I am a pastor at a small church in a small town near a two million capital of Belarus. Big city churches attract a lot of young people and drawing some of them out of “less successful,” semi-rural churches in the area.
Where I am every man counts! Especially a young one! Especially a gifted one!
The two conversations below took place within the same month of August. Both of them involved young men who are special to me. I believe their proximity in time is providential. I think the two of them combined exemplify what our ministry may result in.
My first conversation was with brother A1. He was converted through the ministry of our church in his late teens. He grew up without a father. Men from the church basically fathered him through his student years. His single mom worked two jobs to make ends meet. The church was involved in helping him financially whenever he was in need. He was an articulate speaker, a reader of theology, and a musically gifted person. Someone we prayed for as a future leader. But then came that disappointing conversation:
“I don’t believe in formal membership anymore. I don’t think that things at the church should be done by compulsion as is the case in our church. I don’t want you to have expectations and demands from me. I don’t believe there must be any formal structure where there are pastors who teach and have authority and others who learn and have to follow.”
Needless to say, I felt betrayed, frustrated, puzzled, and disappointed. This new strange thinking in his head developed overtime and he concealed it from us—his pastors. I could see that for the meantime the battle for his mind is over. He is leaving our church and going nowhere. He is beyond my reach. Practically speaking, this meant that there was no one left in the church to lead congregational singing and play an instrument other than me. “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain,” these words from Gal 4:11 emerge in my mind over and over and the emotional burden behind them becomes so understandable.
The following Sunday A1’s announcement to the church fell like a boulder in the water sending ripples all over the surface of our small close-knit congregation. It’s not like when a “bad” member departs. Having a “good” member “dismembering” himself from the body in such a strange and unexpected way cuts much deeper.
Then there was another man whom I knew about the same amount of time. He is A2. He was never a member of our church. Yet, I have been a part of his Christian life since the beginning. I remember when he told me of making a proposal to his future wife, who happened to be my friend as well. I remember handling his tiny firstborn son. I remember coming to check out their first small apartment which felt like a castle to this young happy couple. I remember when he sought my counsel at every major juncture in his Christian life. I didn’t know why he wanted an appointment with me this time. The occasion turned out to be good:
“Guys in my church are considering taking another full time elder on staff. They chose me! I am not sure why. I know there are some men who are more gifted than I am. I am excited and I know lots of things in my life will change. What will you advise me as I am moving into this new season of life?”
I could not help but think about the contrasting impressions that these two men and their life choices made on me. In one case I could see my labors devastated. In the other case I could see a wonderful promising development in the life of this godly friend of mine. I felt so privileged that over the years I was able to influence his life every once in a while. I am happy that A2 soon will be able to devote himself fully to the ministry of the Word and impact many more lives.
I could see what is happening in my life is exactly what Jesus promised to his followers; exactly what we see apostles experiencing in their ministry, just exactly how it should be: men will rise and men will fall, our message will be accepted and will be rejected, progress and setbacks, the glory and the cross.
I praise God that by his mercy I can be in the midst of these spiritual battles with their victories and defeats. I also thank all of those who hold me up and other men like me with their prayer and with their giving.
Pray for us,