Mahatma Gandhi is accredited with having said, “I would become a Christian if it wasn’t for Christians.”
Several times lately I’ve been reminded of that statement as discussions have arisen regarding the experiences of people regarding church. Too many times a person gets disillusioned, disappointed, or even hurt by an individual or an entire church. Admittedly, it can be that a church member or church cannot measure up to unrealistic expectations. Sometimes the individual who is dissatisfied has personal problems that interfere with social interactions of any kind. Unfortunately, complaints way too frequently are legitimate.
There have been times when acquaintances have excitedly told me about applying for a job as a secretary in a church. My first thought is that I need to talk them out of it! The reason is the result of over forty years as a minister, having seen the best and the worst of Christianity . . . in the church office. Like people in many professions, I love what I do, and at the same time, because of observations, stories from other ministers and personal experiences, I will challenge a young person thinking of going into ministry to seriously examine whether that is what God wants him or her to do, primarily because of the stress that some people might exert.
Church members, on one level, include those who seem to think the church is the place where it’s O.K. to demean another person if all is not to their standard. It’s as though being a regular attender at church gives one the authority to express displeasure when anything is not “right” by his or her standard. Differences aren’t tolerated, so unloading is excused as “righteous anger.” Seeing a church secretary in tears because they made an error of insignificance and then being chewed out by one of the pillars of the church is not what anyone would expect to see in a church office.
The support staff can be difficult, too. For example, the general rule of thumb for ministers is that they have a day off during the week to compensate for having to work on Sundays. And it’s not unusual that Saturdays are filled with hospital visits, church fellowships, and of course, the last minute sermon tweaks to be ready for Sunday worship. Yet, if the church isn’t protective of his time off, cute, yet cutting comments, in the church office might result in a minister not taking advantage of that time, just so he doesn’t have to hear guilt producing comments. The resulting loss would take away time from his family and/or his personal R&R time (that’s Rest & Relaxation.) Additional inner office comments about church members wouldn’t add to a flavor of Christian love and concern.
The ministering staff, those called of God, are sure to be a great group to work with . . . right!? Generally speaking, that’s probably true. At the same time, they’re human, with their own faults and foibles. So sometimes they might have a bad day, they may not see things from the most optimistic point of view and they may not feel like joking and being a part of idle chit-chat. They may even get upset by a situation or want to avoid a particular person who has been a problem for them.
The best is still to be seen and experienced
Lots to say about the “worst” of Christianity, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t much to say about the best you can see in Christianity.
- Those who give of time to help those in need.
- Empathy for the people who have physical or material need.
- Inconvenient times when a call goes out for help.
- Those who sacrifice to lend a hand to someone else.
- Many times the gift of time and support is given to another church member who is unknown to the giver.
- Giving generously to someone not in the church fellowship.
- During times of national calamity, community disaster or personal concerns, loving Christians jump in to help in amazing ways.
- In any given local church there are many who contribute with loving attitudes.
- Church staff at all levels make sacrifices of time, energy and finances.
- Much, much more could be said about the best that can be seen and experienced in Christianity . . . .
The best is there. The question is, “Will I be seen as The Best or The Worst that others see in Christianity?