Emerge and Restore

Exploring faith, God, and church in the 21st century...

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Location: Kansas, United States

Friday, July 08, 2005

When your community fails you

When you are making spiritual progress in a particular area is usually when Satan attacks. Right now my church is making significant progress in both understanding and living out a better theology of community. But a recent situation really underscored our need to do better.

Last week several members of our church were helping a church leader move into a new home. I wasn't there because I was traveling out of town. The items being transported included a forgotten, yet loaded rifle, safety off. An out of town relative, unfamiliar with guns, snatched the rifle out of a vehicle and began carrying it into the house, his finger on the trigger. As he bent over to pick up something else with his free hand, he inadvertantly pulled the trigger and squeezed off a shot.

Aaron M. is a guy who I really enjoy being around. He's relatively quiet, but very friendly, and I believe him to be a very spiritual man, although maybe not in a conventional way that will get him fast-tracked to a church leadership position. I suspect as I get to know him better, I'll find that he has some of the same issues with our popular understanding of church that I do. But Aaron is a servant and came that day to help out his brothers in Christ. And because of a few twists of fate and some gross negligence, Aaron got shot. As Aaron himself has told me, better him than a child (the bullet narrowly missed a grade-school age kid) or someone who wasn't a member of our church, because while angry (Aaron is an avid hunter who is naturally enraged by mishandled firearms), he is very willing to forgive.

As far as gunshot wounds go, this was relatively minor and Aaron wasn't hospitalized long. If life were a movie, he would have had a "flesh wound," although part of the bullet will remain embedded in his flesh for the rest of his life. And then a strange thing happened. Nobody talked about it. This life-threatening event got swept under the rug. More than a dozen members of our church witnessed it happen, including our entire top-tier leadership (if you're unfamiliar with typical CoC leadership structure, I'm the "senior minister", but constitute sort of a 2nd-tier leadership position), and yet for some reason virtually nobody else was told.

Aaron was present at worship the following Sunday, and I even made small-talk with him, unaware of the bandages his clothes were hiding. Many prayers were said (in fact once I actively solicited prayer requests from the congregation), but no one prayed for Aaron or praised God that no one had been killed (in retrospect, I did overhear one person jokingly ask Aaron if he was sore...does that constitute genuine concern?). In several hours of being together, the accidental shooting was never mentioned, nor was it included in our weekly newsletter, which is filled with people who we should pray for.

The reasons for this silence are probably more complicated than I realize, but I'm sure they do include an over-reliance by everybody on the leadership to handle all communication, and an unconscious attempt by the leadership to downplay any hint of incompetance on their part. But what does it say about us when our first reaction is to save face rather than to care for our hurting?

Aaron didn't come to evening worship that night. I didn't find out he was injured until evening worship. I don't know how long he went without being cared for by his spiritual family. I do know that he was very hurt and upset, wondering why no one hugged him or asked about an event which to him was extremely significant. He'd had a brush with death. It could have been a great deal worse. His life was never really in danger from the bullet itself, but doctors did tell him that for 3 days, he was at high risk for a life-threatening blood clot, and he faced that terror alone. He was not shown concern, he did not experience love, and by the time my travelling allowed me to do more than just speak to him on the phone, he had flown out of the country on business. Leaving his brothers and sisters wallowing in our failure and regret.

As Jim, a wonderful deacon who gets it when it comes to community, said this after talking to Aaron and hearing his hurt from being abandoned: "Being ignored by his family hurt that man more than a bullet ever could."

Lord...Aaron...Forgive us.


Blogger Neal W. said...

Please understand that I mean no disrepect and I'm not attempting to criticize or vilify anyone. This is simply an attempt at an honest-as-possible recollection of a real-life situation.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Kc said...

May God bless your effort and his aching heart. May God help us all to be aware of especially our brethren and also others who suffer and to have the will to help them in every way we can.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Pat Ridenour said...

