Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The Voice of Truth...
"Oh, what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to step out of this boat I'm in, and onto the crashing waves. To step out of my comfort zone, into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is, and he's holding out his hand. But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me, reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed. The waves, they keep on telling me time and time again, 'Boy, you'll never win. You'll never win.'
"But the voice of truth tells me a different story..."
Casting Crowns recorded that song, and the first time I heard it was actually at an Emmaus weekend. Some of the kids from one of the churches had come to bring the entertainment for the Saturday night meal and had a routine worked out to that song. I sat there, like a blubbering fool, with tears running down my face. And honestly, I didn't care who saw.
As I think back over the last, very nearly, 40 years, it's easy to remember all the times I screwed up. And if you forget, there is usually someone there to remind you. I've hinted before at one of those people in my past, and I'm really trying to let it go. I have to say though, I'm having a really hard time with it. Maybe, by putting it out here today I can begin to find some peace, so here goes. This is just one example of something that has happened to me, that maybe you can draw strength from. Today's blog may be a little longer than usual.
Six years ago, I was sent to a new appointment, a country church with a cross and flame on the front, so I assumed it was a Methodist church. One of the first things I was asked to do was redesign the worship experience. I knew there was no way to change what the 11:00 worship experience looked like, so the only other option was to begin a second service. After months of planning, discussion, and prayer, launch day finally arrived.
It was going to be different. Blue jeans and T'shirts if you wanted. Potluck breakfast every week. Electric guitars, video, drums, and at one time a 7 piece band. We had been averaging about 40 in worship at the 11:00 service, so I was expecting around 10 or 12 to show up for the launch of this new service. That first morning, 38 people showed up at 8:30 to worship in a way they had not been given an opportunity to worship before. One of them had not been in church for over 20 years. We stepped out of the boat and onto the waves, and it was amazing.
Folks started filtering in over the next few weeks and one lady even told me, "You know, I think my husband might even come to something like this." Her husband had not been in church in years, and wouldn't go. Within a few months, her husband was my worship leader. He stepped out of the boat and onto the waves.
The little church that was averaging 40 began to average 45, 50, 60, 65, 70...average attendance leveled off at about 75 between the two services. Now, to be honest, there were some who left the 11:00 service in preference of the early service, and for whatever reason. And that's when the trouble started. That was the moment I first caught sight of the waves under my feet. The waves started as ripples on the surface at first...a grumble here, or a growl there, but the farther I got from the boat, the bigger the waves got. Still, I wasn't afraid of them. I could see Christ holding out his hand, so the waves didn't scare me.
At that 8:30 worship hour I ministered to former junkies, I saw recovering alcoholics, I saw folks who had given up on church and on God, I saw people who had been hurt in that very church decide to give it another try. I saw folks find God for the first time late in life. I even saw a member of the Sons of Silence come in one day. Those guys make the Hell's Angels look like a kindergarten class. Because of all that I was seeing, I didn't pay any attention to the waves under my feet, but they were still growing.
Then it happened...the growling, griping, and arguing going on within the church caused me to take my eyes off of Christ for the first time, and the waves were terrifying. I began to sink. The folks that held the power in the church didn't like the fact that I didn't ask their permission to grow the church, or that some folks had left the 11:00 service in favor of the early service, or that there were kids in the church now because kids mess things up, or that we had installed a playground because we had so many kids coming now, or that the music was different, or that folks were wearing jeans, or that they couldn't find a spot in the parking lot. In fact, I realized they didn't like anything about it.
Once I realized how much opposition there was within the church, I knew it wasn't going to make it. The church was not one body, it was a house divided by ego and pride. I fought the waves though...I fought them with everything I had. I sacrificed my health, my kids, & my marriage, just so the waves wouldn't crash over me. Was it my ego? Could have been. Was it my stubborn pride? Maybe. Or, it could be that it was working and I knew that. We were actually reaching the least, last, and lost and Christ was still holding out his hand.
Then one night it exploded. Before I could stop it, before I really even knew what was going on, everything came to a head. The powers that be voiced their opinions, and let it be known that this new worship service was not welcome any longer. Feelings were hurt, folks left the church, I was being blamed for the self destruction in the church, and I was powerless to stop it. I was sinking fast.
When the realization hit that there was no way it was going to work any longer, I knew it was over. Yeah, I felt defeated. I felt like a failure. I was soaked to the core from the constant crashing of the waves, and I was exhausted from trying to stay on top of the water. But I still couldn't give up. I should have left that church after the first year...it would have been better for my health, for my marriage, for my girls, but I just couldn't do it. I could not give up on the fact that it had potential and that there were folks we could reach that no one else was reaching, but the church was going to have to work together for it to happen. Finally, after fighting the waves for 3 1/2 years, I gave up.
As I was packing my office to get ready for the move, he walked in...my song leader for the 11:00 worship service. My greatest opponent the entire time I was there. This man fought me every step of the way, yet I still stood beside him every week to lead worship (And now you know why my beard is so gray). Small talk ensued about the move, future plans...yada yada yada. Then he said it: "When are you going to go back to building houses?" I said that I had no plans of doing that. Then he said, "You really should, you're not a preacher. Never have been. You've never preached a real sermon since you've been here, in fact, I just hope you don't screw the next place up like you have this one."
Yeah...then he said that he was doing that because he loved me. I'm calling BS on that one. I sank, the waves won, and I was drowning fast. I let him say his piece, and bid him good day. From 40 to 75 in 2 years and I had done nothing but screw up. That was when I finally reached out my hand. I knew that if I didn't I was done. And Christ took me by the hand and we both climbed into the boat.
Stepping out of the boat is terrifying. You will probably get wet. You might get scared. You may even get laughed at. But standing on top of the water is an amazing experience. There will be those ready to laugh at you when you start to sink. There will be those who are just waiting for you to sink so they can throw the proverbial "I told you so." But there is also one standing on the water with you, and that's all that matters.
So, now you know. You know why I am not very trusting. Why I am a little more cautious now. You know why I cringed when the church I'm serving now mentioned changing the music. The scars will always be there, I'm not going to pretend they won't, but hopefully I can dry off now, and get ready for the next time Jesus calls me out of the boat.
If you want to hear the song, here's a link: