Category Archives: Abusing Pastors

(Old) Statistics on Pastors

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
(original article is at

What is Going on with the Pastors in America?

Here are some startling statistics on pastors; FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development). This quest started in 1989 as a Fuller Institute project that was picked up by FASICLD in 1998.

After over 18 years of researching pastoral trends and many of us being a pastor, we have found (this data is backed up by other studies) that pastors are in a dangerous occupation! We are perhaps the single most stressful and frustrating working profession, more than medical doctors, lawyers, politicians or cat groomers (hey they have claws). We found that over 70% of pastors are so stressed out and burned out that they regularly consider leaving the ministry (I only feel that way on Mondays). Thirty-five to forty percent of pastors actually do leave the ministry, most after only five years. On a personal note, out of the 12 senior pastors that I have served under directly, two have passed away, and four have left the ministry totally—that is, not only are they no longer in the pulpit, but they no longer even attend a church. And, I run into ex-pastors on a regular basis at conferences and speaking engagements; makes me wonder “what’s up with that,” as my kids would say.

From our recent research we did to retest our data, 1050 pastors were surveyed from two pastor’s conferences held in Orange County and Pasadena, Ca—416 in 2005, and 634 in 2006 (I conducted a similar study for the Fuller Institute in the late 80s with a much greater sampling).

Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.

Nine hundred forty-eight (948 or 90%) of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).

Nine hundred thirty-five, (935 or 89%) of the pastors we surveyed also considered leaving the ministry at one time. Five hundred ninety, (590 or 57%) said they would leave if they had a better place to go—including secular work.

Eighty- one percent (81%) of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church (remember these are the Reformed and Evangelical—not the mainline pastors!). (This is Key)

Eight hundred eight (808 or 77%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!

Seven hundred ninety (790 or 75%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.

Seven hundred fifty-six (756 or 72%) of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. This left only 38% who read the Bible for devotions and personal study.

Eight hundred two (802 or 71%) of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.

Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.

Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

Two hundred seventy (270 or 26%) of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality. (This is Key).

Two hundred forty-one (241 or 23%) of the pastors we surveyed said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home!

Of the pastors surveyed, they stated that a mean (average) of only 25% of their church’s membership attended a Bible Study or small group at least twice a month. The range was 11% to a max of 40%, a median (the center figure of the table) of 18% and a mode (most frequent number) of 20%. This means over 75% of the people who are at a “good” evangelical church do not go to a Bible Study or small group (that is not just a book or curriculum study, but where the Bible is opened and read, as well as studied), (This is Key). (I suspect these numbers are actually lower in most evangelical and Reformed churches because the pastors that come to conferences tend to be more interested in the teaching and care of their flock than those who usually do not attend.)

Here is research that we distilled from Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary, all of which backed up our findings, and additional information from reviewing others’ research:

Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.

Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.

Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.

Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.

Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons (This is Key).

Most statistics say that 60% to 80% of those who enter the ministry will not still be in it 10 years later, and only a fraction will stay in it as a lifetime career. Many pastors—I believe over 90 percent—start off right with a true call and the enthusiasm and the endurance of faith to make it, but something happens to derail their train of passion and love for the call.

Focus on the Family has reported ( that we in the United States lose a pastor a day because he seeks an immoral path instead of God’s, seeking intimacy where it must not be found. F.O.F. statistics state that 70% of pastors do not have close personal friends, and no one in whom to confide. They also said about 35% of pastors personally deal with sexual sin. In addition, that 25% of pastors are divorced. The statistics I had with church growth resources is even higher. Pastors who tend to be very educated seem to have the ability to embark in sin on Saturday and preach the Word on Sunday without thinking anything is wrong.

Remember, Pride and Arrogance will be the diving board that will spring the pastor into the pool of sin and cause a church to fight amongst themselves!

Out of the 1050 pastors we surveyed during two pastors conferences held in Pasadena, California, 825, or 78% (326 in 2005 and 499 in 2006) said they were forced to resign from a church at least once. Sixty-three percent (63%) said they had been fired from their pastoral position at least twice. In the survey, we asked why they were fired—from the reasons given by the church board versus what they felt the reason was. We laid out 15 categories with a blank space to fill out what we may have missed: poor leadership, conflict with key staff or lay leadership, gossip, lack of funding, doctrinal divide, hardship on family, not connecting with membership, power plays, church council refusing to resolve conflict, resistance to their teaching, resistance to their leadership style or vision, failure to teach biblically, poor people skills, failure to follow job description, inappropriate relationship, or other sin. They gave us a top five main explanations on a scale of one to five, with few (8%) reporting on any of the other categories. These stats are based on number one response; at the same time, over 70% of pastors stated three of these five reasons. Here is the order (these findings have been retested and back up in internet polls done since 1998, and church survey studies done since 1980:

Four hundred twelve (412 or 52%) stated that the number one reason was organizational and control issues. A conflict arose that forced them out based on who was going to lead and manage the church—pastor, elder, key lay person, faction, …
One hundred ninety (190 or 24%) stated that the number one reason was their church was already in such a significant degree of conflict, the pastor’s approach could not resolve it (over 80% of pastors stated this as number 2 if not already stated as number one, and for the rest, it was number 3!).
One hundred nineteen (119 or 14%) stated the number one reason to be that the church was resistance to their leadership, vision, teaching, or to change, or that their leadership was too strong or too fast.
Sixty four (64 or 8%) stated the number one reason to be that the church was not connecting with them on a personal level or they could not connect with them, or the church over-admired the previous pastor and would not accept them.
Forty (40 or 5%) stated that the number one reason was not having the appropriate relational or connecting skills as a pastor. (It is interesting that no one mentioned lack of teaching ability—only that their teaching was not accepted. Could this be pride?)

