I’m depressed this evening. Today started off fine. It was a beautiful Saturday. Gayle and Christy are in California visiting Gayle’s awesome parents. I got up early to put a load of Jonathan’s clothes in the washing machine, unloaded and then reloaded the dishwasher, then sat down to read my Bible. The Scriptures were encouraging, relevant and instructive as always, so I then went outside to walk around and pray. Jonathan slept late, Alex and Elliott got up and started their usual Saturdays. I later dropped by the church and saw kids making ginger bread houses while workmen were tidying up preparing for Sunday. While there, I met a crew from downtown who were borrowing tables from St. James for a Christmas banquet for underprivileged kids and their families tonight. All was well with the world until . . . I came back home and got online to sadly read more about me.
Today I don’t appreciate some people and the internet that gives them voice. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to deal with any Christians outside our own little congregation. I was that way before, which is why I never entered into television or radio ministry, never had a flashy presentation, always drove a truck or modest car, and never asked to publish a book or speak anywhere. But I have always felt a responsibility to reach the lost and serve when asked, so I would foolishly say “yes” when asked to serve. That was misinterpreted as being a self-promoter I guess.
Then I crashed and went through a painful healing process, for which I am grateful. It was an answer to my prayers.
Now it’s years later and, from time to time, my name comes up in the news. This time it was two well meaning guys wanting to say that we Christians should actually practice forgiveness and restoration. But suddenly, those who see themselves as the guardians of self-righteousness, who fundamentally hate the idea of resurrection for the dead, pounce. Sure there are the kind, well meaning people in the church. But they are typically not outspoken nor do they have a burning to stick–that is make their opinions known in a way that would make them count in the public discussion. They write nice notes in private. It’s those who keep the records of wrongs who are loud, outspoken, have tenacity, and accuse in public. They stick. Hatred, religious judgmentalism, and self-righteousness are powerful motivators to hurt others I guess. They have a strong enough voice that they make me not want to have anything to do with modern Christianity.
I’m trapped though, because i am, after all, alive. I love the Scripture and am called, and there are a handful of believers who enjoy meeting with me to worship, study the word and give to the poor. Based on what I read, those so outspoken on the net would be happier with me if I ran a liquor store, sold porn, or pitched holy water from the Jordan river on TV to the Christian superstitious crowd. But for me to pastor a church is an abomination in their view. I know that if I called it a television studio and the congregation was the studio audience, and we filled millions of Christian homes with fear and anxiety over current events, my detractors would be happy with that. But I’m stuck. St. James is a gathering of believers where we don’t take advantage of anyone. We don’t broadcast. We don’t ask for other people’s things. We don’t have pretense, don’t have public relations or capital campaign experts, and don’t guard image. We don’t even have a security team to protect our important people. We are worshippers. We are church.
As all of you know, Barna says, 1,500 clergy are leaving pastoral ministry each month, and a researcher at the Annapolis Roundtable on Life-Giving Leadership said 50% of those never return to a church. I envy that group. I have gone to church multiple times a week all my life except the days during and immediately after my scandal. Those were some of the best Sunday’s Gayle and I have enjoyed. We were forbidden to attend the church we’d known. We would stay in bed until we woke up, talk, enjoy each other’s company, and slowly get up and enjoy the rest of the family. It was excellent. I only enjoy church now because of the culture of St. James. I don’t have to clean up to go to St. James. It’s a believers meeting, so I can go the way I want. I think if it were not for the authenticity and transparency of St. James, since I’m 56 years old, know my Bible pretty well, and am not looking for new friends, I would be content to stay home and not mess with church any more.
Sadly, it seems many churches have become toxic. We have too many poisonous churches with pastors who don’t know how to apply the Gospel, who teach certain behaviors prove salvation, that we should hide our weaknesses, and that we should appear contented. In time, the beloved pastors will receive their due: 61% of congregations have forced a pastor to leave, and 83% of clergy spouses want their spouses to leave pastoral ministry. Church leadership can be a joy, until it’s not. Then it’s deadly. Churches don’t like lots of people. Most don’t even like themselves. One old man told me the average church will fondly remember a past pastor one week for every year he was there, then his memory will be vilified for the benefit of the new administration.
We are fundamentally flawed. How do I know? In addition to the national statistics and the horror stories I receive from those who have worked in churches and para-church ministries who write me every day, I just read the comments about me. I know me, I know what I’ve been through, and I know that in the minds of many, I don’t matter, my kids don’t matter, and the facts don’t matter. Only their brutality matters. Lot’s of people must feel the way I do, which is why fewer and fewer Americans will get up and go to church in the morning. Most won’t say it, but they will vote by staying home. . . or going to a football game. . . or the mountains. Sounds good to me. Do the Bronco’s play tomorrow? I hope so.
Ahhh but the ignorance of youth keeps us going. Our Bible Schools and seminaries are full of bright eyed young people, anxious to serve the Lord. If current trends continue, 90% of those who graduate and are ordained into ministry will not stay in ministry long enough to reach the age of retirement. Why? Because we are not what we teach. We poison each other. As soon as we stop admiring them, we will destroy them. Of the 10% that do stay, 50% of them indicated that they would leave the ministry if they had another way of making a living. Think of that. And when I read my detractors, they seem to actually believe it’s an honor to be in pastoral ministry, that it’s an exclusive club. Since most denominations have an increasing number of empty buildings and shrinking congregations, it’s no wonder the global influence centers of Christianity are moving away from America to the south and to the west. Our mega-church and denominational leaders are increasingly irrelevant. Why? Too often, those we call “mature believers” are simply awful people. I am the bane of the American church, and I couldn’t stand going on vacation with most of them. It’s the same reason why the finest people won’t run for public office any longer. It’s just not worth it.
I’ll be better in the morning. I don’t think I want to teach, so I’ll probably ask one of the other pastors to do it. I’ll joyfully go to St. James, enjoy the worship, the Word, the folks, and then go to the airport and pick up Gayle and Christy. They will cheer me up, and we’ll move forward because of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and a handful of people who love God and love one another. But sometimes it’s a pain to have to associate with the arrogant who call themselves Christian. I wish there was a way out. Too often I resent that I went to a Christian university, believed the message and wasted my life. It feels like my life would be so much better if I had gone to a secular university, built a business, and retired by now. But I am a believer. My dream would be to serve the Lord with our local congregation and be left alone. I love the authentic body of believers, the Church, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit. I am a believer, grateful to God. I am a member of his body. I am a Christian.