Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pastor to Pastor - In Times of Conflict—Preach Joy!

By Mark Strong
Regardless of your church's climate, one thing remains true: The preacher's task is to preach with joy, whether the conditions are desirable or undesirable.
It would sure be nice if the climate in our churches were always seventy-two degrees with brilliant blue skies and no chance of rain. Our pews filled with happy, content people, and no budget struggles are in sight. The community is missionally on point and people are simply enjoying life with God and one another. What a pleasurable task it would be for the preacher to preach in such an optimal climate!
Unfortunately, optimal climates are not always in our church’s forecast. Like the old saying goes, “Into each life some rain must fall.” Let me append the phrase a bit by adding, into the life of each parish—some rain will fall, some lightning will flash, some thunder will roar. That being said, conflict and difficulties are existing realities in which the preacher will be challenged to communicate with joy.
In the late 1990s, arsonists were burning a number of African American churches in the South. I remember listening to the report on the radio and distinctly muttering in my mind, “I’m thankful this type of travesty is not occurring here in Oregon.”
Well … a few days later it happened in Oregon, and the burned church was ours! Although our church is a multi-racial congregation, we were still targeted by an arsonist. The aftermath of the fire was horrific. For a number of months the incident received local and national coverage, which created some redemptive opportunities as well a myriad of painful and distracting issues.
Our congregation was now homeless and we were holding our gatherings wherever we could find a meeting place. The emotions of people in our community were swinging like a pendulum from sorrow from the loss of the edifice, to where are we going, and what is going to happen to our church?
To top it off, rumors were spreading through the city and our congregation that I burned the church to collect the insurance money. This might have been humorous to me except for the fact that the AFT visited my home on a few occasions to question my wife and me.
It’s one thing to watch an investigation on a television drama, but a whole other ball game when it’s your life! My wife and I literally reached a place where we said we could not take this anymore. Better stated … we were done!
Fast forward: From the time our church burned to the time we moved into our current sanctuary was seven long years. Time and space will not allow me to tell the entire story, but I will say conflict was present and it was a hard season!
However, regardless of the church’s climate, one thing remains true … the preacher’s task is to preach with joy whether the conditions are desirable or undesirable.
Paul underscores the preacher’s call to proclaim the message in all climates in his words to Timothy:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. (2 Timothy 4:1,2)
That being stated the questions is: How can I preach with joy when I am/the church is in conflict? To answer the question let me share a few points that I have found helpful in my 30 years of preaching, and hopefully they will be of some encouragement and will help you communicate with joy:
1. Remind yourself that the message you preach is good news. (Isaiah 52:7)
Good news is joyful news. The pulpit is not the place to propagate bad news and strife. Preaching provides you an opportunity to share something good about God with people who may have experienced strife, conflict and turmoil the entire week. Keep the good news joyful!
2. Cultivate a climate of joy in your own soul. (Ephesians 5:19,20)
Joyful preaching begins before you enter the pulpit. Joyful preaching originates in a heart where Christ is adored and honored. Although you may have no control of the outward circumstances, you can affect the climate of your heart. Worshiping, thanking and singing to the Lord does wonders to make the heart joyful.
3. Adjust your communication tone. (Numbers 6:24-26)
Pay attention to how you communicate. Allow joy to radiate through your message. Smile a little, laugh a little and pipe joy through your verbal and nonverbal expressions. A joyful face and tone go a long way. A joyful presentation will help your joyful proclamation.
4. Rely on the Holy Spirit for assistance. (Acts 1:8)
Rely on the power of the Spirit to help you in your weakness. The Spirit will give you the strength you need to joyfully communicate the message.
5. Bring resolution where you can. (Matt 5:23-26)
Some conflicts are in your power to resolve. If you have the ability, go remedy the situation speedily.  
6. Focus on hope spots. (Job 14:8,9)
Even in the most difficult times, there are always some hope spots. Hope spots are those little blessings or sometimes barely noticeable gifts from God that help you find comfort and encouragement in times of conflict. Find those spots and allow them to encourage and strengthen your heart.
7. Remember who called you. (Matthew 28:19,20)
God is the one who called you to be his messenger. Remember you are not by yourself. He is journeying with you, and he will assist you to joyfully proclaim his word.
Preaching in conflict is challenging; however, with God’s assistance, you can proclaim the message with joy.