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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Bullies, Wolves, Sheep and Sheepdogs

If you leave the church, cease to be a Christian and go your own way, all that’s well and good. I get it.  You’re angry and you don’t want to have to deal with all those rules and restrictions. Your choice.  So why stand at the curb and throw rocks at those of us who chose to stay in the church.
There is an increasing cadre of folk out there on social media who have taken up pitching rocks at their former churches like some sort of hobby.  Some have moved on to other churches  and feel called upon by their consciences to destroy their former denomination or congregation.  Some have declared their faith in atheism and chosen to attack religion in all its forms, except of course atheism itself which they declare (as any true believer would), is the only truth there is.
As for the ones who profess themselves to be Christians still, an observation.  A Christian's duty is to win souls for Christ. It would seem to me that tearing down a church you disagree with is like shooting holes in someone else's overloaded lifeboat to prove it's not as safe as yours. It smacks of the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out" philosophy. It is impossibly arrogant to take upon yourself the task of destroying a church (or as one ex-church member put it so colorfully, " I’m going to hit continue to go on striking at the church, because if you hit the sweet spot enough times, it ceases to function.")

You know, unless God Himself has spoken to you recently and ordained that you attack one of His churches, I'd want to be very careful about trying to “hit the sweet spot” and kill your former church.  You may find you’ve been working for someone other than who you think you're working for.

Christians are like manure. Spread us out and we do a lot of good, but heap us up in one big pile and pretty soon the place begins to stink. It's why Jesus said, "Go ye therefore..."  Large churches are pretty much a bad idea for that reason.  I love my home town for all the pain it brought me and my family. I've got history there going back to the day the school was founded. My great great grandpa signed the church charter. But the town was meant to support a school, to train young people and then send them out into the world, not to become the old Adventist's graveyard.
  Anytime a church gets too big or dominates a neighborhood or town, there is a temptation for someone to try to take the reins and run things the way they think things ought to be run.  

Wolves get among the sheep and start bullying the flock.  Some of the sheep flee rather than fight and that’s fine.  It’s a good idea in fact if you really can't stand the strife. But some of those who leave are little more than smaller bullies who just lost out in the struggle for dominance.  They can’t resist hanging out on the fringes and taking pot shots at the flock because they need to get a little revenge for the pain they were caused.

The problem is, they don’t really aim at the bullies.  They aim at the flock itself.  In the case of my church, a lot of angry ex-Adventists can't resist picking at old wounds. They set out on a campaign to encourage more people to leave their old church – sniping at the flock itself which never did them harm.

Leave it alone people. I remember there was once about a troublesome elder back in my great-great grandpa’s day who was always starting fights for power in the church.  They kicked him out twice, but always felt sorry for him and let him back in.  They wrote a prominent church leader for advice when he asked a third time to come back to the church.  She wrote back and told them, “No, he can be saved outside the church, but within the church he cannot resist causing pain and dissension to his fellows." Apparently some folk just can't handle being in groups where there are a lot of meek people.

I just went through a cycle at a church where the local clique had turned the church into a career-killer for pastors.  That happens because the meeker members of the church don't rise up and stop it. That’s probably because they are, after all, meek. Back home we got backup from the state church conference who refused to move the pastor.  The group that believed itself to be the rightful holders of power in the local church, decided to boycott services.  

While they were busy teaching us all a lesson, we learned one.  We managed to replace them all on the church board and in other positions in of leadership during the boycott.  When our pastor did move on eventually, they all came back.  Our new head elder, however, met them at the door and had a chat with them and explained that things had changed and none of them would be going back to their old jobs anytime soon (if ever).  The whole thing was upsetting to the church as a whole. We loved the people who were boycotting.  They were our friends, but we had to do what was right and we could not in conscious let this go on anymore.  The events of that long year and a half changed the whole character of the church.  What a lovely congregation it became as a result and because of the lessons we learned, no single group of individuals has anything like the kind of power they had before.

Power is where the devil attacks churches. Christ called us "the meek" when he described his flock and while we may be destined to inherit the Earth, there's always somebody out there who wants to lead us somewhere else for his or her own benefit or for the sake of their over-inflated ego.

We're up against that in one of the churches I've been going to up here in Washington. I suspect I may be here in Washington to participate in a little revolution against an entrenched and repressive leadership. I like the church where I'm at, don’t get me wrong, but I'm wondering if God really wants me to be comfortable in any church right now. He seems to have given me rather a lot of experience with churches run by bullies (beginning in my youth back in my hometown). My teaching career ended at the hands of just such a bully church board. One of my favorite people at that church told me before I left, "Brother King, I love my church and I hate to say it, but I think the only thing that will save this church is a visit from the grim reaper."

A friend of mine who was the target of one of these church bully groups told me, “You can’t change the church from the outside.”  Running away and sniping at it from the woods is not helpful.  If you don’t have the stomach to stand up for what’s right, go ahead and run away.  Just don’t confuse guilt over your own cowardice with a mandate from heaven to belittle and ridicule the folk you left behind when you went.  Don’t confuse a system that says “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” with people who are busily tearing down that system from within.

Wolves are not sheep.  They are not part of the flock however they may dress themselves.  Bullies are not Christians, however much they dress themselves up in robes, collars and dangly crosses.  And you don’t defeat bullies by becoming one yourself. 

I love my church and most of the people in it are dear, sweet, kind people. They are the best, hardest working, most meek folk you could ever want to know. We should not be at all surprised that wolves are attracted to flocks of sheep. Rather than running away and abandoning the flock, what we ought to be doing is standing guard over it - actively confronting those who would bully their way to power in the local church. We should protect our pastors and teachers and members. The church member who takes it upon him or herself to point a bony accusatory finger at a tender-hearted, struggling member should draw back a nub.

I'm still in my church despite the procession of bullies I’ve encountered.  I’m here because I love my church and I will not stand by to see it abused by the agents of Satan, sent among us like ravening wolves to sew confusion and discord. It's not the church that’s the problem, guys. It's the devil who is responsible for the wolves among us and I have decided that I am called to be God's own sheepdog!

I’m just saying.

Tom King – © 2012

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