The other significant study of pastors that held similar results as ours was conducted by psychologist Richard Blackmon (with ties to Fuller Seminary and Dr. Archibald Heart), also reported by the Los Angeles Times newspaper. In 1985 as well as more recently too, Blackmon surveyed one thousand pastors from four major denominations in California, USA. His research, which was ongoing up to 2004, revealed that over 75% of ministers are extremely or highly stressed. He even found that 31.75% of the clergy surveyed had sexual intercourse with a church member—who was not their spouse! In addition, he found that 30% to 40% of ministers ultimately drop out of the ministry. His research goes on to say the average insurance costs to churches for dealing with mental breakdowns with clergy is four percent higher than any secular industry. Blackmon states that the significance of the stress is mainly based in the areas of personal finances, church finances, building issues, recruitment of volunteers, counseling issues, and visitation. Sermon preparation and teaching seem to be last on his list!

The stress, according to Blackmon, is a primary result of the continual, intense, care responsibility of pastors compared to a medical doctor who will see a terminally ill patient for an hour or so, then see them again in a few weeks. He suggests that the pastor must set personal limits for himself to maintain balance, develop relationships outside of the church, and to be in a support group with other pastors. Very good advice!

The problem, as we have found (and I agree with Blackmon, but as a symptom and not the prime issue), is that people lose focus on what the mission and central theme of the Church is. Both pastor and churchgoer miss the main theme of what a church is about, which is to know and worship Christ as Lord. So, when there is no growth from the pastor’s personal life, no discipleship, few people in Bible Study, then there is no mission or appropriate purpose for that church, and there are no goals; therefore, there’s nothing really to do effectively. The result is the “shearing of the sheep.” Instead of being fed, they will feed upon one another, as well as the pastor, in a feast of conflict and strife. Since the church has nothing to do, then all the energies are turned inward to attack one another. I guess it beats being bored.

When I was with another church growth consulting firm, we did a major study of pastors and came up with some astounding statistics. We found that 90% of pastors work more than 50 hours a week. One out of three pastors state that being in the ministry is clearly hazardous for their families. One out of three pastors felt totally burned out within the first five years of ministry. Over 70% of pastors do not have anyone they would consider to be a friend, and hardly any pastors had any close friends. Ninety percent (90%) of pastors feel they were not adequately trained to cope with ministry coordination and the demands of the congregation. Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis that they faced due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992). We at the FASICLD retested that data by various means starting in 1998 and also retested the results in an internet survey form several times over the last eight years. We found it has slightly worsened. Most pastors now work up to and more than 60 hours a week. Hence, why the divorce rate among pastors is rising and pastor’s children rarely stay in the church or keep their faith. In both studies, over 40% of the pastors reported serious conflicts with their parishioners every month. This leaves pastors physically tired, spiritually weary, and even distant from God! Thus, they cannot properly minister or connect with their flock.

There was a poll taken by a sociologist named Jeffrey Haddan (“Prayer Net” Newsletter, Nov. 13, 1998) in which he polled over 7,400 Protestant ministers. He found that 13% to 51% of ministers, depending on their denomination, accepted Jesus’ physical resurrection as a fact. His poll states between 19% and 60% of ministers believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. The poll goes on to say between 67% and 95% of ministers believe that the Scriptures are true in faith, history, and practice. These statistics are extremely despairing. What do these ministers think they are doing? What is their purpose? And, what are they trying to accomplish in God’s Holy Church? If you are the church leadership and you do not believe in the tenets of Scripture, you have no business being in leadership and certainly no business being the Shepherd and teacher of the flock. What you are is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which will be harshly judged by God.

We at FASICLD conducted a simpler internet poll in 2005 of 2,245 pastors and another 1050 in person by our surveys in pastor’s conferences as seen above. Because we are reaching Reformed and conservative Evangelicals, the stats are very different. We found that over 90% of pastors polled believe in the resurrection, virgin birth, and the validity of Scriptures (we did not get into the various aspects of inerrancy). The significant problem we found is the “buzz” or willingness to go beyond belief into trust, and then model that to their congregations. Being beat up in the ministry wears them down and derails their focus.

The result of both studies is this: the pastor must be theologically sound. A pastor who does not have a good theology is like an engineer who does not know math; he or she would totally be unable to do the job of designing. A pastor that is not theologically sound is like a surgeon who does not know anatomy and physiology; would you want him or her to operate on you? Would you want a lawyer representing you who does not know the law or the court system? When we are in the pulpit proclaiming the truth of Christ, it better be just that—the truth of Christ, not our inclinations, new ideas, or the latest trend in theological thinking. All these new waves of theology just confuse and alienate the body of Christ, who are the parishioners we serve and are called to protect from false doctrine, rather leading to God’s truth. Most of these new ideas keep changing and conflicting, and only last a few years until the next latest theological fad comes into play. Why play with the fire of that game when God’s truth remains the same and only our creative thinking keeps changing? It’s good to be creative as long as it does not go against the teachings of Scripture!

The results of the survey are that pastors face more conflict, more anger, and more expectations than ever before. At the same time, they work long hours and have little pay, little reward, and produce their own dysfunctional families because of their absence. And, to top it off, they are not being adequately trained nor fed spiritually. I need to state clearly that this is not true of all pastors; there are many who are excellent in obeying their call, pastoring great churches, and being there for their families who are growing in the Lord. And, as a pastor, I must be aware of this so I do not fall in these traps myself. The statistics tell us that many more pastors have not learned to balance family and ministry or adequately deal with the immense struggles of the job. Thus, many are not able to lead their church where it needs to go because they have not been where they are seeking to lead others in growth or in spiritual formation. I totally sympathize with them, yet I call pastors to wake up to what they are doing, and why they are doing it. At the same time, hey church, take care of and respect your pastor!

The bottom line is this: if you are a pastor your job is to serve Christ first and foremost! Thus, it is imperative that we do not become thoughtless or uncaring concerning the buildup and practice of our personal faith. In so doing, we are also to be aware of and embrace the opportunities Christ has and will still bring for us. Our focus must be on the main thing and Christ is the main thing and at the same intention we are not to negate or neglect our personal faith development or our family. If we do, we personally fail and thus our churches will fail too and our family fails and we create the massive destruction, conflict, chaos and strife that has become so rampant in so many churches. We are called to do the opposite to discord and conflict, we are called to bring cohesion and community and show the character and love of Christ first to ourselves, then our family and then our church. In so doing we bring growth, maturity and love, being in and practicing “true spirituality!”

