I flew into Tampa for a conference, and for the first time, got a ride from a Lyft driver. Where I live, there isn't much use for Lyft. If you need a ride, you just stand on the side of the road; in a minute or two, someone you know will come by, stop and holler: "Hey, you need a ride?" It's a pretty efficient system, and it's free. I know quite a few people in Tampa, but I thought it might take a while for one of them to come by, so Lyft seemed the better option.
I wasn't sure how much I was supposed to talk to the driver. To be honest, I was having trouble breathing, since I am allergic to cats and there was cat hair everywhere in the backseat. It made me wonder if his last passenger was a cat lady.
My driver, however, was in the mood to talk. It was basic stuff at first; weather, how long he had driven for Lyft (two weeks), what I was doing in town and where we were from. He began to tell me about his college experiences at Southeastern University in Lakeland, a Christian school and how he studied to be a worship leader.
At this point, I knew if I didn't identify myself as a pastor, I would have to start lying, so I fessed up to my profession. He chuckled and said, "So you're a survivor of the church wars." I hadn't heard my profession described in those terms before. I asked my driver if he still served a church. He told me no. He had served as worship leader in three churches for nine years, but he had discovered most people in church weren't Christians.
He went on to share a story about two men who came to blows one night during a church business meeting over the color of the carpet in the new church building and how that pretty much ruined church for him. He followed that story with a tale or two about church power plays and preachers getting fired.
Most church members, he said, didn't even know the Bible. They didn't know that Jesus was about love. It seemed to him that church people just wanted to judge other people and feel superior to everyone else. So, he declared, he got tired of it and left church behind, again telling me that, in his opinion, 90 percent of all church people weren't Christians.
I admit at this point I was feeling a little defensive, since I happened to believe there are many people who do follow Jesus and go to church. Very few of us, however, follow Jesus very well. But, he was driving in rush-hour traffic, and I thought starting an argument with him wasn't a good idea.
I asked him if he had a church home. He told me no, that he was right with Jesus, and that's all that mattered. He knew the Bible, he said, because his education at Southeastern had prepared him well. The Old Testament didn't matter because no one kept all the laws; if we did, we'd be stoning people all the time. He knew Jesus was all about love, and that's all that mattered.
It struck me that he was just as condemning as the church people he was condemning. He opted out of church and made up his own standard of conduct, choosing to do his faith life on his own.
I'm not sure if this is true, but I think he had a lot of hurt from his days on the church staff. I don't think he had forgiven the people who had hurt him, or even really faced his pain. He talked about his days in ministry in a detached way, as though they were a sealed tomb. It was clear he felt justified to walk away.
We arrived at the hotel. I shook his hand, thanking him for the ride. I wanted to say some word of healing and hope, but I knew he had to hustle for his next customer. So, I told him "God bless you," which seemed so weak, got out and got my bags out of the trunk. Off he drove, ready to give someone else a Lyft.
As he drove off, I thought: "There goes a man who was called, who was hurt and who walked away." Who was to blame? The people in church that hurt him? Him, because he walked away? Someone else he didn't tell me about, who might have encouraged him?
It made me sad. What a waste.
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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