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PASTOR CHIP THORNTON: Timing Is everything (column)

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Pastor Chip Thornton 2020

Pastor Chip Thornton

Is your congregation a covenant community or a community club? We often confuse the two. 

Members of a covenant community promise to worship weekly, to live holy lives, to love others and to serve the mission of the congregation. Few today follow through with those promises, yet no accountability follows. John MacArthur records the resignation of one pastor. It is telling:

 “[T]hrough all these years, a conviction has been growing within me that the average church member cares precious little about the kingdom of God … He is a Christian in order that he may save his soul from hell, and for no other reason. He does as little as he can, lives as indifferently as he dares. If he thought he could gain heaven without lifting his finger for others, he would jump at the chance. … It didn’t seem to mean anything to them that they had dedicated themselves to the service of Christ (MacArthur, 2 Corinthians, 64).

Like many congregations today, the first century congregation in Corinth had degenerated into a Christian country club. It had no accountability among its members. Yet, when we talk about accountability, we must also consider “timing.”  

Timing is everything. Listen to Paul’s words: “But I call God as witness against me -- it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth” (2 Cor 1:23). The phrase “it was to spare” means to “refrain” or “be merciful.” Paul had made them aware of sin-issues, but he was giving them “time” to repent. 

The providence of God is wonderful. As I was reflecting on this passage, I thought of a friend who was caught in sin. I had planned to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with him today. This passage convinced me to hold off temporarily. “Sometimes,” I thought, “the Holy Spirit needs time and space to operate.” 

I broke for lunch with another Christian brother. He was struggling with a similar issue: He had twice gently confronted a friend caught in a lifestyle of sin. His dilemma was, “Do I keep confronting?” I shared Paul’s experience with the Corinthians. He decided to give it some time. 

When I returned from lunch, I discovered my dreaded “come to Jesus” meeting was unnecessary. The Holy Spirit had changed my friend’s heart!

Sometimes, over-ministering (nagging) can push a person away. Sometimes, we need to let a situation develop, to “ripen up.” One mistake we often make in our gospel-zeal is being too aggressive. Timing is everything.

I don’t know if it’s a spiritual gift or not, but some people have an impeccable sense of timing. They seem to know when to press things and when to withdraw.

Many of us are too patient when we should be urgent, or too urgent when we should be patient. Then, there is the person we (pastors) nickname the “Minister of Confrontation.” He (or she) is a confrontation war-hawk, confronting anything and everything, sometimes dividing the congregation in the process. 

Paul wouldn’t do that. He had a perceptive sense of timing. Not everyone does. If you don’t (or even if you think you do), counsel with someone who does before you confront … because accountability is essential, but timing is everything.

Dr. Chipley McQueen Thornton is lead pastor at FBC Springville.