The church I mentioned a couple of posts back was the first one I was a part of as an adult. Between the latter part of my senior year in high school and the end of the summer, I slowly transitioned from the traditional Southern Baptist congregation I had grown up in, to one in another town that was embracing change. The baptist worship wars of the 80's and 90's were in full swing, and the battle for this church in Lindale, TX was quickly won by the Praise and Worship armies with their guitars, drums, and intricate clap rhythms that accompanied extremely formulaic songs that usually climaxed with the hands of those truly in tune with the spirit lifted to the heavens. Palms up or down, well, that was left up to the individual. One hand in the pocket wasn't yet in vogue, but would eventually become the choice for many of us.
In the spring of '94, after a brief tenure at an out of town university, I returned home to attend junior college and be closer to this church that had revolutionized the way I thought about God and Christian community. During this time I also became a part of the leadership of a student ministry on campus whose director, Bob, was a man in his early forties who was deliberate about taking young people wanting to enter the ministry under his wings.
One day, after hearing me, for probably the dozenth time, enthusiastically share with others in the building about how most churches have lost their way and are no longer relevant, and that the way my church did things was the way they were done in the book of Acts, and therefore the way they should be done, Bob pulled me into his office for a talk. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life, where I wanted to go after junior college, and about my church. After I gave him my Christian-rhetoric filled talk, he made a comment that angered me.
"Craig, I'm worried about you. One day soon you are going to have your teeth kicked in by people you really think highly of, and I'm not sure you are ready for it."
How dare he? He didn't know me and he didn't know my church, and here he was presuming to know what would happen in the future. I assured him this might be how other churches worked, but that ours was different. We were all about relationships. (Community wouldn't come along for a few more years.) Unlike more traditional churches, we didn't argue about doctrine or what color the carpet should be. We loved God and loved each other, and everything was just fine, thank you very much.
Two years later I found myself retreating to a small, more traditional country church. My teeth had been kicked in, and it took me many years to nurse my wounds. It turned out "loving God" and "loving each other" wasn't enough to keep people from doing what people have been doing for eternity, which is hurting each other. Bob didn't know my church, but he had been around the block enough to know that the utopia we dream of, and create facades of, just doesn't exist. He didn't know me, but he had seen years of idealistic "ministry boys" who exhibited great naivete when it came to putting church leaders and structures too high on a pedestal.
For years I thought about this conversation and came to appreciate his honesty and foresight. But I always saw it as a more mature believer taking a kid aside to prepare him for the fall. I supposed it was all about protecting me from the initial shock of being hurt by people I had come to trust.
Lately, though, I've been thinking that maybe Bob wasn't just trying to shield me from the natural course of human relationships, which inevitably lead at some point to disappointment. Maybe he was also shielding those whose carelessness would eventually hurt me from ME. He had been in ministry, and life, long enough to know that our actions, deliberate or not, sometimes have unintended consequences that cause others pain. Perhaps he was telling me to take preemptive action in letting others off the hook, before they had even done anything for me to put them on it. Or, maybe it was even that I should go ahead and disassemble any hooks to start with and acknowledge that people disappoint.
There's a new song David Crowder is singing that says "here we are, the broken and used, mistreated and abused." Today, as the song was playing in church, I thought back over years of being hurt, but also of the ways in which my actions, or lack thereof, have hurt others, both on personal and societal levels. The great message of this "good news" that Jesus proclaims, and that we cling to, isn't JUST that God accepts those that are hurt, but also those that do the hurting. This is the scandal of the gospel that many of us find so hard to accept. There should be a second verse that says "here we are, the breakers and users, mistreaters and abusers," because we've all been on both sides of the metaphorical boot to the teeth.
There should be a double-columned sign on every church door that reads on one side "Welcome: This is a safe place. Jesus has his arms open wide, and has been awaiting your arrival, no matter who you are." The other side should read, "Welcome: People get hurt here. Enter at your own risk." Preachers, when introducing new members, should go ahead and ask forgiveness for the ways they will disappoint, and tell the new people that everyone else in the church forgives them in advance for the ways they will offend.
These are the risks we take when choosing to worship and serve in proximity to each other. I've found they are worth it.