When I think of Kevin Childs, I think of dead Easter bunnies.
That’s a compliment.
Childs was pastor of the well-known, and growing, The Rock Church in Conway before recently succumbing to a battle against cancer.
His body has already been buried, but he hasn’t been forgotten, and likely won’t be. Which brings me back to how I first encountered him.
It was a couple of years ago. He had become an occasional commenter on my blog and Facebook page. While others who knew him have been recounting the times they watched him deliver sermons with diapers and conducted baptisms and other spiritual rituals with an inviting demeanor, our relationship (if that’s the right word) was so 21st century. We never met face-to-face but had good, passionate exchanges about the world’s most vexing social problems – via keyboard.
We disagreed. A lot. My brand of faith didn’t allow us to see eye-to-eye, except in one important way, which brings me back to those Easter bunnies.
It was a couple of years ago and, while blogging, I came across a few local and national headlines Childs had made. For Easter, he had sent out invitation cards that included an image of a dead rabbit surrounded by a trashed Easter basket and several broken, colored eggs.
Its caption: “Bunnies stay dead. Jesus didn’t.”
That led to reactions such as this, from Christianity Today: “Stupid church tricks: Dead Easter bunny.”
I’ve come across other well-intentioned attempts by people of faith that strike out with the public at large. (The message was simply meant to get people to remember to focus on something real and lasting, like Jesus, not a mythical creature with two long ears but was undermined by the disturbing image.) Too often when criticized for such an action, the person of faith in the center of the storm cries persecution. They rarely take the time to reflect, to reassess.
Childs, though, when I got in touch with him, took the road less traveled. He explained himself and said it didn’t come across as he intended.
He went further than that on his blog, which is why I’ve admired him from afar these past couple of years even as I knew our worldviews would never merge:
“The question I have faced the most has been this: `Any regrets? Would you do it again?’ And I have quickly responded with ‘YES!’ Now, frankly, I’m not so sure,” Child wrote. “Not because I don’t believe in the message we wanted to send out. Not because our motives were wrong. And not because I’m shrinking or caving in because of harsh criticism. But if MUCH of the criticism is coming from the very people my own heart longs to reach, THAT stops me in my tracks. I could pretend otherwise. I could stick my jaw out, think up some zinger come-backs, and pretend I’m ‘earnestly contending for the faith.’”
He continued: “Listen, if fussy over-churched little Pharisees slam us, I honestly could not care less. BUT … if their unbelieving neighbors say that we’ve pushed them FURTHER from faith, that will keep me up at night. If our attempt at edgy irreverent outreach cast our church and Christianity in a bad light, blame me. Just me. And I apologize.”
It’s not just that he sent out a sincere, earnest apology; it is that he had the humility to see beyond his own passion, his own wants. Speaking his truth mattered, yes. He believed his message could save lives in this world and souls in the next. But he also understood that speaking a truth that becomes a barrier to others is no truth at all.
It’s akin to the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath, first do no harm. Reach those you can; don’t hurt those you can’t.
I imagine pastors throughout the Grand Strand routinely think about their impact, their legacy, when one of their own is called home, if they’ve reached all they’ve been called to reach, comforted those needing comfort, guided those under their influence in positive ways to help shape their lives, and the community, for the better.
Might I suggest it won’t be dependent upon the perfectly delivered sermon or teaching a clear, uncorrupted theology?
It will be determined by how they affect real people, those in the pews and those on the other side of the web with whom they’ll never shake hands.
But they first must be able to see beyond their own self-interest, as Childs did, allowing a not-well-thought-out image of a dead bunny to reach a man who never once sat in his church during a Sunday morning service.
There’s something to be said about being perfected by our imperfections.
“I’ll always run the risk of offending 100 church people to reach one unchurched soul,” Childs wrote. “BUT I don’t want to unnecessarily offend scores of unreached people just so we get on the news.
“I think it is time for some noticeable humility, though … starting with me. And humility doesn’t come easy.
“But if we want to be like Jesus …”
Contact Issac Bailey at email@example.com or @TSN_IssacBailey