Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Out of the Darkness--Light

My work life has been a little chaotic lately, and thankfully this time it doesn't center around me. Although it does present challenges to everyone in our church.

The first Sunday in November (which coincidentally was both the week after our church planning meeting and the week of the fiasco at New Life Church with Ted Haggard), a couple of men started attending First Baptist. These men arrive together and leave together. They sit next to one another, and they have the same address. They are impeccably well-groomed, and they have jumped into the life of our congregation almost immediately.They especially enjoyed jumping in with our church decorating party, as well as our choir.

Now, our choir has always been an "open" choir. What I mean by that is that anyone can join our choir. It is not a leadership position, it functions more as a church small group than it does a deacon board. Thus, when these men joined the choir the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we were not prepared for what was about to unfold.

What did unfold? Well, because two men who appear to be homosexual (though nobody knows if they are or they are not) have joined the choir, about 12-20 of our 200 regular attenders have left the church. Some of those regular attenders are long time members with deep pockets. Others are people who have regularly attenders who have invested a lot of time in nearly every facet of our congregational life. Most, though not all, are members of one influential family that helped found our denomination at about the same time our nation was founded. Last Sunday, with our other ordained pastoral staff on vacation, several of them chose to leave our congregation. Some wrote letters saying they were leaving.

Others chose to take their last Sunday leading their sunday school class to explain why they were leaving and convince others to join them. This surprised us. We expected that is was a possibility they would leave. But we felt ambushed. And when they left before the worship service we felt violated.

Too be honest, I have mixed feelings about their departures. On one hand, in part through difficult tensions, I have become friends with several of them. On the other hand, most of the insults, frustration and difficulty that has come my way over the last 3 1/2 years has been spearheaded by the meanspirited nature of those that left and/or are leaving. I am sad to see them leave, I am scared about our church finances, and I feel a heavy burden has been lifted from being the target of their annialating contempt all at the same time.

Most of our congregation is a conservative church in their theology, but compassionate and open-minded. So, wheras they believe that homosexual behavior is immoral, they at the same time recognize that they themselves have moral struggles as well. Thus, most are open to welcoming anyone into our choir and even membership. However, many are struggling.

Into was into this environment that I was assigned to do preach on Sunday. There was also a blizzard earlier in the week, so several of our more mature members were struggling to dig out. So many people were sad, discouraged and low. You could physically feel the congregational sadness and depression.

At the same time, I felt led to at the same time acknowlege our difficulties and remain enthusiastic and positive about our church and mission. I preached a very average sermon on the flight of Jesus to Egypt and God's desire to deliver us---both his church and those who are outside of his church (It will be posted in segments below).

At the end of the service, two unexpected things transpired. First, at the end of the service, the congregation erupted in clapping. This has never happened to me, and this has never happened in anyone's memory in the history of the church. So this was both very encouraging and very disconcerting. The second thing that happened was that members of the congregation came forward during the invitation simply for prayer and to connect with God.

It seems that out of difficult circumstances, good things are happening.


Anonymous said...

I am so sad for you and so happy for you at the same time.
That people cannot see beyond themselves to love other people if they are different is sad.
But that the source of contention in your Church is gone and that people really seem to be seeking God that is good.
Churches tend to have a 20/80 split in finances - that 20% of the people pay 100% of the finances. But I don't think that's really what God wants. I believe that God is bigger than your Church's finances and hopefully more people will step up to the plate in this area.
I will be praying for you and your Church.

Anonymous said...

I'm encouraged by you, Clint because you have an amazing spirit. Everyone faces discouraging times, but you remain true to your calling and that's what's important. Keep moving in a positive direction. Grace and Peace.

eija said...

See? God does take care of His work. Sometimes He uses pretty weird methods to make us draw closer to Him. But the fact is, He does not need anyone in a certain church for finances - that's human worrying and I know pretty much about that *blush* - or any other reason similar to that. He wants His people in there - those who love Him and love others because of Him - not because of what those others are.

I (as an outsider, of course) can't see this whole ordeal as anything else but God shaking your church so you would grow closer to Him and maybe be freed from some not-so-good ties.

God bless you and your church in the future too!

Anonymous said...

Very moving and, without trying to be, very profound as well. (But then, people who try to be profound fail, while those who just live are often the most profound).

Lynn & Hubbie said...

This is my first attempt at posting a comment on a blog but I am so moved by this posting I have to overcome my terror of technology and say, "WAY TO GO, MY BROTHER! YOU ARE A GREAT PASTOR!" This makes me want to hang in there with examples like you to follow. My hubbie sends his "Atta Boy" as well. Its amazing to us that Christians will leave a church because of the suspicion that there might be sinners in their midst. Try as we might, we can find no examples of such in the ministry of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus seemed to believe that His Father wanted Him to spend every possible moment with sinners!

With Bono, we have no trouble with Jesus, just with those who use His name!

We're praying for your Body of Christ!

sleepingwithbread said...

Courageous . . . beautiful post!

Anonymous said...

Amen, what a blessing for your congregation to respond to the Holy Spirit working in you.

As always, you are in my prayers, dear Friar.