22 March, 2010

Sometimes, It's More Important to Listen

I spent some time today going through a couple of different neighborhoods to invite people to church or leave an invitation if they were not home. By far and away most people were not home, but I did get to meet a few people and left about 200 invitations on the doors of those not home. I had a couple of short conversations with people but there was one conversation that I had with an elderly man that is still lingering with me some 6 hours after I left his home. Ironically, this man has been a faithful member of a church in town for more than 45 years, so there was no effort to even invite him to our church. This meeting was about something else altogether. I tell my people in my church to be on the alert for what I call "God's set ups." I believe this meeting with this man was more than a chance encounter, but it was one of those divine appointments.

As I came down the opposite side of the street, I saw this man carrying out his trash, and I knew immediately that I was going to be talking to this man. I just did not understand the direction that conversation would take. Some 15-20 minutes or more after I first saw him, I was working my way back up his side of the street and as I was 2 houses down from his house, I saw him again as he carried out his recycling bin, so I hurried up so that I might catch him while he was outside. I made a casual comment about the weather being so nice and then I asked him if he attended a church anywhere. He told me that he did, and I told him that I was just out in his neighborhood inviting those who had no church to come to Harvest Church. He asked me about our church and after a little conversation he began to tell me about his faith and how he loved his church... then he said, "but it is killing me now." I won't go into details so as to not indicate the church in anyway, but he shared how there was a tremendous conflict within his church that had ripped the church apart and could possibly end up with lawsuits being filed over the actions of certain people. He was just crushed as he spoke of his church, and while I really needed to be moving on to get home to make dinner, it was obvious that this man needed a pastor at that moment. I stayed with him for around an hour allowing him to share some of his heart, his pain and the desire he had to see unity restored in his church. This man had lost all faith and confidence in the pastor of his church and had been part of the group that had left and is temporarily meeting in another church with a Bishop from Peoria who comes 2-3 times a month trying to hold things together until the messy situation is cleared up.

There was a rather funny but powerful moment in our conversation. He said to me that a minister ought to be able to relate to his people, rather than Lord over them and be so far above them. He looked at me and said, "I'd like to be able to talk to my priest like I am talking to you. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a minister could just be down to earth like you?" I could not hold back the laughter and I told him, "Maybe I should have introduced myself better. I am Bishop Darrell Garrett" (that title was very important in this context) and I handed him one of my cards. Tears welled up in his eyes and he was speechless for what seemed like minutes, but I am sure it was only a few seconds. He said, "Bishop, forgive me, I'd have never talked to you this way if I had known." I told him that was precisely why I seldom identified myself as a Bishop or even Pastor when meeting someone. I said, "We've had the opportunity to go somewhere that we could have never gone had you known." Long story short, we continued to talk for another 25 minutes after that, and I believe the Holy Spirit did give me a few words that helped and encouraged him, but more than anything else, I was there to listen. Sometimes it really is not about what we have to say, it is about being willing to listen.

Will this man ever come to my church? I really doubt that will ever happen. But who cares? We talk so often about being "one body." Today, I was able to minister to my brother, and it was not about trying to build my own church. That is an awesome feeling, and I feel privileged that the Lord sent me by on this mission today.

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