Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Tragedy conveyed by two numbers

2b This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
(Ezekiel 34:2b-6,10, NIV)
30 and 45.

Those are the numbers of worshipers present last weekend at a congregation in suburban Kansas City - one that I was a member of for just over 10 years. Thirty at the first service; forty-five at the second.

Once upon a time, in the 1991-94 time-frame, people in that church thought they would need to expand the sanctuary...there were so many folks, it was gettin' snug in there, at times. But then there were pastoral changes: a beloved pastor retired because of his health; an assistant pastor drew a number of worshipers to a neighboring congregation when he left; and the new senior pastor did some things in the name of "preserving the ancient traditions," which polarized (and ultimately schismed) the church. Lots of things drew the average attendance from over 400 a decade ago down to near 200 by the time I left in July, 2001.

But when my friend visited last week, and told me of the devastation of my former church home, I was stunned. It was like not seeing a favorite aunt for four years, and then to visit and see her dying of cancer. In a way, it felt like what the crew of the Titanic must have felt as they saw its bow sinking lower into the Atlantic..."this can't be happening...I know I expected it to happen, but not so fast..."

I left that church - with a lot of other folks - because of behavior by the senior pastor that many folks felt was unacceptable. Leaving that church was as painful for me as my divorce had been - amputational, at best - but I knew that staying, for me, would have been far worse. So I left, and wished them well. I resolutely put them out of my mind, and moved on to the next community of faith.

My friend spoke for me when she said, "You know, I stopped praying for that bunch a while ago. But I really need to start that up again." Her comment, directed at her own life, burned in my soul, too. So here I am - praying for my former congregation, and for the shepherd who led them to this wilderness.

I've had harder assignments in my spiritual walk, but this one is right up there near the top of the "hardest tasks" list...


Wes said...

Just discovered your Blog !

It is great to see another traveler who is brave enough to venture down the pathway that leads to maturity.

Christ in me salutes Christ in you!

Anonymous said...

In the end, we're not praying for a pastor or a congregation. We're praying for the 'rising up' of Christ and for the manifestation of his grace, truth, mercy and love.

It is this 'looking beyond' to Christ that is the sacred ground on which we find forgiveness when, and only when, that ground is walked in absolute trust, having surrendered our desire for restitution.

And no, it ain't always that easy.

the bloke said...

I think I understand where you're coming from. I had to leave a church - and a denomination - that I loved very much when the leadership basically "pushed" me out along with all those that disagreed with them some years ago. I still yearn to be part of that movement because historically I believe it is a movement towards authentic Christianity, but unfortunately, I can't find myself being a part of what it now is - one that is self-serving and stuck in legalism and pride. But who am I to throw stones...

Mitch said...

Some of the guys I'm hanging around with here keep talking about one of the local congregations that are in trouble. It's a different situation as they seem to keep driving their pastors into the ground. The "board" is in control.

Something of my own thought: the spirit follows those who carry it with them. It takes time to get to know people, but if the house stinks...

The pastor is only a man with theological training. Some pastors are very good leaders. Some people can't be led; or be led in certain directions.

To me it seems that Christians should be able to step outside of tradition and culture to see what is real. How many cultures has God been witness to? Does he approve of only one in a given period in history? Does he approve of one set of traditions and not another?

I think that God wants the spirit to be true. Shave my head and name me "monk", I'll still be Christian.

I've been sorely tempted to visit this other church, and set up base camp.

Onto a different subject, have you ever noticed that the spirit offers you many options, and it's like it says "What do you think of this opportunity... and this one... or this?" All of these things are possible, pick something.

New Life said...

Okay, okay... you just got me to pray for some folks I did not feel like praying for.