Friday, September 09, 2005

If it makes you can't be that bad???

Someone said to me today (rather innocently, I’ll concede), “My granddaughter likes her church. She’s very happy there.” Isn’t that the mark of a good church nowadays? A good church makes people happy. A church is a provider of certain goods and services that, if done well and with enough excitement, it will make the folks within the church happy.

One friend of mine received a great deal of heat when he said to his congregation that his calling wasn’t to make people happy. This comment elicited a called meeting of church leaders to reprimand my friend.

If Jesus’ ministry had been graded by how many people he made “happy,” Jesus would never have made it past the first pastor evaluation meeting. Jesus made a lot of “good” religious folks very unhappy. His teachings upset the system. He called his followers to bear a cross. He called them to a lifestyle where there would be no place to lay one’s head. He asked his disciples to lay down their lives for others as he would for them. He called them to spend their lives for the benefit of others. What’s happy about that?

I contend that happy churches may continue to have more people, but they aren’t growing. Growing in physical numbers, yes. But growing spiritually, no. It’s pretty clear throughout the teachings of Jesus and Paul that it is through crosses and thorns that people are made to be like Christ. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.” Jesus’ road to “happiness” or fulfillment demanded a hunger and thirst for righteousness that can only be born out of selflessness and self-reproach – two things not on my happy list.

Ok, pastors, what are we doing? Do we exist to make people happy, or do we exist to call people to greater commitment to Christ? Ok, church people. How do we judge our pastors? By how “happy” they make us, or by how much they challenge us to trade our human happiness for a greater cause?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Getting out of the cheap seats

My sons and I enjoyed a Washingon Nationals game tonight. Being the cheap guy that I am, I got us the cheapest tickets in the upper atmosphere. We climbed to the top of RFK and we were so high up, there wasn't a person behind us. My first thought was how dead the game felt. Crowd was hardly into it. I could see so many empty seats up there where we were. I wondered how it was that anyone could really be a Nationals fan with this kind of setting.

A few innings later, the boys needed to go to the bathroom, and I dreaded the long climb back into the upper atmosphere. So we hunted for seats down low. We ended up sitting very close right where all the action was. All of a sudden, the crowd was so into it. The noise was deafening. Every swing of the bat seemed like the biggest event in DC history.

Then I realized what my problem had been. I was too far from the action. And from the cheap seats, the experience seemed dead. But down where the crowd was, all that changed. The place was alive and electric with enthusiasm.

Maybe this explains the vastly different attitudes I see in the church. Some think it's dead, only see the negative, and complain that nothing's getting done. Then there are those who live and breath the church, live and breath Christ, live and breath his presence. What's the difference? Some look in on Christ's goings-on a few hours a month. Others saturate themselves in all that Christ is.

Once again, I'm compelled by the difference between observing religion and experiencing Christ.