When I was in my thirties, I became cynical.
I think it began with reading some books that were critical of church. I’m not sure. Soon I became a critic of the church while leading a church. I called it subversive back then; I think I’d call it disingenuous now.
I became what Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned us against:
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 law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of 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.
I judged the church. I thought I knew better. I began to despair of both the church and myself. Cynicism destroyed my love for others and began to corrode my soul.
I could argue that I saw things correctly. The church did have some of the faults that I noticed. I was looking at the church with a critic’s eye rather than a lover’s eye. They, too, could have looked at my life and found faults, beginning with my lack of love for them.
I forget what brought me out of my funk, but I think it may have been the example of older, godly pastors who loved their congregations and who loved ministry. They had even more reason than I did to become cynical, but they fought back and chose to love instead.
Since then I’ve found even more pastors who’ve refused to give in to cynicism. I think of one who was positively giddy to be with his congregation. He spoke of Sunday being his favorite day of the week, and of his gratitude for the privilege of being a pastor.
I repented of my cynicism. And, with God’s help, I’m not going back.
The pastor’s job, among other things, is to love the flock. We will never criticize our churches into godliness. God has entrusted us with a privilege we don’t deserve. Ministry can be tough, and we should not deny reality, but we should always guard against becoming accusers of the church God’s called us to serve.
Why do I bring this up now? We live in perilous times. Social media and a polarized age create fertile soil for cynicism to grow. Take my word from it: cynicism is a weed that will take over every square inch of your heart and choke out everything else. It will not serve the people God’s entrusted to you, and it will not help you either.
Cynicism is a weed, a deadly one. Grab it by the roots and get rid of it. Don’t tolerate its presence for a second, because it wants to take over your soul.