Losing Your First Love
By Rev. Dr. Melinda Contreras-Byrd, Contributing Writer
Revelation 2:1-3 says, ““To the angel of the church in Ephesus write…‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance… I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.’”
We are in an invisible cosmic battle. Merely look at the fallout that is visible to authenticate this truth. There are increasing rates of violence, despondency, bigotry, suicide, and addiction. Church membership is decreasing. “Un-churched” sacrilegious youth and parents have reached unprecedented numbers while distrust and disrespect for the church increase with each generation.
Yet, there remain those who dedicate their whole selves to the work of God’s kingdom. What was said of the church in Ephesus can be said of us, “you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.”
Having spent several years investigating the status of the lives of U.S. clergy in general and Black and Latino clergy specifically—I have come to recognize many sobering truths. We are the first line of defense against the attack of the enemy upon God’s kingdom. For personal spiritual meaning, read the words to the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.” We are entrusted with God’s power as the vehicle that will lift the name of Jesus and bring life to a dying world.
However, if we who are the preachers and priests of this New Covenant are disabled, the power of the church is likewise disabled! What I am saying my brothers and sisters is that you matter to God’s agenda and not just to the church where you minister.
Pastors struggle with many recognized and unrecognized areas of our lives but the spiritual realm is most critical. We must recognize and combat the insidious choices that weaken us in our spiritual lives.
I recently surveyed a diverse group of 63 Black and Latino pastors. Seventy percent responded that they only read the Bible to prepare for preaching or Bible Study.
When we do not treat our physical, mental, or spiritual care as a priority, we create a habit that works right into the hands of our adversary’s design to undo God’s plan by undermining God’s church. If pastors have been fed a lie that keeps us ever working, busy with the building, and holed up in the church, then half of the work of the enemy is done.
We end up getting sick but we recover. We become alienated from all of our friends but we survive without them because we’re busy with the church. We do not have time for our family members; but over time, they may get over it or maybe they won’t. Nevertheless, we carry on “in Jesus’ name.” Maybe we become so self-focused from being alone that we develop communication patterns and leadership habits that compromise the health of the church. Yet, we still can’t see the effects of our counter-spiritual habits, even as we pack up and move from church to church wondering what’s wrong with all of these church people from whom we had to get away!
With so many areas of concern, where do we start to stem the tide of poor self-care fallout? The place to begin is in our spiritual lives.
Have you ever met a pastor who is cynical, untrustworthy, negative, insensitive, and un-Christian acting? They likely did not start out that way. Somewhere along the line, the budgets, facility upkeep responsibilities, church politics, and loneliness took their toll. Sadly, the once fresh-faced pastors who started out clutching a Bible and singing “nearer my God to Thee” experienced things that led them to put the Bible down and stop singing altogether.
I want to suggest to you that I have learned by careful examination that most of the “scoundrel preachers” started out believing in miracles and were determined to make a difference for the Lord. Pastor, in ministry you can lose your health. You can lose your sleep. You can lose your best friend. You can lose your sense of security. However, the worst thing to lose is your first love!
Put this article down and review your vision, call, and your first acquaintance with God. If anything has taken your joy, blurred your vision, or shaken your hope, stir up the gift and pray your way through to your place with your first love.
Melinda Contreras-Byrd is a New Jersey state licensed psychologist and owner of the Generations Center. The Center specializes in meeting the psychological and spiritual needs of all women and both men and women of color. She has worked as a school psychologist in urban and suburban districts. She is a graduate of Rutgers University, The Graduate School of Applied & Professional Psychology, and the Princeton Theological Seminary. She is a published writer and poet, an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and joins her husband, the Rev. Vernon R. Byrd, Jr. in pastoral ministry at St. Matthew AME Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.