Andrew was not an elderly man, rather older middle aged. He became constantly tired and had pain everywhere. Nothing unusual for a person over fifty. He was an active person. He did not stay active by running or playing sports. Instead, he was a person with a reputation of always being available when someone needed him.
Neighbors reported that he was always shoveling snow for several neighbors in the winter. In the summer, he would climb the ladder to help paint people’s houses, to help install the new water heater. It seemed he was busy almost every day of the week, even in retirement. And, he was busiest when taking care of someone else.
But, after helping others in the yard, he would return home, or to the home of one of his kids, and work on a project there for an hour or so. He never accepted payment, so neighbors learned that after receiving help from Andrew the best way of expressing gratitude was to go around to the back door and present a pie or cake, or even a full meal to just heat up. But they could not give it to him – instead they gave it to his wife.
Andrew was not capable of holding a job that would generate a large income. And that was never important anyway. He would do what he could, and had every expectation that if he treated people well, the needs of his family would be met. This was also the foundation for his faith. As a person who was good with his hands he would cheerfully take on any repair or small remodel needed at his church.
It was a small congregation, and most of the people were unable to provide much financial support. The pastor understood this, and was just thankful that the church was able to pay all its own bills and have enough to help out people in need. For thirty years if the plumbing was clogged, or something needed painted, or there was need for sheetrock repair or a patch in the roof, the pastor knew that Andrew would take care of it. In fact, Andrew would usually be the first to notice the needed work and would be taking care of it before others paid it much attention. Andrew would often just get the materials he needed and never ask to be reimbursed. Both Andrew and the pastor considered this to be Andrew’s gift to the church, and the materials and labor often were worth many more dollars than the church would have received from a tithe.
Then, the pastor died and a young minster was assigned. He was full of energy and drive, and he let it be known he was committed to foundational Biblical principles in managing the church and in teaching faith. The new pastor began a systematic review of each church member in regard to what they had been giving. He found that Andrew gave very little cash, so he stopped him one day and asked when he would be able to pledge to the church, preferable a Biblical tithe. Andrew mentioned a few of the projects he had donated to the church and how the worship experience of the church members had been helped by him. The new pastor thanked him, then informed him that he expected all people to give; if they wanted to do other things to help out that would be appreciated, but giving ten percent was the only way to be considered a member of the church.
When I met Andrew, he had not set foot in any church for over ten years. He had finished the project he was working on for his church and left. He was so hurt and so bitter that his entire family was sure he would not want to see a minister of any kind. They cautioned me strongly to avoid talking about God. Andrew had gotten a very negative report from his visit to the doctor and it was generally acepted that he had only weeks to live.
So, it was with complete surprise that when we met, with him in bed and the family all around, arranging furniture and care, that the first thing he said was, “Can you come sit down? I need to talk to someone about God, and it looks like you are the one.” WIth that, he and I became totally focused on our conversation while the rest of the family continued makng the area around him comfortable, and with important items near at hand.
Andrew had been hurt by that pastor. He truly gave all he had to give, and he gave from his heart. Some of the materials he bought for the church made it difficult for his wife to put meals on the table. In other words, sacrificial giving. During our lengthy conversation, we were able to distinguish between God’s appreciation for him, and the young pastor’s focus on his own agenda, lack of compassion, and even his selfish motives. The negative motives were supposedly for good reasons in the eyes of his faith. Andrew was able to reconcile with God, to pray for that pastor, and to let go of his deep hurt.
His family had only seen the anger. None of them understood what happened, because he did not want to interfere with their faith, and had never told the story. He was not angry. He was hurt.
As I learn as much as I can about the life of Jesus Christ I find two things in this story very distressing. If the pastor is supposed to be following Jesus’ life, I would like him to point to the scripture passage where Jesus demanded money. And, I would like to know where it says we have permission to hurt church members, or even our fellow man. One of the big reasons people are discounting the church and faith today is the idea of relevant truth. Sort of giving themselves permission to hurt other humans if the cause is justified. People do not want to know the truth that there is no substitute in the life of Christ for caring for one another. People would rather let themselves off the hook.
So, they do what Andrew did. Rather than fight for the foundations that built the Christian faith, and even built America, they just leave. It is easier. But, at what price? One pastor once asked me how many people we drive away from the church because as they drive up they see all the church members throwing rocks at one another. It is easier to just drive away and avoid the rocks.
The reason I raise these issues is to ask a question. How have you been hurt by the church? You notice that I do not even bother to ask IF you have been hurt by the church or its members. I cannot remember a conversation with people of any denomination where no damage has occurred. On the surface, there is often joy and thankfulness. But, after taking time to a person’s faith story, there is usually some event or circumstance that has been hurtful.
The only way we can change it, to make the church look and act more like the body of Christ, is to talk about it. And then as needed to take action. Please include all those you know who have been hurt in your prayers.