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I was a pastor, and yet I felt cynical about church.

I preached every week. I kept serving and loving the best that I could. But I had become an expert at spotting all that’s wrong with the church. I grew concerned over church politics, the way we spent money, how little we prayed, how little we seemed to rely on God’s power.

I had rightly identified some areas of legitimate concern, and yet my response was completely wrong. I had stopped loving God’s people and had started judging them instead.

The Danger of Cynicism

“Cynicism comes from a good place: high standards,” writes Peter Adam. “But cynicism is a dangerous way to express those standards. It gives us the luxury of being right without the responsibility of working for change … Cynicism is the worst response to high standards.”

Looking back, I’d been feeding on a diet of books critiquing the church. Cynicism is contagious. Hang around cynical people and read cynical books, and you will soon become a cynic yourself.

I’d also been hurt as a pastor. The right way to respond to hurt is to go to God for help, and to get help from others, confronting when necessary, and working toward forgiveness. Instead, I nursed those hurts. I became a cynic.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns what can happen when we respond wrongly to hurt. “The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community as if his dream binds men together.”

“When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

But such disappointment is also an opportunity, according to Bonhoeffer. “The very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together — the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.”

Disappointment with the church is an opportunity. We can choose to become cynics, or we can remind ourselves of God’s grace and enter into deeper community.

I’ve lived out both options. The latter is much better.

What’s Changed

Slowly I started to repent of my cynicism. I found help in two places.

For the rest of the post…

Haddon Robinson

I hadn’t planned to post today.

I received word today that Haddon Robinson passed away this morning. Haddon served as the the Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He wrote Biblical Preaching, a classic textbook on preaching. He’s taught thousands of preachers in his tenures at Dallas Theological Seminary, Denver Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell.

I had the privilege of taking my Doctor of Ministry under Haddon from 2004-2007. I learned much from Haddon as a preacher, but I learned even more from Haddon as a man. Haddon exuded integrity and humility. He’s one of the best men I’ve ever known.

I was more than a little nervous when it came time to defend my thesis before Haddon. My advisor was positive, but I knew his opinion would not stand before Haddon’s. Haddon asked some pointed questions and raised a few good points, but somehow forgot to tell me at the end if I’d passed. It turns out that I had.

Every year a group of D.Min. Graduates gathered to study a book of the Bible with Haddon and a commentator. We continued to learn from Haddon even after our formal studies concluded. You could tell when Haddon was speaking: every time Haddon rose to speak, the room was filled with the sound of typists trying to keep up with Haddon’s thoughts. I’m grateful now that we were able to capture many of his unscripted comments.

It’s tempting to write a hagiography when it comes to someone like Haddon. He wasn’t perfect, and he was the first to admit it. That, in part, is what drew us to him. It’s clear that Haddon walked closely with God, and as such he wasn’t overly impressed with himself. “There are no great preachers,” he said, “only a great Christ.”

I last saw Haddon in December of last year. He wasn’t doing well, but he continued to live as a man who loved God and loved his family. He was also loved by so many of us who had the privilege of knowing him.

For the rest of the post…

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