I know we’ve never quite gotten together as I had hoped we would, but I kinda had to write this letter to you today.
I think you are quite familiar with the work I do in the next town over, and because of that work and the nature of its environment, people tend to dump a lot of their stories — especially church stories — on me. I guess they feel it’s a safe, neutral place; a sort of ecclesiastical Switzerland.
Anyway, some of the stories are about your church, but that’s not a big deal because given the numbers, there is bound to be some restlessness and dissatisfaction out there. There are stories about several churches, though a few seem to be somehow exempt. I don’t really expect Pastors and church leaders to put a lot of stock in what the critics might have to say anymore than you would expect me to give a lot of weight to comments people leave on my blog. Sometimes it’s just best to ignore them.
But then again, I’m writing you a letter, aren’t I? So there must be something troubling me.
Here’s the deal. I don’t personally believe that people get hurt by this church or that church. But people do get hurt by people in a church. Sure, sometimes it’s about the sound system, or the parking lot, or the color of the new paint in the Fellowship Room; but more often than not it involves a fellow human. People say things and do things and while some people are thick-skinned, some people are not, and there is always going to be some hurt and wounding in any institution, especially one which operates with a volunteer army and a presupposed adherence to the highest of ethical and moral standards.
Honestly, I’ve probably done my own share of the hurting. Wait, not probably, definitely. I was on staff at a local church once and the way the story is told, I got rather firm with a student who was helping out on the sound system after a particularly mistake-filled first service, and told him we really needed it better for the second service. Apparently he was quite hurt. I’m told he didn’t come back. I don’t remember him not coming back. In fact, I don’t remember a whole lot of this story; it all got told to me years later. Ouch!
My point is, a lot of the stories I get told about your place of worship come down to one person. One guy. One individual. He’s a member of your church board, or deacons, or elders or whatever you call it your denomination. He’s a bit of a one-man wrecking machine.
On the other hand, he’s probably among the people in your church you are closest to. You and your wife probably socialize with him and his wife. He probably gets things done at a board level. You can count on him for support. You can’t imagine him being cast in a negative light.
Here’s the thing: Over the course of many years, because of him, you’ve lost a lot of good people. People who, if you added them all together, had so much to give to the life of your church. We’re talking a cumulative loss that’s worth more than whatever benefit you might see from one single leader.
At the end of the day however, I can’t be more specific. It’s all just random noise from the discontented being vented to a third party. But I think that, after many years, I’m a good judge of character. I think I can discern the sincerity of those dumping their stories on me, and it resonates with my own impressions of the person in question.
I hope you can connect the dots at this point and figure out who and what.
Though the format today was different, today’s piece continues The Lost Voice Project, a continuing series of articles about people whose circumstances have resulted in their contribution to the local church being diminished; their voices not being heard.