John Ruth, the quintessential churchman, has said, “If your convictions don’t ever get you in trouble, they’re not worth much.”
Some of us are more temperamentally inclined to get into trouble. We enjoy being combative and pushing the social boundaries. Or we may have strong convictions about certain things and those convictions can run roughshod over relationships with others. I know it’s going to be a tough meeting when someone begins by saying, “I have strong convictions.”
Others of us are inherently people pleasers. We want to know where others stand before we make any kind of personal commitment. Another way to say it is that we’re politically astute. Or perhaps we’re just naturally kind and pastoral. We pastors seem to be especially inclined to try to please everyone. Developing empathy and cultivating listening skills are certainly virtues but there are also times when we need to speak and live out our convictions in ways that will get us into trouble.
A good pastor friend told me about the different lessons she learned from both sides of her extended family. On one side there’s a long lineage of church leaders who, we might say, are politically astute. They taught her that you need to be very careful to not rock the boat lest you get thrown overboard.
The other side of the family was more inclined to live their convictions and letting the chips fall where they may. Her grandfather was the pastor of a small mission church in a black community in Virginia during segregation. Church polity, at the time, was that blacks and whites were not allowed to take communion together. This distressed her grandmother so much that she abruptly got up during a communion service and walked out the door. She and her husband later told the church hierarchy that they refused to abide by the segregated polity. Because of their stance, her husband had to give up his pastoral position. For them, rocking the boat in this situation was part of what it meant to follow Jesus.
Jesus tells us to expect such confrontation as his followers. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Sheep, wolves, snakes, doves—these images convey the sense that this will not be a relaxed Sunday afternoon stroll in the park. If Jesus was maligned as the prince of devils how much more will we be maligned as his followers (Matthew 10:24-25)? He certainly rocked some boats and earned the wrath of some powerful people. It’s a holy calling.