Redeemed, but Ridiculous (The Shepherd Chronicles)
It has been awhile since I have written anything due to my workload both at church and at school over the past month or so. When I left off I was talking about my confrontation with a person I refer to as “the gatekeeper.” He was the guardian of tradition at Lantana Road Baptist Church and because I had not purchased VBS material from the associational store, my wife was baptized in an independent baptist church, I graduated from Tennessee Temple University, I failed to use a Tennessee Baptist evangelist for simultaneous revivals, and I had taken our students to a non-SBC sanctioned youth conference he was convinced I had an agenda to pull LRBC from the Southern Baptist Convention. The whole thing was petty and ridiculous.
After several months of verbal banter and a steady defense of my intentions, it was evident that the gatekeeper and I would not see eye to eye. My final meeting with him was a monthly deacon’s meeting. I knew he had already resolved to leave the church because he had not been there for several Sundays in a row. He even refused to come on a Sunday in which we were honoring him as one of the founding members of the church. Yet for some reason despite his Sunday morning absences he insisted on keeping his appointments for monthly deacon’s meetings. On this particular Sunday afternoon only two of the five who were scheduled to be in attendance actually came, he and I. It was providential. We had a casual but open conversation. After quite some time I asked him if there was any way we could reconcile our differences. He refused. I obliged. After months and months of trying to trip me up on obscure nuances of Baptist polity, Robert’s Rules of Order, the constitution and by-laws of the church, and having failed to do so on every count, I took the opportunity to call his attention to one matter of legality. Conveniently placed just down the hallway, in plain sight of the room he and I were meeting in, was a gigantic copy of the Church Covenant. I opened the door and began to read it to him, calling particular attention to the final paragraph where it reads, “We moreover engage that when we remove from this place we will, as soon as possible , unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God's Word.” After reading him that line I said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” He did.
Through the years my approach to conflict has mellowed quite a bit. Yet in any season of my ministry conflict has always been the least enjoyable facet of what I do. If one enjoys conflict he should probably be a conservative talk radio host or either seek therapy. Yet sadly, there is very little we will engage with any regularity, quality, or longevity that will not at some point along the way involve conflict. Many people find conflict one of the most difficult things to reconcile in the local church. If these are God’s people, should their life together not be heavenly? Well, yes, ideally it should; and at some point in time it will; but not yet. Until redemption is final we will not be perfect. Until then I may be mistaken from time to time for an Independent Baptist spy. I may nick name you “the guardian.” Until we are perfected I will grow tired of those who cannot attend a worship service that does not end with a business meeting. You may prefer square tables. I, myself, like round ones. And indeed I have seen that squabble play out on the business meeting floor for almost an hour. Until Jesus makes all things right, you and I will be redeemed, but ridiculous.
As much as I did not personally enjoy the gatekeeper, I have no doubt that the man was redeemed. Though terribly misguided, I count him my brother in Christ. Through the years I have watched many people become disgruntled and transfer their membership from our congregation to another one. Some of these are habitual by nature. Every decade or so the pattern repeats itself and they “feel led” to go somewhere else. This is nothing less than immaturity and you hope at some point they will grow up. Yet, one may wonder what becomes of a pastor’s heart during these episodes? Some estimate that it becomes sort of like the Grinch’s, it grows smaller and smaller. He cares not. I can speak from experience, this is not the case. Whenever someone leaves, for whatever reason, it hurts. My own experience has been that no one has ever left us that I did not grieve. I sleep very little during the ridiculous times.
The New Testament is honest in its recording of our ridiculousness. In the final paragraph of Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas became ridiculous. They disagreed over taking Mark. In the end they agreed to disagree. Paul took Silas and Barnabas took Mark. Yet there is, at times, something redemptive about our ridiculousness. Sometimes the ridiculous results in two missions instead of one. Without the ridiculous the final 13 chapters of Acts would be very different. We have no way of knowing how the story would have gone had Paul and Barnabas stayed together. Indeed their “sharp disagreement” was ridiculous. But in the end, the result is still something great. The story of how the gospel went global that began in Acts 1:8 continued, despite the ridiculous.
The longer I continue to pastor the more I am always amazed at how years later the ridiculous is redeemed by forgetfulness. Perhaps it is more forgiveness than forgetfulness, but I am in awe of how some of those with whom things have become ridiculous; when we meet years later we laugh, smile, and embrace as if nothing ridiculous ever happened. Later in his life Paul sent for Mark. He wrote that Mark was “useful” to him (2 Tim. 4:11). Though things got ridiculous, there was something about Mark that Paul enjoyed. I have found this to be true. In time, strangely enough, my soul begins to miss and reminisce about how much I enjoyed the company of those with whom I have parted before we became ridiculous. Redemption has a strange way of working us toward reconciliation.
We are redeemed but ridiculous.