Bad Time Politics Cartoon Posted December 30, 2022

As I was going through ministry school, I was told to expect pushback and hostility. To embrace the worst from people. To possibly endure pain and suffering. I just never expected the majority of that coming from a so-called "church."

This isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve seen my fair share of cults and misguided groups ( one of my college acquaintances tried to host something called "Beers and Bibles" at their place once ). But this place I was going to was a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance… a literal denomination. One should assume they would get the same kind of message and service no matter what C&MA church they go to. But as I went through the C&MA LEAD program, I started to realize just how far off this place had really become.

I spent most of my life at this place in question. I served in every capacity, especially on the audiovisual front. I helped coordinate all kinds of events. I was a trustee. I have even preached on occasion. I poured every ounce of heart and dedication I could possibly give. So I found it rather odd when the elders refused to show a video I made for Envision Miami and the C&MA Southeast District. Its purpose was to help bring awareness of the devastation from Hurricane Ian and to encourage people to help in any way they can. I found it almost insulting when they said that they didn’t want "just anyone" up on stage or "just anything" being shown on screen.

The elders then recommended that I bring up the matter at a congregational meeting several weeks from then. I was taken aback. I literally just came back from the front lines of a bleak and desperate situation. What could possibly have been so important and pressing as to not even pray for these residents? They were literally our brothers and sisters… and they needed help now. The pastor tried to shoulder some of this and say that he didn’t have time to view the video himself. That is almost understandable, except it was sent to him nearly a week in advance. I also get that being a pastor is incredibly tough, to the point where being an air traffic controller is probably more feasible. But if you are that pressed for time to the point where you can't even watch a minute-and-a-half video on the can, you have to wonder who isn't stepping up and helping like they should.

Every church has its share of politics and behind-the-scenes drama. But sometimes it goes deeper than that. These elders had locked things down so tightly that there has never been any real sense of community or growth. Unless they were mandated otherwise by the C&MA ( e.g., Missions Emphasis Week ), this place was akin to a country club who treats the rest of the world like it’s on the waiting list to get in. And it’s a shame because the Bible clearly says we should respect our elders and leaders. So what should we do when they continue to want their way instead of finding the best way for the church? When the gospel isn't being reached and their impact of the surrounding community is negligible? When the church's fragmented programs only cater to these older people?

Their history has been rife with pastors spending multiple years trying to make something happen before ultimately giving up. You wouldn't believe how much I had to fight with these powers that be just to get a small group going for a FREE one-day service project in Cleveland -- with rides, supplies, and lunches paid and provided for on my own dime. Their excuse was wanting to do something closer... nevermind the fact that this place was once right next to a thriving mall scene and they refused to make any hay with it. When the pastor finally managed to get a group going for a community outreach event this year, I could tell you who didn't even bother to show up.

In fact, I could tell you who did show up on one particular Sunday morning during worship rehearsal to talk REAL LOUD about sports scores and whatnot. They were directly right in front of the stage as my wife was trying to sing and as I was trying to balance out sound levels. Sunday school also met in the sanctuary, but that wasn’t supposed to happen for a while still. Their conversation could have happened literally anywhere else in the building in the meantime. So we both asked them to quiet down.

Want to take a guess how well that went over? The elders decided to disband the praise team the very next week. Or, as they had put it… give everyone involved a "reprieve" so that nobody would burn out. But one of the members knew darn well that they weren’t going to be reinstated… and sure enough, the elders opted to keep a minimalistic setup featuring the same two vocalists and pianists week in and week out. So as you can see… I'm not exactly obligated nor am I willing to keep optimizing their process of screwing everyone over while they sit back and watch the rest of the world burn. Nobody should. Sometimes, the only winning move is not to play.

My wife and I were eventually able to get plugged in somewhere else – no questions asked. I'm thankful for that, because I remember when I was practically required to give my life story as to why I jumped ship. Churches were once viewed as this sure thing where if you had a problem with anything or anyone, your best-case scenario was nobody taking sides and you being treated to an easily defensible spiel about how "nobody's perfect and we all fall short of the glory of God." But church hurt is a very real phenomenon now, and many of these places are being forced to reckon with their Capital-I "Important" people who think they can let everything go to hell simply because they can. I’ve seen a faith-based food bank close their doors after being exposed for money laundering. I’ve seen a Christian-based pizzeria shutter not long after they promoted a full-blown "woke" person. Ask any Catholic, and they will tell you that there’s a much steeper price tag for doubling down on ignorance and blindness. The reckoning always comes.

The silver lining is that when it does, something very real and tangible emerges from the ashes and takes its place. THAT is where respect comes in. There will come a day when it won't be tossed around carelessly the way it is now. Instead, it will be largely seen as this delicate thing that requires time and care and credibility. That needs to be built instead of being automatic. That can't be purchased or pilfered. That is neither power nor fear, but a byproduct of doing quality work and of being a true Godly person. There will come a day when all the right people are given the respect they deserve. When spiritual hurt won’t be nearly as prevalent… or even prevalent at all. When we can finally have God’s Kingdom here on Earth. It is still a day worth fighting for.

Even if it costs everything.