This is a defense of Rose Creek Village … sort of.
It’s not about Rose Creek Village. It’s about you.
I’ve heard, recently, several people complain about some friends of mine—leaders at Rose Creek Village—who are intimidating. I agree they’re intimidating; that’s not just the opinion of the complainers. Pushy is probably a fair description, too. The complainers definitely felt pushed around by my friends, and I am certain that at least a few times those feelings were legitimate.
Of course, these are my friends, so it was self-evident to the complainers, while they were complaining, that however my friends treated them, they would have treated me the same way, at least in the early days of our community. So, more than once recently, I was told, "Well, that doesn’t happen to you, of course. You always spoke up." That’s always followed by some statement about how I don’t let myself get pushed around.
Worse, that’s always said as though it’s some sort of excuse for others. They’re not like me. Indeed, they cannot be. Apparently, I must be bold by nature. My personality innately stands up to others and refuses to be intimidated.
There were very few children more timid than me. I was pushed around by everyone. I stood up for next to nothing. I did homework once for a kid in 9th grade, much bigger than me, because he asked me and I was scared of him. Afterward, he taunted me publicly for doing it. I never did anything about it, and until this day I’ve never even told anyone that it happened. (And now I’m writing it on the internet; go figure.) In fact, it didn’t much matter to me that he taunted me in class, since I was neither friend nor acquaintance of most of the kids in the class. All my friends were from the street I lived on, not from the school.
I never went to a school dance, not even Homecoming or the Prom. I was 21 before I was brave enough to ask a girl out on a date, and I never had an official girlfriend until my wife-to-be when I was 25.
It wasn’t until I met her that I first worked up the courage to return a fast food meal that wasn’t made right. Telling a waiter or waitress in a real restaurant that my meal wasn’t right would have to wait till I was in the my 40’s, and I’m pretty certain I’ve only done that once in my life despite the fact that incorrect meals have happened to me a lot more than that. I was in my mid-30’s when I began to work on looking at strangers in the eye if I crossed paths with them in a store.
Yeah, I was painfully shy and embarrassingly timid.
In other words, standing up to other people does not come naturally for me. It is very easy for me to let people intimidate me. I prefer that to confrontation, even if that confrontation is telling a merchant that they got my order wrong. (To this day, that’s still true. I’d rather pay money I don’t owe than have a confrontation about money. You’d love doing business with me.)
But I’m not allowed to live like that in the church!
Since the day I became a Christian I have believed in God. (Some Christians only believe in God in theory, not in practice.) God is greater than dictators, kings, and especially than leaders of Christian churches, whether real ones or self-serving ones.
Early on at Rose Creek Village (actually before it was called Rose Creek Village) I had my first run in with leadership. They wanted me to be baptized, and I didn’t believe I needed to be baptized by this church. I had been baptized before, understanding what it was, and thus I had been baptized both into Christ and into the body of Christ. There was no need for me to be baptized by Rose Creek Village.
The head elder, Noah, overrode the others and said, "Maybe he’s right. Let’s leave this in the hands of God."
(Over the next few months, the leaders won that one. The story is too long to tell here, and I don’t have answers for all the theology, but God convinced me that they were right, and I was baptized.)
A few months later, a couple leading men came up with a whole morass of rules for the house I was living in. I didn’t like it, but I decided not to say anything. I would wait for God to provide some examples of whether these rules were a good or bad idea.
But one of the other men spoke up. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it, so I felt free to talk. We debated the rules, though I was left as the only spokesman for the anti-rule group. Eventually, a person who’d been around a lot longer than me said that I was taking the gift of God—their rules—and throwing it on the ground. I couldn’t take the conflict, and I just turned and walked out. I went for a drive for an hour or so and just prayed.
When I got back, everyone had decided to put the rules on hold. I think they were concerned that they’d hurt me.
I want to point out here before I tell any more stories, the issue wasn’t just that they felt they’d hurt me. God is in control of my life, and God is in control of the church. God will always show the willing and malleable where to take a stand. If I’m part of the church, then God will ensure that where he makes me stand, he will make the church stand as well. What he’s saying to one, he will say to all.
How could it be otherwise?
