Though I’ve never really spoken about it publicly, the church I pastored had a number of run-ins with disturbed people. When you open your church doors wide and promote a “come as you are” mantra, you should expect it. And when a church grows exponentially and emphasizes an open invitation to broken people while pushing the envelope on grace, it’s not always a walk in the park.
Our church was certainly the target of vitriolic hate mail. And not from outsiders, but those attending! Some of it we passed on to the authorities because of the violent or aggressive nature of it. My wife and I had anonymous angry letters show up in our mailbox at home…without a stamp. That’s really weird. And for those who know me, I’m one of the least confrontational people on the planet.
One Sunday between services, a guy came up on the stage while I was talking with someone, started pacing behind us, then suddenly pulled a fire extinguisher off the wall and hit me with it. I wrapped my arms around him to hold him until some guys from the prayer team came and dragged him to a back room while praying for him. And calling the police.
One Saturday night after a service, a woman climbed up on a table in the atrium and started preaching and leading songs. When I asked her to step down, she hit me and said it was because she was a woman. The police took her out while she yelled obscenities about me and my mom…who didn’t even attend our church!
A few times we had people stand up during the service and challenge something inconsequential in the message. We had people who were mad for one reason or another give me the death stare during the message. I would be lying if I didn’t admit there were times where I wondered if someone might show up and do something totally irrational…uh, even more than what I’ve mentioned.
I met with upset people in public places simply because if anything happened I wanted to be in a place with witnesses. We had to ban a few people from coming because of threats. There were behind-the-scenes reasons we had security roam the building on weekends. Any public place has a responsibility to do what’s necessary to provide a safe environment.
Should we have done more? Probably. But let’s have a little reality check.
The early disciples had some terrifically harsh things happen to them simply because they proclaimed Jesus in very open contexts. Paul had to escape a city over a wall in a basket by a rope. One time his friends told him not to go to a particular meeting because of its riotous, dangerous potential. He still ended up getting beaten, stoned, arrested and imprisoned at different times. Paul said he was often in danger not only from the Gentiles, but from people of his own religious heritage. Religious people.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing the experiences of the early disciples with our minimal travails in churches with padded seats and air conditioning. But the point is: angry, emotionally disturbed, and, dare I say it, demonized individuals exist. And they’re sometimes hyper-religious. I think we have a hard time admitting there are those with evil intent.
Jesus didn’t seem to have a hard time with it: he plainly called some people evil and at one point told one of His closest friends: “Get behind me, Satan…your agenda is your own, not God’s.” That’s pretty strong.
If you’re giving expression to God’s Kingdom, you can expect some resistance. If not, something’s wrong.
Leaders have to keep that expression at the top of their to-do list. And that’s simply to bring the Kingdom with words and actions...and pray for the will of God to happen on this bent planet in the same way it always does in His Father’s dimension.
Question to Ponder: Is there anything happening in your church that could be labeled “spiritual conflict” or at least “spiritual resistance” to the Kingdom? Why...or why not?