If we do not have a desire to pursue the call of God, we have to ask ourselves why and what is in the way. Why are we in ministry? We have to ask, what is the role of pride and the desire of sin and how is it blocking us from proclaiming Christ as a pastor? Sometimes, we may not recognize sin and will perhaps rationalize it away. This happens especially when solid biblical theology or teaching is not being rooted in us and not thus being taught from us, then our churches become just social clubs of gossip and contention or entertainment and not the real effectual Chuirch of Christ where He is model and shown as Lord. Remember, our election is proven by our obedience, fruit, and growth in Christ!

As pastors, it is our call and duty to be on guard against the erosion of biblical values and damage to our and our churches beliefs and biblical mindset (Psalm 123:3; Mark 4:19)!
Remember, churches fail because we as pastors fail; we tend to place our needs and desires over the Lord’s. It is His Church and we are His servant. Let our focus be on the right target—that is, His Way and not ours! We are called to a higher purpose. We are not called to ourselves. We are to lead others to Him, not to our self. Ministry is a wondrous call, it can be joyful and fulfilling; it is also a dangerous thing because we are before a Holy God. Yes we have grace, but we have responsibility too!

© 2007 (research from 1989 to 2006) R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development


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Unfair Comparisons

C. Brian Larson says,
“Unfair comparisons focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Inappropriate comparisons are selective and therefore deceptive. They divert me from what God wants me to do. Some comparisons can be helpful but I must call irrational comparisons what they are. Somehow I must find new, better, and more fair ways to compare myself with others.”79

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Why Do They Love/Hate Me?

Attitudes toward a pastor emerge from deep, dark sources.
by Kevin A. Miller

People respect leaders. People resist leaders. They love pastors; they hate pastors.

Why this alternating current?

It’s fairly easy to understand why people love pastors: the comforting word, help in time of need, biblical instruction. What perplexes and frustrates us are the many reasons people resist pastors, for these objections generally lie hidden in dark subterranean chambers of the soul.

I’ve gone spelunking of late and brought specimens to the surface. See how many of these reasons for resistance you recognize:

“I know you can bring the changes we need—growth, vision, structure. But I don’t like the discomfort you cause when those things produce disruption and tension.”

“I had hoped you would be a special friend to me, but you don’t have enough time for me, and I don’t have enough objectivity to realize my expectation was unrealistic.”

“I used to have more power before you came” or “I have power, and you don’t, and I want to keep it that way.”

“You remind me of (pick one) a former pastor, my spouse, an abusive father, or someone else who hurt and disappointed me.”

“You’re gone too much” or “You don’t pick up the phone when I call.”

“I’m really passionate about Issue X, and you’re not as passionate about that as I am.”

“I’m mad at God, and you’re the nearest representative of God I know.”

“I desperately needed you when I went through that traumatic, embarrassing time in my life. And I opened up to you. But now you know the slime in my life, and knowing that you know, I feel uncomfortable around you.”

As spiritual leaders, we’re often not prepared for the resistance, the anger. Sometimes it’s justified, but sometimes it’s unjustified, undeserved, and unspoken.

Few members possess the self-awareness to say something like, “I’m moving into a different place in my spiritual journey, and I don’t think you can take me there.”

So instead, people distance themselves, drop out of ministries, vote no. Sometimes their inchoate longings take shape in toxic phrases either psychological (“The pastor’s into building his own kingdom”) or spiritual (“God’s not anointing this ministry like he used to”).

What to do?

I take comfort in an analogy. The 1980s told ministers to be CEOs, but the CEO analogy misleads; the more apt comparison for pastoring is parenting (see 1 Thess. 2:7, 11).

Almost every parent has heard “I hate you!” punctuated with the slam of a bedroom door. As a parent, you can’t take the anger personally: it’s an occasional and probably necessary part of the relationship. Psychologist Anthony Wolf even titled his parent’s guide to teenagers, Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall.

Similarly, as a pastor, you can’t take all the resistance personally. Some of it will be specific and fair, calling on you to ask for forgiveness. But much resistance that parishioners give pastors is the same kind of resistance children give parents, a push-pull, a resistance combined with a greater respect, a little hate temporarily obscuring a lot of love.

You have to stay calm, focused on the bigger picture. The victory comes in remaining a pastor/parent at the very moment you want to scream back, child-to-child. Keep leading, keep loving, and usually, resisters return to respecters.

This is a trustworthy saying and worthy of all acceptance: People respect leaders, people resist leaders.

—Kevin A. Miller is editor at large of Leadership.

2003 Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Fall 2003, Vol. XXIV, No. 4, Page 10

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Preacher in the Hands of an Angry Church

by Chris Armstrong
Jonathan Edwards’s church kicked him out after 23 years of ministry, but the crisis proved his greatness was not merely intellectual.

As messy dismissals of ministers go, the 1750 ejection of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was among the messiest. The fact that it involved the greatest theologian in American history—the central figure of the Great Awakening—is almost beside the point. The fact that it took place in a New England fast moving from theocratic “city on a hill” to democratic home of liberty is more relevant.

But another aspect is worth a closer look: Friends and enemies alike agreed that in the long, degenerating discontent, Edwards continued to love and pray for—or at least tolerate and refrain from attacking—his people, even when they bared their fangs.

Salary controversies and power struggles marked his ministry during the 1740s. In the infamous “bad book” episode of 1744, some teen boys in the church distributed a midwife’s manual, using it to taunt and make suggestive comments in front of girls. When the culprits were summoned before the church, their response, according to documents of the proceedings, was “contemptuous … toward the authority of this Church.”

Edwards chose to read before the church a list containing, indiscriminately, the names of both the young distributors as well as the purported witnesses. Some parents were outraged at Edwards.

