Monday, January 08, 2007

. . . . Until I Stand Alone

My pastor looked lonely yesterday.

Every week, the choir exits right before the sermon begins, and the assistant pastor who does the announcements takes a seat in the congregration. As my preacher starts his sermon, he stands alone in the front. This is how it always is, but this loneliness has never struck me until yesterday. Maybe it was something else.

He began a five-week sermon series yesterday on stewardship. In church jargon, stewardship is usually a code word for "money." The word encompasses a lot more than just that, but if you see that the preacher is preaching on stewardship, NFL pregame shows become a lot more enticing. Even if Michael Irvin's wardrobe is involved.

The reason the word stewardship is often used is because it sounds more pleasant than money. In church, anything sounds more pleasant than money. This is especially true in southeast Charlotte where the most disagreeable thing you can say to a person is, "Jake Delhomme should be the Carolina Panthers' franchise quarterback." Next on the list, though, is telling people what to do with their money.

But this is just what my pastor did yesterday. He dispatched the euphemisms and spoke bluntly. He said things like, "You must question if the Spirit is working in your life if you aren't growing in grace towards others," and "There is no excuse for families in this church to year after year tithe $0." He claimed there were "hundreds" doing just that. Given the number of people in the sanctuary, he wasn't talking behind anyone's back. Moreover, he was talking to a lot of nicely dressed people.

What discomfort it was for all of us. It was that discomfort where you wanted to look around to see how others were reacting but you didn't want to make eye-contact with anyone. Many of us were angry with him for being so blunt. Others pridefully thought he wasn't talking about us. A couple probably realized the Lord was asking more from us. Very few, if any, were comfortable with or excited about what they were hearing.

Herein lies the loneliness. My pastor knew when he got up there that he was going to alienate a lot of people, that he was going to call out folks on potentially the most sensitive issue in our lives. He was going to lower attendance for next week's service, even though he could convey similar ideas in a much more palatable fasion. Yet, he was blunt, and he was clear because much was at stake. Not the power bill at church, mind you, but the hearts of his flock. In the face of our resistance, he spoke truth. Though he may alienate everyone, he still stood. Maybe alone, but he stood anyways.

One of my favorite verses in music comes from an old Jars of Clay song. The line simply goes, "I'll stand until I stand alone." Sunday, my pastor seemed to stand alone.

I want courage like that.


Tammy said...

The reaction you describe reminds me of the congregation in George MacDonald's novel: Thomas Wingfold, Curate (also called The Curate of Glaston). Very much worth reading, though few seem to have heard of it, unfortunately.
As soon as we see conviction heading our way, our pride goes up like an automatic forcefield, and it's easy for a man to say only what he knows others will find acceptable. I'm glad to know that you are sitting under a pastor who is more concerned for his flock's spiritual growth than for his approval ratings. Peter and the church at Jerusalem prayed for such boldness to declare God's truth. Why should we not ask for it as well, provided we are prepared to actually make use of it?

Oakley said...

Your comments make me think of a chapter in "Blue Like Jazz" where the struggling writer (aka poor) is convicted by a friend to tithe his 10% yearly by saving up in a jar. He is surprised that when he starts giving his 10%, more and more requests for writing and work start comming in to him. The cynical me cries Coincidence but the Christian me knows better.

Ben said...

That's a good word, Oak. I have heard stories like that as well. Makes you wonder. . . .

Tammy, I am very blessed, indeed, to hear what I hear each Sunday morning.