Our Church is Shrinking

“Our church is shrinking,” said the head elder, “and it’s your fault.”

Zeb didn’t respond immediately. He’d been summoned to the church board meeting, though when he’d used the word “summoned” the head elder had objected. “We just want to talk to you,” he had said. But it felt like a summons, and this felt like a trial, only less organized.

“Well,” said the head elder after the silence had grown uncomfortable. “Do you have anything to say?”

“I’m not sure what makes you believe it’s my fault the church is shrinking.”

“It seems obvious to me. We hired you to make this church grow, and now a year has passed, and we’ve lost more members this year than ever before, and of those that have joined the church not one—not one!—has stayed.”

Copyright © Henry E. Neufeld, 2011. This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

“But this church has been shrinking for more than a decade, and shrinking faster each year. How does it become my fault?” Zeb looked truly puzzled.

“A year ago we took a big risk,” said another man, a businessman who also acted as church business manager. “We decided that we could afford to hire a pastor of outreach to stop the bleeding. But spending all that money on your salary has proven a bad investment.”

“Yes,” said another, “and you missed our last planning meeting as well.”

“I did send an e-mail to let you and the pastor know I wouldn’t be available.”

“Yes, an e-mail! I didn’t get it until after the meeting. But that meeting was important! Even critical! You had known about it for weeks. You shouldn’t have missed it.”

Zeb really couldn’t argue here. He’d chosen to drive a homeless man to the shelter. He’d sent an e-mail because he knew they wouldn’t get it in time and so they wouldn’t be able to order him to attend the meeting. He really could have gotten someone else to drive the man to the shelter. But he just couldn’t face that meeting.

“So you see,” said another, “we gambled on you and it looks like we lost.”

“I see,” said Zeb. Then he paused for more than a minute. People started shifting in their seats in discomfort as the time extended, but it did look like Zeb was gathering his thoughts.

“I’m afraid I’ve been operating under false pretenses,” he said finally. “The only excuse I can give is that I didn’t know it. But I should have. I should have known what you were doing.”

“What do you mean ‘what we were doing?'” asked the head elder. “We’re talking about you.”

“I’m wondering if you have the letter you sent describing this job.”

“I can’t say that I have a copy,” said the head elder. “Why?”

“Well, I can’t recall anything in there that said I was supposed to make this church grow. If I had seen anything like that, I wouldn’t have applied for the job. If I’d suspected anything like that was in your mind, I would have never taken it when it was offered.”

“But we hired you as outreach pastor!” The head elder was somewhere between shock and anger.

“And if you expect an outreach pastor to ‘grow your church,’ then you’re badly mistaken. I can’t grow your church and neither can any other person you might hire.”

“Don’t pretend that everyone is as incompetent as you are,” said the businessman.

“Incompetent? I suppose I deserve that. I should have realized just what you were up to long ago and done something about it. But I was so happy to be doing outreach and getting paid for it, I didn’t realize.”

“You keep saying things like, ‘what we’re up to,'” said the head elder. We’re not “up to” anything, except that we expect you to do your job.

“But you didn’t include ‘make our church grow’ in your job description.”

“I’d think it was obvious.”

“Oh, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s obviously wrong!” There was a gasp in the room. One didn’t tell the head elder he was wrong in that direct a way.

“So what do you think your job is?” asked the head elder after he’d recovered enough. He was sure they were going to fire this guy before the meeting was over.

“Well, the description you provided in your letter said things like ‘building the kingdom of God in this community’ and ‘reaching the lost for Christ,’ not to mention ‘leading the congregation in showing Christ’s love.’ I have tried to do those things with God’s help.”

“But if you had been doing all that, our church would have grown!” said the businessman. “As it is, few enough people visit, even less come back a second time, and the two families who did join left the church in a few weeks. So somewhere in there you’re not doing your job.”

Zeb tried hard to stay calm, but with that last line something broke in him. He had always wondered if there was such a thing as righteous anger, and he was in enough control to wonder if his anger right then was righteous or not.

“I think I can explain that,” he said in clipped tones.

“I’d really like to hear it, said the businessman before Zeb could continue.

“I really doubt you do,” said Zeb, and continued before he could be interrupted. “I remember each and every person I’ve brought to this house. One man came to church in jeans and a t-shirt. One of you told him he wasn’t dressed appropriately, and should make sure to wear appropriate clothing next time he was in church ‘out of respect for God,’ was the phrase, I believe.

