In light of my previous post about an abusive church environment, at least one person has rightly pointed out that no one forced me to stay as long as I did. One of the reasons I stayed as long as I did was that there was work to do for the sake of the Gospel…and most of the work, I did alongside the very people who didn’t particularly want me there. But they, and I, wanted to see the Gospel go forth. They and I are creatures of inconsistency, and I have at least as many idols as most people–but probably more.
I spent time teaching the high school Sunday School class about the necessity of Christ-centered worship. I took them on a trip to a local congregation and asked them to evaluate the mechanics of the worship service we entered. We used a rubric found in The Worship Sourcebook to evaluate the biblical content and participation of the congregation. What we found was that most of the “worshiping” was going on up front. The guys and girls from the class prayed for the congregation before we left (we had reserved a classroom on site at the church–we didn’t make a spectacle, and no one from the church knew we were there), because they were disappointed in the moralistic preaching they’d heard.
This really encouraged me because many of these kids were ready to go off to college. They would need to know what to look for in preaching and teaching at a church when they went away. Some of them had never been anywhere except the church I was attending and simply had no way of choosing a church. Their passion to see Christ glorified in the music and the preaching in a church service was very encouraging to me.
I had the privilege of teaching a class on the Emergent Church for 13 weeks, where I was able to teach discernment to adults at the church, since this was 2009 and authors like Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren were all the rage. (Not that they aren’t, still…but now, they’re more mainstream and cause less of a stir.) I was asked by the pastor to teach the class because, as he told me, he felt that the congregation would benefit from a study of popular books and where they met biblical standards of teaching and where they fell short.
I’m a fairly accomplished singer. When I go to a church, I tend to get put on a praise team or choir pretty quickly. Vocal music ed was my major in college, and I’m a tenor. I’m pretty quick to sign up to sing. But I didn’t at any time solicit either of the pastors to teach those classes. I’m also a teacher by trade, but whether I’m a good one or not, I let others decide. I take very seriously the warning that teachers are judged more harshly. I don’t put myself in teaching positions. They are simultaneously a joyful and fearful experience for me.
I don’t have to demonize those who wanted me to go away. I am a strong personality and I certainly was not as gracious then as I am now. And I will hopefully become more gracious as the years go on, not because I’m growing weary, but because I’m growing in sanctification. But I can look at the situation and see that it was, in fact, a terrible place for me to be. Many of the people there are good people. Many of them love Christ.
Some of them, however, gossip. Some of them told me I hadn’t repented enough (as if repentance were penance or something). Some of them were too angry to answer my honest questions about why this or that was done. I can’t speak to their motives. They weren’t and aren’t Satan incarnate. But unless we can be honest about when we hurt others, we are not only doomed to continue to hurt others, we are not properly imaging the Christ who bought us.
I am a sinner. I like my way. I am a perfectionist and when volunteers in highly technical positions don’t discharge their duties and obligations, I get really mad. I let them know this in inappropriate ways–even just in general disgust during rehearsals. When I teach a class and someone says something I don’t agree with, I will often ask them to back up what they’ve just said. I’ve been too forceful doing that in the past, and I’m sure that as a result, they didn’t feel loved. In reality, I wasn’t loving them as I ought as their brother in Christ.
Despite the fact that no elder came alongside me to shepherd and disciple me, my actions are not excused or excusable before God. I’ve repented, both in prayer and in my actions toward those whom I teach now. And my conscience is clear before God. I trust in the same blood that I preach and teach to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. And I pray that those who may still harbor resentment toward me would not continue to do so, if there are any.
This is why the message of Christian preaching is a proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ. I can’t atone for my own evil works…but I have One I trust to bear those sins away–for me.