Your Church Needs You
“How many of you have been to a church leadership conference?” he asked as hands went up across the room. “How many have been to a followership conference?”
He reminded the group that being a leader is only mentioned once in the Bible while being a follower is mentioned about 300 times. Jesus Christ was the leader. It’s our job to follow him.
That set the tone for the rest of Sweet’s talk, in which he spoke for two with enthusiasm and passion and without ever looking at a note. And no one in the room looked bored.
Sweet is a Christian author and theologian and had his ups and downs with the church from an early age.
His mother was a preacher in the Pilgrim Holiness Church.
“It’s like the Marine Corps of Methodism,” Sweet preached. “They only want a few perfect people.”
She was brought up on charges of “worldliness” and defrocked. Her wedding photos were presented as evidence. The charges had three counts, relating to receiving a ring and getting her hair styled (guilty as charged) and wearing makeup. She wasn’t wearing makeup – the wedding photo had been enhanced by the photographer – but that made little difference to the church council.
His father was a much more liberal Free Methodist. The family got kicked out of that church when Sweet was nine for bringing “the Devil’s blinking box” into their home. They were given the option of getting rid of the television to stay in the church, but they decided to keep it.
“My father wanted to watch Bonanza,” Sweet said. “We had relatives that didn’t speak to us for years.”
A few years later, something happened that changed Sweet’s life. They were attending a 2,000-member Methodist Church in Glover’s Ville, New York. The pastor, Dr. Snow, called Sweet and said the organist had eloped. They needed an organist. Sweet explained that he had never played the organ. That he had no idea what the four keyboards were for or all the pedals. Dr. Snow told him not to worry about three of the keyboards or the pedals. Sweet told him he couldn’t do it. Dr. Snow wasn’t asking.
“Lenny, your church needs you. Meet me at the church in an hour,” Dr. Snow said.
Dr. Snow met him at the church and told him he had a few days to spend as much time as he could teaching himself to play the organ.
“He then gave me the keys to the church,” Sweet said. “I was 13 years old.”
A few years later, someone from the church forced him to respond to an altar call when he wasn’t being called, then expressed great disappointment at his reaction.
“By her theology, I had quenched the spirit,” he said.
At that point, he de-converted from Christianity. For the next six years, he became an atheist, a Marxist, had some time with Mao and lived in a raging rebellion against God.
But he still needed money, so every Sunday, he was in church playing the organ.
“I was listening to the Word, hearing it and fighting with it, but I couldn’t escape it,” he said.
He came back to Christ by the age of 24 and with power and passion. He credits Dr. Snow and being given the keys to the church at age 13.
“Lenny, your church needs you,” he said. “I’m here today because of those words.”
Dr. Snow never knew he had any kind of impact on Sweet’s life.
Sweet then told a story about getting to meet privately with the head of the Salvation Army and asking how she managed to broker a gift of more than $1.5 billion from Joan Kroc (of McDonald’s restaurants), the largest charitable donation ever made.
Kroc had grown up very poor, and the one time when they felt secure was when a Salvation Army officer would come by with a couple of bags of groceries. Sometimes he would sit down on the floor and play with Kroc and her siblings. Sweet realized that the gift hadn’t really been brokered by the director at all.
“The biggest gift in the history of philanthropy brokered by an un-named Salvation Army officer who was going above and beyond, delivering food to a home and taking time to give the mother a break by playing with her kids,” Sweet said. “He may have died thinking he didn’t do anything special.”
Sweet eventually brought his talk back around to being critical of popular church leadership and development models. He said Willow Creek pioneered the seeker-sensitive church, but they were a bit off on their terminology.
“God is seeking. We’re the hiders,” he said. “We should be doing sensitive hider worship.”
Sweet said he’s heard many seminary students say they came to seminary so they could preach, but by the time they leave, they want to teach. He doesn’t hear anyone say they want to heal.
“In order of importance, I would rank our task as heal, teach, then preach,” he said. “You are God’s anointed healers for a wounded world.”