Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beware the Friendly Faces

When I go to a new church, the people who are friendliest at first are usually the ones I can’t trust. They’ll take me to lunch, give me tickets to ball games, and sit on the front row at church and beam as I preach. But they’re the ones who want something from me, who have an agenda that they want me to support.  And they’re usually the ones who got rid of the last preacher. 

I am reminded of a movie called “Romero,” a true story of an Archbishop appointed to San Salvador.  He was soft spoken and physically frail, and the local powers figured he’d be easy to control.

He wasn’t. 

There was a party to welcome him and people brought him lavish gifts for which he politely thanked them. However, he was ecstatic when a poor shoe maker gave him shoes with soft soles so he could walk comfortably.  He wore them all the time as he walked to the villages of the poor.

The frail, soft spoken priest became the champion for the poor, speaking powerfully against the wealthy families, and the corrupt government officials. 

He was assassinated—shot while he presided over Mass.

I’ve been here long enough for the tide to have turned in my church. The ones who were happy to have me here are not so happy now. They can’t say anything because I’m pretty popular with the others.

They really ought to be grateful I’m as old as I am, because as a younger man I wouldn’t have tolerated them so much, and I would have looked for ways to make them go away. 

But they won’t go away. They’ve been here so long that even their enemies tolerate them. They’ll get quieter and bide their time until I’m not doing so well. When my vitality flags, or I have personal complications that come from having family, or if the church suffers some discouragement, they’ll move against me.  And they might win.  In fact, they probably will.

That would be a shame. This church, like most, has a short lifespan. It won’t last another ten years unless it makes some major changes. Can they make them?

It’s iffy. Chances are they won’t, especially if they involve themselves in another power struggle that wastes time and energy.  They can’t afford the luxury of playing this game anymore.

But here are some things for me to consider.

First, I like this church. 

Second, I like this town. I like the people. I appreciate how pretty the scenery is.  I’m really pretty happy here. I could even make some friends, maybe. 

And third, I didn’t come here to close this church down. I intend to light it up. It might burn down but it won’t shut down.
This isn’t San Salvador and I’m not Romero. Let them take their best metaphorical shot at me.  I’ve got work to do.  


  1. Ok, 1st I have to say I HATE politics and avoid them whenever I can. We all have better things to do than play that game. BUT people are people and the game will live on.'s the deal. Well my version of the deal, my opinion, for what it's worth:

    You must play. You can't keep your head down and just do your job well. That would be too easy and clean, right? You have to play behind the scenes too, if you really want this church to live.

    I think you need to let the people you answer to, whom you trust, know of this game, and your opinion of the fate of this church long term, if the people in the front row get out of control, and you need to help a new power base organize and those people are not the only game in town. Quietly, with integrity, but helping to raise up a new group of responsible people to help move this church in the right direction.

    Batons can be passed, sometimes, just sometimes, if the stars align. I don't know if it can or will happen in this church, but it seems you have made a good start. Maybe you can be part of a miracle? :)


  2. K, good thoughts. Yes, a lot of pastoring a church involves politics. The fact that the troublemakers actually have so much influence is a systemic problem (why were they allowed so much power?).

    The troublemakers filled a vacuum My job is not only to find new leaders but to recruit and train them.

    I appreciate the thoughts you offer. I'm still thinking them over.


  3. I realize this is post is a little old now, and I'm playing a bit of catch-up... but I wanted to say that I really like these lines:

    "It might burn down but it won’t shut down."
    "Let them take their best metaphorical shot at me. I’ve got work to do."

    I don't have much in terms of words of encouragement, but I love the determination.

  4. Andrew, always glad to hear a word from you. Thanks.