The Smiling Face of Church Politics

By Paul Koch

I want to share with you a story about one of the most enjoyable times I have had since becoming aware of things like Synods, church voter’s meetings, and district conventions. Like many of the Jagged Mafia, I spent most of my days in wonderful bliss regarding the need or pervasiveness of politics within the Church. I simply went to church, received the gifts, and knew nothing of the bureaucratic procedures and policies that kept the lights on, the mortgage paid, or for that matter, provided insurance and retirement plans to church workers.

Oh, how I long to return to that ignorance. But it seems as if there is no going back.

The knowledge of the pervasiveness of politics within the church came flooding into my world shortly after becoming a pastor. Not only was it the mailers that sat for days in my inbox, but it was the phone calls and initiatives with awesome sounding names like “Ablaze!” In all honesty, I wasn’t ever really sure what to do with it all. It actually never seemed that important, so I just threw most of it out. For a long time, I tried to remain ignorant, but I couldn’t remain a child much longer. Eventually, I began to read the info, care about the positions, and ponder things like the future of our Synod. This gets me back to the story I wanted to tell.

One day, I was sitting around with a few of my colleagues discussing church politics (sounds horrible, doesn’t it?), at which time I realized that the only way to get things to change was to get involved. Now, this was a big leap for me. I went from ignorant bliss to actually wanting to be part of the process. At this time, my good friend Marc walked through the door, and I said, “Marc, we are going to run you for district president.” And to my surprise, he gave his assent to the cause with a resounding, “Sure, why not?”


Immediately, we set out to get him on the ballot. Now, seeing as none of us even knew how one becomes a district president, I actually had to request a handbook from the district office to get us going. From there, we found that he needed a certain number of nominations to be on the ballot. So we began our campaign strategy sessions. The goals became crystal clear and a whole lot of fun. Could we get Marc on the ballot without actually saying anything substantive? That is, could we get him there by simple political tactics and absolutely zero theology?

It turns out, the answer was yes.

Marc had his church youth group make campaign buttons with phrases like, “I’m More Ablaze Than You Are!” and “The Smiling Face of Ugly Church Politics.” We handed them out like hotcakes at the pastor’s conferences, where Marc laid the groundwork for his vision of selling the district offices and deploying all staff into the field. To make a long story short, we got Marc on the ballot. Further hilarity ensued as the serious church bureaucrats tried to hinder our campaign, but in the end, we had one hell of a good time.

The whole endeavor was marked by laughter. And I mean that deep hard laughter that causes your eyes to tear up and your ribs to hurt. But perhaps what I cherish even more than that is how it was marked by friendship.


I recall one time after we had given out the last of the buttons and were getting ready to head out to a bar for another “strategy session.” Marc and I found ourselves talking to a couple of elder colleagues. They smiled at us and said things like “You remind us of ourselves when we were younger.” They said we were filled with “piss and vinegar” and encouraged us to keep pressing on. But after they left, I couldn’t help but feel sad and wonder if that was to be my future as well.

Would I eventually just give in and go with the flow? Would friendships become a matter of convenience instead of acts of rebellion? Would laughter no longer be loud and obnoxious but that polite and shallow kind that doesn’t attract attention? Would I care passionately about who gets elected in the church election? Perhaps I might start watching soccer and buy an electric car that I don’t have to work on. Sure, then I could worry if I’m getting enough pink Himalayan salt to replace the missing minerals my reverse osmoses filtration system takes out of my water.

Hahaha, who am I kidding! If salvation is in the hands of Christ alone, then you are free to laugh out loud once in a while. Let’s resist the status quo. The Jagged Mafia doesn’t have to agree with everything written here. Hell, I would be upset if they did. But along the way, we just might make some real friends as well, and then we are a forced to be reckoned with.

Just remember this: No matter how hard you try, Marc will always be more ablaze than you are (whatever the hell that means!).