“He didn’t own any better clothing, so he just never came back. Fortunately, I found him another church that was willing to let him attend in whatever clothing he had. Well, actually, the members got together and found him a new wardrobe. He has a job now as well.”

“But you’re supposed to be bringing people here!’ exclaimed the businessman, “You’re not hired to grow other churches.”

“I did bring him here, in case you hadn’t noticed. I’d even talked to some members and started to collect clothes for him. But you ran him off before I could finish.”

The businessman was red in the face and opened his mouth to respond, but Zeb just rolled right over him.

“Then there were the Jeffries. Their family actually joined the church, but one of you caught Mr Jeffries having a beer and told him he was misrepresenting Christ and the church by drinking. He decided he’d rather be somewhere else. But you see, nobody had told Mr. Jeffries that people at this church don’t drink beer.”

“You should have taken care of that,” said the head elder, just short of shouting.

“True, but you see, I can’t find anything in the stated beliefs and practices of this church that says one can’t have a beer. It’s just sort of something you do. Or don’t do.”

“So,” said the businessman, “you’re saying we’re running people off.” He was a practical man.

“Yes,” said Zeb, “you’re running people off.”

“I think you’re bringing in the wrong people,” said the head elder.

There was silence. Nobody wanted to put it that explicitly. The head elder had spoken without really thinking. It was something you did, but not something you named.

“I think,” said Zeb, “that the only honest thing for me to do is give you my resignation. The job you hired me to do can’t be done by someone hired. It has to be done by the whole church. And as it is, I wouldn’t want to do it. I don’t believe there are any wrong people. That you think there are”—he looked straight at the head elder—”is something I believe you should make a matter of serious prayer and seeking.”

With that, Zeb stood up and left the room. He tried to do it courteously, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. He just knew he couldn’t waste time this way for another minute.

“Well,” said the head elder after Zeb had left, “what should we do?”

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The Old Church’s Bones

Put together dem bones,

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.

Now hear the word of the Lord.

(Wikipedia)

Ezekiel, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ce...
Image via Wikipedia

The words kept running through Lakesha’s mind as she walked down the street from the school bus stop toward home. They’d been singing the song in choir, and she had asked where it came from. The teacher had read to them from Ezekiel 37.

She looked at the church. It was old, but she could remember a year ago when it had been closed. At the last meeting the men of the church board sat at the front of the church and explained how they could no longer pay a pastor and no longer afford the maintenance. There was a sign out front that said the church was for sale, but nobody wanted property in this neighborhood.

As she looked at the church she suddenly heard those words again: “Oh you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”

It was so real that she looked around to see who might have spoken, but there was nobody there. Down the street she could see a drug deal taking place, but she knew none of those men had spoken.

She turned back toward the church and heard again: “Prophecy to the bones: ‘Oh you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!'”

She looked around again, but still there was nobody there. Just a dead building, whose time had passed, in a neighborhood that was dying, if it was not already dead.

She looked at the church again. “Oh you dry bones,” she whispered, “hear the word of the Lord.”

She could feel a sense of emptiness, of dissatisfaction, as though her words were quieter than her whisper; no, as though they had been sucked up into a void.

“Oh you dry bones,” she said a little bit louder. “Hear the word of the Lord!” Her voice almost reached a squeak by the end, but it seemed that they were swallowed up in a void.

She remembered how often her mother had accused her of talking too loud. “Oh you dry bones,” she shouted, “Hear the word of the Lord!”

She had the sense now that something was happening, that she might actually have been heard. In fact she had been. The drug dealer yelled at her.

“You crazy? Shut up!”

“Oh you dry bones,” she shouted again, “hear the word of the Lord!”

He turned and walked away, apparently not wanted to be involved with such a crazy girl. She walked up to the church and pushed on the door. It swung open. The lock had long since been broken. There were beer and whiskey bottles lying around. The place was a mess.

Lakesha had never been that religious of a girl, but suddenly the scene offended her. She had been able to tolerate the neighborhood because she thought she’d escape someday, go off to college, and never come back. That was how it worked. The people who stayed just continued to deteriorate.

She grabbed a bottle and threw it out the window, a window that was already broken. Then another, and another. She made certain to throw them out the same window so they’d all be in a pile outside.