Another issue was Edwards’s personality and style as a minister. At the outset of his ministry at Northampton, for example, he decided that he would not pay the customary regular visits to his congregants, but would rather come to their side only when called in cases of sickness or other emergency. This made him seem, to some in the church, cold and distant.

An Edwards “disciple,” Samuel Hopkins, later wrote that this practice was not due to lack of affection and concern for his people: “For their good he was always writing, contriving, labouring; for them he had poured out ten thousand fervent prayers; and they were dear to him above any other people under heaven.”

Rather, Edwards had made a clear-eyed assessment of his own gifts and decided that he was unable to match the graceful gregariousness of those ministers who had a “knack at introducing profitable, religious discourse in a free, natural, and … undesigned way.”

Thus he would “do the greatest good to souls … by preaching and writing, and conversing with persons under religious impressions in his study, where he encouraged all such to repair.”

Edwards’s ministry might yet have endured, however, were it not for the death of his uncle, Colonel John Stoddard, in 1748. Born in 1682, 21 years before Edwards, the colonel had built a friendship with his nephew. A sharp thinker, a county judge, and a savvy politician, John was a militia colonel who had become commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts western frontier by 1744. Stoddard wore—at least in the secular sphere—the mantle of his father and Edwards’s grandfather, “pope” of the Connecticut Valley, Solomon Stoddard.

Edwards found himself often leaning on his uncle’s influence to navigate the affairs of the church. Thus when Stoddard died, Edwards lost not only an uncle but a powerful ally and confidante.

As Iain Murray put it in his biography of Edwards: “There would be no open criticism of Edwards as long as Stoddard sat appreciatively in his pew beneath the pulpit in the meeting-house Sunday by Sunday.” Once the colonel was gone, however, that changed dramatically.

Stoddard’s heir-apparent as Hampshire County’s leading figure was Edwards’s cousin Israel Williams, a Harvard graduate, imperious in manner and implacably set against Edwards. In his early nineteenth-century biography, descendant S. E. Dwight named Israel and several others of the Williams clan as having “religious sentiments [that] differed widely from” those of Edwards. Their opposition soon became “a settled and personal hostility.” Williams served as counselor and ringleader to Edwards’s opponents. Joining this opposition were another cousin, Joseph Hawley Jr., 21 years Edwards’s junior.

Visible saints, hidden agendas
The same year John Stoddard died, an event finally pushed the hostile faction into open revolt.

For years, Edwards had been uncomfortable with the lenient policy on membership and communion set by his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’s predecessor at Northampton. Stoddard had allowed almost anyone to join and to partake, hoping that membership and communion might encourage true conversion. In 1748, Edwards changed the policy and told an applicant for church membership that he must first make a public “profession of godliness.”

Thus Edwards rejected the “Halfway Covenant”—the longstanding compromise of the Puritans who had, generations after planting their religious colonies, found their church membership dwindling. That compromise had reversed the traditional Puritan requirement that new church members be “visible saints,” godly in word and deed.

When the congregation saw that Edwards intended to return to the earlier, stricter Puritan position, demanding not only a profession of faith, but also evidence of repentance and holiness, a firestorm arose. Many of the church’s leading members felt Edwards’s innovation was a direct threat.

Two revivals had produced many converts, but, as biographer Patricia Tracy put it, “Men and women who had been recognized as visible saints in Northampton still wallowed in clandestine immorality and flagrant pride.”

Though Edwards knew, as he notes in his letters, that he was likely to lose his pastorate as a result, he stuck to his principles.

A council of the congregation put a moratorium on new memberships until the issue of criteria could be resolved. Edwards told them he planned to preach on his reasons for changing the policy. They forbade him to do so. Edwards began to write a book on the matter. Few read it, and too late to do much good.

In 1750, a council was called to consider whether the congregation would dismiss its minister. No one doubted what the conclusion would be.

Edwards’s friend David Hall noted in his diary the minister’s reaction when on June 22, 1750, the council handed down its decision:

“That faithful witness received the shock, unshaken. I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good … even to the astonishment of many who could not be at rest without his dismission.”

46 and unemployed
Edwards wrote that he now found himself a 46-year-old ex-minister “fitted for no other business but study,” with a large family to provide for. Although he knew “we are in the hands of God, and I bless him, I am not anxious concerning his disposal of us,” he fretted over his situation in letters to friends. Yet neither the distressing conditions nor the continuing antagonism of his opponents drew him out to open attack.

Remarkably (and partly because of financial need), Edwards agreed to continue preaching at the church while they searched for a replacement. But his Farewell Sermon also indicates he acted out of continued concern for the flock. He continued through mid-November, despite the Town maliciously barring him, a month after his dismissal, from using its common grazing land.

Finally in December 1750, after an anxious autumn during which he had even considered removing his entire family to Scotland to accept an invitation there, Edwards accepted a charge in Massachusetts’s “wild west,” the Indian town of Stockbridge. There he would labor the rest of his life, pursue his theological thinking to its most brilliant heights, and create one of the most enduring missionary biographies of all time, the life story of his young friend David Brainerd.

Belated praise
In 1760, his former enemy, cousin Joseph Hawley, wrote to Edwards’s friend David Hall, confessing that “vast pride, self-sufficiency, ambition, and vanity” had animated his leadership in the “melancholy contention” with Edwards. He repented of his earlier failure to render the respect due Edwards as a “most able, diligent and faithful pastor.”

Hawley concluded, “I am most sorely sensible that nothing but that infinite grace and mercy which saved some of the betrayers and murderers of our blessed Lord, and the persecutors of his martyrs, can pardon me; in which alone I hope for pardon, for the sake of Christ, whose blood, blessed by God, cleanseth from all sin.”

On June 22, 1900, exactly 150 years after Edwards’s dismissal, a group gathered at the First Church in Northampton to unveil a bronze memorial.

