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What I Learned from a Baptist Preacher

       Those of us in ministry have a hard time being gracious when a new church starts a block from our own.  It's never easy when a new man or woman comes on the staff who is a lot more talented than us.  We try to be polite, but it seems pretty unfair.  Some of our co-workers will be on our side, of course.  Other people will come up and encourage us by pointing out what a rotten deal we are getting.
       In this one city I know, that will remain nameless, that's pretty much what started happening.  One of the Baptist preachers there had been struggling for some time. 
He knew how to preach.  He was a hard worker.  He didn't spend days off golfing.  He wasn't the kind of popular preacher who would bend the truth to suit the audience from week to week.  Some were offended.  But not everyone.  Eventually, he began to have a regular number of decisions and, over time, a good number of baptisms.
       So, it's about then that the new church started.  They followed a charismatic young evangelist who was (to be honest) a better speaker.  The older preacher was like one of those old fire and brimstone evangelists.  The leader of the new church was brilliant, witty, and full of charm.  Not so much a difference in doctrine, just talent and personality.
       But, as we all know, people like charm and talent more than they want to sit and hear the truth about sin.  The new church got bigger and the original one got smaller.  It may not be fair, but that's just the way the ministry goes sometimes.
       This brings me to what happened at this one board meeting.  Some background here: some of the church leaders had bolted and switched groups.  So, the others rallied around the older evangelist.  The main topic of the meeting wasn't on the agenda.  But, you already know what it was: the unfairness of what was happening.
       I'm not sure who said what (as if that matters), but I do know they felt like the new group had violated a basic rule of etiquette in ministry.  They had ignored seniority.  It wasn't fair and it wasn't right.
       The board was actually on about the fourth verse of unison vocals on the "Ain't that a Shame" reprise sing-along, when the evangelist stood up.   So, everyone quit tsinging.  They waited to hear his gratitude.  These were the ones who had remained.  These were the ones who resented what had been happening.  And they weren't afraid to say all that out loud.
       "Thanks for trying, friends," the preacher said as he looked each of them in the eye.  "But you don't really have a clue.  You just don't."
       This was unexpected.
       "A ministry is something we are given.  Loaned might be a better word.  It's not mine.  And, it's sure not yours.  It never was."
       A couple of the board members squirmed.
       "If all I'm good for is just paving the way for this new church, especially for their preacher, that's more than I could have hoped for.  I am like a guy's friend who gets invited to be the best man at his wedding.  I am happy to be there.  But, it's not my wedding."
       This was awkward.  Most of the board had broken eye contact and were staring down at the ground.
       "Don't you really know anything at all about me?  Do you have a clue what's going on here?  Any of you?"
       Silence.  Probably wise at this point.
       "Listen carefully.  He must increase and I must decrease."
       The board just looked up and stared at him, trying to take it in.
       And having said his piece, Jona Ben-zechariah turned to walk back down toward the Jordan River.
       One day the King of Israel, the Eternal Logos of the Almighty God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, would announce, "I tell you the truth.  Of all those born of woman, none is greater than John."
       That's one thing we need to learn from a Baptist preacher.

John 3:22-30; Matthew 11:11

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