Pastor Josh Patterson, co-author of Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church, took the stage during a simulcast event Tuesday to discuss the seemingly constant tension in ministry between suffering and celebration.
"If you have honest eyes you are never without this tension," he said. "There's the moment where you're celebrating the birth of a little boy or a little girl, and there's the moment when you're enduring the painful loss of a miscarriage. There's the moment where you're rejoicing over the baptism waters that have been stirring because someone has been converted unto Christ, and there's the moment when you see a father abandon his family. There's the moment when you see repentance, and when you see a hardened heart. This is the air we breathe."
Patterson, who serves as the lead pastor of ministry leadership at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, shared his message as a part of the Creature of the Word Simulcast. Matt Chandler, lead pastor of teaching at The Village, and Eric Geiger, vice president of the church resource division at LifeWay Christian Resources, are co-authors of Creature of the Word and also spoke during the event.
Although ministry can be both messy and emotional, Patterson says it's supposed to be that way. But when churches face challenging times, pastors can best serve their flocks by reminding them of Jesus Christ's death upon the cross, where there was hope in the midst of sorrow.
Patterson shared the story of a time when he was preparing to officiate a destination wedding at a ranch in Texas for a family friend. After the rehearsal dinner, the grandmother of the groom was heading upstairs to her room when she suddenly fell and hit her head on the ground.
Those present couldn't call an ambulance due to a lack of cell phone reception in the area, so they began to drive her to the hospital themselves. Though she had been conscious during the drive, and they were able to call for and meet an ambulance down the road, the injury was worse than first believed and she died that night in the hospital.
The family decided to continue with the wedding despite the tragedy. Patterson prayed for most of the day about what he should say at the ceremony, and says God helped him understand how the image of Jesus upon the cross was particularly relevant at that time.
"Right there in the cross hairs of celebration and suffering, right there in the middle of joy and pain is the cross of Jesus Christ," said Patterson. "It's right there. When you stare at the cross you cannot get around the celebration of it, because it's in the cross of Jesus Christ that he has justified you. He has transformed your life, he has forgiven you of your sins, you have been reconciled to the father, but in the cross of Jesus Christ you are met with the most horrific suffering humanity has ever experienced. It is where the son of God was crucified."
Patterson says pastors need to proactively prepare their people for suffering, because everyone will eventually experience it. But, like prayer, celebrating God's goodness helps a church to think less of themselves and, in doing so, helps them become more dependent on God.
After the groom's grandmother passed away, Patterson says, it was tempting to feel guilty for celebrating during the wedding, but they celebrated nevertheless.
"We of all people have a right to celebrate," he said. "We of all people have the right to rejoice and be glad in this moment. And so the context of your ministry, although sobered by suffering, is buoyed in the hope that we are adopted as sons and daughters, we are a forgiven people, we have the hope of glory – Christ in us."