I still remember the time when I was a young man growing up in Huntington, West Virginia — that's west — attending Fifth Avenue Baptist Church and hearing the newly-appointed pastor from just plain Virginia say, "Anyone in here who begins reading that new revised standard version of the Bible will go to hell and should resign this church immediately!" Since he and most folks were raised on the old King James edition, he could not understand the scholarship and accuracy that the RSV provided, especially since it differed significantly in language and translation.
As soon as I could, I bought my own copy, put it down next to the old KJV and began to read and compare. I can't speak to the first part of the pastor's diatribe, but I guess I should have listened carefully to the next part, as I have been a Presbyterian pastor for the last 40 years. I must have been well-trained in that church as most of the churches I served always said, "Bressler, you may look like a Presbyterian, but you preach like a Baptist!" Anyway, the Methodists like me because my full name is John Wesley Bressler. Providence is a strange vehicle.
I digress … a lot. In that big old Baptist temple, I had looked up to a college student who taught one of my Bible classes. He was a regular guy, a lot of fun and made his teaching so interesting that I never missed a class. Most of the classes of young people sat in the balcony so we would not bother the older folks downstairs and we could whisper or goof off without getting caught.
One Sunday, my teacher, Charlie Brown said, "I'd like you to sit with the regular congregation for a few Sundays to get the feel of the service like the older people do." Sounded okay. The unusual thing I noticed on that first Sunday was that all the deacons — the men who really made things happen as far as I was concerned — came marching down the aisle to collect the offering and they were all wearing orange-brown shoes! Everyone else in the place wore the same old black or brown, blue suede — if you were really cool — but the orange-brown seemed to be reserved for the deacons. The next thing I noticed was that Charlie Brown was walking with the deacons and wearing those classy orange-brown shoes. Charlie had not only grown up, but was one of the church leaders. That was for me!
Several years later, I was asked to be a part of the junior deacons — a training level for those who might be chosen one day for promotion — and I felt both honored and humbled. What did deacons do anyway?
The pastor sat us down one afternoon, took an old bucket filled with sand and shook it as hard as he could. As we watched, large rocks began to rise to the top of the sand. He looked at us and said, "You guys are going to be tested. Some of you are like the sand and some of you are like the rocks. I'm going to shake you up until I can separate the workers from the slackers. Will you rise to the top, or will you be left to step aside? We'll see." Man, I could care less about the shaking stuff. All I wanted was the orange-brown shoes!
By the time I had studied and worked long enough to go through the election process, Julie and I were married and on our way to Florida and a new life together. Eventually, orange-brown shoes went out of style — along with me — but I still remember what I had felt when I saw those dedicated men walk down the aisles.
I like to believe that whether one is an elder, a deacon or church leader in any capacity, he or she is not recognized by an article of clothing but the life being led both in and out of the church served. Being a church leader is not a title, an honorarium or a gift. It is a lifetime work and a lifetime responsibility.
Cut your leaders some slack and give them the time and talent to solve the problems.
I still think they would look pretty cool wearing orange-brown shoes!