8 Questions for the American Church

Do you ever feel like you just don’t care? Like somebody is talking to you about something, and you know that you are “supposed” to care about it, but all you can manage is a good fake smile. I feel that way sometimes, and I even want to care, but I don’t. At least, not completely. I just stand around trying to care, not doing anything but selling popcorn for the thing everybody else is so gung-ho about.

I honestly have developed an eye-twitch. Maybe it’s not involuntary, but it helps suppress other less appealing emotions I have to deal with when selling said popcorn. Did I ever say I wanted to get into “vocational” full-time ministry? I better read through my archives, because if I did, I was smoking crack. But don’t misunderstand me, the glass is not half empty. It’s half full. I mean, that’s what you want to hear, right?

So here are some questions I have. Not directed toward anyone in particular, but rather the American Church at large.

1. Why does a church have to be run like a business? When you run an organization like a business, even non-profits have expenses and income. Expenses, income and profit… but our 501(c)3 laws tell us that motivation and intent define what profit is. And if you run it like a business, what happens when the cash is gone? Pack up, go home? Are churches so dependent on the non-profit business model that they can’t function without that structure? And with a business comes the necessities for running a successful business: marketing, corporate policies, top-down structure, customer service, salesmen, etc.

2. Why do evangelical Christians, most especially the Boomer and X generations, think that huge costly stage productions are cool? I would ask the churches why they do huge costly stage productions, but there’s no need – the answer is in the people they are bringing in. At least, the Boomers and Xers. Maybe some Millennials are being swayed – those who are a little too caught up in the coolness factor of the Passion/Giglio movement. So I ask, why do Christians settle for theatrics? The rock bands, the videos, the dramas, the surface-deep theology…

3. A huge portion of the ministry world right now is wondering where all the 18-30yr-olds are. Traditional churches are way off base, trying to win Millennial hearts with the same style tactics that worked on the contemporary Boomer generation. Oddly enough, it seems to have partially worked for Generation X (the current 30-40yr-old group). Mainstream churches have caught on by offering completely alternative services, often with louder or different music, a grungy feel and a subcultural hipness. Really progressive churches move beyond even that by dabbling in to the “emerging” movement, where Millennial-focused worship gatherings throw out all of contemporary and bring all of ancient and traditional back. My question: is ANY OF THAT WORKING? Where are all the 18-30yr-olds?

4. What exactly is so great about a single local church launching and maintaining a bunch of video-fed satellite “multi-site” campuses across a city, State, or the country? Is it better than planting new churches? I don’t know. I do know that I bought into the multi-site “revolution” way too quick for my own good, and I will now admit I see its shortcomings. The real issue that multi-site churches highlight is the fact that “church” is so consumer-driven that it can now be franchised. The saddest truth is that there are dying churches out there who actually think partnering up with their local megachurch will make things better. Show me the money!

5. Why do so many evangelical Christians automatically associate themselves with the Grand Old Republican Party? I mean sure, most Republican politicians hold true the same social ethics as Christians. Like pro-life, keeping “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill, federal marriage definitions, and criminal executions. Oh yeah, and war. I hear that James Dobson of Focus on the Family will help start forming a new party if Rudy Guliani wins the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, simply because Rudy is liberal on social issues (abortion, gay-rights, etc). I think it will be GREAT to see Christians start thinking for themselves. On the other hand, I’d rather call myself a canuck and head north before enjoying the theocracy that a Christian-focused political party would create.

6. Why do so many American Christians hate? They hate gays, they hate Muslims, they hate Mormons, they hate people who drink and smoke, evangelicals hate Catholics, and vice versa. Sometimes the hate is completely authentic, transparent and maniacal like the insane members of the Westboro Baptist Church (who recently got fined $11 million for protesting at a soldier’s funeral). Other Christians show their hatred through their actions in utter disdain for their words of love.

7. Why are the difficult theological concepts held from the general Christian masses? At seminaries, pastoral students debate and toil over every imaginable aspect of God, the Bible and the Christian faith. But the toughest real issues stay in seminary and never make it to congregations. It’s almost as if pastors don’t trust that people can handle raw truth. They have to package truth, water it down occasionally, and add a dash of humor to alleviate the seriousness of theology.

