April 26, 2008

Dear Miriam 3

capI intensely dislike the pastor of my church. I have no confidence in him and cannot endure sitting through his hypocritical sermons. There is no other Adventist church close enough for me to attend. I am afraid I am going to drop out of the church. The pastor and I barely speak. Can you help me?

I’ll try. I didn’t include the part of your letter where you listed your pastor’s shortcomings and failures, for it seemed to me nothing would be gained. However, if your observations about his conduct and attitude are correct, then sadly I must concede that there is reason for your lack of confidence in him. But you understand that to be fair I would need to hear his version of the past.

I wish I could tell you that every person employed by the Adventist Church portrays every aspect of the Christian life perfectly. But in this world no such ideal can be attained. Have you talked to your conference president and expressed these feelings?

Next, try to say to yourself--and believe--that the pastor is a human being just as you are and that he is also a struggling Christian. Beyond that, though, remember that this remnant church with its special message is far greater than one worker in it. Could you really give up all these great truths because of the failure of another human being? I can’t agree with author Marshall McLuhan that “the medium is the message,” as far as the Adventist Church goes--not entirely. The message is far greater than the channel of communication that carries it.

So try to separate the man from the message. Try to visualize Christ on the platform on Sabbath morning and keep His lovely, tranquil countenance always in your mind's eye. Please don’t give up attending church. That’s what the devil wants you to do. If for no other reason, go because of your influence. I can’t begin to tell you the things I do or don’t do because I would not want my influence to be detrimental to someone else, and I consider that a sacred responsibility. And I would try not to voice my feelings to others.

The pastor may be a blessing to some. Just recently I was stopped by a member of a local church here in my town and told that the person “had never been blessed by even one sermon the pastor has preached,” and when I told him that to my certain knowledge the pastor of his church has been a great blessing to many members, he was astonished. “Maybe I better think this over,” he muttered. Now, here is a little suggestion someone may scold me for making. If you sense that your feelings are becoming too turbulent as you sit there, put the hymnbook beside you on the seat and unobtrusively study the words of a beautiful hymn. So often we sing words that we never think about. You will be blessed by a hymn such as “We have not known Thee as we ought . . .” Then on Sunday mornings, when George Vandeman’s TV program, It Is Written, is shown in your city, plan to make that your church service. Sit down and listen as though you were in church. Think of him as your pastor. His messages are always Christ-centered, always aimed at the heart. You know, I am not always enchanted with the United States Presidents, but I have no intention of renouncing my citizenship. It is my country too as well as theirs, and the church is your “country” as well as the pastor’s. One final word. They don’t call it the “Advent Movement” for nothing. Pastors move around with lightninglike rapidity now and again. Keep your courage up.

capWhen I graduated from college, I assumed that I would be hired by the church. It did not happen. Now, 15 years later, I am well established in my profession, make a salary sufficient for my wife to remain at home with the children, and am very active in my local church. Recently I have been approached several times about entering denominational work at the prevailing salary rates. I have been told that naturally my wife would have to work in order for us to maintain our present standard of living. But she and I made a firm promise that she would never work outside the home while the children are young. Do you think it will be displeasing to the Lord for me to refuse the church otter? Why can’t the church pay higher salaries? Do you think everyone has to be in church work?

Of course not. The church could never absorb all its members into the working force. You have asked several questions, and I don’t know whether I can give you satisfactory answers. First, the church could never pay the same salaries as the secular world and carry on a mission program overseas in deprived countries. The gospel commission would have to be ignored. Although sometimes we forget it, sacrifice and commitment still are fully operative concepts in denominational employment. This means for you either a lower standard of living or both husband and wife employed. I shrink from advising you on something with such far-reaching consequences, but it seems to me that when so many children lack the privilege of a full-time mother in the home, yours are greatly blessed. This would be a major factor for me in the decision-making process.

Then I would have to know how your wife feels about all this. You gave no indication whatsoever of her feelings. Certainly it is unthinkable that her wishes and concepts not be at least 50 percent of the decision-making. Her life would be the most radically changed if you were to accept the call. Since you are a great strength to your local church, I would feel that unless a denominational position opens up that only you--for unique reasons--can fill, I would stay with my present situation until the children are of college age. Then, if you still want to be a part of church work (and I sense that you will never be fully satisfied until this happens), plan to make a change. A word of caution, though. Merely being employed by the church does not solve all problems or bring never-ending bliss.

capWhen I was young, somehow I was convinced that the Adventist church had many stupid second-rate people in it. I was determined to live in the greener pastures “outside.” Now, 20 years older and 100 years sadder and wiser, I know my church has the best people in the world in it. They are loving and caring, good and genuine. They're first-raters. If other young people are making this same tragic misjudgment, can't they somehow be made to understand the devil’s deception?

You are echoing the cry of the prodigals down through the ages. I have published your letter in hope that if even one young person reads and heeds, it will be more than justification for using the space.