H. Norman Gardiner, a professor of philosophy at Smith College and chairman of the memorial committee, characterized Edwards’s ejection as “a public rejection and banishment” that remained “a source of reproach to his church and people.” He noted the “hatred, malice, and uncharitableness which characterized the opposition to him,” for which, to Gardiner, no apology either contemporary or modern could atone.

Edwards would have disagreed, arguing instead that even such deeply wounding actions as the aggravated and wrongful dismissal of a pastor from his pulpit of 23 years are not unforgivable. In that understanding, as in so much else, Edwards was far ahead both of his enemies and of many of us today.

2003 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
Winter 2003, Vol. XXV, No. 1, Page 52

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Pastoring is Hard (and that’s an understatement)!

My Advice to Young Pastors  

Written by Timothy Hammons

The church is hard and if you are going there for any other reason than the fact that He calls you there, you will be beat up and disappointed. In fact, you are going to get beat up if He has called you there, but the difference is the status of your heart as He tends to you through the fires of the ministry. If He hasn’t called you there… don’t go.

Go straight to selling insurance and save yourself and your wife the grief of being a pastor in the church. Since so many of us end up selling insurance, you are getting a jump on all the other seminary grads in your class and you will be much happier in the long run.

But given that you are “called by God,” I guess I should offer some serious advice. The above was an attempt at humor. Maybe you will get it after being the ministry for ten or so years. Not that all young pastors will have tough ministries. I seem to know quite a few who are doing quite well in the ministry. They love it. Things are going well. But given the odds, only a few of those who graduate from seminary will have the big prosperous ministries whereas the rest of us just get to wonder what that is like.

Most of us fall in the middle lines of small churches. We struggle to make ends meet. The ministry is hard on our marriages and families. We see the ugly under belly of the church far more often than we see the fruit of our ministry as so many pastors claim they see. We strive to be faithful to our callings but its hard when members of the church are telling us the body would be much better off without us.

We pray to the Lord that blessings would flow in our ministries, but the blessings are few and far between and after a while, we start praying that the Lord would open the door for us to support our families in some other calling. We long for the moment that we can tell the disgruntled member to stick it. Not that we actually would say anything of the sort. Fortunately, we have the Lord’s Spirit dwelling in us that keeps us from following the flesh when we would like to.

We remember deep down that those disgruntled members belong to Christ as well. We wonder why God would bother with such wretched men and women of the church and His Spirit answers those questions on a regular basis in our own hearts. So we keep silent where the flesh screams for vengeance and follow the Spirit instead.

We strive to be faithful, preaching God’s word week in and week out, more often, knowing that with each sermon the Spirit of God is going to work on us far more than it works on the congregation. It takes it’s toll. We come down out of the pulpit, after being used by God, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot find a rock big enough to crawl under. We want nothing to do with the sermon we labored so hard to craft, nothing to do with the truth that scorched us so badly. Even when its a great sermon, we are spent and done for the day and hope for nothing more than sleep so we can recover just like Elijah after God used him to defeat the prophets of Baal. The congregation never sees the spiritual battle that took place in the pulpit, and before that, in the study, and most importantly, in our hearts. It leaves us like Elijah, saying “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”

“The ministry is hard,” is what one fellow pastor told me. That was an understatement. It makes sense of the statements by those grey-haired professors in seminary who use to say, “if you can go do anything else besides ministry, then do so.” Now that I have grey hair, I echo their sentiments. But then there is that call of God.

If the ministry was just another career choice, then it could be easy to walk away from. I know how to walk away from other careers. I’ve been a disc jockey in radio, in the military, a journalist, and a host of other small careers mixed in to fill in the gaps. I walked and God opened the door for me to do so. But He hasn’t since I entered the ministry some sixteen years ago. I’ve asked Him at times, “Lord, if there is something else I can do…“

The irony is that I’m highly qualified in certain skill sets that look good in certain circles of the work force, just as I’m qualified as a pastor. The problem: just like there are 200 pastors for every pulpit in my denomination, there are plenty of people jumping to fill in those circles where I’m gifted.

By God’s grace, He has kept me in the ministry. He hasn’t opened any doors and even though I feel spent, used up, empty, broken, sad, disappointed… I know the hand behind that calling. While the church can be hard, faithless, mean, unforgiving, lonely, and filled with a host of other maladies, the ONE behind the church is not. He is faithful, and loving, and kind, and gentle and merciful. He holds me up when I don’t have the strength to do so. He speaks through me when I have no desire to speak. He keeps me moving forward and helps me be faithful in this calling of His. When I enter that pulpit, that place of His calling, He comes and stands with me. He leads me on and gives me the words to speak that I don’t want to utter. He encourages me and carries me along. That is the blessing of my week. Through all the struggles and difficulties, He stands with me. That is what keeps me going.

So what is my advice to young pastors? Sell insurance. Otherwise, make sure that you are walking with Him and more importantly, that He is leading you where go. The church is a hard place.

I used to get mad when I would come across people who had been hurt inside the church, left to depart and never to return. I don’t get mad anymore. I understand. The church is hard and if you are going there for any other reason than the fact that He calls you there, you will be beat up and disappointed. In fact, you are going to get beat up if He has called you there, but the difference is the status of your heart as He tends to you through the fires of the ministry. If He hasn’t called you there… don’t go. Go where He calls you, because it is that calling that will keep you there striving to be faithful when the sheep have bitten you for the umpteenth time.

Trust Him and look to Him. In Him you will find your joy. If you look for joy in your church, you will only be disappointed. Remember, our Lord and God is Jesus Christ, not St. First Church of the Spiritually Dead. To look to the church for any level of satisfaction, especially as it’s undershepherd, is breaking the First Commandment. You must look to Him and Him alone for all that you need, otherwise the bruises will mount up over time and drive you from your pulpit.

In remembering these truths… we can enter back into the pulpit as we are called to do, to say the things the world despises but the Lord loves. When we look to Him for our guidance, we truly do mount with wings of eagles, staying strong and not growing faint because He is the One that maintains us. To enter the pulpit in any other fashion will lead to disillusion. But with Him, there is the strength we need to proclaim what men most despise. That is my advice to young pastors. Do not enter the ministry on your own strength and zeal, but on His. Otherwise, sell insurance.

