Saturday, June 26, 2010

On being 'in'

Once upon a time, in another church, in another life, long ago, I was 'in.' I could call up the pastor, have coffee and discuss issues I thought were important and I was listened to. I also had the respect of other leaders besides the pastor. And yes it was a small church. But I was valued for my contribution. Or maybe, to avoid being performance oriented, I should say my contributions were valued. I might touch on that later. Some of my early ministry opportunities even arose from such encounters. "Can I do this thing that's on my heart to do?" "Okay, let's see how you do."

A blissful experience of connection. But it didn't last. You see, we moved away. Moved to different area, and moved our membership to a big, famous, church. In the new church, although many other things were very much to my liking, I was a mere number, an unimportant peon, an eternal trainee and very much disconnected from the leadership of the church. Moreover, we were pretty frequently told from the pulpit, that there was no way to get to the inner circle because, and how simple a solution to this perennial problem, there was no 'in.' I knew that for our then pastor to say such a thing, he had to be lying, especially to himself. Anyone with half a brain could easily have told him different, and could have easily told him who was 'in' and who was out. But there truly was no way to tell him. You just couldn't. Since then we have gone through other pastors, and it was largely the same. One fellow had the talent of making me think he cared what I said while among his inner circle, I found later, he expressly excluded me.

It's been a frustrating experience. Some of the frustration, I'm sure, has come out in some of my earlier posts on this blog. So why do I write about this now? Well suddenly and quite surprisingly, I have found that I am now 'in.' Same church (somewhat smaller) about twenty years later, and my ideas and issues are actually being listened to. I find that I can have enjoyable and substantive discussions with (we don't have a pastor at this time) probably our main decision maker and he seems to really listen. I know this because other friends of his are my close friends as well. I'd actually forgotten what it felt like. I came home from having 'coffee' (steamed milk, plain, actually-- coffee turns my stomach) with him and said to my wife that the last time I felt like that was twenty years ago at the church I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

So how does one respond to being 'in?' I'm not exactly sure. I've had so much practise speaking from the outside, seeing objectively and subjectively the effect of the gatekeepers, the ones who systemically slam the door in the face of any wannabe interloper, the necessity of real process for new people to be involved in ministry -- a process not based on mere relational connection to the leaders, and other stuff that the outsider sees but the insider typically ignores. The insider doesn't see any of those issues, because he's past that. He's earned his place, through merit, talent, anointing (one spiritual elitist I have known, liked the phrase 'government on you') or some such, and others just plain need to let go and let God take them from a place of "hiddenness" to a place of "revelation" in his own time. Because, you see, there's a whole teaching that supports this dichotomy, a spiritualized justification for shutting the door and protecting the inner circle from the outsiders. (I'm not going to expound upon it right now. If you've heard this stuff, you'll know) The insiders will smugly teach it and the outsiders will either grit their teeth and know it for what it is, or accept their role as the aforementioned eternal trainees, the quintessential sheep...

See how good I am at being an outsider? But I have no idea how to be an insider. It's been so long.