Preamble: this post is written in a style that’s becoming recognizable already — that of Bill Kinnon’s The People formerly known as The Congregation, which has really hit a nerve among people who were formerly known as something in a church setting Several people have appended contributions to it now, and it’s got over 180 links to it, meaning that single post is more popular than most entire blogs. This post is part of my contribution to this themed conversation. Tomorrow will follow with a slightly more daring (?) contribution, and on Thursday, I plan to publish my proposal for something of a series wrap-up that sets it all in place. So y’all come back, now. But first: The People Formerly Silent.
We’ve been in your churches for years. Some of us grew up there, some of us came from other churches, and some of us came from faithlessness. We are all around you, and have been for quite some time now.
Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of things in the church. Some days we thought “we’d seen it all” or had “heard everything,” but then something new came along, and we’d adjust our threshold of what it took to surprise us.
We are the people formerly silent.
When you asked us to make donations, we did. When you challenged us that failing to tithe was stealing from God, we became more faithful in doing so. And when there were special projects that needed donations over and above our tithe, we coughed up again. You said we were being faithful. We said nothing.
When you asked us to get involved in the church ministries — nurseries, Sunday School, men’s ministry, ushering, parking patrol, small group leader, and more besides, we stepped up. You said this was evidence of our commitment to the church, and to serving God. We said nothing.
When you told us to support the work of the church by putting our kids into the programs, from schools to clubs, and by attending the events ourselves, from plays to outreaches, to conferences, we paid the registration fees and showed up on time to support the work. You welcomed us and said we were supporting the ministry of the church. We said nothing.
When you wanted the church to grow, you told us to invite our friends and neighbours to the special Sunday services or crusades designed for “unbelievers” to get converted and join the church. We took home the invitation cards, but it was hard to think of anyone we knew well enough to invite. We prayed, and sometimes we could think of people to invite, usually not. Once someone actually came — an uncle, a friend, a neighbour’s child. You said we were witnessing, helping to spread the gospel. We said nothing.
When you wanted to build a bigger building to house the growth of the church and support new and expanding programs, you sought our agreement. It sounded like a lot of time and money, but we gave our assent, or at least we didn’t object. You said it was the Lord’s work. We said nothing.
As the new building project got underway and was completed, we gave more money, we volunteered more time, attended more events and supported more ministries, we looked for more people to bring to church. You said we were leaders. We said nothing.
We continued pouring our time, energy and money into the church, it’s programs, its ministries. If the doors were open, we were there — and we had keys for the times we were at work in the building when nobody else was there to open the doors. You said we were faithful workers and exemplary leaders, and praised us before the congregation. Our kids said we were never home anymore. We said nothing.
You began to take us into your confidence, talking to us about other people in the church — their failing marriages, their straying children. Their lack of faith, their secret sins, their struggles to live as Jesus demanded, their failures to tithe, their non-attendance at church events, their non-participation in church programs. It was clear you disapproved… and though we related to those people, our marriages weren’t perfect, or kids seemed prone to stray, and there were so many events we attended that we wished we didn’t have to. You said we weren’t like them. We said nothing.
You taught us the Bible, but at times we had questions… things we wanted to voice about the way you interpreted something, how we saw it differently. Sometimes there were things that just didn’t sound or sit right. You said you had studied these things quite a lot. We said nothing.
You were the leaders, the pastors, the professors, the elders, the professionals. We called you “Doctor” or “Pastor” or “Reverend” or sometimes just by your given name. But you were always different. We wondered why that was, why you weren’t like the rest of us, why your ideas, opinions, and words were so much more important than ours. We secretly wanted to be like you, just to be on the better side of “different.” You said you were called to do this. We said nothing.
You heard from God about what the church should do. We didn’t hear the same thing. We tried to talk it out, but you had an answer for every objection, except the fact that God seemed to have told us something different than he told you. We talked a lot about this one, but in the end with a kind of finale to your words, you told us to go and pray about it some more. We said nothing.
We were silent. But now we are the people formerly silent.
As we watched and listened and tallied, we were like the proverbial frog in a warming pot as the temperature rose. But one day, something changed… the water in the pot started to boil, and we found we weren’t frogs after all, but lobsters. Just one degree more, that’s all it took. It was a different thing for each of us, but finally, it was enough. And like a lobster in a boiling pot, we just can’t be silent anymore… but in order to understand what we’re saying, you have to look beyond the words, or the lack thereof.
We are the people formerly silent… now speaking with our feet.