Last Sunday my son and I put on our coats and headed outside into the cold. It was time to put up the Christmas lights. Our home has a covered front porch which serves as the focal point for decoration. We hung the pre-lit wreaths and placed small artificial fir trees on either side of the door. We hung several strands of lights around the exterior of the porch. They were the kind that hang down in individual rows to make them look like icicles.
I purchased the icicle lights earlier in the day. The ones I used last year didn’t survive the move so it was time for new ones. As I searched through the many different sizes and styles of lights I closely read each package, determining the actual length of each strand so I would know how many I would need to get. Eventually I settled on the lights I wanted. They were the right length and style, and even better, they were LED lights so they wouldn’t use nearly the amount of electricity as the old ones.
After we hung all the lights it came time for that glorious moment when the extension cords are plugged in, the switch is turned on, and the decorations are lit to bring some visual joy to the neighborhood. As soon as they came on I realized something had happened that I had not anticipated. The new LED lights were much brighter than the other lights. They shone a clear bright white, so white it was almost blue, while the other decorations with incandescent lights shone a softer, duller shade that was almost yellow.
I’ve spent the past couple of days debating whether or not to return the new lights. They just don’t look quite right among all the others. But yesterday as I was contemplating this decision I had a moment of realization:
Some lights shine brighter than others.
While it may seem elementary, this simple realization hit me like a freight train, because immediately in my mind it became a lesson for parish ministry.
Followers of Jesus are called to be bearers of the light. Each of us, in some way or another, bears the light of Christ into our world. One of the great joys of parish ministry is having the opportunity to witness that light burning brightly in others, especially in those incredible moments where we see the first flickers of light or when we see someone’s smoldering coals suddenly ignite with bright flames of passion.
But not all of the people in our charge or under our care have brightly shining lights. Some lights shine brighter than others. Some of God’s light-bearers have dimmed their lamps with dysfunctional behaviors and hunger for power. Others have become so church-institutionalized that the light of Christ becomes concealed behind a highly guarded exterior that stubbornly resists any movement of the new and different. And still others are so dimmed by their own negativity that we begin to wonder if there is even any light in them at all - it can sure be hard to see amongst generous helpings of criticism. And often, as pastors, we have a tendency to focus our energies, our thoughts, and our emotions on these people. Believe me, I know.
Perhaps it’s our pastoral nature that causes us to do this. Pastors are, in general, people pleasers. We want to be needed. We want to help people. We want to feel like we’re making a difference. We also tend to want to be liked. And it bothers us when people don’t like us, when we don’t feel needed, or we don’t feel like we’re making a difference. Perhaps that’s why we waste evenings at home that could be spent enjoying our families by instead dwelling on those negative people. Perhaps that’s why we have so many off-color inside jokes about dysfunctional church people - because this truth hurts and laughing helps us cope. Perhaps that’s why we allow people who criticize, people who reject, people who are just negative, to have such a dramatic impact on our self-worth, or at least take a heavy emotional toll.
Regardless of why we do this, I want to encourage you to remember that some lights shine brighter than others, and to encourage you to focus your energies and your efforts on those light-bearers who are positive, who are uplifting, who are supportive, and whose light points you in the direction of Christ.
This is not a call to neglect those in your charge who you don’t like, who are negative or overly critical. This is not a permission slip to outright ignore those church members who are sometimes (or frequently) problematic. This is, instead, a reminder for you to take care of yourself. You need support. You need encouragement. You need to be loved and cared for. So if you’re going to spend your evenings at home thinking about church people, spend that time thinking about the ones who bless you. If you’re going to lose sleep about people, lose sleep over the ones that genuinely love you, not the ones who love to hate you. If you’re going to take memories of your ministry with you, don’t you want your retirement years to be filled with memories of the people who showed you love and compassion - those who showed you the light of Christ?
As I think about it now, I just might keep these new-fangled LED lights, even though they don’t match the others. Yes, my Christmas display might be two-toned, but each time I see it I’ll be reminded of the simple yet profound knowledge that some lights shine brighter than others. I have to remind myself regularly to focus on the bright ones, and I hope you will do the same for yourself.
Blessings in Christ,