When I was a small boy, I often used to say, “Isn’t my drawing good?” or “Don’t I sing good?” or “Did you see that basket I scored?” And my mother would say, “Don’t brag on yourself. Let others say not nice things about you. People don’t like somebody who blows their own horn.” Talking too much about myself has continued to be an issue for me, even as an adult, but I internalized my mother’s constructive criticism and have at least maintained the ideal of a gracious modesty, if not the reality thereof. Have you had this struggle?
When you are associated with a ministry like the First Baptist Church of Portland, this issue becomes quite complicated. As senior pastor, I am painfully aware of the challenges and shortcomings in our congregational life and programming. But I’m proud of our church and I want to brag about it. A recent visitor attended our 11 AM service. She had heard from a loved one about our distinct informal and traditional services and our ministry in Cambodian and our helping hands extended to our neighbors. But she was moved to see who we are and some of what we are doing with her own eyes. She exclaimed, “How come everybody doesn’t know about this place!? How come there aren’t more people here!?” I had thought that we had a pretty good crowd that Sunday. But I took her point. I thought about the arenas full of people we see on religious TV broadcasts. I became defensive (envious?), and said to myself, “People don’t like someone who blows their own horn.”
Another recent visitor offered the unsolicited opinion, “This is the friendliest church I have ever been to.” When I heard this second hand, I was very gratified, for as senior pastor I have tried to set a tone of welcome that cuts across categories of age, gender and ethnicity. But of course people won’t find a welcome if they don’t come by, and they won’t come by if they don’t know we’re here, and they won’t continue coming by simply for a social experience, no matter how inviting. However all people, “religious” or not, have basic life questions, about life and death; sickness and health; singleness, marriage and divorce; success and failure. The world’s most compelling answers stop, as my friend, Dr. Samuel Chetti, has said, “this side of six feet under”. But Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live…” (John 11:25).
—Dr. David L. Wheeler