8. Was Jesus more like Mr. Rogers or William Wallace? That’s a random, fairly shallow question, but here’s my answer: none of the above. From what I’ve read, Jesus wasn’t all that terribly meek like Mr. Rogers. He did hang around kids a lot, I suppose. But he also wasn’t a war general, fighting and killing for his life and freedom. Soldiers kill, fight and die for others’ freedom. Jesus died, minus the fighting, for everybody’s freedom. The Jesus I read about in the New Testament seems more like a Ghandi, or a Dalai Lama, or a Martin Luther King, Jr. He was like a pacifist, a non-violent protester. A revolutionary with a message of hope and peace. From what we know, he never wielded a sword against any other Jew or Gentile. Please forget about the violent Jewish stories in the Old Testament long enough to realize that Jesus came to change all of that. Did 1st century Christians fight back against persecution? No. That’s the kind of faith I want.

Those are my questions. I don’t expect many answers as it was mostly all rhetorical and intended for you to read whilst I vent my frust…er…feelings. As I type this I realize the common thread woven through those questions is my desire to see an actual real-life bona-fide revolution in the Church. Until then, there’s not much to talk about.

So sit back, relax, enjoy the productions. I’ll make some popcorn for you.

11 Replies to “8 Questions for the American Church”

  1. That’s funny… I was going to say the exact opposite Jesse. Meh. Everybody’s a critic and I’m the worst of them.

  2. I started to compose long answers to all of these, but never mind. Suffice it to say that there ARE congregations of Christians, even in America, which strive to be something different from the picture you’ve presented here. They’re not perfect, and strangely they can be a lot more difficult to be a part of than your average Church (TM). But it might be worth taking a look.

    P.S. I *like* Mr. Rogers.

  3. With a choice between only the two, I would certainly choose Mr. Rogers over William Wallace any day.

  4. i have mostly been thinking about the wallace / rogers question…
    i wish this would have been a post on elements, so it could be a discussion – but the whole thing was unplanned. here are my simple observations:

    was either feared / followed
    was respected
    had courage
    fought for the ones he loved
    fought for justice and right
    emotional (explored and allowed all)
    lived in reality
    sacrifice (gave up himself for what he believed)
    theme was war, messy relationships, hurt/pain
    had a cause (freedom)
    everyday was a battle

    is made fun of (liked to ned flanders)
    feel good (no distinction between right / wrong)
    happy all the time (no other emotions allowed)
    play world / pretend / fantasy
    perfect world
    nice neighborhood
    everyone gets along
    everything is good
    educational (learn to live in a happy / perfect world)
    everyday is honkey dorey

    i don’t know – honestly think that through for yourself.
    they are both somewhat fictional characters (although wallace is based on a real person) but there is much to be learned i think – that i didn’t see at first. the problem is we are comparing things in a physical world – but if there is any spiritual anything… we need a God like wallace. we don’t need fantasy, we need reality – and we need a good who will fight for the poor and oppressed, not pretend everything is okay in the neighborhood, or tell them everything is fine, and teach them to be happy. this is not a happy place. this is not a happy neighborhood. so sorry i have to disagree at that point.

    and maybe that is why xians get a bad rap. because we are trying to make peace on earth, change the world, make a difference here while there is war somewhere spiritual. maybe our job is not to make everyone as rich as us. i dream of a day where we see each other as equals. and poverty is not a project.

    the rest of what you said i am feeling the same way.
    but i want to take up arms against injustice. not be passive toward global warming, economy, education, and what is right.

    “But he also wasn’t a war general, fighting and killing for his life and freedom. Soldiers kill, fight and die for others’ freedom”

    really? think about that. do you really believe he wasn’t fighting for something – even against something? does war always involve killing people? we can fight against war – can we? can pride and hatred be killed? if so do you really want mr. rogers leading the charge?

  5. Ditto on all the questions.

    #3 struck me as odd as that’s what Elements struck me as, originally. But I can definitely understand questioning that when in the midst of it. I’ve tried those tricks and they are fluff.

    Church needs depth, belief needs follow through, character needs proof.

    Why do so many churchers look to the world for answers when we’re supposed to have them?

  6. Jesse,

    I agree with you that God, in both his paternal and incarnational persons, is more like William Wallace than, say, Mr. Rogers, the Dalai Lama, or Ghandi. Also that we need more Christians who are willing to defend and, if necessary, to die for the Truth. But I’ve got to go off-topic for a moment to take issue with your characterization of Mr. Rogers.

    Fred Rogers was not fictional, although the world he inhabited on *Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood* was. He was a Presbyterian minister whose purpose in creating the show was precisely to teach children that it IS okay to have emotions other than happiness. So he wrote episodes about sadness, grief, anger, etc. and then tried to show his little viewers how to deal with those emotions instead of hiding them from grown-ups.

    His show did present a world much milder than the real world, but that doesn’t seem like a drawback when trying to acclimate young children to the real world. As for being made fun of, that says more about his detractors than about himself, although I’ve never actually heard of anyone making fun of him outside of the Simpsons and Eddie Murphy (and even Eddie Murphy had more respect for him than not).

