In 1978, I started the first Iranian Christian organization, the Fellowship of Iranian Christians (FIC), in the US. Although, for the first ten years I kept FIC as a loosely-knit group of house churches—yes, I believed in the idea of house churches long before it became popular—eventually, due to our size, we needed to move into a church building.
At the time, that church was considered the flagship of her denomination. Out of the kindness of his heart, the pastor of the church decided to treat me as a part of the staff, even though I was never put on his payroll. And in many ways, our Iranian congregation was treated the same as the English speaking congregation. The Iranian church was never required to pay for any cost we incurred in all the years I pastored there. What a sweet deal, you might say.
For years I felt the same way until the night of the Presidential election in 1998. 1998 was probably the worse and toughest year of ministry for Karen and me. A great split had taken place at our church and Karen and I were desperate for any spiritual support we could receive. At the time Karen worked for the above pastor’s assistant, who we will call Bill.
Bill felt our Iranian congregation could spiritually be benefited if, at a Wednesday night service, we had the English speaking church pray over us. Unfortunately, he picked the night that President Clinton was re-elected for a second term.
I got all the members of my church I could muster up and brought them to the service. The pastor showed up on the platform quite angry because, earlier, a nationally broadcasted TV reporter, Brinkley, had called Clinton, a “Goddamn bore”. So he preached a firey message on respecting those God has put over us, even if they are Democrats, which went on and on and on for way over an hour.
As soon as he finished, the offering was taken and the pastor was about to dismiss the people when Bill leaned over and reminded him the reason why the Iranian church was at the service. I know what was said next in front of my wife, children, the Iranian church members and not to mention 900 English speaking church members might shock some of you, but it did happen.
“Well, I guess we now are going to pray for our TOKEN Iranian pastor,” the pastor announced to the audience. I can’t tell you the amount of shame I experienced at that moment. But after talking to Karen, we decided to drop the issue for two reasons. One, because of his generosity towards our church and second, we considered his statement a harmless AIR-HEADED remark, that any pastor could make in the heat of the moment and he really did not mean anything by it. But as you will see, there was nothing further from the
Now, let’s fast forward to January 2006. I had requested to meet with the same pastor to discuss some of the problems with a leader I was serving under at our denomination’s headquarters. Unbeknownst to me, our beloved pastor had spent an hour talking to the leader I had a problem with and he had given the pastor some false information about me.
No sooner had I entered the pastor’s house, than he began attacking me for something I had not done. Among other harsh words he used to describe me, he said, “I always knew you were an airhead. That is why you were not able to grow your church any larger.”
According to this great and anointed man of God (I hope you feel the sarcasm), the measure of a pastor is directly related to the size of his membership. It was then when I realized that his remark made nine years earlier was not an air-headed remark, but a calculated and purposefully malicious one.
By the way, it took me almost two hours to show him he had been given some wrong information about me. And when he finally realized he had misjudged me, he began to soften his tone and back peddle. But by then, the damage was done and once again, this TOKEN Iranian pastor was reminded that he was also an AIRHEAD.
Yes, my dear pastors, do not let them fool you. Size does matter. That is, the size of your congregation. You know, in all the years of attending my old denomination’s annual conventions, for once, I would have loved to see, as our main speaker, brother “Doodad” whom his greatest accomplishment in the past three years was to have successfully closed down five churches. I wanted to hear the pain of a man who had done all the right things and yet ended up with all the wrong results. I wanted to hear someone I could identify with. Hey, the Bible says something about the last days and old men dreaming dreams.