“I would die for you”
No one had ever said that to me before. But as this man, who was clearly a former Navy Seal, explained to me the reason he sat where he did in church was in case someone came into the church shooting. He fully intended to jump in front of me and take a bullet for me.
A few weeks later one of our female Pastors preached. He came up to me with the same fervency and wanted to know why I would “allow” a woman to preach in the church.
That was the last time I saw him.
I guess he meant to say, “I’ll take a bullet for you…until you do something I disagree with. Then you’re on your own”
“You should speak with confidence the things you believe God is calling you to say”
She told me that after overhearing me share that I guarded the way I would preach. And that while I never preached anything I believed to be untrue, I often held back and didn’t share what I believed to be fully true.
Alongside a few other experiences, her encouragement helped to give me the courage to start offering some challenges in sermons that seemed to me to be what the Gospel would look like in our time and place. It felt freeing to speak with confidence the things that I believed God was calling me to say.
She apparently didn’t think I was listening to God correctly, or maybe God had told her I was supposed to be saying something different. Either way, she let me know her displeasure that I had taken her advice when she made it clear that she believed I did not treat the Scriptures with respect.
One of the things I’ve come to realize is that some people don’t actually want a pastor, what they’re looking for is a puppet. We’re often looking for someone who will simply reinforce the worldview that we came with. We talk about wanting to be discipled, until we are personally confronted and challenged and then we cry foul.
For many in the church, we hit a point when we think we’ve got it. If we’ve grown up in the church, it’s a view of God and faith that was taught to us in our teenage years. If we came to faith later in life, it’s often the views that were passed on to us early in our life of faith.
The problem is that while those views made sense at those stages, at some point there is more depth and complexity that you are able to move into. That depth and complexity, however, often feels to us like we’re violating the earlier view we had. So, we fight against it, seeking out people who will simply provide new information that reinforces what we already believe, and then we’ll call them deep.
The secret that many pastors are holding onto is that they know in order to keep certain groups and people in the church, they have parameters on what they can say and what they can’t say, regardless of what they believe is fully true.
It’s set up a system in many churches in America that the early church leader Paul warns against when he tells his young apprentice Timothy, that in order to suit their own desires, people will gather around themselves teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.
That was often given to me as a warning to “not give in to culture”. But I’ve actually experienced it much more in the church. Where people gravitate towards churches, and who expect their pastors to tell them what their itching ears want to hear.
I’m reminded of what’s described in the old parable of the French Revolutionary who sees crowds of people running by and says, “there go my people. I must follow them so I can see where I’m supposed to lead them”.
In every generation, there are movements within the church that challenge the status quo. Movements that talk about God and faith in ways that make those who are most comfortable in the established systems incredibly uncomfortable. We often don’t realize how radical these movements are because we have adopted their language, theologies, and structures and missed the fact that we probably would have been fighting against them had we been there while it was happening.
Maybe it’s uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Maybe it’s not the way you would phrase it or the way you think about it, but maybe that’s why you need to hear it.
You’ll never go beyond where you are now unless you’re willing to let go of the constructs that brought you to the place where you are. Jesus says you have to be willing to lose your life.
We’ll never go forward as long as we’re clinging to what was and what has been.