow.
Paul, when writing to churches fraught with sin, division, and weakness, thanks God for them “because of the grace of God given … in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4, Phil. 1:3, Col. 1:3, 1 Thess. 1:2). We should share Paul’s tone when beginning conversations about the immigrant church. Our concerns do not excuse our cynicism. Love the church more than its health.
PATIENCE DOESN’T IGNORE
While we shouldn’t despair, we also shouldn’t avoid the flaws of the immigrant church. Denial looks exclusively at the positives while ignoring the negatives. Some, out of a commendable zeal to defend the legitimacy of the immigrant church, view any conversation about its flaws as throwing it under the bus.
But the beauty of the church does not cancel its flaws. The New Testament is filled with letters to churches Paul dearly loves, encouraging them in the faith, but he also addresses areas where they go astray.
Jesus’s rebuke of the churches in Revelation 2-3 were not insults. Instead, love compels us to speak into areas where growth is necessary.
Conversations about the immigrant church should be filled with discernment.
Discernment recognizes the beauty and flaws of the church. We can be empathetic and evaluative. One should not cancel the other. Discernment loves to affirm the good, note the bad, and plan to lead the church toward greater health.
An accurate assessment of the church should lead us toward greater patience, not less. When unsure of the future, the pressure to make drastic, brash change increases; confusion leads to panic.
But clarity should lead to patience, as we rely on God’s Word, not our strategies, to provide direction, convince members, and bring health.
PATIENCE AIMS FOR MATURITY
Trust is earned, not demanded. Those in revitalizations may be tempted to expedite the process by forcing quick change. However, the aim in pastoring is not accuracy alone, but maturity. Just because a church has successfully made the right changes doesn’t mean it understands the change.
Pastors are called to love sheep, not drag them kicking and screaming to their optimal destination. Our impulse should be to convince before we change. Patience may demand we wait to prove our love to our people. Wisdom may demand we act to guard our people from harm. In either case, pastors ought to model Christian love in discernment.
Patience provides the pace necessary to push a church toward health. Exemplify humility in existing structures. Discern the direction of the church. Teach from God’s Word. Trust the Holy Spirit to convince and grow your people.
For more articles on the immigrant church, click here.