Friday, July 02, 2010

Born Again? Or Burned Again? Try Both.

When I first became a Christian in 1969, and for quite a few years thereafter, I was so gung ho about my faith and about church-related activities that my father (who had earlier preached from two separate pulpits for a total of six years) accused me of fanaticism. Of course, part of that was motivated by the fact that he had begun to abandon his own faith in Christ, as demonstrated by the fact that he committed several sins which no pastor should ever commit, including adultery and alcohol abuse. Still, it says something about my attitude towards church at that time, I think.

Unfortunately, even though I remain committed to Christ (as seen by various attempts of mine to serve God with my diverse talents), a series of extremely unpleasant incidents in various churches has had the effect over the years of making me ambivalent when it comes to the Christian church. I know that my transparency and honesty about such matters has the potential to make it harder for me to find support for the ministry to which I believe that I've been called, but I've already had my fill of hypocrisy, and as I see it, pretending to be something one is not is a form of hypocrisy. I don't claim to be perfect, but I do try not to be a hypocrite; and when I perceive what appears to be hypocrisy on the part of Christian leaders with whom I am in communication, I am rarely inclined to bite my tongue, although I do try to temper my judgment with mercy.

One fellow Christian, after getting to know me, told me that he thought that I was something of a prophet, inasmuch as the Old Testament prophets were known for speaking truth to power even when it proved to be costly for them to do so. I'm wary of the tendency of people who think of themselves as prophets to become puffed up with pride, so I'm a bit hesitant to take on such a lofty title. But God can speak prophetically even through an ass, as Balaam learned, so perhaps it isn't a stretch to say that God has sometimes used my outspokenness in prophetic ways.

Don't envy prophets, folks. Not in the short term, anyway. As Jesus pointed out, a prophet is without honor in his own country. And the same thing is often true about how prophets are treated in their own home churches. I speak from personal experience in that regard. It helps to explain why I currently have no home church, despite the fact that I know that I could accomplish a lot more if I had the support of such a church. I don't like the role of a loner, but neither do I like playing unproductive mind games with people. I don't seek conflict with other people, but sometimes, such conflict seems to be magnetically attracted to me.

At a church I regularly attended recently here in Chicago, while speaking with one of the church deacons, I took it upon myself to share my longstanding idea for a parachurch ministry which would enable ordinary Christians to more effectively fulfill their biblical responsibilities to bear one another's burdens, by making it easier for people in need to communicate their needs directly with one another, not only from within their own local church bodies, but even in a manner (using web-based resources) which would transcend denominations, geographic locations, etc.

Naively, I figured that since he as a deacon had been assigned the task of helping hurting people, he'd be happy to get all the help he could get in that department. How wrong I was! He made it clear that he thought that I was trying to usurp the pastor's prerogatives by doing something which he saw as the exclusive domain of the pastor and the pastoral staff. What was intended as a helpful suggestion, he saw as a threat. He didn't seem to care that my plans would have helped people who demonstrably were not being helped by the ministries which already existed at that church. (I knew, because some crying needs of my own were not being met.) He made it clear that he would rather that those needs continue to go unmet rather than forfeit any of his power as a gatekeeper for that church, and that I therefore could not expect any help from him or the pastor.

I left the church shortly thereafter, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. True leaders after God's own heart care more about meeting needs, whatever it takes to do so, than about protocol or getting their egos stroked. While it certainly is valid for church leaders to root out heresy, treating all new ideas as if they're inherently heretical until proven innocent of heresy is a recipe for stagnation and the eventual death of a ministry. If what I saw at that church is an example of what I ought to expect from people who are called to certain offices of leadership, then it seems to me that such people need to seriously reexamine their so-called callings from God. A Christian leader who is truly anointed by God would never actively discourage another Christian from doing everything possible to show the love of God to people in need.

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