Fallen-through-the-Cracks People and the Church


Recently, Slate skewered the favored mantra of people who claim business success for themselves and therefore want you to know their secrets: “Do what you love. Love what you do.”

In “In the Name of Love,” Miya Tokumitsu notes how well this works for those chosen few who are not working an assembly line in Kokomo. As for those factory workers, the question of loving what they do looms large.

Not everyone gets a corner office. Sometimes, the destination is the basement mail room.

Nothing makes me ponder the vicissitudes of life more than that person who is one day an active presence in a church and then is gone.

In my own Christian experience, the following example people eventually fall through the cracks of our church programming:

FallingThe family with the unruly special needs child, the kid that hoots and hollers sometimes during a quiet Sunday meeting. That harried mom and dad who got one too many stares one Sunday and then weren’t there the next to receive more.

The guys who didn’t grab the brass ring. Often, they seem to be general workmen, “handymen” as it were. They did the odd job, but didn’t do it often enough. One week they are in church, and the next they are gone.

The divorced, diabetic, unemployed mother with the teenage daughter that can’t seem to stop having illegitimate kids. The whole melange lives in a trailer on the outskirts of town, and they come to church now and then, until they get one too many looks or lectures.

The healthy guy who one day stops being so healthy due to the predations of a chronic illness. He used to sit in that back pew near the windows. One Sunday, he was there, and now he’s not.

The cute single gal who gets the dark thoughts that descend on her at random, when her pretty face becomes a mask, and no one knows just what to say. Whatever happened to her? You remember her, don’t you?

I remember.

I wish I knew what happened to these people and why it may be their presence no longer darkens the nave.

I also wonder if the following is more true of them than of the people they leave behind:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…
—2 Timothy 3:12 ESV

We don’t think of the fallen-through-the-cracks people as desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, do we?

But don’t they? In fact, could it be they may have wanted that more than the folks with whom they may have once shared a pew?

Do we think of them as persecuted?

And did we become the persecutors?

There’s a success idol in the Church today. We have our own forms of “do what you love and love what you do.” We find spiritual ways to take our own successes and to project them onto others and ask why that person or persons is not duplicating our achievements. How is it they are still in the basement and not in the corner office? Must be sin in their life. They must be hiding something. Or they’re lazy. Maybe they don’t read their Bible enough.

A group of men had an encounter with a fallen-through-the-cracks person:

As he passed by, [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
—John 9:1-5 ESV

That the works of God might be displayed in the lives of the fallen-through-the-cracks people.

We must work the works of the One who sent us.

Night is coming.

But the Light is still here. For now. Among us. In us.

Sadly, some of us are the ones doing the pushing that results in the fall through the cracks for someone else, someone who desperately didn’t want to fall. We must stop making the problem worse.

Instead, our task is to grab onto falling people and set them on their feet again.

When Right-Hearted Christians Defend Wrong-Headed Theology


Someone had let a whirlwind into the room.

Elder George Merriweather gazed at his Rolex. They’d been at this for only 10 minutes, but it felt like 10 hours. He glanced at Deaconess Lisbeth Cartwright and sighed. The former Miss America candidate from Connecticut nodded, and her blonde curls went bouncing.

Westminster Wesleyan had endured plenty of storms in the church’s nearly 200-year history, but it had scarcely seen the likes of this present hurricane, all 300-pounds in fluorescent eyeshadow of her, Miss T’juana Dupree Jones.

“It ain’t right to call Zion no ’xperiment,” the woman responded. “Alls I sayin’ is that Miss Thelma could use that food too. And Miss Laetitia and Miss Lucinda.”

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III regretted his choice of words. In a way, Zion Holiness Temple was an experiment. Changing demographics in the neighborhood abutting Westminster Wesleyan, while not exactly forcing the church’s hand, made it essential that the church consider an outreach that would bring the Gospel to more of the people who lived in the nearby area. Church leaders also recognized that Zion might need to have its own “flavor” if it was to develop its own style of ministry, one that Hill recognized he wasn’t equipped to understand. While Zion shared much with its parent church, Westminster encouraged the Zion congregation that met under its roof to develop its own programs.

Zion didn’t have a home meals delivery program like Westminster did. And at least one person did not like this disparity.

“Miss Thelma be 91 years old, livin’ alone in a one-room ’partment with no A/C,” Jones continued. “You been up to her place?”

Benevolence Committee leader Quentin Greenway shook his head.

“No, ” Jones said, barely hiding her ire, “I don’t think you been.”

Olivia Brentwell, co-leader of the committee, spoke up.

“You have to understand, Miss Jones, we’re trying to encourage the Zion congregation to—”

“And I’m trying to encourage y’all to recall that Miss Lucinda done got her man blowed up in that desert war and got three precious little babies she need to feed, and y’all got the money and food.”

Greenway leaned forward and attempted his own interjection. He failed miserably.

“And Miss Laetitia been a widow lady for 20 years. You remember her man? Worked hisself to death probably.”

Pastor Hill, who had been listening all the while he played with his Mont Blanc pen, grimaced at the mention. Laetitia Washington’s husband, Franklin, had been Westminster Wesleyan’s janitor for three decades before he passed away.

“Y’all could drive that little van a couple more blocks and drop off them ladies something decent to eat at least once a day,” Jones said. “I don’t see why not. It ain’t right the way it be now. That’s all I gots to say.”

Jones folded her hands into her prodigious lap and stared straight ahead, the laser focus of her eyes burning a hole in the far wall an inch to the right of Greenway’s bald head.

He spoke.

