PLYMOUTH, MI – Were you the ignored “good kid” in the family because you were not causing any obvious trouble? Yet, underneath the pleasant veneer you were in a private war? Did you feel neglected? Or did you grow comfortable with your secret battles?
Would you have liked some help with the struggles you kept private? Would it have helped if someone would have taken the time to sit down with you to ask, “How are you really doing?” Would you have gushed all that you wanted to confess?
Now, as an adult, a pastor, a ministry leader or a teacher are you neglecting the good behaving “Penitent Baptist” right in front of you?
In one church ministry, a pastor frequently gave a teenage boy the opportunity to perform a musical special on Sundays because members of the congregation were inspired when they saw the young man perform.
On another occasion, a pastor was thankful to have an energetic man serve others throughout the church with an enthusiasm and intensity rarely seen in anyone else. The man’s instant response to the pastor’s request for help was always, “Yes, whatever you need pastor.”
In another circumstance, a woman who was a wife, mother, and faithful servant in the church committed suicide after her husband was called by their local bank asking why they were severely behind in their house payments?
What I have come to call the Penitent Baptist is the church member who by all obvious observations appears to have their lives all together, but in reality they are suffering alone. Many admire them. Some want to be like them. Yet, all the while they are caving into temptation, they are trying to win more credit with God by doing good, or they are ashamed of the private pattern of life that has enslaved them.
After the Holy Spirit stirred the pastor’s heart, he approached the adolescent with a simple question, “Why do you want to perform a musical piece on particular Sunday mornings in such a spontaneous, urgent way?” The teen looked down focusing on the floor between them and muttered, “When I am out on the weekends with my girlfriend or my buddies I give into temptations and afterwards I feel guilty; yet, after I perform on Sundays I feel I am brought back closer to God because he forgives me.”
After the pastor and helpful man became closer friends, the pastor realized his friend was driven by strong emotions. The man lacked self-assurance. He required constant affirmation by other people. The man kept account of what he considered offenses against him. He easily grew resentful of those who he thought made critical remarks or did not esteem him enough. As the pastor and man visited over coffee one day, the man realized that he worked hard in public to offset the private, negative resentments and anger he felt toward others who had done him wrong.
Later it was discovered, the woman in the rural county took her own life because she had taken the earnings, savings and investments from her family’s life to gamble. Within six-hours in a single day, the woman went from the discovery of concealing her gambling losses to ending her own life without facing and overcoming the challenge with the love and support of her family and her church.
How can those who seem so admirable and heroic go unnoticed when they actually need help? Why do adults, pastors, ministry leaders and teachers neglect those who may be privately struggling? I believe there are two myths that cause us to neglect those who struggle while they serve frequently and happily in the church. The two myths are:
Service means sinless – We incorrectly assume those who are busy in ministry do not struggle with sin. We do not assume perfection, but we assume too much.
Service means maturity – We make the mistake of believing those who enthusiastically serve the Lord are spiritually mature in every area of their lives.
Is there a better way to help the Penitent Baptist? Can we rethink the way we see the energetic servants of Christ so that we don’t leave them abandoned in their quiet, swirling whirlpools of guilt and shame? I believe we can help by practicing the following three mandates. The three mandates are:
Cultivate relationships of trust – People who are in trouble are more apt to approach someone with whom they already have an established trustful relationship. Time and depth build those meaningful relationships. Good leaders set aside time to regularly visit with energetic servants offering opportunities for those in trouble to ask for help. A simple question such as, “How are you doing spiritually?” can rescue someone in a world of trouble.
Build a culture of mutual reliance – Many of us teach others to be self-reliant and not to disturb us with their difficulties. We give the impression, “You have been given a task and empowered to do it. Get your job done while I do mine.” The danger is that those who follow our example think we do not want to be bothered by their spiritual battles. In our communities of faith, we will assist one another to pull-off a big church event, but we ignore those who need help to win a spiritual victory that could change a life. Good leaders model mutual reliance by communicating, “We are here for one another.”
Teach that sanctification is a lifelong process – We need to lead people to find comfort in the fact that much of the Bible was written to offer correction to average people like us. Prophets and people who walked with Christ were often corrected or spoke to others about changing life toward patterns that would glorify God. There is the comfort; but, the other side of that reality is that no one should become content at being anything less than entirely faithful to the Lord. All of us should pursue obedience and we best work out that obedience together, not in solitude.
As we walk through our community of faith, let’s walk slowly watching for the Penitent Baptist, those who are busy for the Lord while burdened with sin. As we have conversations, let’s listen carefully to the dedicated, earnest servants who labor out of love but who may also have a heavy load of guilt that they need to share. By doing so, we will help the silent ones caving to temptation, those trying to earn their salvation, or the men and women enslaved to patterns of addiction hiding their troubles in shame.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe.