Who's on Your Side?

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In 2 Samuel 15, Absalom begins to make a play for Davidʼs throne. He stands outside of the city gates, talking to people who are bringing a complaint to the king. He validates the peopleʼs complaints, then laments that they have no representative and finally adds, “If only I were appointed judge of the land...” Very sly. In fact, it was such a clever move that he “stole the hearts of the people of Israel.”

Itʼs a scene thatʼs not far removed from our churches. We all seem to have an agenda, and our ideas seem much more valuable and important than everyone else's. And oftentimes, when our ideas are “dismissed” we take it a lot more personally than we should.

One of my most disheartening experiences as a rookie pastor was seeing the political games played behind the scenes in church. Growing up a pastorʼs kid, I wasnʼt unaware of all the things that happened in the background, but experiencing it first hand was something else.

This "rallying up the people to be on your side", as Absalom did, is something Iʼve been hearing about more and more. A friendʼs church recently made a decision, and a key member was displeased with it. That member rallied others from the congregation and started making lots of noise. It got so bad that people were openly protesting and picketing the church.

Some members of another church didn't like their pastor, so they got a group of like-minded people together and unofficially formed an “anti-pastor” group. Naturally, the pastor felt threatened, so he organized his supporters from the congregation. In meetings, the pro-pastor faction constantly butted heads with the anti-pastor faction.

Toxic.

We may never be able to completely get rid of the fighting and political/position jousting that happens within a church, but we can do something to help the situation instead of making it worse. The story of Joshua has been on my heart for the past couple of months.

Joshua is getting ready to enter Jericho. What must be going through his mind? Is he able to sleep at night? Is he able to exude a calm demeanor in front of his people? We pastors often get anxious before a big event, but this is war. It's life and death. The odds are against Joshua, and on top of that, the manna has stopped coming. If he's not successful, thereʼs no more food from heaven.

So there he is, near Jericho. It sounds like he's alone, perhaps gathering what could be his last thoughts. Maybe he's praying. Maybe he's taking a break from his army. Then in front of him stands a man with a drawn sword in his hand. Probably not a sight you'd want to see, especially if youʼre alone. So, cautiously (my interpretation), Joshua walks up to the man and asks, “Hey, are you for us, or are you against us?”

Leaders, how many times have we asked that question about people, whether it was actually to them, or just in our heads? One of my former “bosses” in youth ministry thought I was “against” him. Itʼs a long story, and I wasnʼt. It was a simple miscommunication on both our parts, but for a whole month, in our youth staff meetings, he wouldnʼt look at me or even have his body facing my direction. He would talk to me by either looking straight down at his computer, or at someone else. He made sure that he didn't make eye contact with me and he made it obvious so that everyone on staff would know that he wasn't pleased with me. It was such an awkward position to be in. “Whoʼs on my side?” and “Are they really for me or are they against me?” can be questions that ring through our minds and our hearts in ministry.

So Joshua is standing in front of a man who's holding a sword. He's probably calculating what his next step might be when the man answers. If the man is for him, then Joshua will need to seriously talk/train/rebuke/scold/punish this man for not staying where he was supposed to, especially in a time of war. If this man is a foe, Joshua will need to think and move faster than the man to stay alive. Joshuaʼs knuckles are probably turning white as he grasps his sword, anticipating the manʼs answer. “Neither,” replies the man.

What an odd reply. What are you supposed to do with that?

The man explains that he is the commander of the army of the Lord. Not only that, the story ends rather abruptly. Joshua asks what message God has for him and angel of the Lord simply commands Joshua to take off his shoes, for he is on holy ground. What gets to me the most is the response of the commander, “Neither.” He is not for the Israelites, nor is he against them. Perhaps, the angel of the Lord is more concerned with where Joshua stands. Maybe that's why the angel responds with, “Take off your sandals” when Joshua asks what message God has for him.

So much of our energy is spent trying to figure out who's for us. Everyone has what they think is a great plan for the church. People want to push their agendas and ideas. They want to know who supports them; who's on their side. But as leaders entrusted with Godʼs ministry, instead of concerning ourselves with who is on our side, we should be more concerned with whose side we are on. Paul writes, “Am I trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?” and Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God.” We have to remember, the church and ministry we are entrusted with isn't ours, it's Godʼs. We're doing the work and will of God—never the other way around.

Joseph Yoo is pastor of youth and spiritual formation at Valencia United Methodist Church in Valencia, CA. He blogs at Step by Step.
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