A few months after that, it was Noah who laid a bunch of rules on that very same house. Again, I opted not to say anything and to wait and see what would happen.
My wife, who’s a lot braver than I am, wasn’t so willing to sit back and wait.
No problem. I’m the head of my wife. I told her to just give it time. I specifically told her not to say anything to Noah.
So the next morning I walked onto the porch and my wife was giving Noah a piece of her mind. I was surprised, somewhat upset with her, and somewhat afraid of the situation. I was not prepared for this confrontation.
Noah looked at me. He was clearly angry. He asked, "Do you feel the same way your wife does?"
"Yes," I said.
"Great," he replied. "You make me feel like some kind of cult leader ordering people around. I can’t believe you didn’t say anything!"
I gave some feeble excuse, and he stormed back to his room. (Apparently, God was overriding my husbandly authority. Some day we can do a blog on realms of authority and talk about why I was the one who was out of line.)
There was a gathering that morning (the rough equivalent of a church service), and we had the gathering outside. We sang a couple songs, and then Noah stood up.
He said. "God has shown me that his people are to be free. They are to be ruled by God, and not by rules. I repent for trying to put rules on the people of God."
He then gave public thanks to God, crossed the circle, and kissed both my wife and I on the foreheads.
We’d been part of Rose Creek Village less than a year. We had no position. We were just some of the new people.
I’ll tell you one more story, also from the early days here in Tennessee. All of this would have taken place in 1996 and 1997.
Originally the house I was living in had 7 bedrooms. We had added a couple rooms in the basement, and we had an RV or two outside, so there were five or six families living out of the house. In 1997 (I think), we built an 8-bedroom, 4-and-1/2-bath addition onto the house. It was three stories tall, and the bottom story became a dining hall. Between all those bedrooms, some additional RV’s, and a cabin we built outside, at one point around 100 people were eating in the 900-square-foot room.
The room wasn’t carpeted at that point, and with all those people, many of them children, it could get very loud. Noah and another brother were having trouble handling the noise, and so they were making extreme efforts to get everyone to be less noisy. I’m pretty sure that most people felt like the biggest disturbance of the peace was not the noise but Noah’s and this other brother’s complaints about the noise.
Once again, I took it upon myself to talk to Noah about it. I never wondered why someone less shy hadn’t already gone to him. I knew from the talk around the house that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. The question to me, though, was not whether people were doing what they should be doing. The question to me was whether I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
So I talked to him, and he got mad. There was nothing to do but have a heated discussion with him.
I hate discussions like that, especially with someone a lot braver than I am, so it was easy for me to keep one ear tuned to God. My prayer to him was pretty simple: "How do I get out of this conflict as fast as possible without having to back down?"
I felt like I wasn’t allowed to back down. It was Noah who had taught us that peace comes from God, not from outward quiet.
But reminding him of that wasn’t helping.
Finally, God dropped something to say into my spirit. I said it, and Noah stopped talking and looked at me. Then he hung his head and said, "You’re trying to help, and I’m talking to you like this."
(In Noah’s defense, due to the subject of this post, I am leaving out all the parts where I was in the wrong. He had to talk to me about skipping gatherings, complaining about church activities, exploding on a brother in a situation where I was completely wrong, and other things that I’m sure I’ve forgotten. However, this blog’s about talking when needed, not about my numerous faults.)
How many people would just have judged the rules that were handed down in my first story above? How many people would have let those first rules happen, then let Noah’s rules happen, then let the situation in the dining room remain unchanged, full of pressure and complaints about leadership?
How many would later have walked away from the church saying, "You wouldn’t believe the terrible things that happened! There were all these rules! And then there was complete chaos in the dining room, and the leaders were upset and making it worse. Everyone knew and agreed with me that the chaos was all the leaders’ fault, but do you think they changed?"
The real question, however, does not concern how many but concerns only one.
Would you have just let those things happen? Would you have been wondering about whether those rules were the will of God, and would you have taken it upon yourself to speak up for God if you felt no one else was?
Or would you just walk away later and talk about all those terrible people and the terrible things they did?
There are reasons that you are not allowed to remain a coward, making excuses for not doing the will of God.
