“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35
Why is it that some churches can have right doctrine, right theology, the right values, emphasize the right Bible verses, have the right world view, and yet after only a short time of doing things right something goes terribly wrong? What starts out as something very special is soon corrupted.
When I first started attending BCA, Doug Phillips had just finished preaching a series of messages on “one another-ing.” The church had studied how to love one another, greet one another, care for one another’s burdens, be hospitable, forgive one another, serve one another, give preference to one another, admonish and exhort one another, among many other commands on how we are treat our brothers and sisters in Christ. We stepped in right as BCA had been saturated with learning the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
That first year there, I cannot recall any bickering or fighting or backbiting whatsoever. There was no gossiping and Matthew 18 just wasn’t necessary. There definitely was no judgmental spirit.
On my very first Sunday at BCA, we were invited the next day to a special event that was taking place at an IBLP conference. Lew Sterrett was going to be teaching the Sermon on the Mount by breaking a wild horse, so I thought appropriate attire, in August in South Texas, would be short shorts and a tank top (my values about attire were much different then). When I showed up, it quickly became apparent that ALL the other women were in long dresses, but no one judged me that day. Not one person said a word and many of the women came up and greeted me anyway. We were invited to dinner the next week at a home where the family did all dress very conservatively. Again, no judging.
So what changed? Why today are so many BCA women afraid to be seen in public in pants? Why do some women go out of their way to avoid those they know are going to say something about their choice of clothing? Why do some women feel it is their responsibility to tell everyone else how to dress? Did I miss that verse in the one another-ing list?
I really don’t know what changed, but I can point to some patterns that I noticed. The first situation that stands out in my mind regards leaders setting the example. The first year we were at BCA, Doug Phillips was present nearly every Sunday and he preached at least half the time. Church was held at his home and he would sometimes go down to the end of the road and stand there and greet everyone coming in. He was always a very gracious host and was constantly available. Since church at BCA was nearly an all day event, we were often at Doug’s home from 10 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the evening. Doug would set the example in loving one another during that time and was nearly always mixing with the brothers all day.
And then we moved. Or rather, the Phillips family moved, and so the church moved with them. That conference season, Doug had a sharp increase in speaking engagements, and he was gone quite a bit more than before. When he was home on a Sunday, he would usually still spend time with other members, but he seemed to disappear a while before most of us went home. It was only a matter of time until he would go take a nap on Sunday afternoons rather than stay and fellowship in his own home, or sometimes he would just sleep all day on Sunday.
By the time the church moved again, a couple years later, Doug Phillips was only showing up once a month. Now, I understand his ratio averages once every two months. The last year I was at BCA, on the Sundays Doug would actually show up, he would usually arrive late and would often leave immediately after the sermon, while the rest of us were still praying. Doug is now a Christian celebrity and has very little time to care for his flock.
So how much one another-ing is Doug Phillips practicing now? How much love does he show for the brethren? (We won’t even talk about the sisters in this article!) How much time does he invest in his sheep? It’s not like he’s just another traveling man in the congregation. Doug was our SOLE elder. Where was he? I think of Jesus’ example of being a shepherd when He said, “My sheep hear My voice, and they know Me.”
Pastors are often known as “under-shepherds,” meaning that they care for Christ’s sheep under His authority. Clearly, an under-shepherd should know his sheep and know them well. Did we know Doug? Did he know us? At first it really seemed that he did, and that he really cared for us. But as Doug’s popularity grew, and his travel itinerary intensified, he soon became a stranger to us. Doug not only no longer cared about us, it was apparent that his celebrity status had gone to his head. Doug started treating us as though he was better than us.
A particular speech I really enjoy giving is entitled, “How Do Children Spell Love? T-I-M-E.” As sheep without a shepherd, how does Doug show that he loves us? How can he possibly “one another” us when he’s not there? When he runs out the door immediately after the conclusion of the church service, rather than staying to fellowship and minister to his sheep, how is he demonstrating love?
Do you know how often Doug invited church members over to his home just to fellowship? I’m not talking about just church parties. He was great at putting on a party where he would be the center of attention. I’m just talking about having a family over for dinner. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that part of being an elder? There were 20 families at BCA. In five years, Doug and Beall never invited us over for dinner. They never invited 90% of the church over for dinner or fellowship. Doug talks about hospitality a lot and he has the interns over all the time and he has out of town guests over all the time, but he didn’t have his own sheep over, nor did he accept invitations from church members for dinner. Is that a biblical example of one another-ing?
Could it be that underneath the vision for Patriarchy, the vision for men leading their families, the vision for submissive wives, the vision for age-integrated church, the vision for correct doctrine and theology, the vision for music that glorifies God, the vision for doing “church” God’s way, that somewhere along the way, Doug forgot the most important ingredient – the second greatest commandment? Talking about love is a good first step. Spending TIME with people is living it out. Doug Phillips is so busy with his vision, he has no TIME for people anymore. Time equals love.