There is a need
We live in a society with an infinite amount of self-help books, motivational speakers, therapists, bloggers, talk show hosts, experts, gurus … I can write my name under at least two of said catégories as a blogger and author of an inspiring, motivational book titled "Becoming Bold". What can be gleaned from these myriad of successful entities? There is a need, nay a demand for them. People are seeking answers for their life. They want help for the emotional and mental stressors that assault them daily. Sleepless nights, anxiety and pills are not an option on the path to attaining true peace of mind and Zzz’s. Millions of people are humble enough to admit that life is too hard to do it on their own. Direction is welcome, even in the most indirect ways. Some people aren’t looking until they happen to be presented with answers to their immediate problems and can’t help but perk up and take note. Those offering help serve as a GPS system or a guide in helping individuals navigate life. I think it’s fair to say for Christians, God is the original GPS, and Christ an original guide.
What does all the above got to do with “Mercy Road?”
I wrote “Mercy Road” as a way to dramatize why and how masses of people choose to receive help from a church. Generally, most people don’t think of church or pastors as motivational speakers or gurus or people who actually care about their congregation, but they are. The difference is they approach life from a Godly, Biblical perspective with God and Christ being the one true example of how to pattern one’s life after. Truthfully, if you’re living a biblically centered life that’s a pretty awesome thing with lots of awesome life-affirming principals to utilize in your everyday life. I think the perspective on church and Christians is terribly skewed because Christianity can be so polarizing and the people speaking on behalf of the church and Christians tend to use the pulpit for their own personal agendas. They are not trying to advance the kingdom in the way Christ taught, but are seeking to advance their own empires by using words and catch-phrases Christians recognize to twist the truth. Problem is many Christians aren’t vocal in speaking out against these miscreants. Meaning you don’t murder or berate someone because you oppose his or her views. These types of people hi-jack the dialogue about what's actually being done and said within the walls of the church. Though, I also find there are far too many wolves in sheep’s clothing within churches and that too dilutes the true message and meaning of Christianity.
“I would have been a Christian had it not been for Christians.” Gandhi
This hugely popular quote by Gandhi sums it up. It’s wolves that have infiltrated all aspects of life that have also infected the church like child molesters perpetrating as teachers or a sweet-faced spokespersons, con-artists perpetrating as business executives, liars perpetrating as judges are the very same wearing church robes or suits to for their own gain. No field is untouched, but no one is abandoning all executives or calling for the entire legal system to be abolished. It calls for vigilance and action to sniff out and call out these frauds for who they are. Not speaking is a sign of corporation.
Church is a business
At the end of the day, churches are in the business of giving and helping people whether in the form of advice, counseling, encouragement or affirmation, or in more tangible ways like with food, clothes, and shelter. Church members feed the poor, give or volunteer at health care facilities, offer disaster relief aid and give all forms of assistance to shelters for teens, adults and battered women. You don’t have to be a Christian to serve those in need. But it’s a Biblical must if you call yourself a Christian and many Christians absolutely do serve others. The problem is they don’t have publicists and they don’t write press releases every time they do. Church is also a business that needs to keep its doors open for the needs of its members, staff and the community it serves. Lights, water, salaries to employees who clock-in at 8A.M. and clock-out at 5P.M. need to be paid on time. We never hear about that part of church business because the churches doing the right thing never talk about it. That’s not what the church does—publicizes or celebrates its efforts, but maybe they should. I can see heads rolling right off and tongues wagging. Pandemonium would ensue. However, a kind way to get the word out about programs or efforts the church is organizing outside of its walls would be a great way to get non-churchgoers involved while highlighting that the church is here is to help not just to open on Sundays, and then be closed all other days of the week. I’m certain there are local churches that are doing just that.
The fictitious church of Mercy Road found in my pilot is no different. Mercy Road Ministries offers therapy in the form of how to understand God, how to serve others, how to live a Godly life, and how to care for your soul. They employ a full staff that work full time serving the needs of its members and community daily. These servings of help and daily practical truths are served warm on a bi-weekly or if you choose, a daily basis. You’ll walk into the sanctuary, take a seat in the pew, and Pastor Mercer will begin a sermon that speaks directly to what you’ve been dealing with for the past week or your entire life in the span of 2 hours. How did he do that you wonder? Soon that question is abandoned because your bigger problem is your broken marriage or addicted son. At Mercy Road, members and visitors laugh, cry, share, agonize with themselves over stories and lessons they hear, and then find communion with people in the same situation or encouragement from an empathetic ear.
