February 11, 2009
Live from NPC: Rob Bell
Paper cuts, forgiveness, and chocolate covered turds.
Most of the church leaders attending this morning's session at NPC probably thought they don't share much in common with mega-church pastor, mega-celebrity, mega-author Rob Bell. They were wrong. Bell spoke about being criticized - the "million little paper cuts" of criticism that pastors face all the time. He used that common pastoral experience to talk about the "absolute imperative that we become masters at forgiving people."
Bell recounted the story of a letter he received from a supporter. The note, in which the writer recounted how he defended Bell when another person accused him of being nothing more than "fluff and irrelevance," was intended to edify and encourage. But he said the only part he remembered was the criticism. This, says Bell, is the definition of a "chocolate covered turd." It looks sweet on the outside until you take a bite. Then it betrays you.
That's how ministry is. You may hear nine really good things, but it's the one critical comment that will eat away at your soul. We tell ourselves that it's really nothing, that "you just have to laugh about it," and that those small paper cuts really don't hurt. But they do. Over time, says Bell, those small wounds build up and we experience "death by paper cuts."
The only solution is forgiveness.
Bell says that if we don't forgive three things could happen:
1. We will hold back from our prophetic calling. We won't exhibit the courage our calling requires to speak the necessary but difficult things. If we've been wounded in the past when we've been vulnerable, honest, or challenging, we'll be less likely to do it again. We will have learned "the painful reality that sheep have teeth."
2. We will begin to list and label people in the church as being for us or against us. This, he says, doesn't honor people and creates unhealthy divisions in the church.
3. We'll indirectly seek revenge. It may come out as humor or sarcasm, or even covert gossip, but we'll want to inflict some vengeance on those who have hurt us.
Drawing on the wisdom of Jesus, Parker Palmer, and Tim Keller, Bell offers an alternative response. We are called to forgive by going through three steps: (1) Name it. We shouldn't just ignore it or minimize it. By naming why we are hurt we can disarm the wound's secret control over us. (2) Accept it. Realize that you are hurt and don't throw the pain back or nurse it secretly on the side. (3) Absorb it. This is the most painful part - what Tim Keller equates with a form of death. It's really awful to absorb the wrongs others have done to you, but on the other side of that death is new life; resurrection that will empower you to love more like Christ.
Rob Bell ended his session by pushing a shopping cart through the aisles as hundreds of pastors deposited papers into the cart with the names of people and congregations that had wounded them. Bell prayed over the shopping cart and for the hurting pastors in the room.
It was a moving and very healing session. Although he has his critics, Rob Bell proved to those in attendance this morning at least two things: He's a brilliant communicator, and he has the heart of a pastor - wounds and all.