A delicate line often separates conviction and concession. What are matters of conviction for one could are easily conceded by another. God’s wisdom must distinguish between holding one thing fast and holding another thing loosely. That said, is it ever wrong to be right?
Paul instructs us in many places to keep the weaker brother’s interest at heart. In other words, there are simply some issues that are not worth ruining another’s soul (1 Cor 8.11). Whether it be matters of diet (Rom 14.1-3; 1 Cor 8; 10.25-31; Col 2.16), matters of festival (Rom 14.5-6; Col 2.16), or matters of circumstantial conscience (Rom 14.22), maturity always stoops and lends a helping hand to immaturity.
Conviction is hardly a weapon to force others into submission. Humility makes friends of enemies. Peace repairs breached walls. Maturity does not starve young seeds, but fertilizes them. And so, pastoral ministry is the constant (re)positioning of conviction and concession.
There are matters of faith that demand a death grip. In Paul’s words, there are matters of food and there are matters of confession. However, holding certain convictions does not mean we kick off intruders while dangling from the top rung. Rather, we hold ever so tightly (or are held ever so tightly?) with one hand while offering our other hand to help God’s people to the next step.
Young, reformed, inexperienced pastors (like myself) emerge from a renewed interest in historical and experiential theology. They charge off the line, sprinting to first place, flaunting their so-called ability, and arrogantly leaving congregations in a wake of confusion. Rather than leaving an aftertaste of God’s grace toward sinners, their legacy is how strongly they held their convictions.
Perhaps Jesus would remain in last place, encouraging the slowest runner to a quicker next lap. Before long and with each runner Jesus quickens the pace of the pack. So rather than having a champion sprinter who leaves congregations gasping for air on the sidelines, our churches need a champion servant who enjoys last place in a pack of marathoners. Sheep are not cheetahs; therefore, shepherds are not sprinters. Our churches limp around the track not because they hate to run, but because they’ve have hardly trained. The goal of the Christian “race” is not to finish first, but to finish together.
It is not hard for me to be convicted about biblical issues. Like many pastors, I’ve lost pulpits and parishioners over them. It is, however, extremely hard for me to be a gracious loser. The desire to be right quickly absorbs my love for the weak-hearted. Often God’s mercy is better spent on those most convicted.
Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food (Rom 14.20).
(Note: This was originally published in June 2006 and has been slightly revised for this edition)