    Also, he fought for what he thought was right, too (such as people’s rights to record TV shows to video and funding for public broadcasting), although that wasn’t a part of his show.

    Okay, enough butting in. Sorry to disagree; back to your regularly scheduled programming.

  7. The “Wallace or Rogers” question was not originally posed by me; it was originally “General Patton or Mr. Rogers” and with some of my persuasion it was changed to “William Wallace.” In hind sight, I should have also pushed to get “Mr. Rogers” changed to “Ned Flanders.”

    It was a question we discussed at “church” (elements) and I was equal parts awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassed.

  8. 1) Sadly, this is how our world works, and the church has had to adapt to the economic nature of things to survive. Granted, the churches biggest goal should not be a profit, but if it is going to make much of a difference, then there are going to be expenses along the way. These expenses must paid somehow; hence a source of monetary income is needed. Anytime you are dealing with an organization of people, and money, you are going to have to resemble a business in some ways. Hopefully only in structure and function and not in motivation or spirit.

    2) I completely agree with you here. I don’t feel that every church service or function needs to be some spectacular show. Every time I have ever felt the spirit truly move through a crowd, it has been in a small service, with little more than a single speaker and a guy with a guitar. No light shows, no professional audio, no fantastic vocalists, and no smoke.

    3) They are sick and tired of hypocritical church culture and feeling snobbed on. That is where they are. They don’t see the value of “organized” religion. They just want to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit, because they feel they can do better than the church has done. This has been my experience in dealing with this group of people at least.

    4) I don’t think it’s great at all. I have to be honest; I don’t like the idea of multi-casting sermons using the latest technology. I can’t really see myself being apart of something like that anymore. Just like you, at first I thought it would be an effective tool in reaching the largest amount of people in the most efficient way, but lets be honest, that sounds pretty damn cold. A big part of a quality time of teaching is the dynamic exchange between a speaker and the crowd. There is a give and take there. The speaker feeds off the crowd and the crowd in turn reacts to that. There is a lot that is in the here and now that you wont get in a screen-cast or a recorded sermon. I don’t see it being very moving. I think there is a place for this sort of thing, but sparingly at most.

    5) By golly man, it is tradition! We can’t just go around changing that. The Republican Party has always understood us just like they understand big business and oil. We have a relationship with them. They pretend to be like-minded with us, and we pretend to believe it.

    6) This largely affects your answer to question number three. I personally don’t completely understand it, but I do know I have been on that side of the fence before. To be honest, I was a legalistic dick around the same time. Since then, my views have changed quite a bit, more grace and less law. I am proud to say that I no long think that way. I am going to largely focus on the issue of homosexuality on this one. The Bible is pretty clear on how it views homosexuality. But that doesn’t mean we are called to hate or despise them. We are all in the same boat. One of my most enjoyable friendships is with a lesbian at my work. We have a lot of in common and we each respect our differences. Now, I have a feeling that I am going to go a lot farther in being a witness by being a true friend then by being a zealot out for blood. I think this can be applied to anyone in any walk of life. Catholics, Mormons, an Gays. As far as drinking or smoking, I enjoy both, though I don’t think anyone has reacted to me with hate because of this. More like confusion because they don’t really know how to react to me. I actually enjoy it a little.

    7) I agree in many ways. I think that as Christians we should be ready to tackle the tougher theological ideas. I feel there is a time and a place for this though. There are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily ready for this sort of thing. And while I don’t think we should support this, I don’t think we should thrust it upon them and hope the tread water either. The church needs to move towards maturity, how to propagate that will take wisdom and patience.

    8) I would say a mix. Christ wasn’t a push over, but he wasn’t hot headed or gung-ho either. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. Christ was a fighter and had his way of fighting that was appropriate for the time he lived in. That is not to say that it is never appropriate to raise arms and go to war. You said, “Please forget about the violent Jewish stories in the Old Testament long enough to realize that Jesus came to change all of that.” But to dismiss that would be to dismiss an aspect of God. God is the same today as he was then. I don’t believe Christ came to make us pacifists for every occasion. I believe in most situations a quite and respectful demeanor will go much farther then actions of violence, but there were times when Christ showed rage and anger. Christ was not always a pacifist. He drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip that he made him self. That sounds more like William Wallace and Patton then Ned Flanders or Mr. Rodgers to me. There is a time and place for both. The world will end in a blood bath.

    There is a lot that needs to be fixed in this modern day church, just like there always has been and always will be. The church will very rarely get things just right and very rarely make everybody happy. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

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