Open Up Your Hearts: Cultivating the Most Important Relationship for the Health of your Church

Jesus said the World would know which people were HIs followers because of their love for one another. The Apostle Paul called love the greatest of the threesome that would endure beyond time. Scripture declares, “God is love.” Love is truly a vital element of our life in Christ.

We talk so much about how we are to love God. Even in our church I recently preached on God’s desire that we should love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, and also to love Him above all else. Another common thread is the importance of loving one another.

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But I would dare to say that there is a love that is almost completely ignored, and certainly isn’t spoken about. Once a year we get close but never make the full leap. It is one of the reasons churches continue to struggle on for years, watching pastors and people leave in regular rhythm. Adding this love just might save our churches.

An Incomplete Circle

What kind of love could have such power? Before I tell you, let me give you one quick reality about love. Love desires reciprocation, and without it love will die.

Whenever one person loves another their desire is to be loved in return. Reciprocation is the completion of the circle of love. A man loves a woman and she loves him back. So simple. But when the man loves the woman and continues to resist him, his desire for love will lead him to love another with the hopes of receiving her love. And who would blame him for moving on?

Are you ready to find out about the love that could save our churches? The basis for its discussion is the completion of the circle of love. Love is already being put forward by one party, but if the second doesn’t return that love, the first will move on in an effort to receive what it longs for.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul spent a lot of time talking about ministry. While there are a lot of other truths that we comment on, believe in and preach out of these chapters, they are all mentioned in relation to ministry.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians out of the brokenness of his heart. This church that he cared for so much seemed to disregard basic principles of godly living time and again. In his first letter he talked about sexual sins, the abuse of spiritual gifts, the need for love, and the hope of resurrection. When he wrote our second letter he was so glad that his plans fell through to visit them. It wasn’t because he didn’t love them, but because he knew his words and countenance would have caused great pain.

And then there is this one verse that seems to sum up the reason for his brokenness. They continue to question him and ignore his words because of this.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. (2 Corinthians 6:11-12 NIV84)

According to Paul, the circle of love was incomplete. He and his companions offered their hearts and affection without restraint to them. Love flowed freely from them. And in return they received nothing.

Love’s Investment

Many people don’t think about the love that a pastor pours into his church. They measure love by how many telephone calls or home visits they receive from the pastor. If his tally doesn’t meet their expectations they conclude, “He must not like me then.” (Of course, they fail to notice the emptiness on their own scorecard.)

What many fail to understand is that ministry is a life of love. If a pastor actually did not love his congregation, he wouldn’t stay. I believe it is one of the primary reasons pastors leave. But more on that in a bit.

Sometimes the work of the preacher is equated with that of a teacher, or at worst of a public speaker. Most public speakers are disconnected from their audience. They may have a point to share, information to dispel, and they desire that their audience receive and assimilate the information. But when they get off the stage they move on to the next engagement, usually without any care for the follow-through of the audience. His job is done. He shared the information. Take it or leave it, it’s up to you.

The work of a teacher is closer to that of a pastor. A teacher is careful to know his material and some regard or affection for it. Even most math teachers enjoy math. Teachers also have a heart for their students to learn the material. It is more than facts and figures, homework and tests. They dedicate their life to adding what they enjoy to the lives of others.

When it comes to pastoring, this could not be overstated. One enters ministry because of their love of God and the honest belief that God has made ministering to His people their life’s call. A pastor has a deep love for the big “C” Church universal, which drives him to love the local church. He loves God, therefore he loves the Body of Christ.

Because of his love for the church, the people of God, every work he does for them is birthed out of love. From writing a Sunday sermon to creating a worship list. Editing a sermon recording and putting it on the website for those who were absent or are seeking. Creating bulletins. Writing Bible studies. Dealing with finances. Planning holiday dinners. Overseeing construction and repair projects.

The smaller a church is, the more the load falls on the pastor. But when a pastor really loves a church you will rarely hear him complain about it. Love pushes him forward.

Until One Day

That is, unless it becomes so painfully clear that the heart of the church is closed to him. Nothing will push a pastor to give up on an assembly of God’s people faster than the realization that all of his investment of love is for nothing.

Consider the teenage boy that pines for a girl. He drops notes in her locker. Maybe a rose on a special day. But she doesn’t want anything to do with him. A mixed-tape and a couple more roses later, what does he do? His buddies tell him to move on. She has told him repeatedly that she isn’t interested and isn’t playing hard to get. Rejected, he picks up the pieces of his heart and looks elsewhere.

Can I be honest? A lot of pastors are like that. They pour out their hearts, hoping to edify, equip and encourage the church. Every worship set is a mixed tape of love songs. Sermons are like poems. And the more the church ignores them, or in some cases openly fights against them, the more pieces his heart gets torn into.

And then he looks around his office and decides it isn’t worth the heartache. Surely there is a church out there, somewhere, that will love him and his family. A church that will pour the same effort and investment of love into them so that they never, ever, think of leaving again.

Isn’t that what we need? Such a bond between a pastor and church that there is no room for discussion about separation. Like a devoted husband and wife that pledge to work on every issue, build love upon love, and never mention the “D” word. How healthy would that church be? What might their legacy together be? I can’t imagine a single pastor would ever walk away from that.

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