After 40 years, ‘megachurch’ pastor slams Christianity and quits… I read this headline in @ChristianPost and had to check it out. I’ve known people that have quit! I’ve read about others that have quit. There are a lot of reasons for quitting, some of them are good reasons. What intrigued me is that this pastor didn’t just quit the church, he says he quit the faith. Different theologies have different ways of addressing someone who quits. In mine, I have to be honest, there is room for quitting.
Rather than arguing the fine points of the spiritual implications of quitting. Let’s think for a moment on what our responses should be to hearing news like this.
Grieve. The second half of the headline says, “deacon claims he had an affair.” Can I say, I think an affair is probably a symptom, not a cause? Now, I’m sure the church is hurt and the deacon has a mess to clean up which makes him a little angry and hurt. But I believe the best response is grief. We should be sad. I think Jesus is saddened by this whole turn of events. This man is walking away from Jesus, or at least the Jesus he’s been claiming. I am saddened when brokenness is given the freedom to trump peace. I am saddened that this man was set up to fail. No one ever noticed what was going on in his heart. And because of natural gifts he kept being affirmed even to the place of leadership. And now, he is lost. That is heart-wrenching.
Take this as a warning for our lives. What is the warning? This man didn’t pay attention to his own soul. He thought the forms of faith would quiet his questions and doubts. It seems his response to his own condition was to run faster and harder into it. And finally he couldn’t run faster, nor harder and in the end his heart was empty and far from God. I have a feeling that a good batch of silence and solitude, with a spiritual counselor would have helped more than any other strategy his church ministry could provide. He didn’t need more, he needed less. He needed to remove all the trappings, so he could get to the essence of life with Jesus. Don’t ignore your questions. Don’t cover your doubts. Eventually they will worm their way to the surface and you will find all along that your soul was empty.
Listen to the condition of others’ souls. This pastor gave clues. But as long as he was running the machine, people around him ignored it. I’m sure his wife could have told stories, but there was no place, or no one to listen. We have to listen to each other. We need to listen to what is happening beneath the surface. We can’t do that at the greeting time of the service. We have to enter deeply into one another’s lives and listen. Listen, not to give answers, but to let each other know they are not alone in the questions. And sometimes, to ask questions that help them discover what’s going on in their own hearts. I have been blessed by others who have held up the mirror to show me what’s happening in my own heart and mind.
Take encouragement seriously. Many of us feel, if we were 100% honest, we would be judged rather than encouraged. All that does is keep people from being honest. We need to make effort to help people find their identity in Christ and not in what they do. We need to be the voice that helps them hear the voice of the Father for His children. Life and faith are hard and God has given us each other. We just don’t act like we are on the same team and that your tears are my tears and your celebration is my celebration.
Reflect on what our way of doing church is doing to us. Stories like this should make us consider how we do church. Some of our structures are good at forming us into Christians where the sum of faith is performance, not intimacy with Christ. I’ve been to church services where Jesus was rarely mentioned. Often the Lord’s Table is not a celebration of his presence, but a quick exercise we tack onto the end of the service – just to get it done. We move faster, add more when we should go slower and do less. Clergy become staff charged with moving the organization forward, rather than men and women who know how to live in the presence of Jesus in all of life and can bring others there.
I am sorry for this man, his family and his church. I am sorry for all the emptiness he has known. And I pray that Jesus enters in and reveals himself anew. At this point, we don’t know if he is a Judas, or a Peter. I pray a Peter. But let’s not let his tragedy be in vain. We have to remember there are people around us every day who are on the verge of quitting. You may be too! Before this happens again, let’s invite Christ to be present again and renew us as his children. If you want someone to talk to, my email is on my “About Jim Renke” page. Or you can direct message me on twitter @jimrenke, or instagram at jimrenke. I’d love to hear from you.
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