NOT OF OUR KIND
by David Sisler
I started writing this column three months ago, although I did not realize it at the time. Actually, someone else wrote most of it. Actually, it took a lot longer than three months.
During July, volunteers from MIR Children's Foundation, a humanitarian organization which takes much-needed to supplies to orphans in Russia, were frequent advertisers on WAFJ, a local Christian radio station. While driving through Augusta, "Regina" (not her real name) heard a spot I did, telling about the project which would take a year's supply of vitamins to the orphans in two cities. She jotted down my name, did some research on the World Wide Web and sent me an email. Because we were almost at the end of that campaign, Regina volunteered to help with our annual Christmas project.
We exchanged emails for weeks and when the team returned from Russia, we set a date. The youth group at her church was already excited about sharing with some great kids in Russia. Regina apologized for proposing that we travel such a great distance from Augusta to be met by less than a dozen teenagers, but I convinced her it would be our honor, regardless of the size of the group.
She wrote back and told me she had invited the whole church and instantly the size of our anticipated audience more than tripled.
And that is where the happy story ends.
A few days ago, Regina sent me another email. She said, "This is an interesting letter to write. I am hoping another Christian will understand. My husband and I have just found out about some undercurrents within our church. We are new teachers at this church, and were not aware of some things.
"I just received a call about your visit. It had been OK'd by the group's parents, but when I put an announcement in the church bulletin, I opened a can of worms. I learned our church does not want to support mission work. Also, the question was asked whether your organization was a part of our denomination. When I said, ‘No,' it was made clear that the church should not hear your presentation.
"We hate to cancel, but we feel we would be putting you in the firing range. I have been told that if you come, no one will show up. No teens in the missions group came to church this past Sunday, and I have heard about some ‘blacklisting' activities that we have set ourselves up for."
I wrote back to Regina and said, "Do not let this episode crush you. Do not let their meanness put out, or even dim, the light which you carry. If it had not been us, it would have been someone else. If the whole enterprise is concerned more about form than it is about ministry, prayerfully consider leaving. If that becomes your direction, leave with grace. Hug the pastor's neck and depart in peace, speaking blessings upon those who remain. But let the echo of your departing footsteps be the condemnation of the small people who seek to turn the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ into a pseudo- Christian Bless Me and Only Me Club."
The leaders of any church absolutely should examine the lives and testimonies of the people who stand before them and keep out all whose history is contrary to God's Word. That is scriptural, and they are well within their rights to exclude anyone from their pulpit. Standing in another man's pulpit is a sacred trust. When I was a pastor I did just that, and when I travel today, I expect that my credentials will be examined.
But Regina was rejected (and ultimately it was she and not us who were the victims — and my disappointment is only for her, not for us) first, because of denominational prejudice and second, because although she was given a job to do, and was allegedly released into ministry, she dared to move into that ministry without first getting rubber stamped.
Denominational prejudice says, with actions, if not with actual words, "We are the only ones who are going to Heaven. We are the only ones to whom God listens. In fact, if they aren't with us, they probably aren't even saved."
Tight-fisted leaders who wield dictatorial powers do so by crushing the life out of a church. Like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas their hearts are empty holes. They risk eternal condemnation for offending God's Little Ones. Their stranglehold causes spiritual infants to be either deformed or still-born. Their battle cry is, "We never did it that way before!" For any church they lead, those words finally, become its epitaph.
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 11/6/99
Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.
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