Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

As my family looks into returning to America and leading a church we consider returning to our home in Southern California as a favorable option (although we still have some other areas we are considering). We are grateful for the support and humbled by the kind words many of our friends have shared with us regarding our future plans. In my own selfishness, I would love to return to our area and serve in a gathering of people who connect with my style of teaching and thinking. If this option works out, we also know that there is an "elephant in the room" that I am hereby letting go.

The truth is that returning to an area that I have lived in for 8 years also happens to be the same general area where the church that I worked in for 8 years still exists. Unfortunately over the past 4 years many people have left that church for a whole variety of reasons and those reasons are not ours to speculate about. In that area my wife and I know quite a few people who no longer attend any church or they only attend and "hide" in the back because for one reason or another have lost hope in the Church. In fact, in my 13 years of working in churches I too have been hurt and have even seen some of my hope in the "Bride of Christ" diminish. I know that by returning to the area, a potential exists for some to see this as a move to "compete" with my former church. In fact one person from that church (not the leader so please do not rush to judgement) already asked that I do not return to the area because "that will stir up problems". For one, I do not believe that my return would have any effect on that church and secondly, my return would not include a "competition" mentality.

The truth is that my former church wants the same things I do and that is to help Jesus become a reality in the community. It also happens that my ecclessiology, my missiology, and some of my theology are not the same so our appeal is to an entire different person. The most important truth is that only through Christians modeling love and grace can we truly help the world to see the true power of the Risen Lord. I love my former church and the people there and I want them to succeed in all they do. They just hired a person to replace me there and I honestly wish him well and from what I hear he will be a great fit and probably do a better job than I could do right now.

The point is this. If I return to that area to serve in a church one goal is to provide a place where people can have hope restored. I want to be a part of a place that walks in love and grace and pursues justice and peace and the things Jesus spoke about. I want to be in a community where my friends who are not followers of Christ can come and truly feel the love of God through each person and where they can take a step closer to knowing the creator of the world. I want to live a life of reconciliation which includes walking in peace with all local gatherings of followers.

My possible return to the area is not a move to hurt any church in that area, but on the contrary, is to help make them stronger. If any would choose to journey with me and who harbor feelings of hurt or bitterness towards any other gathering, today is the day that I ask you to let it go. Let us forgive, let us love, and let us pray for those who persecute. Let us not gossip, let us not slander, and let us feel the weight of forgiveness and the joy of true community even if those sentiments are not reciprocated.

Today I thank my former church for the years we had together and today I pray for your future. I may soon be a partner in your community and you may even see some old familiar faces serving with me (you also may not). From this day forward the elephant has left the room. There is no need for feelings of competition or jealousy. Today we (me and all like-minded) choose to fight for those who have no voice. We choose to love those who no one loves. We choose to follow the God of the Bible who changes lives through a revolutionary message of love and not through manipulation. We take seriously the command to "take care of the alien and stranger (even if they are illegal aliens)" and we do not fear those who believe differently or act differently. We choose to be part of an ancient revolution.

Since I am slipping into "preacher mode", allow me to end with this quote from a Jewish scholar named David Flusser. "... I believe that the contents of his [Jesus] teachings and the approach he embraced have always had the potential to change our world and to prevent the greatest part of evil and suffering".

This is what I want to be about so all who want a competition or who want to live by making comparisons, you will journey alone because I will not be joining you.

There. The elephant has left the building.


Luke said...

Have you ever thought of leading a church in Alaska? But maybe just for 2 years or so. Just a thought... a cold, cold, cold thought.

patricia said...

Your such an intellect!

Before I could comment, I'm admitting my short comings. I had no idea what these 2 words meant, so I dug out my Websters

Ecclesiology - the study of church architecture.Art

Missiology - I'm assuming it has something to do with missions? couldn't find it in my Websters.

I've really never thought of your coming back to OC as a competiton, but I can see why some may be threatened by it.

I'm looking forward to your return.

Ryan said...

I guess I committed the error of using terms that are used in a particular field but are not actually words. Religious studies and other fields dealing with literature and history do this all of the time.

For the purpose of this post:
Ecclesiology- the study of "church" and particularly how churches are organized. Webster's uses this term in a more classic sense.

