Remember that Time You Said "F*** this S***" to Your Pastor?
No? Didn’t think so.
It has probably never happened. My guess is you’ve never sworn at your pastor and your pastor has never been cussed out.
Tuesday afternoon marked the third time I’ve been cussed out by a member of my congregation. At this point it’s no longer shocking. Well, the first time wasn’t either really. How did this happen you’re wondering? What could possibly encourage a parishioner to drop an F*Bomb on me? A Playstation 3.
After taking some time off immediately following Christmas I was eager to jump back in the BCC saddle and start looking forward to the very early Easter in 2016. Aside from Easter we’ve got some pretty intense and exciting things in the works. Opportunities for significant impact are developing quicker than we anticipated and take advantage of - certainly a great problem to have. However, it only took about six hours for reality to rear it’s head. I was doing some brainstorming with Mark he asked me about a missing Playstation from his office. The box was right where it should be with one small issue… it was empty. It had been sitting in the same spot for weeks and when Mark when to put it up and out the way it was a bit lighter than it should have been. Empty. No Playstation. The only answer was that someone had stolen it just a couple days prior at church because Sunday is the only day anyone aside from Mark has access to his office.
Gametime. I don’t mean that to sound flippant. It really is a game attempting to recover stolen items or gain information in our neighborhood. Mark came up with a brilliant idea to fake-bribe some of our boys. $50 for information that leads to the retrieval of the missing Playstation. We put the word out with one young man in particular telling him not to share the deal we made with him with anyone else. Within twenty minutes we had four volunteers looking for the cash reward. Our plan was working out seamlessly. We knew that they all knew who took the Playstation, where it was, and how to get it back. In under an hour we had the name of the thief (a member of the church and former part-time employee unfortunately) as well as our original informant on his way to retrieve the stolen console.
Mark and I waited outside for the young man to return with the Playstation in hand. Upon his arrival we informed the boys that there would be no reward. No one was going to get paid for protecting a thief and a blatant display of disrespect of our trust, the church, and the rec center. The lesson we told them, “Next time do the right thing and tell us in the first place.” They were super happy to hear this (I hope you read between the lines on this one). Some high and another rocking a blunt behind his ear in defiance let me sum up the ensuing conversation for you in about five sentences.
“F*** this. That S*** was messed up. We don’t need Bridge City. We don’t need the center. F*** this S***.
They had a right to be angry. We tricked them to teach them a lesson. However, they should’ve been angry with themselves for perpetuating the cycle of silence and deception. They knew the whole time who took the Playstation. They knew where it was, how it was stolen, and that it was wrong. Yet, they were going to play charades until we chased them down - behavior which is simply unacceptable. Mark and I tried to reason with them, explain to them, settle them down, etc. to no avail. They were angry and set on shouting some pretty hurtful things that disappointed us more than anything. Mark and I, of anyone, understand what happens when teenage boys get mad and run their mouths. We’ve been there done that. What you may not understand is the entirety of the context in which these mistakes were made.
It wasn’t just about monetary deception, teachable moments, or the original theft. Our boys are walking precariously along the precipice of manhood in a neighborhood that either chews up men and spits them out into the grave or prison; or, drops them into a lifelong abyss of drugs, pregnancies, and gangs. We called the boys out on this. Why are you upset about being profiled by rival gang members as bloods when your Facebook page is littered with pictures of guns in your hands? What makes you think that buying a gun makes you more of a man? Harder, tougher, grown… Why cuss us out and say you don’t need the church or the center when BCC and the Rec center provide more safety, structure, and support than anything you’ve ever known?
Mark whispered the answer, “They’re just scared Josh.” I could see in Mark’s eyes that these young men, who he loves like his own children, had crossed a line with their rhetoric. They’re just scared. My heart was seared with pain as their words pierced deep into my chest. I was heated and made veiled threats to pack up my S*** and take a call to another church where I wouldn’t be cussed out for someone else's poor judgment. Mark called them punks and made appeals to his own experience growing up in south Chattanooga. I canceled youth group indefinitely and told them not to come to church on Sunday. They didn’t show up at church yesterday like I hoped they would.
Faced with the pressure to grow up too soon, making life and death decisions on a daily basis, I couldn’t blame them entirely for their reaction. I still don’t. Not only are they teenage boys but they run a gauntlet everyday. For most of them, becoming a statistic is inevitable and they have no method or means to fight it. “We southside Mark. We southside Josh."
No. You’re much more than that. You don’t have to be “southside.”
I shared what happened on Sunday with the rest of Bridge City Community. I saw tears in the eyes of others because they felt the pain too. Not the distress of getting cussed out the pain of these boys, which is exactly why I shared with them the opportunity this unfortunate event presented all of us with. Now, more than ever, we must circle around these young men and be Christ to them. No need for reprimands, just the Body of Christ to envelope them with protection, trust, love, hope, encouragement, kindness, gentleness, prayer, and renewed commitment to community.
We broke the bread of communion after our mutual consent to reconcile with the boys - as a group - as the church. In eating and drinking we received reconciliation with God, a restoration of a broken relationship. What a humbling reminder of the need for restoring the temporarily broken relationship with those boys.