I felt pretty foolish sitting in an elder meeting, dressed as a first century Roman Judge. I was in full stage make up, including shadowing and graying that made me look 30 years older than I was.
The debate swirled around me hot and heavy and I was being accused of deliberately circumventing the will of the church board in order to carry out my own agenda. For a youth pastor, that was about as bad a charge I might face short of moral failure. How did I get myself into this spot?
I thought back to the board meeting in question… We had a heated discussion there as well over fundraising in the church and selling tickets for the newly written Easter play. It was a different kind of play — a courtroom drama with comedy mixed in — not a cantata in any way shape or form. Our desire was to get an unconventional audience, hopefully with a healthy mix of skeptics.
I argued that unchurched people felt more comfortable buying a ticket to a play. It was what they were accustomed to doing. They were suspicious of anything that the church offered for free. This way they could come in, watch the play, and not be indebted to the church in any way. Besides, I said, it would be nice to cover some of our expenses.
That lit the fuse. Here we go fundraising for the church and youth ministry again. We did not want to be like some of the other churches in the community who always had their hand out to raise money for their ministries. Some even did Casino Nights! Is that where this was headed? We were not to be like them. Rather, we need to trust the Lord to meet our needs as He always had.
So we argued back and forth. Not the whole board mind you. Just two of us. Me versus another board member, who was a good friend as well. The others tried to interject and ask questions, trying to get to the heart of the issue. Finally, believing that he saw the heart of the issue, one brother offered a compromise. No funds would be raised to support the church, the youth group or any other aspect of our ministry. Rather, the attendees could gain admission by giving a donation to the local food pantry. Would that be acceptable?
The two of us agreed. That should work. People would not come in for nothing , wondering what the church was up to. And we were not failing to trust God by raising funds for the church.
But here I sat weeks later, dragged out of a dress rehearsal three days before opening night. Some thought the play should be cancelled and others felt that there had not been anything done wrong. What was the crux of this crisis? I had issued tickets to be sold, all proceeds received would be donated to the food pantry.
I thought the core issue was to whom the money would go. My opponent thought the core issue was that no tickets would be sold, but people would bring donations of canned goods and the like the night of the performance. We had walked out of the meeting with two entirely different pictures of what the board had approved and how their action would be implemented. Back and forth it went until one of the elders had the wisdom to ask — “What did the minutes actually say?”
The phone call was made to the board secretary and everyone waited breathlessly for the answer… When the minutes were read back to us over the speakerphone, it was clear that the final wording of the motion was open-ended and allowed each of us to walk away thinking that we had “gotten our way”, so to speak.
The elders thanked the secretary and then turned to us. They could see how we had gotten the impressions we had. It was clear that I was not thumbing my nose at the will of the board. And the production was cleared to go forward, apologies were made on all sides, and we prayed that God’s Spirit would work through the play.
What did I learn from that? It is not enough to think that one had won a point. Some may be tempted to hastily move on with the apparent win. But after the passage of a motion, always stop to clarify, “OK, so how will this be carried out?” or “Who is expected to take care of this now?” or “Let me be sure I got this right, does this mean that we can go forward with ____________?” If it’s still not clear to the group what was decided, then write it out and get confirmation for the course of action to be taken.
Otherwise, you will have ten people in attendance walking away with up to ten different ideas of what took place. And the damage to relationships and trust can be significant when someone is convinced you pulled a fast one. In ministry, this is damage that is not easily healed. It is better to lose the issue for now, than to be distrusted forever.