Money, money, money…
Christians who attend mega churches like Mercy Road do so for different reasons. Usually it’s born out of the pastor’s ability to tap into the heart of peoples’ struggles. It’s goes far beyond money. It’s about individuals living their best lives in all areas of life. Living without financial debt, and making wise investments is certainly a part of the discussion and very much a Biblical principal. These two elements about money had long been neglected for decades in the church because pastors were so fearful of even speaking about the evil dollar. Money is an inanimate object that represents wealth and in the hands of the wise and understanding it can be a powerful tool for good. We aren’t all so fortunate to come from homes that teach money management. Honest talk about money with regard to inheritance, legacy and debt are valuable discussions and should happen in church along with all other topics. Vain ambition and greed is what corrupts, and being a Pastor doesn’t prélude him/her from these problems or turmoil in life or any other Christian for that matter. The rains of life falls on the sinner and saint alike.
When you want to believe
The rain is pouring on Eli. We find Eli in the middle of a serious faith test—his wife is dying of Stage 4 breast cancer. He wants to believe in God, in the promise. He wants to have unshakeable faith in the face of his worst adversity; but he can’t help but doubt. In front of his eyes is the withering, decomposing body of his living wife. Like Eli, we wish we could be better when the rubber meets the road, and Eli is that upright man, but this situation is unlike anything he’s ever dealt with. Abraham was confronted with a similar decision. He believed in the promise that his wife would conceive a child in her old age, but Sarah’s doubt coupled with his own fears, allowed him to succumb to her mounting pressures to take a second wife and to conceive with her. Sarah decided she was going to help God out.
Life is not so black or white or X’s and O’s. People are spurned into action by an array of events that conspire together. Usually there is a defining moment or a tipping point, but it’s seldom one singular incident that provokes one life-altering decision. In my pilot script you will see how Pastor Mercer, agonizes, backpedals and then crumples all while leading a mega-church that grew too big, too fast.
And to clarify, not every pastor is seeking to become a mega church pastor—it’s too demanding, and far too much pressure. A pastor simply knows and accepts the purpose he or she has on their life, which is to serve others and to share the Gospel of Christ. They are one in the same. Pastors who move in their calling are surprised when millions of people are interested in how they present God and their message. Does money corrupt? Sure. Does it always corrupt? No, of course not. Being a mega-church pastor is an abnormally bright pulpit to stand on. All of your spots and blemishes are blown out but that abnormally bright light magnifies a looming shadow in the background. Is it foretelling or is it just reality lurking several paces behind the floodlights?
Either way God is not afraid of an imperfect person. In fact, God welcomes them. He wants honest people. He wants people who aren’t seeking to abuse His grace and mercy. I find the Bible to be one of the most honest discourses on human behavior. It’s chalked full of the good, the bad, and the ugly and God gave answers to them all.
We are mortal
A flawed pastor is not an indictment on the church; it’s an indictment on a fallen world, but for God’s Grace… if we could all show mercy without judgment. If we could all learn what it means to love unconditionally. If we could all be Jesus. Mercy Road is about flawed people who are still trying. These flawed people have entered the narrow gate and are still on the road. They haven’t turned around just because they messed up. They keep pressing forward, onward fighting the good fight. Those flawed people fill the pews every Saturday or Sunday in church. Some of them are there to listen to the Pastor some are their because they believe they are supposed to be there. While others are there to network, date, and/or be seen. Nevertheless, all are welcome.
For me, there was over five years of absolute resistance of even visiting The Potters House Church in Dallas, Texas. Multiple friends insisted that I would “really like it”. I scoffed; I didn’t like big churches. At long last, at my wits end with where my life was, I accepted another friend’s offer to attend. I walked into the foyer before service had begun, I had never heard Pastor Jakes preach, nor had I any intention of becoming a member, volunteering within two ministries one with one of the Assistant pastors, or signing up for their ministerial program. Though, the moment I walked in I knew that was where I had to be. It was the best decision I ever made. I became stronger and a more awake person. Did I have all the tools inside of me? Absolutely. Did I know how and when to use them? No. Pastor Jakes was and is a great leader, preacher and teacher.
So, why church?
I’m pointing out church as a means to gaining Godly guidance to life’s challenges as a sign of wisdom within humanity: the desire and ability to learn from the mistakes of others or from a teacher. It’s why history lessons are so important: to not repeat the mistakes of our forbears. Church is the location Christians assemble to regroup; find encouragement and support; seek answers to life’s most challenging questions and obstacles in order to have the mental fortitude to be of service to others. To those on the outside looking in this integral, indispensable, fundamental, crucial truth is most surely lost in the noise.