Nicole, our Director of Community Ministries, went to a FREE PASTORS LUNCH with me last week. As the pastor of a local church, I receive a number of invitations to a FREE PASTORS BREAKFAST or LUNCH. Clergy respond to the words FREE and FOOD in the same sentence as if it is an altar call for them. This particular invitation offered a meal at a buffet, and do you know a pastor who can turn that down? I don't know if I have met one.
I had second thoughts before we even got to the event because I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a FREE PASTORS LUNCH. I once attended one meal in which we were required to sit through a sermon by a main speaker. I was willing to do that, but when the speaker announced that she couldn't decide between two messages so she would be preaching them both, I knew I was in trouble. I stayed through the first message, paying my dues, then left. No FREE CLERGY MEAL is worth sitting through two sermons. And the coffee was weak and the eggs were cold.
When we arrived at the restaurant it was packed with thrifty men and women of God (mostly men). I didn't recognize any of them. Apparently Nicole and I were in a select group that no other members of our denomination belonged in. We wanted to sit in the back, but we were ushered to seats at the front near the speaker who was already mesmerizing the crowd with his homiletic skills. It was like one of the parables of Jesus except that we didn't want to be honored. We didn't want the best seats. We preferred to be closer to the exits. As the speaker went on, there was only one question on everyone's minds: "When will he take a break and let us get in that buffet line?"
When he stopped to take a breath, someone managed to pray, and a herd of hungry folks hurdled towards that FREE PASTORS LUNCHEON. The buffet turned out to be much better than I expected, but the program was much worse. Once we had our food (and Nicole and I had managed to move towards the back, letting other people have those choice front row seats - we were modest after all), he continued with his seemingly nonstop barrage of personal stories and anecdotes all of which (I assume) were meant to convince us to purchase the product he was selling.
After being at the event for over 1 1/2 hours and making sure I picked up that extra brownie, I was beginning to plan an exit strategy when the speaker unexpectedly said: "FORNICATORS AND HOMOSEXUALS." As a pastor I hate to admit that I don't really know what the word "FORNICATORS" refers to, and I don't believe I have ever used that word in a sermon. But I now know that if our own congregation on Sunday is beginning to drift then that word will snap them back to attention. I don't know if I have ever met a FORNICATOR, but I can tell you that some of my favorite people in the world are HOMOSEXUALS.
The speaker went on to say that his product could be used a a tool to help HOMOSEXUALS leave their lifestyle. Most HOMOSEXUALS I know aren't all that interested in leaving their lifestyle unless that implies winning the lottery , quitting their jobs, and moving to Maui. What they are looking for in the church is a place of love and acceptance for who they are. The speaker asked for a show of hands of how many of the clergy at the FREE PASTORS LUNCHEON knew about a HOMOSEXUAL who had left their lifestyle. I didn't see any hands go up.
My hand did not go up, but I didn't stand up to walk out either. Anyone observing my silence and my lack of movement could have thought that I approved of what he was saying. A few minutes later Nicole and I did move on, and a few days later I wondered about my lack of action.
What did that FREE PASTORS LUNCH cost me and those that I care about?