Teaching Elder Timothy Hammons is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is serving as interim pastor of Grace PCA in Jackson, Tenn. This is from his blog ( and is used with permission.

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Pathetic Legalists or Authentic Lovers (part two)

In the last article (part one) I proposed that many of today’s contemporary American Evangelical Christians  have lost their Christian way.  I also proposed that a significant reason for this is due to legalism; and that our society is right to complain about us, at least on that basis.  I also contrasted our brand of Christianity with that of the early church in that  one of the biggest complaints Roman society had against them was their “irrational”, non-utilitarian care and concern they had for one another and for their neighbors. 

It seems that many in the early church, though far from ideal or perfect, was gripped by the good news of Jesus, such that they lived out the love of Christ. For the most part, theirs was an active affection and an authentic love. Their love, as St. Paul wrote in Romans chapter twelve, was indeed sincere or more literally, unhypocritical.

Romans 12:9 admonishes Christians to let love be sincere, or as it is woodenly stated in the original language:  the love unhypocritical!  The Greek word for hypocrite (the New Testament was written in the common language of trade, which at the time was Greek), was the term used for the masks that actors wore.  So, the Bible is insisting that Christians are to have an authentic, open, genuine love. 

However, if we Christians are gripped by legalism then we will not be loving, and certainly not authentically loving.  Merrill Unger writes that “the hypocrite is a double person, natural and artificial; the first he keeps to himself, the other he puts on as he does his clothes, to make an appearance before men.”  What Paul and other new Testament writers urge is that believers in Christ would not feign love or live insincerely.  When we do so the charge that we talk a big talk but don’t walk the walk is all too true. 

Legalists are hypocritical.  Hypocrisy is a contemptible characteristic that all people share and nearly all people hate. It is also a horrible characteristic that God abhors.  Before moving on to the proactive, positive side of the Christ life (authentically loving), allow me to make some points about Christian hypocrisy (inauthentic living and loving):

First, we hypocrites worship, but we do not do so from the heart.   Jesus, quoting God’s statement from Isaiah 29, rebuked the highly religious crowd, “These people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”  You ever like that?   I am.  More times than I care to admit.  But true love for God worships sincerely from the heart. True worship is an authentic connection in a loving relationship.

Second, we hypocrites parade ourselves as holy, righteous and pious people.  We play the part of righteous people, when true humility would reveal what we are truly like at heart:  unrighteous. Now, that does not mean we don’t have some semblance of a righteous character in Christ; for we have received his righteousness as believers.  Neither does that mean that no one does some sort of good.  What it does mean is that we are tainted with moral impurities, so that even the best we do is tainted with sin.  Much like someone who has a contagious disease, a virus or bacteria.  The disease or infection might not become a full-blown manifestation; nevertheless, it is still there.

Jesus was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were radical zealots when it came to being right and doing the right thing.  He said that they let everyone know how much they give to help the poor (Matthew 6:2); they pray on street corners to show how wonderfully religious they are (Matthew 6:5); and they behave with a religious pouting when they fast (Matthew 6:16).

They prided themselves at how much they studied and knew their Bible.  They bragged about how pure they were and how immoral everyone else was. In fact, unlike Jesus, whom they considered among the dregs of society, they were so righteous that they would not have anything to do with the “untouchables” (people with leprosy or any other obvious disease), the unclean (those who were not religiously and ceremonially pure like they were, or those who were not of the same religioethnicity as they), or the sinners (homeless, drunks, druggies, prostitutes, homosexuals).  They could own that pride because they had worked hard, like good legalists, to arrive at their level of holiness or perfection, while others clearly had not. 

In contrast, true Christ-like love is humble.  Someone gripped by the love and grace of Jesus practices amazing grace.  S/he believes the simple, yet profound fact of who they really are when stripped away bare before the presence of a holy God.  They truly admit,  “Where would I be if God had not been gracious to me?  I am really no better than those who are labeled untouchable, unclean or sinner.  The only credit I have in my account is not mine, but Christ’s.  Therefore, with authentic humility I can have sincere love for those who are in every way on my same level.

Third, we hypocrites are judgmental.  Now, the Bible teaches the difference between a discerning kind of judgment, which we are called to have, and a condemning kind of judgment, which we have no right to have.

In Matthew 7, Jesus says that the hypocritical judge looks for the tiniest little fleck of dirt in someone else’s eyes and condemns him or her for having dirty eyes, while all the while walking around with an obvious dirty log protruding from his eye.  He uses such hyperbole to underscore how absurdly stupid such an arrogant judge is!  Every legalist and legalistic group does this. They size others up according to their own measure and then berate others for not making the grade.  At the core of a legalist is a fearful and insecure person who needs to condemn others in order to gain a measure of self-worth.

Writing in Romans, chapter two, Paul says that when we Christians criticize and judge others, we criticize and judge others for the very same things for which we are guilty.  We often see and hate in others what we refuse to admit guilt in ourselves. We act appalled when another believer sins or is discovered to have some indiscretion, fault or sin, while secretly sinning in a similar manner.  This is highlighted when, every so often (more than it should), some famous preacher who rants and rails against a particular sin is discovered to have the same fault, flaw or sin.  It ought to put us on notice lest we be like that.

Judging flows from pride, while grace, mercy and love flow from humility. The downside about emphasizing law and purity is our propensity to de-emphasize mercy and grace.  Judgmentalism is a nasty, vicious, hideous, moral cancer.  As I implied earlier, it falsely elevates us at the expense of others.  It is a masked narcissism. It broadcasts the stench of arrogance.  It manipulates and keeps others in their “place.” It is abusive, and restrictive (restricting true freedom).  The bottom line is that hypocritical, judgmental Christianity is an evil.

