The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The State of the Church: It's 'Pogo'

I had heard it expressed before, but it was just as disturbing today (All Saints Day) as it was the first time I heard the view expressed.

It even reminded me of the times I had expressed the same view -- and that made it even more disturbing.

The brother in Christ who sat across from me at a cafe was one of my early mentors in the faith. Nearly 20 years before, we had been a part of a men's Bible study that met on Thursday nights. He was among a group of men who led me to such Christian classics as Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship" and Watchman Nee's "The Normal Christian Life." It was men like him who led me to understand there is more to this Christian life than Sunday morning worship or Wednesday night dinners.

As always, when he called to suggest lunch, I made time. I knew it would be worthwhile. I also knew our time together would cover a lot of territory: family, politics, a touch of history and, last but definitely not least, the state of the Church.

This day, it was the state of the United Methodist Church in particular -- our church. It is a church that, in his mind, is at the very least the modern expression of the Laodecian church or, at the very worst, bordering on apostacy.

That's an awful broad brush stroke with which to paint an entire denomination, but I could understand his feelings. Before entering the ministry candidacy process, I had even felt similarly at times and wondered whether the United Methodist Church should be the place for me and my family.

My first recollection of such thoughts was in the mid- to late 1980s. I had been born again at the age of about 29 in 1985 and, for the life of me, as I looked around some Sunday mornings I couldn't understand how anyone could not be as excited as I was to meet the Savior. I couldn't understand how some people could merely show up on Sunday morning and not want to live at the foot of the cross seven days a week. I couldn't understand why some sermons I heard from the pulpit sounded more like a Kiwanis speaker (no offense to Kiwanians, mind you) than they did someone preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I couldn't understand how (in Knoxville, anyway) during football and basketball seasons, homage from the pulpit might be paid to the Vols before Jesus Christ.

Then, there were the social-political problems that cropped up. The fight between the pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights factions within the UMC was full-blown in the 1980s. We had friends leave our home church over that and other political issues. I was devestated ... and, like many others, I had to ask, "Is this where God wants me and my family, in a denomination where some people seem about as excited to meet the Savior as they are the milkman? In a denomination where social conservatism is often about as welcome as termites -- and often viewed as just as destructive?"

I have this memory of standing in the sanctuary just short of agonizing over the possibility of leaving. I sensed the Lord saying something like, "If you believe you are such a spark, what hope do you have a starting a fire here if you leave?" Now, I knew I was not nearly that important ... still, I stayed.

And continued to work with youth.

And continued to teach adult Sunday school.

And helped start a contemporary worship service.

And became a certified lay speaker.

And entered the ministry candidacy process.

All the while, being shaped and sharpened by people like the brother sitting across from me. It was Christians like him who discipled me then, and continue to disciple me now.

All the while sharing the faith that God continued to build within me. It was Christians like him who encouraged me, and enabled me, to "do ministry."

All the while expressing my views ... and finding them molded by the experience of being with like-minded people, as well as those who were not like-minded.

All the while seeking to know what it meant to worship in Spirit and in truth ... and discovering there were others seeking the same path.

And I am still learning those things, while pastoring a small United Methodist Church.

I came to realize that when it comes to the Christian faith, we often can not see the forest of faith in our denomination and our home churches for the trees (that is, the logs) in our own eyes.

As we sat over lunch, my brother in Christ shared his concerns and then said something that cut into my spirit like a knife: "I've been in the United Methodist Church for 64 years ... and I feel it's been wasted time."

It was then that I realized he had no idea the impact he had on my spiritual journey ... and so, feeing the tears well up behind my eyes, I told him. I also let him know that it pained me he was considering leaving ... even though I can, to some degree, understand.

I can understand because I, too, am concerned about the United Methodist Church. I often ask myself:

-- Where is the hunger for God? But then I ask, where is my hunger for God?
-- Where is the "burden" for the lost? But then I ask, do I really have a "burden" for the lost?
-- Why is there more concern about accepting the unholy, rather than teaching about the need for holiness? But then I ask myself, am I teaching the need for holiness? Am I living a holy life?

I could say more, but all of this serves to remind me of Pogo's words to Porky:
"Yep, Son, we have met the enemy and he is us."

My question is this: "What are we going to do about it?"

More to the point: "What am I going to do about it?"

Grace and peace.