Our church here in Nowata struggles with the prayer chain, and with following up when we know someone is hurting. Many people have felt the spurn of neglect, but we are trying to change it. The preacher a few weeks ago, maybe out of anger, but seemingly out of concern for the spiritual life of the congregation, chastised our leadership from the pulpit because his wife had a life-threatening heart "murmur" of sorts, and not one person in the leadership went up to see her. It angered some that he would speak those words from the pulpit, but what many didn't realize is that it happened more than that once. A man came forward after the sermon, and said with tears, "I've gone to this church for 40 years, but when my wife died last month, no one came to me except at the funeral. It felt like I had been a part of a community for 40 years and never made a friend. That hurt."

We need to have an active part in the lives of our members, in the good and bad. We need to be praying constantly for them. We need to let them know they are lifted up. I pray that for our congregation everyday, and I pray for your Aaron as well. May God add His blessings when we fall short.

5:57 AM  
Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Our church family lost a dear sister to a handgun accident yesterday. We gathered last evening to comfort her family.

It would have been different, as you know, had Aaron been seriously injured or lost.

6:19 AM  
Blogger DJG said...

Yes, we do well at funerals. But how do we do at sickness, divorce or just bad times? Me? Not so good? I am a little shocked that everyone "knew" and didn't reach out more...but only a little.

While this brings tears to my eyes, I wonder if it will really bring action in my life. Will I try harder to find and help those that are hurting? Or will I too, just casually ask "how are you?" and never wait for an answer?

8:10 AM  
Blogger James said...

I just finished reading a book called Evangelism That Works by George Barna, and in it he discusses the exodus from the church of the baby-boomers and our generation. One of the reasons the people he interviewed gave for leaving the church was because the church did not live up to what it promised them. The church promises a better life, better relationships, love and compassion, but in actuality these people described a church that was all talk and no action and that is one main reason they left the church.

I know not all congregations are like that, and I know Neal that as a '2nd tier leader' you are trying to move that congregation in the right direction. I am in a congregation where we do not shy away from talking about our struggles and suffering, and we reach out to the hurting among us when we are made aware of a situation. There are good times and bad times, but sometimes life is messy and hard, and it is filled with struggles and pain. If we as Christians cannot comfort one another in our own trials how can we reach out to a hurting world to try to comfort it?

Lord, please bring comfort to Aaron. Let him know that he is Your child and is loved by You. Lord, please bring people into his life to comfort him and help him get through this struggle. Strengthen his faith, Lord. In Your Name Jesus, Amen.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Rachel O'Donnell said...

I would be cautious when blogging about real life situations. It's all over the news... employers reading blogs and firing.

Not that your comments are wrong, but I'd just be cautious.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Neal W. said...

Yeah...I thought hard whether to post this or not or just keep it for myself, but what do you do about a situation where honesty can get you in trouble? Churches force ministers into dishonesty every day and I don't know how to fight that except by striving for transparency. It's going to be a hard lesson for both me and churches to learn.

10:23 PM  
Blogger James said...

As ministers we are called to be men of character and integrity. Integrity means being the same person all the time no matter who is watching. If you ask me we need more men like you in church leadership positions.

I would have a real problem with any congregation that punishes ministers for being honest men of character and integrity who just want to live out the faith of the NT and expect others to do the same. That is leadership: having high expectations of others and helping show them how to live up to those expectations.

10:36 PM  
Blogger pegc said...

I would have a real problem working for a congregation, no matter the amount of money that would hide something like this? I don't understand hiding hurt!

I can't imagine it not being discussed, even in the realm of gossip!!!!

What ever the purpose of hiding this, the real issue was not the gun or mishandling of the gun, but the result of the situation, which caused pain. One writer said it would have been different if Aaron was seriously injured, but would it? I seriously doubt that. The hurt is hurt. Sounds like it was serious to Aaron. Will he come back?

God bless you, Neal for trying to make a difference and if you decide you need another place, look around. There are many congregations where this would not have happened and would appreciate your honesty and integrity.

God bless, Peggy in Texas

6:59 AM  
Blogger Monk-in-Training said...

Rachel is right, you might want to make the situations a bit more vauge and use initals instead of names. I did that on a recent posting on my blog.

7:16 PM  
Blogger CL said...

This entire situation makes me sad. I am sorry this happened. I think this same scenario plays out in too many churches, too often - I know first hand. Prayers for Aaron.

7:35 AM  

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