If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will remember that my parents died young – both from cancer – and so cancer has been my special enemy for quite some time now. I am well-acquainted with the assorted tortures that chemotherapy inflicts on the human body. But this article by Andrew Pollock gives me great hope.
And of course it got me thinking about Church.
Neither Jesus nor Paul ever said anything about something being “a cancer” upon the church unless we count this verse. The word γάγγραινα is often translated “gangrene” and it’s only found this one time in Scripture. Some transliterations of Scripture call this “cancer.”
We who have loved the Church for more than a few years know well that certain behaviors in spiritual communities are akin to tumors (or gangrene): gossip and power plays come to mind. They can take over a system and destroy it.
There are times when we need to Confront That Tumor. I have had moments in professional ministry when I’ve preached directly to God’s people about their blatant lack of hospitality. There have been times when I’ve confronted church leaders about their vicious behavior. I’ve known pastors who have asked destructive parishioners to change or leave because the damage they are inflicting is metastasizing.
But aren’t there more times when it’s the pastor’s job to build resilience and teach the community how to defend the church against bullies and haters?
The longer I find myself in professional ministry, the more I realize that we pastors have the exquisite responsibility to shepherd people towards becoming the people God created them to be.
So back to immunotherapy. The world is filled with demons, cancers, γάγγραινα, and random unkindnesses that seek to destroy us. Or distract us.
Many of us spend too much time putting out fires and too little time equipping our people to be faithful followers of Jesus. It’s easier to focus on the daily dramas instead of the Big Picture. But – considering the great needs of the world, from the social justice issues in our particular neighborhoods to the global issues facing our planet – we can no longer spend the majority of our time on managing churches. We need to bolster what helps make us spiritually and ecclesiastically strong.
How to do that? (I don’t have that kind of time here.) But basically, it is our task as spiritual leaders to help our people figure out who they are (and whose they are) in the realm of God. It’s our task to identify and strengthen the spiritual gifts of our parishioners. And it’s our task to remind them that we have been created to do great things in the name of the One who defeated and continues to defeat darkness. Teaching each other how to experience light even in darkness is one of the holiest things we can do with our lives.
Image source here of a T-lymphocyte (green) attacking a cancer cell (blue.)