If I had to pinpoint the one thing I like least about my position, it would be the lightning rod aspect of it. If something goes wrong or somebody connected to Western Hills does something stupid – I’ll hear about it. I’m not sure if pastors of larger churches have the same problem. My guess is they do to some degree.
It’s not all “bad.” The minor stuff is exactly that – minor stuff. Things from parking lot lines, grass length, running out of paper cups, copier not working, carpet stains, lights out, registrations for camps or events – I understand. It comes with job and most of the time they are just opportunities to help people. I normally can delegate that stuff right back out and it’s all good. It’s not that big of a deal.
But there are times when it gets a bit larger that that. Like, the actions of somebody in public connected to Western Hills. That gets a little trickier. To be fair – it doesn’t happen often. But when it does happen, it keeps me up at night. I was given some great advice by a mentor a few years ago that repeats in my head when situations like this come up – Be True To The Absent. I’m hearing one side of the story. There is another side. Be true to the person who isn’t around and can’t speak for themselves.
So I listen and wait for the inevitable line that is always said at the end of these conversations.
“I just thought you’d like to know what kind of people go to your church.”
Over the years, I’ve finally developed a response to that comment.
I’ll first ask if they would humor me a couple more minutes to respond to that comment.
I don’t know if you’ll ever step foot in Western Hills and if you don’t because of this incident, I’m truly sorry about that. But I think you ought to know a couple of things about most churches but these are especially true for Western Hills.
First, it isn’t my church. I’m employed there. I’m entrusted by God and that congregation to teach and lead. I have some influence – to be sure – but ultimate ownership is God’s. I realize that sounds churchy and mystical – there is no way around that but it is the truth. There is a group of us that are called and set apart to help hear God’s voice and we try to lead Western Hills where it is He tells us. Sometimes it is clear – the scriptures. Sometimes it is less clear but we are committed to allowing God have the last word in His organization. It’s imperfect – to be sure – but we are kingdom minded, focused on serving this community as Jesus’ representative.
Second, the only kinds of people that go to Western Hills are sinners. Me included. Some have a relationship with Jesus that is changing them to be a better person. Some don’t. Some are deep and mature Christ-followers that are a joy to be with, others are so immature it’s like eating with a room full of toddlers.
I tell you this not to defend or excuse the behavior you witnessed. As you described it, it sounds offensive. I would encourage you to go back to that person and walk through what you just did with me with them. That’s what Jesus taught in Matthew 18. That’s how we try to handle conflict here and that is why I will NOT be taking this conversation any further.
However, it is true that Western Hills is made up of a bunch of broken, sinful people that are in various stages of being redeemed and transformed by Jesus. And redemption and transformation are messy, messy processes. Those are the kinds of people that go to Western Hills.