By contrast, genuine Christ-like love is not judgmental.  Instead, it deals graciously and mercifully with others’ deficits, faults and sins. This does not imply that “deficits,” faults and sins are to be ignored or not addressed.  They are indeed addressed by loving Christians; but not in order to point the giant forefinger and pronounce a guilty verdict with attendant sentences.  By all means Christians are to recognize genuine sin as sin and condemn those sins.  But no Christian individual has the right to pronounce any condemnatory sentence.  Only proper biblical authorities have the rightful duty to pronounce a sentence upon wayward rebels who call themselves Christians (Matthew 16, 18).  That sentence is to declare that they are not of the true faith. 

Sinners are to be addressed gently (Galatians 6:1) because they are addressed from a place of humility, with a concern for restoration.  The sins of a believer is to be addressed gently in order to help the person quit his error or sin and to make a positive, transformative change.  The sin is labeled (based upon Scripture’s clear definition and description, not on our personal standards) and a rebuke, reproof or correction is issued.  Again, the purpose is to call the person to turn around.  For example, Paul tells those who are in Christ to stop stealing, and instead go to work so as to provide for himself and others, and in order to have extra to help out others in need (Ephesians 4:29).

The fourth thing about Christian hypocrites is that we are double-tongued.  We say one thing but do another.  Double-tongued also means we do not keep our word (James 3:10).  Authentic love is loyally committed to and relatively consistent with what one says. 

Fifth, Christian hypocrites are generally unwilling to help fellow believers in need (James 2:15-16).  Those possessed with authentic love helps fellow believers and others who are in need.

Obviously there are many other characteristics we could list about Christian hypocrisy.  These are merely five, but they are the common ones that the Bible lists.   A perfect Jesus condemned false humility, arrogant legalism, and hypocritical love.  One time he rebuked his disciples for their failure to follow his teachings, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but you do not do the things I tell you to do?” (Luke 6:46).  At another time he said that religious legalists observe the law but ignore and reject true justice, mercy and faith.  The rest of the Bible teaches us that genuine love is just, merciful and comes from a life of true faith.

Saint John, the “apostle of love,” wrote in his first letter to the Church,  “He who says ‘I know him (Jesus)’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth (of Jesus) is not in him.”  Put bluntly, for those who believe in and own the name of Jesus, inauthentic and hypocritical love is intolerable.  Christians are called upon to listen intently to Jesus with a willingness and a passion to follow through. The overflow of that willingness and passion, which comes from a spiritual empowerment God gives, is clearly manifested in authentic love and with an active compassion.

So what are we to think and do?  If you are a Christian hypocrite like me, the first thing to do is come to grips with God’s law and his love.  Forget measuring yourself against your own or others’ standards as a way to identify the ideal perfection.  Measure yourself against God’s Law and know that he not only requires perfection in what you do, but also perfection of your attitude, thinking and heart.  Then humbly recognize that it is impossible for you or anyone else to measure up to such pure, holy, and perfect standards.  That failure to measure up is called sin and the act of stepping over the line, breaking his Law, is called transgression. 

Secondly, give up pride and humbly confess to God your inability and failure(s).

Next, trust in Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s Law in heart, word and action.  Trust in Jesus who paid for your guilt and shame when he died upon the cross. By his love he took upon himself your deficits, flaws and sins.  By his mercy he assumed your indebtedness and stepped into your failures. Through this simple but saving trust in Christ he graciously transfers and credits his righteousness to you.  You have all that is needed to be acceptable to God as one who can rightly stand before God no longer condemned with a sentence.

Hypocrisy is among the worst of sins (Matthew 24:51). It is a sin to be avoided as much as any other sin we consider heinous (1 Peter 2:1).  Let us not forget that. One of the remarkable characteristics about almost all the saints in the Old and New Testaments, those heroes of  the Faith, was that they were incredible sinners!  Yet it was by faith in God’s forgiving mercy, trusting his pardoning grace that they were forgiven, and through faith declared righteous (Genesis 15; 17; Habakkuk 2:2; Galatians 3:10-11).  

God calls us to live by faith at Jesus’ Cross, so to speak (Galatians 2:20).  By faith we receive Christ’s righteousness and by faith we live righteously. From the vantage point of the Cross we have the remedy for legalism, arrogance and hypocrisy.  From that position we have hope; a hope and life that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ. From that hope flows the righteousness of Christ to others; a righteousness that is identified and expressed through authentic love (Romans 13:10).

This authentic love is merciful because we have been shown mercy. It is forgiving because we have been forgiven by God. It is giving because Christ first gave himself for us and to us.  This authentic love comes through a vital faith in Jesus; a faith that is honest, transparent, humble, truthful, caring and free.

Christian, let your love be sincere, authentic and without hypocrisy.

© D. Thomas Owsley

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Pathetic legalists or Authentic lovers? (part one)

If you have any interest in history or sociology you might enjoy reading John Barber’s book, The Road from Eden (studies in Christianity and Culture).  There are more than a few interesting things the author points out in the early chapters. One point that struck me was how the main charge the political power of Rome leveled against the early Church was that they were atheists; essentially charging them with sedition and treason.  It was not that the Christians did not believe in a god, but rather they did not believe in their gods, especially in the emperor who was the man-god of the day.  As Barber brings out, Christianity was declared by the Roman Senate in A.D. 35 to be “strana et illicita (strange and unlawful)” (Barber, p. 17).


The second charge by the Romans, well, more of a complaint, was “one that would be noted over and over again, even by cynics, was its love for people.  Despite the fact that the early Christian period was distinguished by the Church’s uneasy relationship with a truculent state, it is beyond question that the conventional stronghold o believers maintained a high degree of sensitivity for the daily needs of Greco-Roman society.  Justin’s quote is worth repeating, ‘Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of the dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause?  Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practiced by us.’” (Barber, p.22).


