Strenthening the Soul (13)

With one finger, he lowered the electric window of his Cadillac convertible. He was smoking a big cigar. He was a prominent businessman in our town. In our little church, he was our big giver.

I was a young minister, newly married, and had been preaching in this little church for only a few months.

It was Sunday morning.

  • Bible Class – 9:00 AMpuzzle.jpg
  • Sermon that Offended Our Big Giver – 10:00 AM

Right after church, he went to his car and sat, smoking that cigar. As I walked out of the door of the church building, he motioned me over to his car. He looked at me and said, “Let’s don’t talk about the blacks!” (Ok, that is not exactly what he said. His choice of words were rough.)

I don’t remember what I preached that morning. I don’t remember the topic or the text. I recall saying something about treating all people fairly and with justice regardless of ethnicity. I probably mentioned specific ethnic groups that were represented in our area.

He did not like what I said. I knew he was serious-very serious. I also knew that our church seemed to depend on his contribution check to pay the bills each week. In fact, I knew that he was partially responsible for the check I received each week. He was wealthier than anyone else in that little church.

This was an important moment for me, standing beside his car door that Sunday morning.

Was I called to preach or was I simply employed by a church?

There is a huge difference in the two.

My response to him was: “I just preach what I believe the Bible says.” Now that wasn’t bravado. I’m sure I was trembling inside. This was my first confrontation with him over issues that were very close to the heart of the Gospel.

For me, that encounter with him was a clarifying moment. I was a young minister and needed to decide whether I was going to put my confidence in God or in the pleasure of one who was the largest giver in our church.


Do you recall an encounter in which you had to declare or decide whom you served?

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8 thoughts on “Strenthening the Soul (13)

  1. Wow, have you read my mail! This year has been a tough one for me as I’ve wrestled with a number of topics on which one of our elders tended to represent the sentiments or at least rule according to his allegiance to the longtime members/big money givers. In fairness, this elder is in charge of finances and it’s been tough for us financially, but to give in to the bottom line over the gospel was hard for me stomach. I don’t go out of my way to offend people, but in the kingdom, we ought to be led by kingdom principles not by the world’s system or our personal whims. If people are going to hold back on giving because of something they don’t like and they refuse to be reasoned with, are these really the examples you want in your congregation of giving? Giving is not about whether all my desires are being met. It’s about giving to something and Someone bigger than me for the furtherance of the Kingdom. Emotionally, these battles can wear you down and I’m currently in a place of being jaded. Why contribute when you’re ideas will probably be shot down for very superficial reasons. It gets tiring to work for advancement in an environment that is more attached to the status quo and tradition. Now mind you, I’m not in a paid position, but I can definitely understand why some pastors leave churches. At least I can choose to either leave or step down without it affecting my living. But when you’re called to ministry, it can still be gut-wrenching.

    Thanks for posting this and allowing me a space to vent.

    • Pat,
      You are right. These kinds of battles can leave a person exhausted! Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. In fact, as you say, it can be absolutely “gut-wrenching.”

      At some point, some people have to choose between leaving, stepping aside in a particular role, or regroup in some way. Some people do this for the sake of their children, some make these hard choices for the sake of their marriages, and some make them for the sake of their own faith. I do think it is important (if this possible) to make these leaders aware of the impact that this time of functioning has on people.

      So sorry to hear about this difficult year, Pat. Glad you “vented” here.

  2. Once I figured out our brotherhood issues are not the “gospel,” just about any sermon became a target for certain people within our congregation. But I decided at that time that my allegiance was to Jesus Christ and not to the churches of Christ. I was blessed to preach the last half of my 30 years at a church that gave me great freedom to teach what I believed Scripture and the Holy Spirit were putting in my heart to preach. Many of my preacher friends were not so blessed.

    • Greg, when the word “gospel” becomes a catch-all for anything then it ultimately amounts to very little. Contrast this to the gospel which features Jesus son of God, crucified, resurrected, and who accended into heaven. Such a gospel features Jesus as the one who is healing the broken creation. There is far more to preach there than our own ideas regarding favorite issues, etc.

  3. Jim, I have watched ministers in my dad’s generation, my generation, and now my children’s generation deal with this kind of stuff from the members of the churches they are trying to serve. It is appalling to me that this kind of behavior is tolerated just because of money. WHY DO WE PUT UP WITH IT?!

  4. Years ago I worked for a church where I sensed a bad vibe based on what some people had said. I asked the pulpit minister what this church thought about Black people. He said, “They don’t like them.” (Their view, not his). My next preaching opportunity I went from James 2 on favoritism and used the race issue as a current example. After I finished, one of the elders asked me if I still felt secure about my job. He was joking, but he knew congregation. Today the challenge in many places may be nationalism/patriotism that assumes American is God’s nation and always morally in the right.

  5. Phillip– good to hear from you again.

    I suspect that some people might find it amazing that stories such as the one I told and the one that you told in your comment really did happen. In some ways, Phillip, that seems like such a long time ago. Yet, I do realize that such attitudes still exist in places.

    I think you are right regarding nationalism/patriotism and the view of America as being God’s nation and the implications of such a view. We may find this also requires courage on the part of the preacher.