Maybe we need to reassess what's going on in our churches. Maybe, if we looked at each dramatic situation as a need for triage we would respond differently.
Instead of a problem to solve, a policy to be reinforced, or a behavior needing modification, maybe we can look and say - there are real people who need a real physician to bind up real wounds.
Emergency surgery is what's needed.
What if we had a team - a team of first responders. The ones who rush to the scene of the accident armed with nothing but grace...
...carrying loads of love and compassion.
How different would the damage be? Instead of making things worse by withholding triage and pressing on wounds, we could stop the bleeding, bind up afflictions and ease suffering.
The recent headlines of The Village Church struck a cord with so many because abuse in the church has become commonplace - either because of the sheer reality of what's taking place or because we hear about it more thanks to social media. Either way, people have grown weary of the ugliness of it all. The leaders at TVC responded - but their response was not triage. It was more like an ambush. More explosions, more carnage, more destruction. A lot of people got hurt. Not just the ones involved, but the watching thousands and thousands who find that their faith has worn thin.
Since then, a miracle has happened. There have been apologies, sincere and tearful. There have been conversations, real listening and hearing. Time and sacrifice made to make things right.
An ambulance of grace responded and they set up triage and set out to bind up wounds.
I applaud this response and I know it was not easy. [Read: Dear Church - Please Admit It When You're Wrong] How do you comprehend the change that took place in the hearts of all involved? We will never know the full and weighty impact of what happened as a result of TVC's apology and their admission of wrongdoing. In a world where defense is usually the first responder, grace is refreshing, breathtaking, and the only thing powerful enough to heal the broken.
Churches, pastors, and leaders are entrusted with authority and influence. People come to their hospital.
They're not OK people needing good advice. They're broken people desperate for grace.
They have come to the one place that should be dispensing it freely. They have looked to the world and the world doesn't have it to give.
TVC is not perfect. No church is. And personally, this does not get me any closer to going back to church for now. But, it does give hope. It is possible that change is in our midst.
The church needs to lose the image of the big powerful bully on the block and take back the picture of a shepherd carrying its sheep...going to find the lost one, washing the feet of the confused, dejected, sad and sinful, and, plunging beneath the cleansing stream as grace-needing, love-thirsting souls themselves.
TVC has given us a picture of what love looks like and how grace operates.
There is hope.
*******I wrote those words this morning, and then I stopped. I stopped to listen to TVC sermon of May 31st*******
...and then I cried.
The pastor said,
I'm asking you on behalf of the elders, will you forgive us?
We've failed to walk in that with you, and you have borne the brunt of our foolishness.
I cried some more.
Will you forgive us where we've failed to recognize you as the victim and didn't empathize deeply with your situation?
I realized I had been writing this post from my head - reporting on a story really. But what happened next surprised me. My heart was touched. I'm sorry, will you forgive me...well...it melted a little piece of my hardened heart. I imagined he was talking to me...and it changed me. For the first time in over a year I believe...a little...just a bit.
I don't think the hurting world needs to be diagnosed for law and gospel.
I think the hurting world needs a caravan of ambulances driving hard, fast, and headlong into hurt, pain, and wounds that need binding.
The need is great for first responders who throw caution to the wind and react with love, compassion, and kindness not self-protection, public relations, and policy.
Maybe this ambulance of healing grace would bind a wound for you today:
I'm asking you on behalf of the elders, will you forgive us? There are some of you who are not just members, but you've borne the brunt of our lack of love, care, compassion, mercy. Those are acts that are built into the role of elder. We've failed to walk in that with you, and you have borne the brunt of our foolishness...
...For you, I'm not asking you to forgive us of mistakes. I'm asking you to forgive us of our sins...First, will you forgive us where our counsel turned into control? Second, will you forgive us where we've failed to recognize the limits and scope of our authority? Third, will you forgive us where we allowed our policies and processes to blind us to your pain, confusion, and frustration? Fourthly, will you forgive us where we acted transactionally rather than tenderly? Lastly, will you forgive us where we've failed to recognize you as the victim and didn't empathize deeply with your situation...
...As I've walked through these five specific statements of seeking forgiveness from you, if you find yourself, your situation, your story under one of those, will you come in and let us own that? I know that might sound like a terrifying proposition to you. Here's what I would lay before you. Whatever you need to do to feel comfortable, you set the rules...
...I have felt embarrassed and frustrated and brokenhearted because we have failed you, and we have wounded some of you, and we have not lived up to what God has called us to live up to in his Word. - Matt Chandler, Sr. Pastor The Village Church [full sermon transcript here]