These days it seems like the Church in the western world is going through a little identity crisis. Without doubt it has gone through all the phases of Elvis (young, revolutionary, drunk on success, bloated, comeback, old, country, etc.) and by times the stories, the look, the baggage can be pretty hard to take. Still, like Elvis’ most ardent fans, I’m sticking around.
At the moment I’m on a “staycation” from my regular gig as a pastor of a local church. The funny thing is, I’d really like to be there tomorrow with all my friends. I’m not glad to be away or finding it refreshing to not have to be there on Sunday. How do you take a holiday from friends? I haven’t always felt this way about church but I honestly do feel this way about the community I’m a part of today. So I find myself sorting out what to think and feel about my situation.
I hear from friends about horrible things they’re going through in local churches across North Am: pastors beating people up, people treating the pastor like hired help – or slave labour. I’ve experienced firsthand what it’s like to be part of the dysfunctional family of God both for pay and for free. I’ve been through some pretty ugly scenarios and was often the last person to clue in to how bad it really was while my good wife was whispering to me, “you do understand what’s happening here don’t you?” Eventually I did, sometimes I’ve even got it right off the start.
I know people who have been mentally and emotionally beaten senseless by people who are still well know, still wildly “successful” and sought after in “ministry”. I also know guys who’ve been through the meat grinder called “church” and have crawled, bleeding, away from ministry who are doing their best to hide (Elijah-style) ‘cause they just can’t take one more hurt. I’ve seen power plays, politics and listened to hate-filled rants. I’ve been accused of being a danger to the youth of the entire province I live in because of what I believe and teach about Jesus. I’ve had good church friends and colleagues question whether I’m really following Jesus because I said I’d have voted for Obama and I wouldn’t pass out a paper to our church that warned against the “homosexual agenda” that wanted nothing less than to steal our children from us.
Yet here I am. Even when we go on holidays to other places I love to gather with other believers in mega-churches and in living rooms. Gathering doesn’t wear me out or get me down or make me looking for a break. I don’t go to our church service and think, “I’ll be glad when this is over.” So I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing tomorrow morning – go and gather or stay home? I’ll stay away from my friends tomorrow, partly because I wonder if they don’t need a nice break from me, but should I go or should I stay?
Last week I tried to slip in to worship at a church where a friend of mine pastors. As I walked in I saw good friends from my own community – which was hilarious and made me smile. Not as hilarious was the end of the singing when a person behind me leaned forward to get a look at my profile and said, “I thought that was you!” They proceeded to ask me what I was doing there and subtly questioned me to see if it was holidays, “you’re not with the rest of your family?” “They’re here,” I should’ve said, “do you mean you can’t see them?” And then proceeded to have a conversation that no one else could hear with my wife. Instead I danced around and tried to change the subject from me to them. Still we played 20 questions to determine if I’d left my family, had a nervous breakdown, admitted moral failure and resigned, etc.
But here I am, trying to figure out what I’m doing tomorrow morning because I really am in love with this crazy thing called the Church. If I sleep in tomorrow I won’t feel guilty, I won’t go tomorrow night to “catch up” and I won’t even be tempted to confess it as sin. I regularly tell our community, much to my friend Daniel’s chagrin, that staying home might be the most spiritual thing they do on Sunday – or going out for breakfast with friends. It’s not guilt, it’s desire that fuels my thoughts tonight.