*first posted on Garbage Truck in December 2002
I happen to really enjoy the Christmas and New Year season. Many people are thinking about the Lord and giving time to Him in an extra-special way. It is truly a charitable time, a time of great cheer and happiness. It gets me thinking and sometimes when I think, I feel I have to speak. In fact, what I am thinking about has been bugging me for quite some time and I need to say something about this. It’s about charity.
Yes, I’m talking about the charity found in I Corinthians 13. You know, the verses that so many preachers are quick to point out mean “love in action”. Indeed that is what charity is. Our forefathers lived according to charity and left behind a record of their actions of love.
Knowing that charity is at the heart of Christianity, one would think that it would be second nature (should we say “new” nature?) for the Christian to live a life of charity. Surely, Christians in general should live this way and preachers in particular should be men of charity and good will.
Sadly, too many preacher are not. As George Whitefield pointed to the unregenerate pulpit as the cause for the backslidden state of religion in the 1740’s, we must now look to our own pulpits as the reason for the decline of our republic. One problem in the pulpit is a lack of charity.
I confess this sin myself. I have been convicted at the number of times I conveniently refused to speak to a missionary, or side-stepped an opportunity to counsel, or retreated from times I should have given attention to the backward or downtrodden. I have asked the Lord to forgive me and have a plans to do better in my duties.
Why do we preachers do these things?
Last spring my wife and I were traveling through the east doing research at various libraries and archives putting together the information for a book on the Baptist history of America. I called a preacher friend about coming into his area. I could not reach him, but made the mistake of telling the person who answered the phone the reason for my call. The truth was I was looking for an inexpensive place to lodge. I admit I was fishing for a blessing, and to be honest it is expensive to travel up and down digging for references and buried history.
Anyway, I left my cell phone number. No return call came from my pastor friend the first 24 hours. I called back and left the same message with a different person and asked if the pastor could the call me back, seeing he knew me and that I was going to be there in the area at such and such day and time. Again, there was no return call for the next 12 hours and I was simply running out of time. I called yet again and asked if the preacher got the message–yes he did. Could you give it to him again?
Well, I called one more time and left one last message. I was pretty angry by this time and I gave up. And then–you know how the Lord works–I started thinking about all the times I didn’t return a call. I ducked way too often when I thought someone just needed a favor. I began to re-evaluate. I began to think about that huge army of missionaries who put up with us demagogues who think we are too busy to answer a phone.
Please forgive me for what I did next…when I got home I called that same preacher, knowing I would not be able to talk to him, and I left another message. I was going to have a special meeting at our church in a few months and I thought I would invite him, but the only message I left was the fact that “I wanted to talk to him about a meeting”. I know I did a bad thing, but I just wanted to know how he would react. Do you know, he called me back within a few hours? My heart broke. I know I shouldn’t have tested him like that but, I can’t help but think that his reaction is the way it is just about everywhere.
At our church we currently have three missionaries/evangelists who are trying to get to the field. They do not complain but often ask me how to actually contact a pastor. It is a maddening thing. Why do preachers act this way? I am not advocating that we have no one screen our calls, but we, or someone should return calls out of charity.
This behavior has manifested itself not only in our offices, but in all areas of our lives. It is not only in the office, but in conferences. It is evident in meetings and in the different circles in which we live and operate. It shows itself dynamically on the web. Today, many Christians are simply avoiding the web because of the bad testimony displayed in chat rooms and discussion boards. The most uncharitable site in the electronic ash pit is the so-called “fundamentalist forums”– a place for anti-fundamentalists to insult, bash and discredit Bible-believers. The majority of the posts are made by preachers.
One more disturbing illustration.
A man in our church was divorced from his wife. It was his fault. He messed up. He wound up in jail and it was all his fault. Now he is out of jail, trying to put his life back together and we are trying to help him. His ex-wife and five children live in a distant state. She has (wisely) placed herself under the watchful leadership of her pastor.
This man in our church would like to see if there is a chance to reconcile. I don’t know if I were his ex-wife if I would want to reconcile personally, but the man at least wants to try. He is able by court order to see his kids but only with supervision. He would like to see them. However, for the last two MONTHS he has been simply trying to contact the pastor to arrange a meeting. He has yet to receive a return call. I called the pastor myself and told him about this man’s situation. He said he would talk to the ex-wife and get back to me. Three weeks passed with no return call.
Next, the man in our church called the pastor back. He called his home, he called his office, he called an 888 number for the pastor. He called everyday for seven straight days and left messages with secretaries, the pastor’s wife, etc., whoever might answer the phone. All he wanted was some kind of answer–even if the answer was “no!” He did all this to honour the pastor and not skirt the preacher’s authority or blanket of protection. He was completely ignored. Why do preachers act this way?
I called the preacher just two days ago and literally begged whoever it was that answered the phone for him to call me. I left three different return numbers. Still no return call.