A few minutes later she heard someone else come into the church. It was one of the church ladies, one of the folks who had given up in discouragement. “What are you doing here, girl?” she asked.

“Oh you dry bones,” said Lakesha, “hear the word of the Lord!”

The lady looked around. “Can these bones live?” she asked herself quietly. Then she grabbed a bottle and tossed it out the window. A few minutes later, someone else arrived, carrying a broom. Then someone more came, carrying a garbage can. They were all the women of the community, mostly elderly, along with a few teenagers and children.

“Why haven’t we been meeting here?” asked one.

“You thought it couldn’t be done,” said Lakesha.

“The church board said it couldn’t be done.”

“The church board never read Ezekiel, I think,” said Lakesha. “Or maybe they didn’t believe it.”

*****

It was a year later when a reporter came by the church. He’d heard strange stories about the little community. He showed up on a weekday during the day and found the church filled with people. There were no pews, but there was a kitchen, a pantry, a dining room, and back in what he thought might have been the pastor’s study he heard a sewing machine running. He asked for the pastor, and was directed to Lakesha.

“You’re the pastor?” he asked.

She laughed. “No, I’m just the loudmouth.”

“I thought you were reviving the church here. This looks like a kitchen, or some kind of service organization.”

“It is a service organization, it is a church, and it is revived,” said Lakesha.

“But I don’t see any place to have a church service.”

“Well, we don’t exactly have what you’d recognize as a church service. We just get together and pray and share and sing. We put the chairs out in a circle. Then we put them back around the table and we eat together.”

“But where do you get the money for all of this?”

“We just put what we have together and share it. You’d be amazed at what people can do in this community when they realize they can and just start trying.”

“What about the drug dealers? What about crime?”

“Some of our grandmothers walk down the streets at night and watch them. You’d be amazed at how fast they move.”

“So how did it all get started?”

“Oh you dry bones,” said Lakesha giggling, “hear the word of the Lord!”

 

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Our Pastor is Lazy

“You know why I wanted to talk to you today?” said Jim. His intonation indicated a question, but Emily Wall, Rev. Emily Wall, knew she was expected to know.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

Jim Evans, district superintendent looked across at the young lady on the other side of his desk. She had no right to look so calm and poised, even comfortable, under the circumstances. Truth be told, he felt a little intimidated by her. That PhD in New Testament from a prestigious university along with her intelligence and self-possession just seemed out of place in someone so young.

“You can call me Jim,” he said. He’d said that many times before, but she was always a little formal with her superiors in the church organization.

“Yes, Jim, I do understand.”

Jim wondered why he felt that there was hostility in the atmosphere of the room. Emily seemed calm and was not challenging his authority in any way, yet he felt challenged. “Your church is going to ask that you not be reappointed, but they’ve asked me to talk to you first, before they make this official. This is entirely informal.”

Jim waited for Emily to say something, but she simply sat there. Why couldn’t she take her cue? It was time for her to ask what she needed to do, how she could be reverse the decision of the SPR committee.

“Well,” he said after a few moments, “your evaluation by the members of your congregation is not good. The members say that you’re arrogant, pushy, and, worst of all, lazy.” Jim thought he sensed a little bit of a reaction on the last word, but he wasn’t sure. She still looked peaceful. Again, she didn’t react.

“Do you have any response to those comments?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t believe I’ve been any of those things. I’ve been given a number of complaints, but I’d rather hear more specifics. Why do they think I’m arrogant?”

This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, churches, and events are products of my imagination.
Copyright © 2011, Henry E. Neufeld

“Well, they mention here your emphasis on your doctoral degree. ‘Throwing it in our faces,’ is one comment.”

“But I haven’t made anything of my doctorate. Other than my resume, where it’s kind of required, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it at all.”

“But it’s on the church sign.”

“Yes, but it was put there without my permission, and I’ve asked to have it removed. In fact, I was promised it would be, but it just has never happened. It’s possible that I got a bit pushy about getting it removed.”

Jim grinned at her reference to the second complaint. He wasn’t surprised. He’d never heard her say anything about her degree either. It was there. She’d done it. She was, in fact, brilliant. But you’d never know about it unless you read the actual record. “OK, I see that.”

