Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Full Church Massage

I just went in for a "deep tissue" massage. I got there and the massage therapist suggested a more conventional massage. Sixty minutes later and I was relaxed and refreshed.

If I would've gone in for a nice little back rub to put me to sleep, I wouldn't have appreciated all the tugging, stretching, pushing and kneading. In fact, it would've been downright annoying. But I didn't go in for a nice little back rub; I went in to be regenerated! I chose to trade my money and time for pain and discomfort because I believed that, at the hands of a professional massage therapist, it would mean renewal for my body. And it worked! And I'm sure if I went more regularly, it would be even more effective!

I couldn't help but think about how similar the massage therapist's role is to that of the pastor. I had someone tell me a couple weeks ago that my job is just to listen, not to give advice. But that's sort of like telling the massage therapist her job is to just observe, not to touch.

A pastor is certainly called to listen and observe, but not just to give a pat on the back and say, "Now now, everything's gonna be okay." The discerning pastor is called to recognize the spiritual tension, and to "stick an elbow into it" if necessary to work it out. The discerning pastor will tug, stretch, push and knead. That usually means some spiritual pain and discomfort, but by the effectiveness of the Spirit of God, it ultimately means regeneration, refreshment and renewal!

There's a similar need in the Body of Christ. Just as we benefit personally from the spiritual direction of a discerning pastor, the local church also benefits from that wisdom. Part of the pastor's call is to be one who discerns the spiritual, relational and missional tensions in their congregation and works to bring regeneration. That usually feels like tugging, stretching, pushing and kneading.

My massage therapist didn't stretch me to the point of injury, and she used oil to reduce unnecessary friction. In the same way, the discerning pastor recognizes the church's limits and works to gradually increase flexibility where it's needed. And the discerning pastor applies genuine love and listening as a lubricant that reduces unnecessary friction. There's still discomfort and pain as the tensions are addressed, and priorities are realigned, but the discerning pastor is working to increase peace and flexibility without causing greater tension and injury.

I didn't know my massage therapist. I didn't know whether to relax and trust her, or to protect myself. Was she gonna try something weird like reading my aura or whatever? I just wanted a massage. But when she saw on my information sheet that I'm a pastor she said, "Then you won't mind if I start with prayer will you?" And as I lay there, she put her hands on my shoulders and with heartfelt passion began, "Father, in the name of Jesus Christ," and I had a sense of her heart. And as she started to gently tug and stretch and push and knead, I relaxed with confidence in her knowledge; I submitted to her understanding.

Hebrews 13:17 says to:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
Many of us have trouble with that. But I'd encourage you to not lose hope in God, who promised in Jeremiah 3:15 to:
...give you shepherds after [his] own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.
If your pastor is a "shepherd after God's own heart" who leads with "knowledge and understanding", don't confuse the tugging and stretching and pushing and kneading as the tension itself. It just might be part of God's "full church massage" that is working for your regeneration, refreshment and renewal!