Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Golden Rule?

It must have been late August of 1959 and I was ready to enter my fifth grade year at Gallaher Elementary School as soon as the Labor Day holiday was over.

One of the kids in the neighborhood had done something that hurt me badly. For the life of me, I can't recall now what it was, but I can tell you it hurt at the time. I felt the need to get even. I wanted revenge in the worst way.

My mother knew that something was wrong, and asked me what the problem was. She listened intently as I poured my heart out about how I had been wronged, and how I planned to get even with the malefactor.

With her usual wisdom, Mom asked me, "Do you know what the Golden Rule is?"

"Yes" I snapped. "Do unto others AS they do unto you!" I said with the thoughts of revenge in my heart.

Mom corrected me quickly and firmly with the correct paraphrased version. "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Over the years I have heard other perversions, such as "Do unto others BEFORE they do unto you", and even just the plain old open ended, "Do unto others!"

We live in a world in which we often forget the true nature of Jesus' commandment. Some folks are just unaware of it. Worse yet, some are very familiar with His command, and do not heed it. After 41 years in pastoral ministry, I confess that I have seen that happen far too often - when God's people treat others in a way they would never appreciate being treated themselves.

There are more examples than I have time or space to discuss here, but recent events have served to remind me of how some of God's servants have been treated at the hands of others.

Pastors sometimes get treatment from their congregations that even secular employers would not consider appropriate. I have a dear friend who was called to a church in another state several years ago. At a welcome reception, he was confronted by an angry church member with a doctrinal question. My friend answered the question in a straightforward manner, and the member (who was part of an influential family in the church) was put out with his answer.

Before the family's moving boxes were unpacked in the parsonage, the pastor was asked to resign. He refused to do so, and a special business meeting was called. Since it would have been cruel to "fire" the pastor, someone made the motion to "zero out his salary".

His younger daughter asked her mother, "What does that mean?"

"It means they aren't going to pay Daddy his salary."

"But how will we be able to buy food?" she asked honestly. It should have broken the hearts of everyone in the meeting, but sadly, it didn't.

The next day, the utilities were cut off in the parsonage, and with no pay, and no heat, the pastor and his family had no choice but to move. He had no where to go, but go they did.

He told me once, "You can never imagine what it is like to scrape together a few dollars to buy hamburgers for your family, for Christmas Dinner in a motel room, with no idea where you were going."

It's a good thing God takes care of His servants, in light of how their fellow Christians sometimes treat them.

In the Annual Meeting at Orlando, FL in June 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to receive the recommendations of a "Great Commission Resurgence Task Force". There is not a Baptist alive who doesn't believe in the Great Commission. Furthermore, I didn't know we needed to take some kind of deliberative action to see such a "resurgence". I always thought that was called "revival" which always results in carrying out our Savior's marching orders. That comes through prayer and surrender, not through politics and agendas.

Those well meaning folks who voted for the implementation of the task force's report, had little idea what it would mean to many faithful missionaries, whose lives would be turned upside down by the so called mandate that came with the GCRTF passage.

Let me say here, loud and clear, that I understand that in church work, as in every aspect of life, change is inevitable. When churches, or associations, or conventions change direction (and there is nothing wrong with re-prioritizing from time to time) someone is going to be inconvenienced. Positions sometimes have to be eliminated and workforces reorganized.

The problem is, that sometimes we forget that God loves people. He especially loves His people, and it is shameful as to how we sometimes treat those who have been so faithful to serve.

We were told in Orlando that the resulting changes would be phased in over a seven year period. There were mission board employees who were counting on an orderly transition, and then the bomb was dropped. In our state, some faithful men who served as missionaries in local associations were informed that their positions would no longer be funded by the Mission Board after December 31st.

The official line is that these men have "elected to take retirement", when in reality, they had no choice in the matter. Their positions would be defunded. They could take the severance package offered them or just enter the new year with nothing. What kind of choice is that? The man who serves our association just built a new house about five years ago. He was counting on working another five years, and hoping that the "7 year phase in" would allow him to continue to work and live in his home until it is paid off. That is not going to happen.

Besides the association missionaries, there are other mission employees who have also had their mission work shut down and given severance. One individual in another state told me of having to sign a "no talk" document and was threatened with the loss of the meager severance that had been offered if they told anyone of the details. Before finally finding employment in another ministry field, this faithful 30 year missionary was forced to go on food stamps.

Sadly, similar stories are being repeated all around the SBC, all in the name of Church Planting. Church planting is a noble goal. We certainly need to reach all of North America (and the world) with the Gospel of Christ, but can we not accomplish this with more Christlike treatment of our own faithful servants? Surely none of us would want to be treated in this manner.

Jesus said, ""In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 7:12 (NASB)

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