Ok, yesterday I said that one day I would write a blog about playing the game. I didn't know that one day would be today, but here goes. Yes, I went through a very well defined rebel phase in my ministry, like I mentioned yesterday. I make no apologies for it. In fact, I think I'm a better pastor because of it. But I wasn't always a rebel.
I answered the call to the ministry in April of 1999. After I accepted the call, and after much internal struggle, I began to be prepared to step behind the podium for the first time in October. Part of that preparation was changing the way I dressed. Preacher's wore suits...period. That's just the way it was. I didn't have any suits, so I bought a couple and hung them in the closet. I did have a few sport coats, so anytime I headed to church, it was a tie and sportcoat.
I took my first official appointment as a pastor in June of 2000. I had been serving a small church part time as a lay pastor since October of the year before, but this was official. I was a pastor now. Church on Sunday morning...suit and tie. Hospital visits...suit and tie. Meetings...suit and tie. That was what I was supposed to do. I'm not going to say it was a law, but it WAS pretty much an unwritten law.
For 2 years, I played the game. I had several preconceived notions about who and what a pastor was, and I molded myself to fit into those notions. For 2 years, you never saw me without a tie on, or a sport coat, or some combination thereof, clean cut, and clean shaven...until I talked to her.
One of the churches I was serving at the time decided to do a community outreach cookout. We didn't have it at the church in the hopes that folks who wouldn't ordinarily come into a church would come, and I could at least meet them. It worked, and it worked beautifully. Everyone had eaten and I was sitting outside on the steps watching the kids playing, and she walked up and sat down beside me. I had never met her before, so introductions were made, and conversation was small.
After a while, I told her why we had hosted the cookout and invited her to come check out the church sometime. I wasn't pushy, and still aren't. If you want to come, that's awesome, but I'm not going to push. And here's what she said: "I can't, I don't have a dress." BAM! Right between the eyes. I did not see that coming. And that's when it began. That's the moment that I made the conscience decision to do whatever I possibly could to destroy those parts of the institution that have been keeping people away.
Paul talks about laws. In the letter to the Galatians, he says this...now brace yourself..."You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the Law? Or by believing what you have heard?"
Churches are a great place for laws. Most of them aren't written, but are certainly implied. You dress a certain way, you use certain words, you behave a certain way, the building has to look a certain way, the flowers have to be in a certain spot, we can only get to heaven by singing certain kinds of music...you kind of get where I'm headed. It's not intentional. At least, I hope not, but over the centuries we have written our own set of rules that we must follow or it just won't work. I intend to do what I can to undo that. Paul was right.
We don't receive the Spirit by observing any law, we receive the Spirit through our belief in the resurrected One. All that our rules accomplish today is keeping folks away from the very one we have put the rules in place to protect. Jesus is a big boy. He can handle it if we don't wear a tie when we come to worship him. I doubt that he would even mind if your little one were to run down the aisle during worship.
Now, to be fair, Paul was talking about the Mosaic laws, and the Abrahamic covenant, passed down through the generations, and that just because these folks were Jewish, and those folks were Gentile, that the first folks weren't gauranteed any special privileges. Paul's mission was to the Gentiles, those outside the Jewish faith. Sound familiar? He was saying that it doesn't matter what the law says, that's not going to save you. What will save is a belief in Christ.
So, I'm not going to condemn anyone for wearing a tie to church. I think that's wonderful, if that's what you want to do. I'm not going to condemn anyone for wanting to hear only our hymns. They are beautiful, and a wonderful way of teaching our theology. All I ask, is that I not be condemned for trying to undo the laws that are keeping folks away.
May God allow you to struggle with who we are called to be.