“Actually,” Emily continued, volunteering something for the first time, “I asked that they remove my name from the sign entirely. I don’t see any need for my name on the sign. What does that accomplish? And the way it is now just looks pretentious: ‘Rev. Dr. Emily Wall, PhD, Senior Pastor?’ That’s … I don’t have a word for it. It makes me shudder every time I see it. I’m the only pastor, so I suppose I’m ‘senior’ but Reverend Doctor?” She’d showed an emotion other than calm for the first time in the conversation.

“They’re proud of their pastor,” said Jim.

“Yet they want to get rid of her.”

“Well, not precisely. They want to make an arrangement to work with you. But before we look at that, let’s look a bit more at why they say you’re pushy. It’s not just about the sign. They say you have asked every mission committee meeting what they’re going to do to be missionaries before the next meeting.”

“Yes, I ask that.”

“Every meeting?”

“Yes.”

“But why approach it that way?”

“Because they aren’t doing anything to be missionaries between meetings. The mission committee meets to distribute the mission budget money to various causes. Then they talk about how they can raise more money. Sometimes they come up with ideas, but they never implement them. But more importantly, they don’t actually do anything. They want to give away a little money, but they don’t want to get involved.”

“Well, perhaps that’s their role. Not everyone can go.”

“I think everyone can do something. I think everyone should do something. There are dozens of projects that could be undertaken within a couple of miles of the church.”

“But couldn’t you come up with a more gentle and tactful way of bringing it up?”

“I tried tact. My predecessor tried tact. So did his. I wanted to get their attention.”

“You did, but not in a good way.”

“Why do you say it’s not a good way?”

“Because they’re going to ask not to have you appointed again. You can’t do any good at all if you’re gone.”

“Perhaps I’ll do some good somewhere else.”

“I don’t think I like that dismissive attitude.”

“I didn’t mean to be dismissive. It’s important to me to try to get the members of the church to be disciples, and I believe that means being missionaries, whether it’s down the block or around the world. If doing so offends them, I’ll have to live with that. I don’t want to come up on judgment day and have Jesus ask me whether I ever told them they were called to be missionaries.”

“I see. I do think you could find a better way to do it. But let’s go on to the next issue. They think you’re lazy. Do you know why they think that?”

“Yes, that one I do know. I only preached at two services in the last two months.”

“That’s what the lay leader told me, but I wasn’t sure whether I should believe it. Why didn’t you preach those Sundays? Were you sick?”

“No, I wasn’t sick, and I was right there in the congregation. I had lay speakers preach on those Sunday mornings.”

“Lay speakers.” Jim paused. “I know you’ve really pushed lay speaking in your church, but if I had known that was happening earlier, I would have put a stop to it. You’re expected to be in the pulpit regularly on Sunday morning.”

“I think that’s wrong.”

“Wrong? It’s our standard practice.”

“The standard practice is wrong.” He was amazed that it didn’t sound arrogant. The conviction behind the sentence seemed to be beyond arrogance–absolute conviction. Then she continued. “When I arrived at that church there was only one lay speaker, and he had never spoken at anything. I arranged to have him preach for the first time. His training was not really that good, and I spent hours helping him with his sermon. He did very well. Now we have half a dozen lay speakers. That first lay speaker is now working full time at another church.”

“Where? I didn’t know that!”

“It’s a small non-denominational church, but it has doubled in membership since he started preaching there. I think they’re going to ordain him.”

“So it’s not a Methodist church then. You know we didn’t lay hands on you so you could send members to other churches. Your job is to build the church to which you’re assigned.”

“My job? Perhaps. But my call is to make disciples. My call is to equip the church for ministry. That man was ready to go out and serve. He just needed the confidence and a push. He needed someone to recognize what God had gifted him and called him to do.”

“But what about those other lay speakers. Do you have to have them preaching all that often? Perhaps you could have a lay revival every year and give them the chance to learn.”

“I don’t think that would be enough. To learn to preach the gospel you need to preach the gospel. Where better to learn than in your home church?”

“But what about the ministry to your own members. I got a separate letter from one of your church members. He brought a business associate to visit the church, and a lay speaker preached. He had hoped to have the man hear one of your sermons. Don’t you think the impression you make on visitors is important?”

“Yes, I think it’s important. But the impression I want to give is not of my intelligence or my speaking ability, but of my commitment to Christ.”

