By L. Mackenzie
I gawked at the preacher, raised my eyebrows, and asked, “You want a what onstage for the sermon?”
He calmly looked at me, fingers interlaced, and replied, “A scapegoat. Oh, and a Passover lamb before Easter. See what you can find.”
What was I to do at T-minus-four weeks? What rancher would be willing to lend us valuable and tame animals for a live broadcast in front of 10,000 people? So many things could go terribly wrong: the goat could dive into the crowd, the lamb might pee on power cords; things could explode. Do we have insurance for farm animals? Would we be liable?
My military-trained mind came to attention. “Yes, Sir!” I replied and set straight to work. Mission impossible? No way.
In that sanctuary 10 years earlier, I offered up our newly adopted Ethiopian baby, swaddled in pink, during a sermon about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, a treasury official in the court of Queen Candace. True, she was a baby girl (and not a grown man), but her features—dark curly hair, pronounced eyebrows, expressive eyes, and honey-chocolate colored skin—served to connect people with the story, and helped them envision the man who studied Isaiah’s text from his chariot.
From the stage, I observed people in the crowd smiling as they oohed and aahed. Sermon engagement skyrocketed. The congregation gave themselves irresistibly to God’s story because my baby helped them envision a person from long ago. They became putty in the pastor’s hands.
This was my origin moment. It would be 10 years before I joined the staff.
“You look a little tired tonight, Boss,” I observed as I rolled a lint brush across that same minister’s outfit prior to an evening sermon. “We’ll brighten your eyes so you look wide-awake!”
My role is much more than an animal gatherer and illustration provider. I somehow worked my way into being a pastor stylist, too. (Believe me, it’s not easy sourcing clothing and creating outfits for two preaching powerhouses who look more like NFL linebackers than preachers; my team stylishly dresses them whenever they speak publicly.) The minutes leading up to a service are filled with wild clouds of hairspray, HD powder, and flying brushes. The smell of ironed starch hangs heavy in the air. Our goal? Eliminate visual distractions.
People ask, “Why do you do this?” (Many of them know I hate ironing with a passion and haven’t put makeup on a dude since my husband’s black-eyeliner-Gothic-phase in the late ’80s.)
I tell them, “I want to use the gifts God has given me, and I have so much respect and love for our church leaders.” It’s more than that, though. I love being part of the behind-the-scenes team that plays a role in bringing people to Jesus.
I must admit, at times I struggle to be like the apostle Paul, to be all things to all people in order to bring many to Christ. Sometimes my selfish side wins, but when I consider all that my Savior has done for me, how can I hold anything back from serving his gospel ministers?
Did I find my scapegoat and Passover lamb? I sure did!
On my quest of discovery, I first delved into Leviticus and Exodus to gather the specs. Then I queried people in our church and all over town and found a kind rancher who would allow us to handle his animals.
Before that first service, as I was side-stepping poop nuggets on the sanctuary carpet, I heard a massive rush of liquid as the 200-pound ram peed backstage. We quickly decided on a new rule: Adult diapers are mandatory between services—at least on animals!
When I finally brought “Little Jerry,” the 50-pound Easter Passover lamb, onto the stage, he bleated and cried for his momma, and I heard those familiar crowd sounds from long ago: “Aah! . . . Ooh! . . .” As I escorted my little lamb offstage, he “Baaa-baaad” and cast “sheepish” looks at the people . . . and they smiled and laughed . . . and they became putty in the hands of the preacher once again.
Leigh Mackenzie serves as ministry assistant at The Crossing, a multisite church located in three states across the Midwest, and is a writer who blogs at The Church Girl Writes: Jesus in Everything (leighmackenzie.com).