All you have to do is read the headlines on the interweb to know that we live in some crazy times. It seems like people are all to willing to use violence as a means of promoting their agenda. And it seems to be a growing trend that more and more people are on psychotropic medications, and when they fail to take their meds all sorts of problems ensue. For better or for worse, in this type of environment churches become targets and magnets for all sorts of people. This can present terrific opportunities for ministry and evangelizing the lost, but it also presents some potential dangers.
On one occasion I found myself in a precarious situation. It was a lazy summer evening, the service was well attended, and I felt good about my sermon. Towards the end of the worship service I noticed a rather large man loitering in the narthex—I could see him through the glass windows in the back of the church. I wasn’t too bothered about this and didn’t think too much about it. The service ended, I chatted with a few people, and then this gentleman wandered over my way and wanted to talk with me. I was happy to do so—we found a pew in the front of the church and began to talk. Before I knew it I was listening to some whacky stuff—a long diatribe as to how Cornelius Van Til (a noted Reformed apologist) was in league with communists and had somehow, even though he was not alive at the time, aided and assisted the overthrow of the Tsars during the 1917 Russian revolution. As this man continued to talk I noticed that he was agitated and was sweating profusely, and then I got a bit nervous because as I copped a few glances around the church I realized I was alone with this person! Everyone had left the building and I quickly realized that I was potentially in danger. I didn’t want verbally to embrace this man’s theories—I had no idea who he was and whether he was trying to bait me into saying things that would discredit the church. Did he have an audio recorder and was he waiting for me to agree with him that, yes, the Jews did secretly fund the Russian revolution? The thought did cross my mind to agree with him to pacify him and then get him out of the building so I could leave, but instead I resorted to my usual verbal fencing maneuver of, “Hmm . . . really? I’m not so sure about that. What book did you say that’s in? I’ve never heard that before.”
As this conversation went on I did two things: I prayed and I planned. First, I prayed that the Lord would send me help—someone to check on me. Second, I started thinking through my tactical options. In the event that this guy lunged at me, what would I do? I figured that a swift kick to the groin or stepping on his knee until my foot hit the floor would suffice and then I could bolt for the door behind him, run, and dial 911 as I was off to the races. I figured that I could outrun him (I’m a runner) and he was a bit portly. I would suffer serious harm, however, if he got a hold of me. Blessedly, I didn’t have to resort my tactical options because the Lord answered my prayers. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my elders and his wife and they were checking to see if I was ok! Thank you, Lord! I waved them over, gave them a quick summary of this man’s theories about Van Til’s communist sympathies, and they then informed me that “it was time to go,” which gave me an out. The conversation ended and I never saw the man again. But the whole incident got me thinking.
After my encounter I told my elders and key people in my church that we needed to keep an eye out for potentially dangerous situations. I think that such advice is vital today. Don’t let your pastor get cornered. Be cautious about strangers, especially if they’re acting oddly. Make a plan for how to handle difficult situations. These days, I would consult with local law enforcement and ask them what precautions you should take. Perhaps assign people each Sunday to be mindful of security issues—be prepared—have pepper spray, zip-strip cuffs, and a cell phone ready to dial 911. Talk about security plans with your congregation so they know how to handle dangerous situations. Ensure that people are not alone in the building without taking precautionary security measures. Yes, we should trust the Lord to care for us, but he also gave us brains and common sense. So, trust the Lord but keep your powder dry!