This is the fourth installment in a series about 21 years of overcoming conflict and opposition as I’ve tried to learn how to minister and speak the truth in Garland, Texas. You can read the first three chapters in the series at deorl.wordpress.com or in my notes on Facebook.com/deorl.
It has been a financial struggle to keep ministering to the population to whom I’ve been called. Most are young, none are wealthy, many are learning to be faithful when it concerns giving. When we started the church our denomination provided generous financial assistance. After two-and-a-half years that stopped.
I had always thought that our dramatic productions could help with money. That is, if we could make them profitable. Up to this point it had not occurred. We typically brought in just enough revenue to pay the bills for the event. After 1998’s huge House of Judgment I was deeply in credit card debt. Although many people had attended, the show cost much more than our ticket revenue.
In the year 2000 we moved the church into a previously abandoned movie theater in Garland, Texas. The building provided us with the necessary space to do our unique Halloween walk-through play, and to try some other things as well. For example, we did an original Christmas play called Emmanuel. Guests who came to the show walked from scene to scene and ended up in the main auditorium where they were privileged to hear music from a young, gifted musician named Chris Megert. You may have heard him sing on the radio. He is now known as Chris August.
In 2001 we performed The Ransom, an original Easter production. This one was performed on multiple stages, but in the same room. Later that year we decided to try something new for Halloween and produced a contemporary dramatic interpretation of Dante’s epic poem The Inferno. These events were well attended, but the numbers were nowhere near what we had experienced in the mid to late 90’s. So, my plan to use the profits from our dramatic productions to pay the bills for the church didn’t work.
When there are financial problems, family members may struggle with each other. Instead of mounting a unified attack against the problems they are facing, the house becomes divided. Jesus said, “a house divided will fall.” That almost happened to us.
During the production of The Inferno in 2001 there were struggles and misunderstandings. It started when I introduced the concept to our production team. They were less than enthusiastic. However, they were willing volunteers and worked hard to bring the vision to reality. I was working with a young man at the time who showed promise as a communicator of the Gospel. I allowed him to present the invitation at the end of The Inferno. He spoke to numerous audiences and there were many who indicated that they prayed to receive Christ. Then this potential preacher began to show signs of resentment, a reaction that was quite different than I would have ever imagined. During my early years of volunteering in ministry I would have been overwhelmed with the privilege of presenting the Gospel so many times with such success. This goes to prove, capability does not necessarily mean a calling from God is present, or, at least, a calling has not been heard and surrendered to.
There were almost always people who wanted to videotape our shows, usually amateurs. This particular year a man with a video production company wanted to use scenes from our show to put together a DVD series to market to youth groups. I scheduled actors and staff to come in for filming on a Tuesday evening. This was a night we wouldn’t be performing for a live audience. I was excited that our show was going to be seen by youth groups all over the country. I thought everything was going well.
After the taping was finished, one of the volunteers told me that I was needed at the front of the building. What I walked into was a secretly called meeting. My most trusted leaders were in attendance. I had been ambushed. The elder in the group was my associate pastor. He accused me of authorizing a transfer of money from our dramatic production to the church. I was guilty as charged, but this shouldn’t have been a problem for anyone. We needed to pay the church bills and we had earned the money from our production to do just that. In fact, as I’ve indicated previously, this was exactly what we wanted these productions to accomplish financially. The transfer was made to sound shady somehow. It was as if I was being portrayed like a TV evangelist diverting donations from widows to put gold faucets in my Florida mansion.
I reacted strongly; perhaps returning to the elder speaker the disrespect that this meeting and its silly accusation represented to me. There was nothing to the accusation that was being made. It was a thinly veiled effort to unseat me as president of our non-profit, and probably remove me as pastor of the church as well. I saw it as a hostile takeover attempt. It was certainly not professional or Christ-like. They had nothing to say when I presented the facts. There was no more discussion or debate. When I concluded my speech to the group, three key individuals bolted from the room and sped out of the parking lot with screeching tires. One of them was the young man I spoke of earlier to whom I had given the responsibility of presenting the Gospel to our audiences. He and the elder who initiated the accusation never returned to our church. The last man and his wife stayed for awhile, but several years later his family left. I’ve heard about deacons doing this sort of thing in Baptist churches, or a board of directors doing it to the president of a company (ie. Steve Jobs and Apple), but these people were like family to me.
I sought to reconcile. I even invited the elder man to return to present the Gospel at other productions we did, and he acquiesced. Things were never the same after this, though. We had to leave our building in 2002 because there was no heat and because we couldn’t afford the rent any longer. We continued to do shows through the mid-2000’s but have not done anything dramatic since 2008. Perhaps it’s time to begin again. I have to remind myself of God’s promise of vindication, and I need to hear his call once more to proclaim the Gospel via the theatre.