Fight or Flight

“No one ever loathed conflict more than Jesus.”

So observed Randall Lolley as he addressed the congregation on Sunday morning, in the early months of his First Baptist Church pastorate in Greensboro.

On the other hand, he added, “Crucifixion is not the product of serenity.”

Randall was referring to an inescapable paradox for a Christian believer. While Christ in his Sermon on the Mount had counseled meekness, nonresistance to evildoers, and turning the other cheek, still “For Jesus, from prelude to postlude was a thousand days’ journey marked by constant confrontation.”

. . .

Conflict and confrontation are stressful experiences for most people, especially for those who enjoy other people and who clearly like to be liked by other people. Randall Lolley was always—in the view of those who knew him long and well—a “people person” par excellence. Maintaining happy and peaceful relationships was high on the list of his personal values.

As a consequence, whenever he encountered opposition or unpleasantness in other people, he would often choose “flight” over “fight” as a stress response. Assuredly this was more in the manner of the “meekness” that Jesus counseled (Gk. praus, “mildness,” sometimes interpreted as “strength under control”) than reticence or timidity.

Baptist church pastors know that interactions with church deacons can, under some circumstances, become stressful. As an “area missionary” for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Randall’s younger brother Tom was occasionally invited to lead local church deacon retreats. During one such gathering at FBC Greensboro, Tom conducted the group through a study of the biblical origins of deacon ministry and the delineation of deacon qualifications, as outlined in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.

Reminding everyone that the word “deacon” means “servant,” Tom encouraged the body to abandon the familiar temptation to function as a ministry watchdog or a board of directors and instead to begin looking for ways to serve as ministers to the congregation while setting before its members appropriate examples of model churchmanship.

The admonition did not “take” with everyone. At a subsequent monthly meeting, one member of the Greensboro diaconate rose to enter what (for him) was a standard and oft-repeated observation—that there were too few baptisms and that church membership figures for the current year showed a slight decline from the year before. What was the explanation, and what could be done about it? (When attending and observing as a ministry staff member, I anticipated

some defense or other response from my pastor. But as on previous such occasions, it did not come.)

Randall was not always so “serene.” In the course of his message on conflict, he had warned, “Now hear this—the New Testament does not give us permission to be angry . . . . [Rather, under the correct circumstances] the New Testament gives us a mandate to be so.” Still, anger—if indeed he experienced it—was a response that Randall kept judiciously suppressed, displaying it only when an occasion seemed to require it.

Miranda (not her real name) was a young woman who attended Sunday morning services for a brief period during Randall’s time in the Gate City. She had a pronounced need for attention—particularly from church ministers. Having arisen from a Roman Catholic background, Miranda would often approach Randall in the hallways, address him as “Father,” and proceed to confess some behavior or attitude that she believed to be sinful. Habitually late for services, when Miranda did arrive, she would make noisy entrances into the room and position herself ostentatiously on a front pew. Once when Randall was leading a Communion service during early worship, she entered the church chapel from a side door to the altar, coffee in hand, whispering audibly to worshipers as they prepared to receive the bread and cup.

Randall proceeded with the service and concluded with a prayer of blessing, appearing unfazed by what was an obvious distraction. As worshipers departed for Sunday school, however, he approached Miranda, took her by the hand, and asked me to come along as he conducted Miranda from the room and upstairs to the pastor’s study.

Once inside, Randall closed the door, went down on one knee, clasped both of the young woman’s hands tightly in his own, and addressed her: “Miranda, I don’t know if you understand what you did downstairs just now. What you did was interrupt the most solemn and sacred observance that we Christians have together. In the process you spoiled the entire experience for many of the people who were there.”

Miranda remained silent and appeared stunned as the pastor continued. “And this is how serious it was, and I want you to hear me when I tell you how serious I am. You are and will remain a welcome and valued part of this congregation. But if you ever, ever do anything like that again, I am going to call the police! Do you understand what I am saying?” Miranda understood, for she never repeated the infraction. The episode illustrated the disinclination of Randall Lolley to respond angrily to any frustration or irritation—except in the most egregious circumstances.

This post originally appeared in Randall Lolley: Thanks for the Memories by Steve Pressley. To read more about Dr. Lolley’s life and ministry, order your copy today.

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