When a Leader Goes the Wrong Direction

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I knew a guy—a leader of his church—who said that he wasn’t going to invite anyone to church until they had all the problems worked out. I’ll venture to say that that guy hasn’t invited anyone to church yet, even though he has changed congregations.

Unless, maybe, his heart changed.

No church is ever going to have all its problems worked out. Why is that? Because every church is made up of humans and all humans are sinners. You get a bunch of us problem people together and there are going to be more problems, not fewer. Even under the best of circumstances, there are clashes and accidental hurt feelings and not a few on-purpose hurt feelings.

It’s the way we are.

This guy also had another problem. The other reason he didn’t want to invite people to church was because to do so was going to entail some involvement in their lives. Most of us don’t realize that. We think we can just invite people to church, then if they show up, the church will minister to them and we can walk off patting ourselves on the back.

This guy knew that wasn’t the case. This guy knew that churches are only one of the tools of evangelism (not even THE tool) and that, if he were really hoping to win a friend to Christ, he was going to need to be prepared to do the lion’s share of the work. From the simple stuff like answering questions (like, “What’s with the singing?”) to the hard stuff like being cried on and holding someone accountable.

Not only is such work hard, it’s unpredictable. And I think that was the real rub with the guy I knew. He was a guy who didn’t like to do anything where he wasn’t in charge. He was a boss and he told people where to go, when to go, and what to do when they got there. And he had no time or patience for people who didn’t follow his incredibly vague instructions to the letter.

He knew people well enough and he knew Scripture well enough to know that if he started getting involved with people (especially adults), they could be contrary. They could be unreliable. And he couldn’t fire them. But he sure would try. I can’t count the number of times I heard him say of someone, “I’m done with him!”

I know I mentioned that this guy was a leader at the church where he attended. And I mean that. He led, and the people followed. While no one else at that church was as outspoken (dare I say, crass?) as this one guy, they all followed his lead. Be friendly to people on the surface, but keep them at arm’s length. And if they left? Oh well, nothing we can do about that ‘cause we’ve already done all we can.

This was a hard-nosed, hard-working, all-purpose irritant … but who among us can say we’re really that different in practice? I want my church to grow but I’m reluctant to involve myself in people’s (possibly messy) lives. And if they leave, it’s sure tempting to just wash my hands of them and tell myself I did what I could.

At the time I knew this guy, I can’t say I was that different from him. But, thankfully, his generally unpleasant demeanor made obvious these negative traits in such a way that has made me want to be different. It’s work, but I hope I am different (and becoming more different every day).