Creative Leadership

The Reason I’m Never Cynical

A lot of people ask me why I’m not cynical when it comes to the Church and Christian media. After all, I’ve seen a lot of wacky stuff out there. Over the years, Christian leaders have committed adultery, embezzled money, misused donors, and lived like kings. Christian media professionals have created really ridiculous TV programs and movies. And yet, here I am, still committed to engaging the culture and sharing the gospel through media.

The photo above is the cemetery I grew up next to in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the early 60’s, my dad was pastor of Ebenezer Church, founded in 1870, and I worked behind the scenes since I could remember.

Along with mom and dad, my sister Beth and I filled about 10,000 communion cups, mowed the grass at the church (and cemetery), did the janitorial work, and printed the Sunday church bulletins (on an ancient carbon copy cylinder). Everyone in Charlotte thought we had church bells, but they had no idea that what we really had was a turntable and speakers in the steeple and it was me who climbed up there everyday to play a record of church bells.

The cemetery was about 100 years old when I was a kid, and one day, while mowing the grass, I pushed the lawn mower across a grave and it collapsed. 100 years ago, coffins were made of wood, and after all those years, it wasn’t unusual for them to rot through and collapse. As I fell into the grave, yes – I saw skeleton parts.

As a kid, I was fascinated, but my dad freaked out. He told me to cover it up, so the family wouldn’t see it. So I found bags of leaves, broken lawn chairs, concrete blocks, discarded wood – anything I could find to fill in that grave. Then I covered it with a thin layer of dirt, and the family never noticed.

I was really proud of myself until I realized that when the rapture comes, that lady will never get out of there!

The bottom line is that we’re all human, and anyone who works in a church or ministry is human. After seeing what it takes to manage a church or ministry, and all the crazy stuff that happens behind the scenes – how can I be cynical? Of course, when something happens that’s illegal, unethical, or immoral, that has to be called out. But when it comes to day to day craziness, I simply realize that we’re all broken people trying to honor God and get through life.

And perhaps most important, God is far bigger than whatever bonehead happens to be representing him at any particular time.

Frankly, I don’t have time to be cynical. I’ve met far too many people who’s lives were transformed by Jesus to worry about the few at the fringe who do stupid stuff. So my advice is, when someone fails, don’t ditch the message. The message is eternal, and it will always change lives for the better. But as broken people, we’re all struggling to get through. A little grace goes a long way.

It doesn’t make our failures OK, but it does make the power of the gospel quite remarkable.

What do you think? Have you experienced the temptation to be cynical?

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  1. Phil, well said! We all when honest know that we “Are but Dust” and our Lord know better that we do. Yet He choses to use broken vessels or as Paul said Clay Jars to store His treasure in…

  2. I love this post Phil!!! …. you said it all so well. Love your childhood story also, thanks for giving us a peep into it… funny stuff!

    I’ve been tempted at times to be cynical of ministry over the years of serving in (media) ministries. I’ve seen about everything there is to see, and yet I stop short in allowing myself to become cynical or jaded. Like you, I too have seen way more good things come out of a much-flawed ministry regardless of who or what the circumstances are… and it always leaves me amazed how God can use us flawed people to the extent in which He does. The day I first saw multitudes of testimonies of people’s lives being radically changed coming in from all over the world while working in a less-than-ideal ministry (to say the least), was the day I recognized God’s grace in action, and what He’s able to do in spite of circumstances. God is bigger than our flaws, and we all have them.
    I have a deep love for the church, warts and all. This too is God’s grace!

  3. Great post. It is really good to hear you say this. You are so right, it is not hard because of so many good things that God is doing. Yet, I still guard my heart from becoming cold and cynical. After all, “The ministry would be so much fun, if it were not for people!” 🙂

  4. It is very easy to get cynical about Christian work and the church. Indeed, those of us who work full-time in Christian ministry see the church “warts and all” closer than many other people. So it is easier for us to get cynical than many. The way I find helps me is to hold loosely to church structures but closely to relationships with brothers and sisters. That way the structures that drive me nuts are reduced in important compared to the depth of the relationships.

  5. GRACE…! Yeah…, it goes ALL the way! Thank God for you and this article. I too grew up in a church where my brother was the pastor, my dad and another brother were elders! The stuff you see….

    You are so right though. God would not have His children being cynical. There is too much GLORY to behold in the lives of the people He has touched and healed both relationally with Him and in some cases…, physically healed!

    “…we’re all broken people trying to honor God and get through life.

    And perhaps most important, God is far bigger than whatever bonehead happens to be representing him at any particular time.”

    Great truths! I know I’ve been a bonehead on far too many nitpicky, stupid things that have nothing to do with honor, dignity, acceptance, mercy, forgiveness and GRACE towards others.

    Great article.

  6. Great stuff to read. Cynicism to me is much like its other relative, Legalism! Both feel they have the right to be heard, correct and make demands, but sadly both are LOVELESS. The Body of which Jesus is the head is something He loves completely and selflessly. Perhaps then, having seen the flaws, failings and tragedies that sadly have beset the Church (btw I am also a preacher’s kid), and having seen a lot and yet to love it more, is a small indicator of a (developing) desire to become mature in our walk of Faith.

  7. i can’t get the picture of you falling into that grave out of my mind. 🙂 Your dad freaked out? I think I would got out of there faster than he/she would at the rapture. I am generally a very upbeat, positive person. Cynicism is not part of my make up although I can allow my tongue to get carried away. Just finished reading your post about Hillary. Yeah, I can get cynical at times.

  8. After pulling myself together & wiping hot coffee from my chin (this morning) over your graveyard punchline, I did get the point! I always love hearing other fresh perspectives on the humanity behind the church walls and yours, Phil Cooke, is the candy store variety gleaming in the windows like a sweet rainbow of tantalizing color! Its always a treat to stop by and sample 1 or 2 at a time from your blog publications (and I never ever get a toothache). I was not a PK, but I WAS a PK’s kid! Ironically, she (my mother) was a rare breed when it comes to PK’s… She focused on teaching me about the greatness of God and His amazing love for the ever flawed church, nothing more, nothing less. We had our own “grave realities” with religion and plenty of ammunition to walk away soured by cynicism… Yet by some miracle of Grace, we never lost sight of what or Who it was all about… looking back, the only thing we ever really lost was the cardboard facade of perfection and the dust we brushed off our feet… Dare I even say that it was the flaws of those around me and the flaws within me that relentlessly drove me deeper into the honest freedom & truth of the Gospel. Thanks for another fun morning read, glad I stopped by!! ☕️?

  9. Phil,

    I always enjoy reading your blog. My wife (a PK) and I currently pastor a historic church in Oklahoma. Through the years however, I’ve moved my family around a lot. Five states over to be exact. In that process we have reared three wonderful children in parsonages. All of whom are adults and involved in local church ministry. Two are pastors. The third plays piano and sings on the praise team. After all the craziness they’ve been through–although no one has fallen into a grave–none of them are cynical about the local church or Christian leaders. Credit their mother. She’s spent her entire life in this glass house (the church parsonage) as a PK or Pastor’s wife and yet, she remains optimistic about the ministry.



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