“Of course we want them to see your commitment to Christ. We want you and the church to be committed to Christ. But people don’t necessarily look at the things we want them to see. The church member who wrote the letter hoped his friend, a prominent businessman, would join the church. But he wasn’t interested in hearing lay speakers.”

“Again, I believe my job is to equip the church, the whole church for ministry. To do that I need ministry for them to do. For those called to preach, I need to give them the opportunity.”

“But you’re talking about working yourself out of a job. If the pastor isn’t in the pulpit, the people won’t think she is needed.”

“I’d love not to be needed in that sense, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. I’ve spent more time with each of those lay speakers before they preached than I would spend preparing my own sermon.”

“But the one thing the people really like about you is your preaching. Yet that’s precisely what you won’t give them. What do you expect them to do?”

“I expect them to get into ministry themselves. In evaluating myself, I would not rate my preaching as all that effective. I entertain people. I’m good at fashioning a speech that they like, but I’m not that good at getting people moving.”

“Well, you do have your fans. I know the district coordinator for lay speakers thinks you’re one of the greatest. He wants to make sure you’re reappointed somewhere in the district so he can use you at training events.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Unfortunately, you don’t have many fans at the church.”

“So why didn’t they just recommend I not be reappointed?”

“I think they’re rather proud to have a 26 year old pastor who has a PhD from a prestigious university. That’s probably why they put so much emphasis on the sign.”

“But it’s the wrong reason for them to want to keep a pastor.”

“You may have to work with whatever reason they have.”

Again, there was an awkward pause as Emily didn’t offer any further thoughts.

“What they’ve proposed is a covenant for next year.”

“I believe I’ve seen this.”

“Well, there are several major points. First, they want you to preach 48 out of the 52 Sundays during the coming year.  I believe this is quite reasonable. I’ve known pastors to commit to 50.”

Again Emily added nothing.

“They want you to commit to personally doing all the hospital visitation. They want additional church office hours.”

“But they don’t make use of the hours I am present.”

“Nonetheless they want more hours. What are you doing with your time anyhow? You’re not preaching, you’re not doing visitation, you’re apparently not in your office. What do you do?”

“Well, it’s not true that I don’t do visitation. What I have been doing is taking gifted church members with me and then letting them do visitation on their own. I’m often not in the office because I’m doing some of those mission projects that I want the members to get involved in.”

“But I thought you couldn’t get the church involved in those missions.”

“No, I couldn’t get the mission committee involved. I have church members out serving in the community every day, and I work with them.”

“So you do it without the approval of the mission committee.”

“I don’t think I need the committee to approve my going to a soup kitchen with a few members and serving people.”

“But the mission committee probably thinks you need their approval.”

“Did they complain?”

“No.”

“They wouldn’t.”

“Yes,” said Jim after a moment. “That wouldn’t fit with the pattern.”

“Why haven’t I heard from any of these other members, you know, the ones who are out doing service projects with you?”

“I think it might be because they’re busy doing things. And they’re not really all that knowledgeable about church politics. Some of them may not even know one can complain to the district superintendent.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter a great deal. The people who have the power are the ones who are complaining and they’re demanding that you sign this covenant they’ve proposed or they’re going to ask that you not be reappointed.”

“I see.”

“I think it’s your best option. We need you where you are. That church needs you. The only way you can continue in the ministry God has called you to is to accept these conditions.”

“So in order to be permitted to do ministry I have to agree not to do it?”

“I wouldn’t put it like that. I’d suggest that you take a little more time. Work more slowly and carefully.”

“Pastors have been doing that for years. It hasn’t worked.”

“It’s the only option.”

“But that’s not true, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“The bishop can appoint me where he wants me. He can go against the church’s recommendation.”

“Is that what you’re expecting?”

“I’m not really expecting anything. I’m just pointing out that the SPR committee of that one church doesn’t have the final say.”

“I’ll tell you not to expect it. Your choice is clear. Sign the covenant, or plan to be reappointed elsewhere, probably to a smaller church.”

He pushed the document across the desk toward her …

 

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The Missionary’s House

Iced tea with lemon.
Image via Wikipedia

*“You know what I think is wrong here?”

The question startled Ward. He was sitting on the porch of his house looking out at a beautiful view from the top of a hill. He and his visitor both had glasses of iced tea. They had just finished a wonderful meal. He had enjoyed showing his guest, a “retired” missionary, around his station. He didn’t see anything wrong.

