Our Good Life Series brings us to the topic of Emotions this week. Emotions in church? Maybe the Pentecostals are into that, but this is a Lutheran church full of people descended from Scandanavians. It’s more like the first church of Vulcan than a place where emotions are acceptable, right?
How can we preach about emotions when the acceptable form of conversation in the white, middle-class, suburban church is “hey, how’s it going?” “Good. How are you?” “Oh, good, thanks. Have a great week.” Then, as we force the smile, we hold back the tears and hope no one finds out about the fight we had with our spouse, the trouble my kid is in at school, and the new medication we were just prescribed to curb our anxiety.
“Oh, it’s all good.”
Really? Is it all good?
What would happen if we looked at someone at church and said, “How are you…REALLY?” And they told us?
One thing I know would happen is that it would get messy really fast.
Our lead pastor and teaching pastor crafted this worship series. Each week they provide some prompts for the teaching team. The instructions for this week said, “If you [the preacher] are comfortable, share some about your own emotions, struggles, etc. Some of the most powerful sermons are born out of the Gospel message we need to hear….and we can lead by example.”
Hmmm… This is always a challenge for a pastor. It is especially a challenge for a new pastor. The people of this congregation don’t know me. I don’t know the people of this congregation.
Is this congregation really ready for the REAL me? The temptation for a pastor is to think that the congregation needs to see us as being strong and steady. They need to know that at least one person has it all together and can be a rock in the storm, right?
Let me put it this way. If people think I’m the rock in the storm, then a lot of people are going to drown. Being a pastor does not make you exempt from the struggles and anxieties of life. I have four children between the ages of 18-24 who are all trying to figure out how to launch into adulthood. That alone is enough to create anxiety!
I was in a meeting a couple weeks ago and a man said to me, “So, you’ve moved, started a new job, and had a death in the family. You’ve had three out of the four major life stressors all within the last six weeks. How are you doing?”
He nailed it. This transition has been harder than I thought it would be. Everything is new and foreign. When I scan the crowd at church and as I walk through the narthex between services, instead of greeting old friends with whom I have shared life, I get the empty stare of strangers. That is a lonely feeling.
I know it takes time. I know I started that way at my last church and it took seven years to become part of the furniture. But, I’m seven years older now, and starting over is harder than I thought it would be.
So, how do I share my emotions with the congregation that I don’t know well and not come across as a whiner?
I take comfort in one of our texts for this week, Psalm 142. David is scared and he says,
With my voice I cry to the Lord;
with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
2 I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
3 When my spirit is faint,
you know my way.
The only rock we have is God, and God welcomes our complaints as well as our praise. The church doesn’t need a pastor to have it all together, because nobody does. The church needs a pastor who is real and honestly wants to trust in God through all the pain and fear; through the highs and the lows.
The church should be a safe place where people can bring their whole selves to the table; a place where we can carry each other’s burdens and, together, cling to the rock of God’s promises. Pray that the sermons and the worship experience will cultivate that environment for people this week.