I always find it fascinating how willing we are in the church to sacrifice other people’s relationships with Christ.
Let me explain a bit what I mean with a story from church last Sunday.
I preached this week on having a joyful attitude. I used the story from last week’s blog post as a contrast to what the Bible teaches us. To summarize my sermon in a few words; “Don’t be like me, be better.” Anyway, as I was finishing up my sermon I was encouraging people to realize how destructive my attitude was and to learn from my failure. To emphasize my point, I said that I regret the attitude I had that summer every day and I realized how great of an opportunity I wasted. I then said, “It sucks to look back and realize I wasted a chance to be like Christ to others, it really sucks.”
Little did I know I was about to cause a ruckus because after I uttered the second sucks this woman from the back moaned and yelled out “stop”. For everyone’s reference yelling things in a sermon is really distracting and makes it super difficult to find your flow again. I tried my best to keep going but, in all actuality, decided it was better to just cut my losses so I skipped a section and ended the sermon with a prayer.
As I walked back to my seat I knew there was no way I was getting out of here today without a lecture, so I started mentally preparing myself to be as much like Christ as I could. I only sort of succeeded.
Like clockwork after the sermon the woman came up to me to complain.
“Pastor’s shouldn’t say sucks.” She said.
“Well that sucks.” I replied. (In hindsight being witty was probably not the best choice.)
“I mean it. That is a disgusting word with disgusting implications. No pastor of mine is going to go to the pulpit and say the word ‘sucks’.” Her tone was growing more and more frustrated with each word.
Whenever I am confronted after a sermon I always want to argue against whatever I am being confronted for. My first reaction was to try to teach her that saying “stinks” is no different than “sucks” because I am using them the same. If I didn’t call someone “stupid” but instead every time called them “smart”, but I was using like an insult, it’s no different. I still am trying to insult the person, but just with a different word.
This logic had no effect on the angry woman.
“It doesn’t matter you said, ‘sucks’ and if you want to be my pastor you can’t say ‘sucks’.” She replied.
With out a doubt 100% of the time logical explanations to angry parishioners never work. I have experienced my fair share of complaints in my short tenure as pulpit supply pastor and every time I use logic it fails. A younger version of myself would have doubled down and tried desperately to make her understand what I was saying but the new older version of myself knew better.
“I am sorry I offended you, that was not my intention nor was it the point of the sermon. I hope you were still able to get something out of the sermon.” I replied. ( I have this line memorized.)
“I wasn’t because all I could hear was that word over and over again.” She said.
At this point I was just done and so I apologized again and moved to talking with other parishioners.
After a couple of minutes, she came back into a conversation I was having with another gentleman. She proceeded to tell him how offended she was at what I said. She then started bemoaning how she couldn’t focus on anything but me saying “sucks”. Again I apologized and before I could duck out of the conversation she started a story about her nephew who says “F” all the time and how she was so offended by that too. Then she asked us a question.
“Hey you two are Young Life leaders, how do I make my nephew a Christian?” she asked.
“Love him” I said sternly.
“I do but he’s an atheist and a democrat.” she said.
Without missing a beat, I said “I am a democrat”.
I am not really a democrat I just was so annoyed at this point I would have said anything to contradict the terrible theology that was flowing. I mean I am much more liberal than conservative and If I had to pick between democrat and republican I would choose democrat, but I prefer independent.
Anyway, she was flabbergasted by this and I assume was so fed up with me that she ignored what I said and instead kept talking about how much her nephew has to change so he can become a Christian.
There are moments in my life when I realize that all the work I have done for something was wasted, this was one of them. In the last year I have preached like clockwork on how to love people as they are and that we too were loved just as we were. There are no barriers of entry to knowing Christ, we don’t have to fix ourselves before God will love us. Rather we were loved first so we too should love first. All of those sermons down the drain, all for nothing.
I spent the rest of our conversation trying to recap the last year of sermons into 3 minutes or less and failed miserably.
She then ended the conversation by saying “Well maybe one day he will get his shit in order”.
With that she walked out the door and got into her car.
I thought for a moment of chasing her down to throw her hypocrisy in her face but decided that was a bad idea.
The whole interaction left a mark on me though.
We in the church are so willing to make people change to meet Christ. We love to set standards and barriers of entry for others. Don’t swear, dress nice, say the right things, don’t be homosexual or support it and most importantly vote republican. If anyone fails to meet these expectations, we let them and everyone else know. We proudly proclaim their failures so all can hear but when we slip up and fail to meet our own expectations, we claim grace.
When we call out the “sins” of others we create a barrier for them. We place a man-made barrier between them and their savior and for what? Why do we feel the necessity to prevent people from coming to Christ? It is literally the entire purpose of the Church. It makes no logical sense to me. That might be my problem, I keep trying to use logic.
Like I said, I always find it fascinating how willing we are in the church to sacrifice other people’s relationships with Christ.