“Good words will not give my people good health and stop them from dying. Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and broken promises.”
– Chief Joseph, Nez Perce
“I am tired of fighting,” he said. “Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are—perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
There’s more than one way to be a Christian.
Wait a minute, that sounds unscriptural, and if you believe everything I’ve been taught as an evangelical, you’d think so. But that’s simply not true.
I confess. I spent more than 35 years toiling away in Pentecostal circles, being a good boy, submitting to authority, leading ministries, teaching, sharing, being a real-live missionary overseas, giving and being a good example to all. In the process, my mind turned to mush, in a way. I often stopped thinking for myself, and mostly submitted my will, my dreams, my vision and my life to that of the pastor. The problem with losing myself like that, though, is that the life of the “club” often was more important than my children, my wife, my career and education, and just about everything else. I faithfully sacrificed for the local church.
And it still wasn’t enough.
Church leaders wanted me to attend more services, give more money, sit right up in front – “under the spout where the glory comes out,” anoint people in the prayer lines and pray and shout and hope people fell down – all at the command of the pastor – and it still wasn’t enough.
And yet I came to believe – I don’t really know how, other than saying it was Groupthink – that the way we did church was the best way, the purest way, the only way. No one else really did it right.
It was never preached or spoken like that, but a certain air infiltrated those churches as sure as I’m sitting here writing this, and permeated every soul there. An air of superiority. A sense of rightness. A spirit of certainty that their way was the best way to serve God.
One pastor said publicly (twice that I heard): “I preach a unique word. One that no one else preaches. And it needs to be on the radio, because people need to hear it.” That is a stunning revelation of one man’s ego, isn’t it?
Another preached vehemently against homosexuality, abortion and oral sex – from the pulpit and on his local TV show. Then he proceeded to carry on an adulterous affair for more than five years. He repented and received a slap on the wrist and some counseling, but he’s back in the pulpit today being praised as a man of God doing a vital work, leading sinners to Christ. And maybe he is. But when are we going to stop elevating men and feeding their egos? It only destroys them.
Another became complicit in a $300,000 scam, because he covered it up. Why? To protect a friend. Unfortunately, the people who were ripped off were his own congregants. And he told them from the pulpit to forgive the perpetrator and not to press charges – that restoration would be made. So they all did. And it never was. Oh yeah, the perp’s been involved in several schemes since then, is selling used cars to this day, and leading worship in a local church even though he never made restitution to those he fleeced. Why was he never held accountable? His pastor should have done that over 20 years ago, but he didn’t, and the beat goes on.
There’s got to be a better way!
I realize that these accounts are only my experiences, and limited to a very few churches. But from what I understand, the local church was never intended to be a place to elevate men, or to create a family business, or to heap blessings upon ourselves. The Early Church is the model we should follow – it was a place where believers learned about God’s love and took it to the world. They didn’t build monuments of stone or flesh, and didn’t count themselves as being better than others.
All the little people who’ve built these modern-day churches with their prayers and their sweat and their tears – and lots of their money – suffer every day from sickness, job loss, financial hardship and death. Are these same churches there to help them through the crises and tragedies in their lives? My experience has been that the church often turns the other way when needs arise, because “We don’t want to set a precedent. If we give to him, we’ll have to give to everybody.” I heard that excuse so many times in pastors’ meetings that I wanted to scream. And I should have.
Maybe I am now.