Sunday, January 15, 2006

I Know I'm Preaching To The Choir

Alex and I stayed home from church this morning because he has a rotten cold and I didn't want him to share the love with all the other two year olds. Somehow not being at church has made me think about it even more - a sure sign of age, if you ask me. :-) But what I thought about the most is how, for a lot of people, church is the last place in the world they'd want to be on a Sunday morning. And that makes wonder: why are so many people are turned off by churches in general and Christians in particular?

Probably the first answer most people would give is that Christians can be judgmental and intolerant. There's not world enough and time for me to get into that in a blog entry, so I'll address those two things by saying Yes. And Yes.

Personally, I think that part of the problem is that some Christians seem to lock themselves in a vacuum and only come out of said vacuum when they want to completely suck the air out of a room with their complete. inability. to. relate. I know that Christians aren't supposed to be "of the world," but honestly, some people come across like they're not even in it. It seems like pastors struggle with this syndrome as much as anyone. Or maybe I feel that way because they're so visible.

When we lived in Baton Rouge, there was an associate pastor on staff at our church who was obviously very intelligent. And he was a really, really nice guy. But when it was his turn to preach - oh, the agony. It was almost like he came out of his Sealed Chambers of Books to preach, and anytime he tried to relate his message to real life, it came out sounding all stilted and awkward and almost like he didn't understand the words he was saying.

One time he tried to work in a reference about "stopping by a local video store, where one can rent and even purchase films that you don't see in the movie theatres" and I thought I would roll right off of that pew onto the cold, marble floor and have myself a little siesta with my head resting on comfy, quilted kneelers.

Unfortunately, that's the kind of stuff that comes from the pulpit when pastors get out of touch with their parishioners. I don't think it's because they necessarily want it to be that might just be a personality thing. Or a lack of personality thing. Sometimes it's probably because coming out of that nicely appointed pastor's office means they have to deal with all the backbiting and politics that seem to permeate a lot of they survey the landscape, see what's in store, and walk right back in that study. Where The People can't get to them.

And then there's a problem on the opposite end of the spectrum: pastors who are utterly charming and relatable and approachable but who don't say anything.

There's a very popular pastor who's on television quite a bit, and the first few times I saw him, I was impressed. His delivery was great, he was funny, and he seemed really down-to-earth. The more I watched and listened, though, the more I realized that his sermons had lots of flash but not so much substance. Scripture seemed sort of "tacked on" - almost like an afterthought. And every message focused on some variation of Being Your Best Self. Succeeding in Life. Discovering Your Potential.

His defense for his approach is that his messages are geared to the unchurched. That may be true. But when you're preaching to a room filled with 20,000 people, odds are that there are some "churched" folks in there looking for something to chew on.

Or maybe not. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe we're the problem. Maybe we've settled for watered-down theology and teaching for so long that we can't really gripe about the message or the messenger. Maybe we're just getting what we've asked for.

We have some sweet friends who are leaving their church. Their decision is the result of a lot of prayer, a lot of godly counsel, and a lot of tears. What's been heartbreaking, from our perspective at least, is to see how hard they have tried to make their current situation work. They have been on an emotional rollercoaster...filled with hope that things would get better, filled with sadness when things didn't change.

I wonder if their situation would have turned out differently if their pastor had stripped away the veneer of being "a fine Christian" (and I'm sure he does love the Lord - I don't think that issue has ever been in question) and let his congregation see the real man with real struggles and real problems. Because isn't that really the greatest testimony? To open your life and your let people see your imperfections...and then let them see that God uses you anyway? That He's actually able to use you BECAUSE of those things?

I think that kind of authenticity is what bridges the pastoral / congregant divide. I think that kind of authenticity is what attracts people to churches. I am so grateful that there are people like that in the ministry. I won't name names *cough* Kevin Wood *cough* :-) - but let's just say that we need more of them.

I usually cringe a little bit when people start the whole "What Would Jesus Do/Drive/Say" discussion because all too often it just reeks of self-righteousness. However, I do trust that most of you know my heart pretty well and understand that "holier than thou" just ain't my thing. So bear with me for just a minute, because really, in a discussion about churches being out of touch, Jesus is sort of the only place to finish it.:-)

Jesus walked with people. All of them. Whosoever. He met them right where they were. He showed them His heart. He taught them Truth. He loved them unconditionally.

Today's churches, I think, would do well to do the same.


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