Come To The Table (Part 1)

Someone recently asked me who my blog readers are. It seems like many of them fall into two categories: those who’ve been wounded by the church and leaders of small/mid-sized churches. I told the person asking that I didn’t think the two groups were all that different from one another in some core ways. The people in both groups love Jesus. They care at some level about what is happening in the Body of Christ. And each group is looking for some honest companions to share their pilgrim’s road trip. I’m grateful for each one of you who reads the words I post here. 

One of those readers saw a story about financial guru Dave Ramsey’s organization I’d posted on my facebook page today, followed by my expression of discouragement about the rash of well-documented accounts of thug-like behavior by leaders from a number of different ministries (Sovereign Grace + various members of the Gospel Coalition crew, Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips). I appreciated her concern that I not allow bitterness to erode my hope in Christ. 

Here’s the thing: I believe the exposure of these leaders, and in some cases, long-overdue “de-throning” of them, may be the most hopeful thing that can happen in their lives – and for the rest of us in the Church. The humbling is the only posture from which these leaders have a shot at recognizing the compartmentalized state of their souls and connecting with the regret buried underneath layers of sin masquerading as ministry success.

I wrote the following fictionalized account of one such de-throned pastor back in 2009, and thought of today as I messaged my Facebook friend. I’ll post the first half today, and the second half tomorrow. 

* * * * * * * 

Jeff was parked in his ancient recliner, wearing a shapeless pair of gray sweats and an “In It To Win It” T-Shirt. Sections of the morning’s super-size paper surrounded his chair, forming a moat of newsprint. Jeff stared at the tube as the Sunday morning talking heads debate the president’s latest economic stimulus package, each insisting they just wanted to help the American people.

At the commercial break, Jeff hit the remote. He loathed the suffocating silence in the house, but couldn’t listen to one more syllable of political grandstanding this morning. The true addiction of those rarin’-to-go pols and wonks on camera, and their sycophants pimping off-camera? A thousand meetings, alliances and brokered deals in order to score the addictive emotional cocaine of power.

“They call what they do ‘helping people’, but if any of that happens, it’s only after they’ve gotten their ego fix,” Jeff mumbled out loud. He walked into the kitchen, dumping the remains of his lukewarm coffee into the sink and fishing the last blueberry Pop-Tart out of an almost-empty box. He ate it cold while continuing impassioned sermon to his canine congregation of one.

“Man, they all use each other. They use people and spit them out when they’ve outlived their usefulness or have the misfortune of choosing the wrong allies.”

Like he had.

He tossed the dog the last bit of his untoasted toaster pastry, and the same weary incomplete thoughts crawled around the rutted track the betrayal had made around the perimeter of his mind.

He mumbled the only prayer he’d been able to say in weeks: “How could they do this to me?”

* * * * * * *

Frank’s emotionless visage told Jeff everything he needed to know when he walked into that conference room eight months ago. Frank was going to keep this cordial and businesslike, just as Jeff had always coached him to be through the years two had tackled management issues in their organization.

“You probably have some idea what this meeting is about,” Frank said.

Jeff nodded. After weeks of sensing he was about to get axed, and months before that of losing one workplace political battle after another – this, after years where everything he touched turned to gold – Jeff had steeled himself for the inevitable.

Almost robotically, Frank began his carefully-rehearsed speech, acknowledging Jeff’s years of faithful service, and how Jeff had been instrumental in building the amazing organization around them, and how difficult the decision had been, and just how sorry the entire board was to see things end this way.

“We want to make sure you’re taken care of,” Frank said, pushing a stack of papers toward him from across the conference room table. “We put together a generous package that will give you and Joanna time to figure out what’s next for the two of you. We’re grateful for your years of service to us.”

As Frank wrapped up his speech, Jeff noticed the muffled soundtrack of office activity humming in the background. He could hear the sound of the copier running. Two phones ringing. Though it was after 4 PM, the outer offices were still half-full of employees laughing, talking, finishing up their work day. Jeff had been involved in hiring each one.

And now, he was being dumped like a bad blind date. Frank had just fired him from the church he and Joanna had started in their living room 14 years earlier.

(to be continued…)

 

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