by Ross Decker Sr
So, there we sat. Liz and I were waiting in the church library for the meeting to begin. I had some sense of what to expect. I’d been in church meetings before. I’d been to Oz and had seen behind the curtain. It would be a slam dunk set up. The pastor would come in, accompanied by two or three others who totally and unflinchingly agreed with him. They’d put together their talking points. They had played out the meeting among themselves, came to their conclusion and now, all that was left was to fill us in. After, an imitation discussion, of course.
We were called in to discuss some horrible crime related to our Twitter pages. The pastor didn’t want to tell us why he wanted to meet with us, surprise being an advantage to him. Nor did he want to invite the person who’d brought the questionable tweets to his attention. But, we would have no meeting without those two concessions, I assured him. Reluctantly, he gave in. Pastoral sit downs are so stacked against the congregant that, like Gil Garcetti moving the OJ Simpson trial to downtown Los Angeles, he was sure he’d crush us.
I assumed that he had issues with our Twitter accounts because I followed LaylaLoves on twitter and she followed me. We occasionally talked about our dogs, hers being Mojo and mine being Spanky. She is an entertainment and sports reporter. Very knowledgeable and very attractive.
But it wasn’t Layla. It was David Platt. I wasn’t the problem at all this time. It was Liz. She was posting quotes from Platt’s book, “Radical”, a book which looked at the American Evangelical church in a new way. At that meeting was a kid on the worship team. Wanting to be noticed, told the pastor’s wife that Liz was posting “dark tweets about the church.” she, ran to tattle to her husband. Not until the meeting began did the pastor learn that the tweets and re-tweets were points made by Platt, probably because he couldn’t conceive of someone learning something from a source beyond his pulpit.
What did our pastor find objectionable about Platt? Nothing, it turns out. He agreed with every Platt quote once he learned that they were from a respected, hip Christian leader. He did say that Platt was wrong to make those observations public and Liz was wrong to Tweet them. The assistant pastor earned his paycheck, saying, “You don’t know who might read it and say ‘Ross and Liz think the church is bad so maybe it is'”.
Then it got awkward. I enjoy awkward. This was the point where Liz reminded him that he had asked her to do internet research to learn what the cool churches had been doing. He wanted to incorporate some trendy things into his sermons. He was angry with her because she had done what he’d asked her to. Besides, she pointed out, she’d written many positive things on her personal blog.
He got very loud at this, slamming his hand on the table. “All the positive stuff is about Glenn Blossom,” he yelled out. “Glenn Blossom! Glenn Blossom! I’m sick to death of Glenn Blossom!”
“Well, Glenn has been very kind to us,” I said. “I consider him my friend and mentor.”
“Well, you once called me a cold hearted preacher, he screamed. And….there it was. Four years before, a young man who from our congregation lost his life in a car crash early on a Sunday morning. The entire service went by until there was an “oh. as some of you have heard,” announcement. After dismissal. I met the pastor and told him I’d thought that the late announcement wasn’t enough in this situation. I told him that I’d wished he’d done more. He explained why he’d approached it the way he had and his point made sense to me. I told him so immediately and we parted, I thought, amicably.
Not so. Now, in the presence of the assistant pastor, the kid from the worship team and my wife, he spewed out his bitterness. The saddest part about it is that he had been acting as everything was fine. He was taking communion every Sunday and serving it to me. He made me a deacon. And, all the while, he hated me for a conversation that only happened from him reliving it and rewriting it in his mind. I reminded him of what really happened and he admitted I was right. He then launched into a “you two are so bitter that nothing any pastor does can make you happy.” Then, he heel-turned and was off to pick his daughter up from school.
Why did it happen? I think it was a pastor who didn’t understand his job. He admitted that he never was on Twitter. He’d only felt he had to do something because his wife brought it to his attention. And she heard from the kid on the worship team. But, why did he care? What if the tweets weren’t quotes but were Liz’s own words? What if there was, as the tweets suggested, a problem with the church in that it was functionally segregated by color and culture? What if the church really wasn’t doing enough to care for the poor? Is it really preferable to keep silent about it? Should tweets really be, as the pastor actually insisted, “rah, rah, Jesus?” I don’t think so. and this Protestant pastor needed to remember that Martin Luther didn’t think so. In fact, that church might never have existed if Luther hadn’t criticized the Church of his day, using social media in nailing his 95 Thesis’ to the Wittenberg door that Saturday in October.
The next Sunday, during his sermon, he held up a copy of Platt’s book. It was a book he was enjoying, he claimed, and promised to be working Platt quotes into his messages.Of course, he never did. And then he did the thing pastors often do when they fail to dominate their prey in a meeting. He re-enacted a question/answer from our discussion but altered the responses to prove his point. The phone calls started three weeks later. The assistant pastor called to ask why we were still coming to church. He told us that, if a pastor had spoken to him as venomously as ours had to us, he’d be gone. After several more calls I asked a friend of mine, a counselor on the church staff, why I was getting these repeat calls, He told me that they wanted us out.
And, so it crystallized for us. A string of people had been driven from that church after nasty encounters with that pastor. We were just the latest. So, yes. We would start going to another church because that’s what our insecure pastor wanted. I told him we wanted to go to a church that had a greater outreach to the poor. Makes sense, he said, because “you’re not gonna get that here.” So, we went to the other church, the one from last week’s Ashley Madison post.
So, Pastors, don’t fight your flock. Shepherd us. You’re called by Christ to take care of us. Treat us kindly. Drive us into the safety of the church, not from it.Don’t use our private conversations for sermon fodder. And certainly, under no circumstance should you slam us as bitter without being willing to help us with our problems. Oh yes, and don’t expose your own bitterness while accusing someone else of being bitter.
And, should we not mention problems within the church so that we get people to join us? Is that the way we grow our churches? I think not. I think it never hurts to speak the truth, for the truth will set you free. I have that on good authority, too. It isn’t even from David Platt
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As always, I appreciate your comments. Next weeks’ blog will likely be about the aforementioned Glenn Blossom. Let’s see if you get sick to death of Glenn Blossom too.