During my more than 20 years of preaching, I can recall at least three people who threatened to drop out of my church or chapel if I didn’t change my leadership. When I didn’t change, they pulled their membership and promised they wouldn’t be back.
The first person was a retired pastor who was upset with the time-saving method I employed for Communion. My plan called for our ushers to pass the Communion cups down one row while passing the wafer tray down the other row. They then would reverse the process until everyone was served.
The pastor emeritus saw the process as confusing for his aging wife, so he promised me that if I ever served Communion that way again, he’d never return.
You guessed it. I did, so he didn’t.
The second person was a member of the California Air Force chapel where I served. He came to me one day telling me that he didn’t like me preaching about tithing in a government-sponsored chapel filled with retired congregants. (Tithing is the Christian teaching that encourages parishioners to give 10 percent of their income to Christian charities or churches.)
It didn’t matter to the man that our chapel used the tithes for educational material and gave the rest to charity. He promised that if I ever repeated my preaching mistake, he’d never return to the chapel. Of course, I did and, of course, he didn’t.
The third person was a young mother who had trouble with me illustrating my sermons with many of the sad stories I’ve written for this column. She told me that if I kept telling the stories, she wasn’t coming back to chapel. By now you must see the pattern in my stubbornness. I did and she didn’t.
It’s not unusual for parishioners to disagree with their spiritual leader. The Bible has several examples of it, but most especially in the pesky disciple named Peter.
When the authorities came to arrest Jesus, his disciple, Peter, drew his sword and slashed off the ear of one of the arresting soldiers. He was a loyal parishioner, but like my congregants, he definitely had his own ideas on how things ought to be run. The problem was that Peter’s plan was in direct contradiction to Jesus’ plan.
Now, I don’t mention this story to compare myself to Jesus. I cite it because it shows how inevitable it is for people to get sideways with their faith community. I don’t find fault with these people because it’s in our nature to seek more fertile spiritual ground when things become uncertain.
Nevertheless, it’s good to remember that a faith community should be a place where people are allowed to practice their faith. “Practice” being the operative word here. We won’t always get it right, but nothing should keep us from trying.
“But it’s hard,” you say. I know it is. But Christian faith teaches that we need only to find a faith that is equivalent to the minuscule size of a mustard seed. Once we have that faith, we can move mountains.
I’m glad I can report to you that my three congregants were grounded enough in their faith to avoid becoming spiritual dropouts. They found a new faith community and presumably a more pliable preacher.
Now, if I can just find a more pliable congregation — or in my case, a more pliable readership — it would be a perfect world.
But again, probably not.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author. He is a board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains and works as a chaplain for both the Sacramento VA Hospital and the Air National Guard. You may leave recorded comments at 608-9715, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.
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