Along this journey the Lord has revealed flaws in my character. (I assure you, this most definitely isn’t a blog about how I’m right and have all the answers. I don’t… not even close.) I’m opinionated and incredibly stubborn. I’ve had more than a few pastors tell me I have a problem submitting to authority. But, in the wise words of my husband, “She only has a problem submitting to those who abuse their authority.” (Yes, my husband, while not perfect, is AMAZINGLY wonderful.)
I’ve been thankful to come across a few really great pastors over the years and I’m going to share my love for one of them today, because the Lord has used him to humble me. It’s quite beautiful actually, because his heart has always come from a place of love, not control…. from a willingness to learn, not a fear of perceived weakness. Years ago I judged this man unfairly. My theology doesn’t align with his on a few matters… you know, like the topic of pre/a/post-millennialism… and in my arrogance I distanced myself. Seriously, nothing makes you more like a Pharisee than theological arrogance. (I’m not talking about false teaching here, so don’t bother drafting the email.)
One Christmas, the Lord convicted me of my sin toward him, so I reached out to apologize. I remember sitting in front of my Christmas tree, only the soft glow of the white lights illuminating the room. I stumbled through the first few minutes of the conversation. Seriously, I’m not sure if there’s anything more uncomfortable than apologizing to someone you hardly know, about something they have absolutely no clue you did. Some might be asking, “Why bother?” Great question…. that I don’t have an answer for except to say that the Lord placed it on my heart. Reason enough.
I remember asking for his forgiveness and him willingly giving it. His graciousness left a lasting impression on me. To this day, I look back with fondness on how approachable he has always been, even in hard situations. One of those situations was transitioning to a new church. At this point in our journey, we were attending “church” with another body of believers on Sunday and their youth pastor was interested in Jamie and I helping with the youth group, but we were still serving our home church during the week through small groups, outreach, and women’s ministry.
I remember asking this pastor how open leadership would be to our family being active at both churches. I mean, statistically speaking, the ‘ole saying goes: 20% of the people do 80% of the work. We were willing to be a part of that 20% at both places. (We were willing to financially support both as well.) At first, he was completely open to the idea and this was such a huge relief. So much of our lives had been built around that community of faith. And we had also seen so many people leave on bad terms, only to be ostracized. (Confession: That should have been the first red flag MANY years ago.)
But, after talking it over with the rest of leadership, it was decided that our family needed to “not split allegiances.” His words, not mine. (But, knowing him, I’d bet good money… but, not really, because I was raised Southern Baptist… that they weren’t his words either.) When I asked, “Allegiance to what?” he began talking in circles about people being confused and who’s authority I would fall under. There were no hard feelings in the exchange and I can say with complete honesty that every time I see him, my joy is genuine. (Side note… My joy is always genuine, I just said this because there have been several occasions when we run into people I’m not particularly thrilled to see. You know those people. I don’t avoid them, but I don’t pretend to like them, either. I’m not a “fake-it-to-you-make-it” person. I’m praying for growth in this area and He is growing me. (But it’s usually by putting those people in my path. It’s super annoying.)
I feel like so much of our church environment today is molded by cultural traditions and mores… whether it’s catchy slogans for a sermon series, cute shirts that brand and advertise a particular church, or worship services with light shows and larger-than-life video screens projecting images of rock concerts (where congregations are more spectators than participants). I feel like there’s more emphasis on WHERE we worship than WHO we worship. As a result, sometimes our allegiance to the WHO gets lost on the WHERE.
At one point, our home church decided to do something new. Twice a year, at Easter and Christmas, they would take an offering that would be given to an organization in the community. (For the record, I think this is a great idea and this church has contributed greatly to the community through this giving.) But, that first year, I was puzzled as to why they were giving the money to our local children’s hospital instead of a local Christian organization that was struggling to make their budget that month.
I was told by one of the elders it was all about branding. For. Real. His words, not mine. He went on to say that leadership wanted the church to be known for giving “BIG” to the city…. so, I guess this explains the press releases that went out. (So much for not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing…. said with an exaggerated eye roll and sarcastic smirk, just in case you were wondering.) I was also told they were targeting the hospital in hopes of getting more people, with deeper pockets, to our WHERE… I mean church. (This is also FOR REAL people. The conversations that go on behind closed doors among church leadership are some of the most flesh driven I’ve ever witnessed. And they’re usually followed with some “Christian-sanitized” excuse about the end justifying the means. I’m also sure that will go over really well with Jesus when we meet him face to face.)
I bring this all up for one purpose: Church isn’t about one community over another. It’s not about branding ourselves in a way that stands out from all the other churches in town. WE’RE NOT SUPPOSE TO STAND OUT AT ALL… EXCEPT IN OUR LOVE TO THE LORD AND TO ONE ANOTHER. It’s about all of us working together. My allegiance is to Jesus. Period. And I’m not saying that to get out of accountability or tithing. I’m a big proponent of both. (And I TOTALLY understand the argument for the local church, but honestly, I don’t know too many people who actually go to the church within the closest proximity of their home.) We’ve made church about preference. We’ve made it into something it’s not. Our family was willing to be committed to both, because we saw a need at both where our gifts could be used. But, I guess that’s not acceptable. (FYI… the other church in the equation was fine with the dual church scenario, so there was hope.) So just like that, we left. But, there was still one string that needed to be severed.