“We have solid, biblical reasons, Miss Jones, for denying the request.”

Jones’s brow knitted.

“We do not wish to enable neediness,” Greenway began. “People fall into a pattern of victimhood that is disempowering. They lose the ability to care for themselves as God intends, instead developing an unhealthy reliance on others.”

Cartwright called on her training and raised herself perfectly erect. “And suffering is good for the soul, Miss Jones. The Bible clearly states that in this world we will have suffering. We should look on it as a gift from the Lord and thank Him for it. Suffering builds character, strength, and perseverance, qualities that every Christian should possess.”

Brentwell smoothed her silk dress and added , “Miss Jones, if we were to give these three women what you ask, how many more should expect the same treatment? God shows no partiality, and neither should we.”

To which Greenway added, “And our own resources aren’t infinite. We have to be able to meet the needs of Westminster’s own.”

The brow-knitting on Jones’s face was beginning to develop its own Zip code.

As he always did, Elder Merriweather saw the moment as a teachable one.

“This is clearly an issue of God’s sovereignty,” he said through steepled fingers, eyes trained on Jones. “While I can commiserate with the plight of these women, they are in the state they are because of God’s will. He alone raises up, and He alone brings low. For us to stand as His judge and claim that we know better by meddling in God’s ways, I daresay our presumption will come back to bite us.”

The human storm stirred again. A hand rose from Jones’s lap, one finger emerging from five, straightening, filled with indignation.

“You with the enabling. You with the suffering. You with the partiality,” Jones said, her eyes flashing, “and you with that word I done never heard before. What all wrong with you? You pushin’ me to sin with what I’m thinkin’, but I’m just gonna say it: Y’all don’t got the common sense God done give a goose.”

Pastor Hill thought to reply when he saw the shock on his leadership team’s faces, but that was before he noticed something on Jones’s face: the track of a lone tear.

“I don’t got nothin’ in this world, not even the stuff in this one office, ” Jones said. “But I can see that I’m gonna have to take my nothin’ and make somethin’ of it so I can take care of three widow ladies who don’t get the food in one day y’all get from one of your brunches.”

At this, Jones lifted herself, collected her faux leopard-skin bag and left, making sure the door of the office slammed with just the right amount of force to make one final statement.

No one said anything.

Finally, Greenway spoke.

“For one, I look at this as a success. That woman left here empowered to take responsibility for the care of these women. By standing our ground, we empowered rather than enabled.”

Brentwell and Merriweather agreed.

“Ministry is hard,” Cartwright added, still a little frazzled by the encounter.

Pastor W. Thornton Hill III didn’t hear his leadership team’s self-congratulations, though. Instead, he could not take his eyes from the old, wooden cross that hung on the wall opposite his desk, just as it had for as long as he could remember.


Here is how another leadership team, long ago and far away, handled a similar situation in a much godlier way:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
—Acts 6:1-4 ESV

God help us when we make up spiritual-sounding excuses supposedly based on “biblical theology” to ignore doing the right thing.

The Wrong Kind of Hope for the Weak


Joe’s car broke down for the third time. He was late to work as a result, so he lost yet another job. To add to the insult, the power company turned off his electricity.  You know this because he’s posting online asking for help.


And his teen daughter is a skank who can’t keep her legs together. Everyone in the church knows how that will end.

Ox-sized Joe shows up in church wearing the most hideous clothes that look slept in. You wonder if he passed out on the couch. You wonder what may have lubricated that slide into unconsciousness.

Still, Joe occupies the same pew week after week, skanky daughter in tow. Part of you feels for the guy. His wife died of cancer at 30, and Joe never was much in the parenting skills department. Look what he has to work with too.

But week after week, Joe’s in crisis. He’s an embarrassment when you get right down to it. The neediness never ends.

Really, the man should learn some boundaries. What’s next? Whatever the issue, it will probably arrive in five, four, three…

Every church has a guy like Joe. Or three or ten. Bad luck seems to shadow those folks. Their laments come one after another, and your compassion tank has run dry. Just bringing up their names elicits squirms and eye rolls. Isn’t it the responsibility of the mature to force folks like that to stand on their own two feet? Isn’t it high time for the tough love?

Paul wrote this:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

—1 Corinthians 12:21-26 ESV

Weak brotherWhen we start talking about the weak, we rarely think of folks like Joe. Our thoughts go to the boy with cerebral palsy or the granny in the wheelchair, especially if that boy and granny don’t demand too much from us. As long as we don’t have to bail them out of endless predicaments, we can deal with their kind of weakness.

Fact is, that boy or granny may be stronger than Joe. Our opinion of problem people like Joe and his daughter and our thoughts they might be served better at another church may signal they are the weakest of all.

Every church has problem people we would rather avoid. If we were serious about what we believe, though, I think we must ask ourselves if it may be the “problem people” Paul intends for us to honor. Not the folks who would make good poster fodder for charities, but the ones who wouldn’t. The people who aggravate us. The ones who don’t know about “boundaries.” The ones we hope would go elsewhere for their spiritual food.

Do we have that wrong kind of hope for the weak? Do we hope the problem people would vamoose? Do we like to define who we think the weak are rather than letting God define them for us? Does God truly love the luckless Joes of this world and their skanky daughters?

Or does God only look proudly on the respectable people like us, the ones who can handle our own affairs without any help (thank you very much)? The ones who live as if we don’t need Him for anything.

You and I don’t get a say as to whom God declares weaker. Ours is but to do His will and make certain we honor those weaker people we sometimes wrongly hope would go away.