Recently, I applied to be the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church (FBC) in Sacramento. FBC is part of the American Baptist Church, where I hold my Ordination. Before I applied, I looked over the church profile and knew they were in decline (a 74% drop in members since 1993 and a 57% decline since 2000), I knew they were hurting. I knew they did not represent the ethic breakdown of the area (they are 91% white) and I also know the Midtown area pretty well and know a church that reaches out to the people with love, grace and creativity could make a difference in the area. I knew the church had issues with leadership and past pastors, but I believed the church could turn around and become something amazing in the area. I studied the church, read all the material they posted on their website, and prayed over the possibility. I knew that somethings were “big” issues for FBC based on the questions they asked in the questionnaire and that the “leadership” was rather controlling. I believed I had the skills, experience and heart to help FBC do some very cool things in the Midtown area and get it connected to the community and help bring people into a relationship with Christ and the church. I was ready to invest the time, love, and grace to do what it took to build relationships with the members and the community – to be an avatar for the divine in the Midtown area.
But God works in wonderful ways and I soon found myself in a rather interesting spot – here is a copy of the email I received from one of the members of the Pastoral Search Committee. The email was send to me, the interim pastor and other members of the PSC Committee.
“Wow! NO! I met him and checked out Harbor Church in Folsom once… I never went back. He is very anti-authority (and preached some weird stuff frankly – don’t remember specifics but I remember thinking “what in the world”). What does it say about his wisdom to pick a wife that would try to get him to stop being a pastor then leave after 5 years and it is “best for everyone” No! Please No! (Sorry I just don’t want anyone to mistake this for a no – this guy is a heck NO!).
Mike G.” (I have since found out his last name, but out fairness to him i will not post it here)
The funny thing is, I never met the man – never. I have no idea who he is, or why he is so hurtful. But I have come to the realization that this is the norm for the industrial church; his words are icing on a very bad cake. What I also found so amazing is that no other member of the PSC publicly corrected him (though the interim pastor did publicly rebuke me for my response and my posting the email here and on my Facebook page). They simply allowed his words to stand. What they are saying, with their lack of reply, is “We all speak and think that way, so there is no need to comment.” The leadership at FBC seems wounded, hurt and defensive. They should examine their hearts and question their position if they can only speak venom, and hold to such comments.
In all fairness, I will say that I did receive a “apology” from Mike G (this was added under the request of the interim pastor Doug). But it was far less and apology and far more and excuse.
“I just realized the huge and embarrassing mistake I made when I included you in my e-mail meant for the rest of the Pastoral Search Committee at First Baptist Church of Sacramento. I am very sorry that you had to read my comments about you. Please do me a favor and if you have or haven’t opened my last reply all e-mail. Please just trash it and accept my sincere apologies. I am very vocal in my opinions and again it was only meant for the other PSC members to read. I wish you the best of luck in whatever the Lord has next for you. “
Notice that the apology is not for what he said, but for the fact that it was sent to me. While I did extend the hand of grace and accepted the apology, I have to say I was very disappointed in the apology. It is like saying, “I am so sorry you heard me say all those bad things behind your back” – not that he was sorry for what he said, just that I heard him say it. After some emails with the interim pastor Doug, I have had more time to read, and reread, the “apology” and now I wonder, was it an apology or an excuse?
One of the things I found so hurtful was his statement concerning Harbor Church in Folsom. Harbor is a great church, and Glen is a great pastor and a good friend. Many industrial churches seem to think that they can make assumptions about people based on a short paragraph in a questionnaire, or one visit (or, as in Mike G’s case, make them without ever meeting the person at all). FBC was, I thought, a church with great potential, yet with people who think and speak that way they will never reach out to the community in grace and love – they will reach out to the community with law and rules. They will never reach anyone. If we are the avatars of Christ to the world we are called to serve, how are we to see Christ in his words? For me, I see a Christ that is mean, hurtful, judgmental, and harsh. A Christ I do not desire to know, or follow. They are a church heading for the boneyard.
But in all that, I am thankful because it came out so soon. I could imagine being offered the position only to find out later that the leadership of FBC had such a heart – I would have been devastated. I would have gone home at night in tears for the way they treat people. For every step I took forward, they would cause the church to move back five steps. I guess all I can say at this point is pray for them. Pray that the spirit of love, grace, forgiveness and hope come upon them and they find a way to love others.
(NOTE: the original post was edited to add the “apology” submitted by Mike G. under the request of the interim pastor Doug)