Let me tell you one more story.
When I was a very new Christian, attending an Assembly of God church down in Florida in 1982, a very excited evangelist came to town. His name was Danny Duvall, and if anyone ever inspired me to a Christian walk that was both practical and zealous, Danny Duvall did.
He didn’t just preach about being zealous for Jesus, he took us out and showed us how to do it. He took us door to door in town passing out flyers for the revival he was preaching. He also took us to the tourist section of town to witness.
I was terrified. Remember, I didn’t talk to strangers. I didn’t even ask girls out on dates until shortly before this time. Stopping people to talk about Jesus when all they wanted was a good time at the bars along the beach … that was not my idea of something pleasant.
Fortunately, I was with a friend that I knew had no problem talking to strangers. Before we were Christians, he had been a real ladies’ man, chatting up any girl he ran across and every bit as comfortable with men as he was with women.
Danny Duvall explained that the technique was simple. He didn’t bother with smooth approaches. He just picked a person, then told them he wanted to talk to them about Jesus.
I was curious to see whether this would prove effective. Danny sent me off with by brave friend and with another young man who’d been in the church much longer than us. If this blunt method of Danny Duvall’s worked when they tried it. After that I would do it, too, even if it terrified me.
As we walked to the tourist section the young man from the church asked, "Who’s going to go first?"
"Not me!" my brave friend said.
I stared at him. What did he mean he wouldn’t do it?
The young man from the church echoed my friend’s sentiment. Then they made it clear that if it boiled down to one of them being the first to dip their toes in the water, then we might as well head back to the car.
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do but to volunteer. God sent us out there. We weren’t street witnessing because we thought it was fun!
God made sure the experience would set a pattern for the rest of my life.
The first people to come along were two guys who were everything I wasn’t. They were big, their demeanor made it clear they were tough, and they were at home in the party scene.
I stepped in front of them.
"Can I share Jesus with you?"
The bigger of the two made a face that indicated utter disgust. He raised his hands, sidled around me on the sidewalk, then rushed off with his friend laughing.
I promised myself I would never use the word "share" in public again.
I was utterly dejected, but I was going to give it one more shot without using "share."
The next guy was a shorter, slightly chubby and much more cheery looking young man. I worked up a more masculine demeanor, stood up straight, deepened my voice, and said, "Can we talk to you about Jesus?"
"Sure!" the guy said. He seemed thrilled to talk to us.
He didn’t wait for us to begin the conversation. He explained quickly that he was a "disciple" of Richard Bach.
Have you heard of Richard Bach? People who have read a lot and are at least my age are probably aware of the book Jonathon Livingston Seagull. In 29 years of telling this story, which happened in August of 1982, I’ve never met anyone who has read his other book, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.
I had, however.
I had devoured it. I loved Richard Bach.
Illusions had completely reinterpreted Jesus, and Bach made a lot of claims about what the Gospels say that just aren’t true. Because Richard Bach had been central to my own thinking as a teenager, I was aware of both his claims and the verses that contradicted those claims despite having only been a Christian for a month.
We talked with the charming young man on the sidewalk for two hours. We were there so long that the police eventually came by and ran us off.
I knew that God had sent that young man along. I also knew why God hadn’t sent him first. The first two guys, representing everything I had been scared of and intimidated by as a school boy, were sent by God, too. He wanted effort from me.
The other two guys? I don’t know what happened to the young man from the church, but I know my friend fell away.
God’s will is dependent on you.
God’s will, in the long run, is going to happen anyway. You, however, will never see it unless you participate in making it happen. It can go on all around you, so that there’s no direction you can look in which God’s will is not happening, and you will not see it if you’re not participating in it.
God doesn’t give his gifts to the lazy.
Nor to the cowardly.
In my day, I was a full-fledged coward. Cowards, however, are the first people listed among those who will be throw into the lake of fire. They are ahead of the unbelieving and the abominable (Revelation 21:8).
I’m not really interested in having my part in the lake of fire, so turning away from my innate cowardice has been a priority in my life for 30 years.
It needs to be a priority in yours. If you can’t speak up, the problem’s not the nature you were born with.
It’s the belief, work, and effort you’ve lived without.