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Email has made it possible for me to be a pastor in a way that I have never been before. I always had an image of a pastor sitting in his office with people coming to him for counselling, rebukes, etc. In reality, however, "pastors" are usually pretty busy with other stuff, and most people won't come to the pastor of their own free will to get counsel anyway. But with email, I can be the "ideal" pastor. I have been able to sit here in my office, in front of the computer, and share directly with each individual in the community in a way that I was never able to do before we started using email. I have had the opportunity to know people in a way that I have never known you before. But it means that I know your faults better now than I ever did as well.

Obviously, even if it seems like I am discovering more problems, people aren't necessarily getting any worse. It may seem like everyone is going backwards, because so many people are getting so much more scrutiny. But it's probably not true.

Let me illustrate. When the van comes due for its yearly inspection, we get a list of problems; but the problems didn't just appear on the day the inspection was made. They had been forming all year long. Most of the problems I have been discovering lately have been ones that you have had for as long as you have been in the community. In fact, you may have even improved in some of those areas over the years. That observation should give a bit of encouragement to all of us.

Another observation should be that such a dramatic improvement in my ability to counsel each of you personally could be a key to us getting much better spiritually. If you've made a tiny bit of progress with your faults in years gone by, you should be able to make revolutionary changes now that they are out in the open. And that could open the door to us being more effective in winning new disciples as well. Maybe we are moving closer to actually growing after all these years!

Of course even now we won't really grow unless we deal seriously with the various areas of personal need first. I think we need to make some dramatic breakthroughs with lifetime weaknesses before we can really become the people that God wants us to be.

A third observation is that rebukes are a part of pastoring. I mentioned in In Spirit and In Truth the need for pastors to "overlook" some things. Obviously, now that I am right up close through email, I can see a lot of faults that I could not see from a distance. So I have to overlook some of these faults in order to deal with the worst ones first. But it is difficult for you to appreciate how much I'm overlooking, since, overall, you will probably be receiving more rebukes than you used to get from me in the days before email.

Finally, I would like to impress on people just how important your will is in changing lifelong habits. When people apologise and say things like, "Hopefully I will improve. Only time will tell." I can be pretty sure that they won't. I'm not impressed with extreme promises. But neither am I impressed by the "time will tell" response. It's true that time will tell the rest of us. But from your point of view, it is you who will tell whether you are serious about wanting to change. If you really want to change, you will. Otherwise you won't.

With ingrained habits, you only change if you take steps to discipline yourselves, and if you stick with them. Often people pretend to be making changes, but they don't follow through, because the professed desire to change was a lie from the start. They didn't really want to change.

Some people say they can't see the problem, and so are not able to change. But the stories are not convincing. Generally, when people want to get tracts out, they get tracts out. When they want to play chess, they play chess. When they want to be someplace on time, they get there on time. When they want to share what they are thinking, they share what they are thinking. And when they want to tell the truth, they tell the truth.

So when I criticise you for something, you have three choices. You can disagree, in which case you should say so (as humbly as possible, thank you); or you can change; or you can not change. What you say means little, since everyone knows they are "supposed to" say that they want to change. But what you do is everything.

Well, that is how I see it. I feel that writing this has helped me get a more balanced picture of what we are all experiencing with the improvements in communication thanks to email. I hope others can get a better picture of what their job is from these observations as well.

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