While Christ’s demonstration of care, concern and love, which the early Church had, appears often in “foreign” places, it is does not seem to appear enough on the home front.  As a consequence the American Evangelical Church (used in the broad sense) has, over the past eighty or so years, gained the reputation for being self-righteous, arrogant, mean-spirited and obnoxious.  Anything but loving.  In my opinion, it is a charge often well deserved.  I can certainly empathize with some who have an attitude of disgust toward the Christians.  However, I most certainly sympathize with those who were once of the Church but who are now disenfranchised.  Some of my former friends no longer participate in “church” at any level.  Others have declared themselves atheists.  Still others have been so battered and bruised by fellow Christians that they too are ready to bolt.


If this grieves me, it certainly grieves Christ. I can make such a bold assertion based upon what we know from the Gospels and from many New Testament verses. Christians, who represent Christ, ought to be accused of being caring and loving and doing good (as James, Paul and Peter write about in the New Testament). However, what is it, I’ve asked, that has pulled segments (large?)  of the Church in the self-righteous, arrogant and obnoxious direction it has gone?  Well, I leave the historical, sociological, and deeper evaluations to wonderful authors like Alister McGrath, David Hall, Mark Noll, George Marsden, and others.  In my limited intelligence I believe the simple answer is legalism.  For clarification, legalism is making rules and regulations the heart of religion or the central thing to life.John Frame says that Christian legalism is putting law in the role reserved for God’s grace. Dominic Aquila says that legalism is putting people into a mold and then saying that mold is the only template for life with which to work.  Saint Paul of the New Testament says that legalism kills.


All people have the propensity to define what they believe is right, good and acceptable.  All people have the propensity to judge others who don’t measure up or who aren’t like them.  So, in a general sense, the problem is a people thing.  However, in the more narrow sense, the problem is more pronounced with Christians.  Why?  Because it is love that is the intrinsic characteristic of those who believe and follow Jesus Christ, not legalism and its offspring of self-righteousness, arrogance, meanness and obnoxiousness.


Now, I am not talking about love as sentimentality, nor merely about the attendant emotion that flows from authentic, Christ-like love.  Neither am I saying that I personally have arrived at the pinnacle of lovingness. Can’t because I’m a legalist at heart. What I am saying is that if we Bible-toting, Evangelical Christians are going to be accused of anything, it should be like those brothers and sisters in the early Church who were accused of being genuinely caring, merciful, gracious and loving! And that’s what this commentary is about (for I’ll have much to write about legalism at some later time).


I came out of a nominal Christian home where we attended worship services probably a dozen times until I turned sixteen.  My siblings and I grew up in home where there was great tension between the legalism of a perfectionist father (who grew up as a “pentecostal” Methodist and kept the legalistic trappings but not the religious forms), and the grace of a loving mother (who grew up Roman Catholic).   The legalism was overbearing. So by the age of twelve I declared myself an atheist, by fifteen was desperate to run away from home.


When Christ introduced himself to me through providential circumstances, he came to a battered and bruised mind and soul; one that was also depressed and bitter.  His entrance into my life was very much light to darkness, mercy to injury, and grace to needy.  For the first few years, though profoundly ignorant in the teachings of the Bible, I was possessed by a foreign compassion for others.


Then, after receiving teaching by well-meaning people of the Christian fundamentalist stripe, I became a legalist.  Also, consequently became more pronounced in my arrogance, fearful of the world out there, and insecure in so many ways. While allowing myself to become a polished, self-righteous Christian, I became a card-carrying, thorough-going, genuine hypocrite.  What did that do? As legalism often does, I was pious on the outside, but angrier on the inside.  Instead of living freely before the face of God, I was living fearfully before the expectations of people. Instead of becoming fearless I became more fearful.  And instead of being more honest and truthful I was closed up.  I became the Christian who was belligerent toward those who were not as good as me, Christian or otherwise.  The big pretender who was more concerned with being right than being humble, with following the rules rather than following Christ, with pressing others into my mold than presenting love with mercy and grace.


The fascinating thing about legalists is that while they flock together, they are really a cannibalistic society.  I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. What I mean is that they eat each other alive, and especially eat the less perfect, the weak, and the infirm.  I was a diner, until I became the feast.  It nearly killed me; for some of those cannibals nearly killed me.


Christian legalists are essentially Christian  atheists:  they live and act as if there is no God.  More specifically, they live and act as if there is no Jesus Christ. They live and act as if Jesus did not come; that he did not live flawlessly, fulfilling the true moral and legal requirements issued by a perfectly righteous, just and holy God.  They live and act as if God was and is not merciful. As if God did not shield those who trust in him from his anger, judgment and condemnation. As if Jesus did not take that judgment upon himself, when in fact he did.  They live and act as if God was and is not gracious, giving to us far more than what we deserve.  They live and act as if God is not loving and caring, as expressed in his benevolence through the life, acts and work of Jesus.


Yet the problem really is worse than this.  Like all legalists, they set themselves above God and set their rules higher than God’s.  With such people no one is able to measure up. In fact, under them all die a slow, painful, gruesome and bitter death.


Christian legalists, of which I am a recovering member, are miserable, and miserable for the Church as well as for society.  For a long time, the American Evangelical Church has needed to turn itself around (in Christianeze, “repent!”).  It needs to stop pointing those crooked, ugly fingers at the world and demanding that our society straighten up, become holy, righteous and flawless.  It needs, instead, to become humble and welcome God’s judgment upon itself (as Saint Peter says, judgment starts within the household of God).  As professing followers of Jesus, we need to be living followers of Jesus.  We need to recognize that no one measures up perfectly, but that Christ died in our place because we have failed the standard of perfection.  As living followers of Jesus we need to accept Jesus’ payment of the brutal beatings, the crucifixion and the temporary abandonment of God as our payment – in full.  And quit demanding payment from others.  As living followers of Christ we have no business being proud, mean or obnoxious. We must stop being hypocrites and instead be authentic loving souls.  It is our business to live out of hearts filled with gratitude that we are accepted in Christ, the God who is merciful, gracious and loving.  It is our business to be merciful, gracious and loving; especially so toward those outside the Church.  Perhaps then, the only complaint the world will truly have is that “these Christians have an authentic love for people!”

© D. Thomas Owsley

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