“Wrong?” he asked. “I think things are going rather well.”

“Yes, I suppose they are, in a sense.”

Ward had a great deal of respect for his visitor, and wasn’t going to miss out if there was another sense in which things weren’t so good. He smiled. “I’m guessing there’s another sense,” he said.

“Yes, there is. I think, perhaps, you should try to look at this situation through Jesus’s eyes.”

“I thought I had. I’m here far from home, serving people in need, and doing a rather good job of it. I don’t want to boast, but we’re caring for more people, seeing more of the local children in our school, and we have more people in church than we ever did under any of my predecessors at this station.”

“Yes, I saw all that. I read the reports. The mission board likes reports. Actually I don’t have anything against reports myself. It’s just that something about this whole scene seems wrong. I think we need to look at it through Jesus’s eyes.”

“OK, you keep saying that, and I know you wouldn’t say it idly or without having something specific in mind. But you’re going to have to say a few more words. I don’t get it.”

“I’m thinking of John 20:21. ‘Just as the father sent me, I’m sending you.'”

“Yes, but are you forgetting you’re talking to someone who already answered the call to mission service?” Ward couldn’t quite keep the impatience out of his voice.

“Yes, you’re a missionary. But are you going out in the way that Jesus went out?”

“Well, I left my home and gave up a lucrative career. I came over here and gave it all up. I think I’ve been sent.”

“And here you are, suffering for Jesus.” The words had a sharp edge, but the tone was very, very gentle.

“Is it that you think I’m not suffering enough? Do I need more trials and tribulations? What?” Ward again sounded a bit impatient. He felt pretty good about the things he had given up.

“I don’t know about suffering. Willing to suffer, yes. Actual suffering? That’s up to God. But let me give you a few phrases to consider. ‘It was fitting that God … should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings’, ‘all have one Father’, ‘Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,’ ‘like his brothers and sisters in every respect.’ All of those come from Hebrews 2:10-18.”

“I’m familiar with the passage,” said Ward.

“But are you willing to apply it?”

“Again, I think I’m not getting your point.”

“We’re sitting up here on a hill, looking down on the village where the people you serve are living from a nice house. How many of them have the food you have? How many of them can enjoy a relaxing evening like this?”

“I would guess none of them.”

“Your children go to the American school. Your wife drives them 20 miles one way, twice a day. I don’t think I’ve seen them in contact with the local children since I’ve been here.”

“I don’t think it’s wrong to want the best education for my children.”

“No, it’s not wrong. I’m not judging you for any particular thing here. I’m asking you to consider a pattern. How close are you to being ‘just like the brothers and sisters’ you’ve come here to serve?”

“I think I’m pretty close. I don’t think protecting my children from local diseases and bad influences is a bad thing.”

“I suppose there are no bad influences or diseases at the American school in the city. But I’m not certain what your choice should be in each case. It’s the pattern. For another example, I’ve never seen you eat with any of the local people.”

“I do, though not often. My wife would prefer not to.”

“I wonder why that is. But it’s just a piece of the pattern. I wonder what it is that the people here see in your mission. Is it the spirit of Jesus? Is it the call to service? Or is it the benefits of being connected with the American missionary with the nice house?”

“You surely don’t think I should fail to provide what I can manage to provide for the people?”

“I think you’re still missing my point. It’s the pattern. I can’t say precisely what you should or shouldn’t do. What I do see is a pattern that separates you from the people you serve. Rather than helping them also become servants of Jesus, they’re becoming your servants, earning the benefits you can provide.”

“That’s harsh!”

“Ward, I’m talking to you this way because I respect you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to report to the mission board that you’re a failure or that you aren’t doing your job. This isn’t about mission boards. It’s between you and me. You’re sent as Jesus was sent. Do you think you have done everything to go out into the field in the way that Jesus went out?”

Ward looked down from the hill toward the village that had gathered around his clinic. Was it possible that he was making disciples for himself, and serving himself, in spite of what he had given up?

“I appreciate your willingness to be honest,” said Ward, and as he said it, he found it was true. “I’ll think and pray about what you’ve said. It bothers me. It seems extreme. But in another sense it rings true.”

“Thinking and praying is all I can ask.”


*This is a work of fiction. All persons, places, and events are products of my imagination. Copyright © 2010, Henry E. Neufeld

 

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