I have a confession to make and I hope it doesn't make you think less of me. Ned Flanders and I have become friends. It hasn't always been this way. For years before I began to pastor a church I knew just what the problem was in American evangelical culture, and it wasn't sin, it was church people, it was Ned and his friends. The "frozen chosen" I think I have heard them called. They were old, tired, non missional, unmoved by the gospel, and thought the Left Behind movies were a great idea. They had driven our precious Lord's bride into the ground and deserved at least to be mocked in our young, hip, missional conversations and sermons and maybe even killed in some sort of Old Testament fashion. I used to think that when my time came to Pastor I didn't want or need any of them. I just wanted to see people saved. I didn't want to "swap sheep" in fact maybe we wouldn't let anyone join the church that was trying to come to us from another church in town. I could see us now, raw, gritty, authentic, and somewhat angry but not enough to be called sin, tattooed and rough around the edges. Ned would hate it, but we would reclaim the gospel he and his cronies had taken and perverted into this withdrawn, judgmental joke. We would see the lost saved and develop them ourselves.
In December 2002 my time had arrived to Pastor and I came to The Village with all the ignorance and arrogance of a 28 year old with all the answers and few questions and immediately began learning that I was an idiot. Over the last four years I have been challenged, refined, chiseled and rebuked. And somehow in the middle of all of that Ned and I became good friends. It started over a cup of coffee (and I'm not speaking in code here. Ned does not and will never have a beer with me). I started learning some things about him over that cup of coffee. First of all, we are very different. He loves Sandy Patty records, has 5 icthus' on his car (one of each member of his family) and only watches the PAX network on television. As I learned all this about him I wondered how we could co-exist or honestly even have a conversation, but then the strangest of things happened we found some common ground. It seems that Ned and I have, as hard as this is to say, some similar passions. I found out that day that Ned loves both the church and Jesus very much. On top of that he wants with all his heart to see his neighbor, Homer, come to know Christ, and prays for him constantly. It was a shocking revelation to me. The problem that I thought plagued us wasn't the problem at all.
It's a strange thing to wake up and find out you are the very thing you hated and rebelled against to begin with. Judging men not by the content of their souls but by how they dress, talk and drink. I was expected when I came to know Jesus to wear a suit on Sunday, part my hair on the side and then hairspray it down, quit drinking completely and learn to speak "Christianese" fluently. If I did those things I was welcomed and loved if not, I was the outcast. I find it heartbreaking that I have tendencies to do the same to others. The expectations have changed, it's not a suit it's an un-tucked shirt, it's not your hair parted down the side it's messy hair that you spent 15 minutes making look messy. But it's the same madness, the same judgments, and the same sin that plagued my fathers before me. We think our methods are the methods instead of a method. So Ned and I are friends. We fight a lot, usually over philosophy of ministry and volume of music, but on weekends like last weekend when we baptize dozens and dozens of grown men and women I can see him back there, last row on the left earplugs in, surrounded by raw, gritty, authentic, and somewhat angry but not enough to be called sin, tattooed and rough around the edges people and he loves the place and I think he might even like me.
cc: Matt Chandler