Earlier this month, I heard a story about Mike Slaughter, the pastor of Ginghamsburg Church that made me giggle in delight. I was thoroughly excited and pumped up and hoped that I could do the same thing when the situation calls for it.
The story goes (this part may be a juxtaposition of another UMC pastor who was able to bear fruit at his congregation) that Mike Slaughter (or someone else) “bragged” about (or was proud about) preaching his 40 member church down to about 10. (Now this part I know is about Mike because our speaker coached Pastor Slaughter). At one point, Mike went up to a parishioner and said “This is the last Sunday you will be attending this church.” And I don’t know why, but I started giggling like a little boy with delight and even envy.
During our break, my colleague was intrigued by my reaction and asked, “Where is the grace in that?” Our speaker overheard the question and he said, “When a church is toxic and dysfunctional or when a church is run by families (like a mafia…), I think I would say that God has left that church a long time ago, and by removing the toxicity and/or toxic people, grace is given by being able to start anew with people who are really interested and invested in the mission of God.” (I paraphrased… and probably added my own words, here and there.)
But, either way, I thoroughly agreed with both what Mike Slaughter did (if the story is true, and I really hope it is) and by Speaker’s (Jim Griffith) response to the question “Where is the grace in that.”
When a church no longer functions as a church, or as the hands and feet of Jesus, or engaged in bringing the Kingdom of God to the people surrounded in our communities… or when a church no longer functions as a church but more of a religious country club… or when a church is ran by a family or families… or when a church is so embedded and into itself that it no longer is open to new and fresh revelations of God… I honestly think there is grace by overturning the tables and driving out marketers , money changers, sheep and cattle with a whip of cords from the temple.
I see the grace in that this church has a chance to start anew and I see the grace in those church members who were bullied or silenced by those toxic people in charge.
Perhaps I’m alone in this thought. I took the DISC test (I see it as the Myers-Brigg for pastoral and leadership style… sort of) and the result said that I am not shy of confrontations or arguments, in fact, I sometimes look forward to confrontations. I think that trait is both positive and negative. I don’t want to be contentious and be in confrontation all the time, but I sure as hell don’t want to walk around egg shells when it comes to the Gospel, the church living out the mission of Christ or being bogged by our institution. Nor would I allow myself or my family to get bullied around unfairly. (Funny story, or at least funny to me. During my seminary years, for reasons unbeknownst to me, the person in charge of scholarships and loans constantly yelled at me every time I saw her. I know she was under a lot of duress and stress, but still, I didn’t deserve to be yelled at. At one point, I was in her office, and I asked about my scholarship situation and she just sort of went off. I don’t think I was the first person to ask that question that day, and she probably just had enough. And I’m sure she was the recipient of many students’ angst and frustrations. I guess wrong time and place for both me and her. She was going on and on, rather rudely, (especially since this was undeserved… I mean, if I deserved it, I would’ve just sat there and let her continue) and I interrupted her and said, “Ms. Jackson (names have been changed), do you know what my last name is?” She stopped and said “It’s Yoo.” And I responded “That’s right. It’s ‘Yoo’ not ‘Jackson.’ You ain’t my mama and I ain’t your son. So don’t yell at me like my mom does because I’m about to yell back and it’s gonna get ugly.” From that point on, she never yelled at me again and we always had cordial meetings and conversations. The point is, when I need to stick up for myself or my family, I have no problem in doing so.) Sorry for the side track.
The Mike Slaughter story also led me to ask myself questions about closing churches who are barely hanging on. Wouldn’t that be the more gracious than allowing them to just be “hanging around” (said with the accent of KGB [played by John Malkovich] from the movie Rounders) and appointing pastors year after year after year (and appointing young clergy and giving the dying congregation a false hope of survival, unfair [and ungracious, might I add] to both the [young] clergy and the congregation)?
Am I alone in thinking like this? Or am I in the wrong thinking like this? If I am, please let me know (cordially) =).