It’s 11:10 PM. I’m writing this post at 36,000 feet, traveling at precisely 493 miles per hour over Perryton, Texas, on my way to Seattle. It’s the end of a long but enormously satisfying day in New Orleans. (Gretna to be exact, on the Westbank of that iconic city.) My hosts for this visit to Believers Life Family Church (BLFC) were Pastors Randy and Cathy Cilluffo, two extraordinary people who have served this church for over 14 years. They’ve shepherded their congregation through a major expansion of ministries and a building program, not to mention the harrowing months and years after the storm of the century, Katrina. This would be enough to command my admiration and loyalty to these good friends, but there’s actually more–a lot more.
I first visited Believer’s Life in 1986. Yes, that’s 1986–25 years ago. That’s when Randy and Kathy’s predecessors, David and Millie Long were there. I’ve made almost annual visits ever since. During that time, Pastors Randy and Cathy have made numerous ministry visits to Washington, offering everything from their wise counsel to their limitless generosity. In fact, BLFC is our second longest running supporting church in the country–the Tabernacle of Orchard Park, New York, is the only one that beats them. 25 years is a long relationship by any estimation–and there’s no end in sight. In fact, on this visit they renewed their commitment to our work on Capitol Hill.
All this is terribly important to me. Washington, DC, is a lonely place to live and minister. Like New York it’s a city that never sleeps–and never, ever relaxes. It runs on tension and adrenaline. People are transient–they come and they go. Everyone seems to be competing with each other–it’s the nature of politics. And trust is very hard to find. Betrayal is part of the game of winning, gaining advantage, defeating your opponent. And, as one of the past chaplains to the United States Congress told me, “Most pastors get to see their congregants on their best day and on their best behavior, Sunday. We get to see our members on their worst days and their worst behavior.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade my calling for anything, even if God offered me a choice. (Which, He clearly has not!) But friends like Randy and Cathy, and church families like BLFC make it so much easier, so much more enjoyable, so much more bearable. Their interest, their prayers, their moral support, and their generous financial support form a lifeline to us from Heaven. Even more, they create a network of accountability. Washington is a place full of temptation. I learned that when a lobbyist offered me $1 million dollars to abandon my ministry and work as a spokesman for his high-paying clients. I had to literally get up from the lunch table and flee to escape succumbing. Churches like BLFC form a bulwark agains that sort of satanic seduction.
Churches also provide our ministry with individuals supporters, volunteers, and other tangible and intangible resources. They’re the gateway to an almost infinite number of wonderful people that form what I call our “extended ministry team.” Maybe they pray for us–which the the most valuable thing they do. Maybe they talk us up among their family, friends, and fellow church members, which forms a safety net for us. Maybe they send in their $20, $50, $500, or even $5000 gift. It takes money to do ministry in Washington–a lot of it. Without the kindness of individual and church supporters, we’d have to close our doors.
Oh, and there’s one more thing churches do for us–they give me a place to escape to once in a while, to keep company with “normal” people who see the world just a little more conventionally than the people I usually see in Washington. Again, don’t get me wrong, I love both equally, but I’ve got to have a break every now and then, and preaching for the great folks at BLFC and other congregations like it give me just the break I need so I can re-up for the call they’ve commissioned me to pursue.
Grateful to God for all our churches,