My story needs to remain confidential. And even though I strongly doubt anyone in the know would read it here, I will take care to tell my story in such a way as to skew a few of the facts (not the pertinent ones though) and obscure the identities of all involved (except God, assuming he is involved).
Several years ago, I was invited by a church to join a leadership team which was going to pray carefully and seek God’s guidance for the future of our little congregation. It was truly a great honor to be invited to participate, and this church was an exciting and dynamic group to be involved with already. So I was absolutely thrilled to join it.
In some respects, this was a highlight of my career. Soon I found my own input rising up as some of the more influential parts our group worked with. I will not describe the details of it here, but I will say that I have rarely had such impactful influence with church leaders as I did in that group at that time. And this was a very official, well developed group which had been prayed into existence many months before I was even invited to join it. And I believe the work we did set the agenda for that church for at least the following decade.
I have to presume that last bit, actually, since I moved away a year later. But as I recall it, our team of leaders were very spiritual, biblical, careful and eager to seek God’s plans. We were right at the nub of the most important work and decisions church leadership ever makes. Only two of us were paid staff, but the rest of the group were all either studying Bible at the local university or had just graduated, and so we were a young group which submitted to the oversight and blessing of the elders at a much more mature church across town.
Have I made clear just how exciting this was? Just how special it was? Just how important it was?
But it was in “invitation only” group.
To my knowledge, it was two or three of the founding members of this church that spent months (maybe a year) praying about even forming this group and about who would be invited to join. I do not recall now the number of individuals who actually formed it when it was finally complete, but I figure it was close to a dozen. However, I recall that the invitation initially asked us candidates to pray about whether God really wanted us to accept the invitation too. So we each spent, oh, I don’t recall exactly, but maybe a week or a month praying about whether we should join the team. The founders wanted us to verify if God had called us to join.
Once the team was established, our first meeting we was a pizza party to celebrate our inauguration as a leadership team. Everything was perfect, it seemed at first, except one thing.
As I stated above, our church was mostly very young. Almost no one was yet 30 years old. I was among the oldest in the church, though we had maybe five individuals quite a bit older than me.
There was this one couple in the late-middle age range who had joined our church a year or so prior and had proved to be very eager to participate and serve in multiple capacities. The husband, it seemed, might have had some experience in ministry. However, whether he did or not, he was a life long student of Bible and knew it well. Yet there was no sense of scholarship about him. He had the personality of a farmer, and a colloquial wit to match.
The man’s wife was full-bore country-bumpkin. I don’t want to say she was a simpleton, but that would likely be your first impression.
Both people were dedicated to the cause, and had proven it time and again long before this leadership team was formed. Backbone of the church kind of people. People we all leaned on a little. People who got things done, first to arrive/last to leave, all with a smile on their face and eager to do more. People who, well the man at least, could lead a prayer, teach a class, and not afraid to speak up, but there was no sense of suave about them.
What can I say?
The husband was invited and accepted the invitation, but the wife was not invited, and no one expected her to participate.
It just so happens that my wife was also not invited. However, my wife would have turned it down if she had been. Yet in the case of the other couple, this lack of invitation was seen as hurtful.
We were an exclusive group, as I was learning on the spot.
Our inaugural meeting and party was deeply damaged by the hurt feelings this woman expressed when she showed up with her husband expecting us to just let her participate too. Her mere presence alone, but especially her expression of hurt feelings, rained on our parade!
In fact, as I recall it, quite a stink was raised by this couple when she was asked to leave. Voices were raised and trembled. Feelings were hurt. The policy by which this group was called into existence was recited repeatedly… even desperately I would say. For certainly the lack of sophistication this couple demonstrated, especially the wife, was NOT cited as a reason, not even mentioned, but I kept feeling in my guts that was the REAL reason she was not invited too. I mean, there were women on the team, but every last one of them was young, educated, and pretty (which didn’t hurt). This woman was a full member of the church in good standing, but there were all THESE ways she did not fit with the new leadership team.
In fact, even though in the heat of the moment (in the heat of the whole month this remained an ongoing controversy) I couldn’t see clearly enough to put my finger on it, but I myself figured that at root her lack of schmoose was not only the real and unspoken reason, but maybe even a good one!
Our church had a leadership made up of budding professionals, but the majority of the body of our church was constituted by children from the “other side of the tracks” and drug addicts, ex-cons, and people trying to recover from such lifestyles with a fair number of interested and like-minded college kids. We were not exactly a PROUD bunch, except for us erudite university students and recent grads. Honestly, the lady fit in with the rest of the body quite nicely! I figure now that I am older and wiser and this far removed that really might have been a big reason that couple felt drawn to our church to begin with.
But here we had this little leadership team, a brand new team, and it was going to be exclusive and powerful among our membership, and this lady wanted in on it, but she was rejected instead, and the only reason I can figure is that either God just really didn’t want her (thus the invitation so “bathed in prayer” was not extended to her) or she just didn’t fit with the social vibe of the insiders. Her husband was barely a fit, and perhaps in all that praying that this group originated from, his invitation was really a bone thrown to that dog in hopes to keep sleeping dogs lying down.
(Would God answer the prayers that way???)
At any rate, she was rejected. It caused a lot of hard feelings. And those of us on the team that managed to emerge from the scandal and go on wound up spending time with the elders from our sponsor church praying even more about it. I think we all felt deeply shook by the scandal. We needed reassurance, and I recall the older shepherd giving it out to us like candy to kids trick-or-treating. We all bemoaned the loss of this couple, but they had not been “God’s answer” to the prayer. Wonderful people, of course, but then their reaction to it kinda showed, in the ultimate reality, why they weren’t called – at least why the woman wasn’t. She was not actually mature leadership material.
That thought really felt good to absorb. It really relieved a lot of anxiety about the rejection she suffered at our hands.
And through it all, no one ever smeared her, called her dumb, hayseed, dimwit or anything of the sort. She just couldn’t handle the level of responsibility we were all called to deal with, and it showed, but we didn’t need to belittle her for it. We just needed to LET HER GO… assuming she would take the rejection to heart and really just GO AWAY. And her husband with her, which, as I recall it, they did.
Whew! Now we could get on with God’s work!! Yay!!!
So we got off to this rocky start, but with that ugliness behind us, we could get down to business leading the Lord’s church. We went on to do great things for God.
And I do not in anyway mean to disparage any of the work we produced after that. It was some of the finest work I personally ever professionally produced and shared it with some of the finest church leaders I ever had the pleasure of working with too. It is the kind of thing that looks really good on my resume, the kind of thing future employers could look into and get some very positive feedback about me!
In time, none of us talked about the scandal anymore. And in fact in the decades now since that time, I have never discussed this incident again with anyone.
But I want to say now, after all the growth and experience I have developed in over time, I know what it is like to be the kook church leaders think is beneath their contempt while in no way acknowledging that as a problem. I am the hayseed, the dimwit, the curmudgeon, … the prophet.
And I don’t see, come to think of it, what would have been so damaging by accepting that lady’s input. I am mindful that everyone was encouraged to offer their best in that group. In fact, we viewed it as a sign from God that the fact that a team member was even on the team meant that God wanted them to share their expertise, their insight, their utmost for his highest. AND I am remembering that lots of good thinking and ideas were expressed by lots of very qualified people which wound up on the editing room floor, so to speak. Much of my own input rose to the top of the heap and was put into practice! I excelled where that lady was rejected!
And if I had it to do again, I would not reject her. I would advocate for keeping her. I would even give up my seat at the table and let her have it.
I am sorry. I am sorry I did not do that.