Missiology- This is a completely made up word in the world of theological studies. Missiology is the study of "mission" and in particular, the specific mission of the church. Not just "missions" but everyday mission.

Theology is obviously the study of "Theos" or God. Again, this term usually refers not to the study of God, but our ideas about God/ doctrines. It is my belief that we sometimes elevate our own "theology" over our worship of God and over our practical application of what we believe.

A phrase you will hear me use again in the future is, "Our Christology (our study of Christ) influences our missiology (our mission) which influences our ecclesiology (what we believe about church and therefore how we structure church).

Other terms that are assumed:

"Elephant in the room"- an issue that is there but no one wants to mention it.

Alien- a person from outer space.

Preacher mode- when a pastor thinks he/she is profound, funny, interesting, and worth listening to.

By the way Luke- the answer is no I have not. See my reasoning from "pastoral primaries" in reference to St. Louis, Chicago, and Denver.

Mike said...


Anonymous said...

YOu speak amazing words of wisdom and you have inspired me to let bygones be bygones. I just hope that "others" can do the same. Not only that, but my hope is that those "others" will think of those who have left the church in a positive way, rather then always pointing the finger and accusing those who have left the church of doing bad and of going to another church for mere competition.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading about your experiences and your comments on life. This blog particularly left me feeling I wanted to say something about the elephant in the room. I commend you for showing the elephant to the door - really. It's about moving on and the choices we make.

But, my question is - what do you do when the elephant turns around and stares at you through the window? I suppose you could close your proverbial curtains. . .

Mike said...

Here is a follow-up question to the previous comment: What about elephant droppings left on the lawn?

Anonymous said...

That last comment was inevitable . . .

Ryan said...

Good questions. I will respond by first mentioning that I used this post to refer to an "issue" that is lingering under the surface and not so much about an individual or individuals. Of course there is a personal side to this issue and for many of you who have left your respective churches or who have been hurt by churches in the past, it usually cannot be separated from an individual.

So how do we respond when those people/ churches do not return the same measure of grace that you extend?

My belief is that you do nothing. I cannot control the actions of others and ultimately I cannot lose sleep over the immaturity of others. If there is truth in their criticsms then I need to examine myself and make changes, if the criticisms are just for the sake of helping that person feel better about him/herself, then that is their problem.

If you have a church or individual that continues to "talk about you" or critisize you then I think you are justified in no longer being there. They obviously are not modeling Christ's lifestyle so leave them in their sin. I always point to King David when Saul wanted to kill him or when his own son took the throne from him. In each case he walked away and basically said, "Who am I to play God?"

In the end, model the ways of Jesus and do not lose sleep over the comments of others. A piece of advice was given to a highly criticized Christian teacher as people were labeling him as a "heretic" and "demon", ect. Someone told him to not even listen to those comments and know that for every one critic, there were 1000 others who have been been set free to believe again. Most of us do not have 1000 people responding to our message but the point is the same. Living as Jesus lived gains criticism but it also is the most inspirational thing on earth.

Anonymous said...

I think another approach is to expect the best from other believers instead of the worst. Why not? I will anticipate God's healing on all of us. I am also pretty sure I have been an elephant to some, perhaps looked in the window at times, and perhaps even left a "mess" on the front lawn. (that is as far as I will take the analogy. :) )

Tandra said...

Thanks for defing those words.
And !AMEN! to the outgoing elephant!

If MV is your home, then you should come back to it!!

natasha said...

"today is the day that I ask you to let it go."

As a highschool and college student, I attended off and on to this "church" and found hope in the words that you spoke. In my opinion you have a wonderful gift to reach youth in a style that makes sense but doesnt "fluff" the truth. You really made me think for myself and apply what Jesus wants for us (or aim to apply) rather than come and listen to some uplifting message and leave thinking "my good deed for the week is done." Alot of the kids in this area who once attended "this church" now feel like they have no where like that to go. . . at least thats how I feel. For a while now I have held resentment towards "this church" but today is the day that I let it go. Anyway I guess what I am saying is that I know Ryan and his family would be more than welcomed by the youth here in this area...

patricia said...

Welcomed by the youth and 'the young at heart'