Step out of line and you ensure the ire of the religious people among us.
Three people illustrated this, nastily, when my wife and I first planted a church. Their deepest problem was fear of change, but it came out in anger and hostility. Sadly, they were very funny people. Their anger only highlighted their insecurity.
The Bake Sale Church
We had planted a church when that was the bailiwick of denominations, not individuals. Somehow this became offensive to the more traditional churches.
We served coffee after service to help keep people hanging around. It was also there to welcome those who showed up at 11 AM after the conclusion of our 10 AM one hour service. That was before I learned to talk so long, but that’s another story. As no other churches did the coffee gig we became “the bake sale church,” though we served only coffee.
Offensive Clothing & Long Hair
Then there was the wealthy woman who fawned over us as young pastors and parents. She bought us gifts and took us to restaurants we couldn’t afford, for about three weeks.
One day she tearfully telephoned to say that she was leaving the church because she wasn’t “being fed” (consumer Christian). That busted me up. I went from a hero to a lousy preacher. Relief came when she called 15 minutes later to ask, “If Jesus came to your church would all those hippies dress the way they do?” I thought he was omnipresent! I also realized that she was drunk.
My Degree is All That Matters
The third beauty was the pastor with a DMin and a Phd who grilled one of our young planters with, “So, Richard, where did you study for the ministry?”
He knew full well that Rich had come up through the Navigators but that actual preparation for planting was time spent with me—lots of it. I was embarrassed to hear that Richard fired back, “I studied under Ralph Moore at Hope Chapel. They have more than a thousand people in church. So, how many attend yours?” The other guy’s attendance hovered around 150 (this was a time when a thousand people was considered a megachurch). Education is valuable but not as a club to beat up on others. BTW, Richard went on to multiply four churches from the congregation of 400 people he planted.
Hippity, Hoppity Hope
The funniest slander came from a group that had gone cultish (they even controlled who could date whom), but it got picked up by the more traditional churches in the neighborhood, including some in our own denomination.
They called us “hippity, hoppity hope” in reference to the general population of our church but mostly because we didn’t measure up to their personal standards of ministry. We all have our standards, the trick is to understand that they are our own and that we are not God. Each of us picks and chooses scriptures and facets of God’s personality which we blend into a personal ecclesiology. The mistake occurs when we impute it onto Jesus. We also tend to trash others over their differing opinions. Neither the authority cult or the traditional churches could handle us because we grew in spite of our easy-going approach to disciplemaking.
Accept that Your Theology is Not the Total Mind of God
This all points up issues of your, and my, understanding of scripture and ecclesiology. We each have our own ideas concerning a minimum threshold into ministry. Does yours hold others back from doing whatever Jesus is calling them to accomplish?
I recently met a man who sat through a seminar I taught. Afterwards he challenged me over the “fact” that we don’t adequately train pastors before launching churches. This, despite the fact that few of our homegrown leaders ever leave pastoral ministry. In five minutes he managed to A. Disparage what we do. B. Flaunt his degree from a famous seminary. C. Duck out of the conversation when I brought up scripture to support what we do. It seems that you should have courage to stand and argue if you throw bricks over someone else’s fence…
Solving the Problem
A day after this encounter I noticed something I had overlooked in Acts. Barnabas and Saul are on their first missionary journey when they begin evangelizing gentiles. This raises a fuss, “…the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (Acts 13:50 ESV). Why is it always “devout” people who stone the prophets? I believe it is personal insecurity. The Pharisees conspired to kill Jesus rather than have the Romans “take away our position.” Sincerely insecure and theologically complicated leaders stoned the prophets of old.
So, what can you do when silly persecution comes your way (or even the more serious kind?) Imitate the apostles, “But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:51-52 ESV).
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