He was a kind man as well, although he wasn’t always wise. His fatal fluency was his shortcoming as a Classleader. He delivered speeches to the class rather than leading it. Although he spoke frequently and with a strong voice, his views only spread a fairly narrow circle. They continued to circle around in that area inexorably. He had some training in divinity and was able to weave together a lengthy homily using the tiniest of threads. He epitomized prolixity. He was an expert at speaking in a somber, instructional manner. He found much charm in the sound of his own voice. It was time to adjourn the meeting by the time he had concluded his “opening remarks.” But to him, it didn’t seem that way. He had to run down as usual since he was fired up. The disgruntled students in the class must put up with his bottled eloquence. In response to a question, a kind-hearted old sister says she has many difficulties but continues to strive to put her faith in the Savior despite them. With this passage, he raises the tone of his powerful voice and spews out a barrage of eloquent platitudes on the general theme of suffering and difficulty. His voice, not his thoughts, are picking in speed as he goes because there isn’t a single, coherent thought among the long, rumbling barrage of sounds.

A reflective and reserved brother talks about his ongoing mental conundrums and how he came to the class meeting in search of clarity. After taking a break, the leader raises that enormous voice once more and speaks incoherently for thirty minutes, the louder the tone the fuzzier the vocabulary, until the air is thick with mental gloom and torn with senseless vociferation. He starts to sweat, becomes red in the face, claps his hands, and closes with a doxology that it would be disrespectful to use in this context.

He continues in this manner from week to week. The class meetings last far longer than is sensible, and even then, nothing is done to instruct, console, or edify the participants. As a result, as the members become bored and realize they are not being fed, they leave one by one, leaving the leader almost—but not quite—alone. It’s challenging to end a class meeting. Some are drawn to come for the sake of their souls, even though they are repeatedly let down. Sincere and simple-minded Christians make an effort to believe that they, rather than the leader, are at fault, and, like thirsty cattle in a drought, they continue to go to the stream after the water has completely dried up. Yes, once a class meeting has life, it can be difficult to put it to death. Its grueling final battles are agonizing to witness. Its resilience in the face of adversity is evidence of its legitimacy as a tool of grace and of its claim to better treatment from its friends because it is rooted in the inclinations and needs of struggling human souls.

By Nathan Zipfel

Ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene Pastor of the New Life Church of the Nazarene in Boswell, PA. Batchelor of Arts Pastoral Leadership, Nazarene Bible College Master of Arts, Ministry, Ohio Christian University Master of Social Work, Indiana Wesleyan University Behavioral Health Therapist

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