On the 90s show Home Improvement, the lead character, Tim Taylor, had a home improvement show called Tool Time. On that show, he had an assistant named Al Borland. Al spent much of the time on Tool Time cleaning up after Tim, who had more confidence than know-how and was frequently in situations that caused injury, physical harm, or danger. In a behind-the-scenes documentary on the show, Tim Allen (who played Tim Taylor) stated that the idea for Al Borland was that he was the guy who probably should have been the host of the show, but he didn’t get it because he wasn’t “entertaining enough.” Because someone else could tell better jokes, could work the crowd right and could spike ratings, Al was perpetually doomed to live his life in the flannel background while the more entertaining character got put front and center, even though he didn’t know what he was doing. Even though everyone “loved Al,” when it came down to it, Al wasn’t the one they wanted because he wasn’t as entertaining as Tim.
This past week, I realized I am the Al Borland of ministry.
Bear with me on this one.
For nearly eighteen years, I have watched church people gravitate toward what entertains them. This is true for leaders, as well. As much as we gripe and complain about the fact that everyone seems to want entertainment more than they want God, we are the first ones who want the people who are entertaining to come to church as guest speakers. We want the people who will entertain us – who will be hard on our people and say all the things we want to say to them, but don’t feel that we can. The church as a whole is very responsive to screaming, shouting, angry, mean preachers who condemn and chide and make us all feel better about what we’re not doing because they make us feel like someone else is worse than we are. We don’t want a leader who is real with us, or who really cares about us, but a leader who will move us up or connect us. Everyone thinks they are great, and perfect, and resist learning, and forgets that true covering and ministry work is much, much more than just being tickled.
I scrolled down my feed this week to notice that several ministers I know who might claim to “love me” or like things I post online are having events that, once again, I am not included in. I can live with this fact, because I do accept that not every speaker is right for every event, and do recognize that there are financial issues often involved in speaker selection. But it’s more than being occasionally excluded or passed up. It’s never being a consideration, even a blip on the radar. They love everything I say, but don’t go buy the book, or send an offering, or EVER consider me for stuff. And I say EVER because we go on, year after year, and I am passed up while they go on to get scammed, time and time again, or look to other people for things, or go on their merry way, all the while ‘loving’ me so much that they don’t consider me, yet again. The majority of people who say “we’ll have to have you” never follow through. I have been acknowledged as competent, by many as being in this or superior in understanding than they are…and here I sit because I am not deemed as “entertaining” enough or not able to “move them up to the east side” as fast as they want to go.
And yet there they sit, on the south side, not moving anywhere, no matter who they get for stuff. But, I digress.
To make matters more insulting, the problem isn’t so much that I am not included, but it is who IS included. Scrolling down my feed this week, I noted people – all who praise me to the sky but never give me the time of day professionally – who had people of known questionable character in their events. One was a woman who is frauding people openly, engaging them in contracts that are outrageous and then making sure she gets paid and they do not. One was a man who has almost no members in his church because he has no idea what he is doing, and another was someone who isn’t even that great of a preacher. The three of them were all people of questionable character. But because they have on a ridiculous preaching outfit, they spit and sweat and yell about politics and sound all “churchy,” they are there…and I am not.
To say it like the church mothers would, “Don’t nobody come on here and tell me ‘your gifts will make room for you.'” We’re taking that phrase out of context and using it to keep us from addressing things that we just don’t want to deal with. Our gifts can’t make room for us if you acknowledge they are there, but won’t even let us in the building! There is nothing wrong with my gifts, there is nothing wrong with my patience (I feel 18 years in ministry speaks to that), there is nothing wrong with me or my ministry. I don’t want to hear “God’s got a plan” because the problem isn’t God, nor His plan. I am not writing this out of hurt or offended feelings. It is what it is and I am not going to be brushed off with the things we all say to try and placate each other out of cold, hard facts. It’s not my gifts, it’s not that I am not in God’s plan, it is not that it’s not my season: it is that the church wants people to be in their face, hard, mean, entertaining, spitting, singing, and sweating, because if we don’t do that, then we aren’t doing church. And we are refusing to make room for people who know more, who have more experience, and who, believe it or not, are quiet enough to hear just what is being said and be prepared to retort to it with all it deserves when the moment arrives.
It doesn’t seem to matter that well more than half (maybe somewhere in the extreme of 80%) of the ministers I have met over the past several years are either claiming to be in an office they aren’t called to (and it’s obvious), or are mis-officed (they are really something else) or they aren’t called to ministry at all. If they can work a crowd, if they can stir things up, they’ll get the preaching engagement, and the money, and everyone fussing over them. If I get invited to preach somewhere, I won’t get invited back (I’ve been invited to speak more than once at two churches; one stopped speaking to me years ago and one I consider to be as family, and I thank God for them) because I’ll say something that’ll call someone out without even knowing it. It’s that gift of mine that doesn’t make room for me, it throws me out the door, every time.
Believe it or not, I can jump a pew or a chair with the best of them. I can stir up a crowd, depending on the message. I am just selective about how and when I do it. I desire to hear from and move with the Spirit and do what is needed at the time. I am not five offices in one. I am not going to be outlandish or obnoxious just to get in someone’s door. You might not feel that makes me good enough for your pulpit or to headline your event, but it doesn’t change that I know my office, and I know what I am doing.
I’m an Al Borland. I know what’s going on in your churches and ministries, and I’ll call it out when I see it. I don’t care if I am entertaining or not, although I’ve been told I do a good job (and my Youtube videos testify to it). I am just different. I am frequently excluded, and often shoved out of the picture because someone always thinks the grass is greener over the septic tank. Just remember what’s in the septic tank. When the pretty, green grass sinks because the tank is leaking, remember I’m here. Then, like now, I’ve got just what the church needs.
Tim got in trouble, and Al knew what to do, and at that moment, it didn’t matter who moved the crowd; it mattered who could solve the problem and fix the mess. Churches, let the Al Borlands of ministry in to fix these messes. We might not be your first choice, but in the end, Tim Taylor sets the fire, but can’t put it out.
(c) 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.