Matt Boyd’s posting of Rickie Moore’s eulogy of Brenda Taylor in 1996 brings back a lot of memories and provokes a lot of thought. But I must make some explanation first.
Up until now I haven’t spent a lot of time on this blog concerning my own church, which I am both a member and and employee of. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one thing, one of the purposes of this web site is to engage people who are not part of this church and to whom this church’s appeal is generally not directed. For another, not being a product of this church, I find its ways frequently mystifying. In many ways I’m more content covering the woes of the Anglican Communion or the vagaries of Roman Catholicism, to say nothing of our current political situation. But I supposed I’ve been in this church long and deep enough to be entitled to say something about this.
My wife and I were at this funeral. We knew the deceased. To be honest, my reaction at the time to Dr. Moore’s eulogy was that it was presumptuous. In our church I hear people say that "The Lord told me ______," as if it were a routine occurrence for them. However, I think that one must be very careful to claim to be speaking for God. And speaking for God, of course, is the job of the prophet. Personally I would be very reluctant to make this kind of pronouncement even if I thought it prophetic. But that’s one of those things that everyone must know for themselves.
In the intervening years many things have happened. 1996 was the year I began as a volunteer for the International Offices of the Church of God, which has become the General Assembly appointment I hold now. So I’ve had a chance to see this church in a broader view, especially since we deal on a daily basis with local churches and pastors.
The big problem I have now with Dr. Moore’s eulogy is the question the Russians love the best: What is to be done? From there, we ask the other questions. How can the problem be solved? Do we call another meeting? Do we have another event? What’s the real problem in the first place? Dr. Moore’s pronouncement is long on generalities and short on specifics. Our church obviously has difficulties, but I can’t see that thundering judgement will solve the problem by itself. Based on long reflection, I think that most of the specific problems of the Church of God boil down to two characteristics of our church and its people.
The first is that we are too performance oriented. It pervades everything from the top of the church to the bottom. Everyone is conditioned to expect God to perform His work from on high–miracles, healings and the like–and for those under them, be they pastors or lay people, to perform with tithes and tithes on tithes and other works. In some ways that’s what makes the Church of God so dynamic, why it moves the way it does when other churches don’t even know what hit them. But I think that we get carried away with it. Evangelicals in this country hate to admit it, but the church needs in some ways to be a refuge from the cruel, performance-based world we live in. That’s hard to communicate in a setting where, when we are approached by those who are "over us in the Lord," we are too often being approached for something we can do, not to see how we are.
My family was involved in its business–along with many other enterprises–for 144 years; in a corporate setting, I understand that, if you don’t set performance standards, nothing gets done and the corporation dies. But there are limits to how much you can get out of people even in that setting, and I think that many people in our church feel that the church has found their limit. Face it, if Jesus Christ evaluated us on our performance, we’d all get a warm reception in eternity! It’s his performance that made the difference.
The second is that we are too obsessed with our past poverty. My message as someone who was raised in Palm Beach is simple: we’ve arrived! Our church people have worked and succeeded. God has blessed us. We don’t need to go so hopelessly over budget on so many of our building projects (which is much of our problem at all levels these days) to project an image of success. Lift up your eyes and look around at the people who have passed from death to life in Jesus Christ from the ministry you have done or supported. That’s the measure of your success, and if you want to strike real fear in the secularists and Islamicists, keep doing that.
I can’t sort out all of our problems, any more than Dr. Moore could. But if I were to choose a starting place, I would emphasise that we need to grasp, hold onto and live servant leadership. It’s a central concept of Christianity, but it’s so easily lost in Boomer authoritarianism. If our model of leadership is Jesus washing the disciples feet, those in our charge will be more pleased with us and our God will be also. If companies can hammer away at "customer service" and be successful, why can’t the church do similarly, when the concept started with Our Lord?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my eleven years with the Church of God, it’s that, in the midst of our institutional ups and downs, if we lose sight of the fact that what we do is first and foremost for God, we will end up losing everything. And that would be the greatest tragedy of all.
Note to my other visitors: if you’re still wondering what’s going on, the video is below.