Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A View from the Back Row

Well, it's been a while since I've blogged in, but it's time. I've got a lot to say. Consider this the brainstorming sessions that will prepare me for my eventual book!

So here goes...

One of my last Sundays as pastor of Temple Baptist Church, I spent some time on the back row. Why? Not sure really, except that I was told that our worship music was landing with a giant thud with most of the congregation. And I guess that it occurred to me that because I usually sat on the front row of the church Sunday after Sunday, perhaps I had failed to see things as they really were.

I had an idea of what I'd find, but unfortunately it was worse. "Thud" would be way too optimistic. Few lips parted. Most squinted at the flashy screen like they were searching for shooting stars in the night sky. Some had arms crossed, and some genuinely were making an effort to sing songs that they really could do without. What was silly about the whole thing is how the worship team on stage (important word for them) pretended they were on stage at a giant rock concert with thousands of cheering fans awaiting their every move. If they had opened their eyes from their "spiritual" squinting, they might have seen that few were getting it. Knowing that I was at the end of my ministry there at Temple, I was secretly relieved that I was getting out. But more importantly, I wondered if I should have visited the back row a little sooner.

Now I live on the back row, and the view is only getting worse. As we await the opening of our coffee shop, and as we live in limbo between Temple and the next congregation we call home, Tara and I have been spending Sunday after Sunday joining various congregations in worship. And it hasn't been easy. What I see startles me. Here are a few of my findings:

1. The church is nothing but a club for most people. Church services resemble a VFW meeting, most of the time.
2. Pastors make their living scaring the crap out of their members about the outside world so they'll spend more time (and money) supporting the club activities.
3. Visitors (I are one now) are seen as fresh meat - potential NEW club members to help boost the numbers and the balance sheet. Most greetings are deeply inauthentic. I'm tired of been greeted by someone with a "Greeter" tag and ignored by the rest.
4. Even the best churches we have visited are terribly uninvolved with the community. I'm surprised that it takes 1.5 million dollars a year, a staff of dozens, and a mass crowd of several thousands just to donate a few pints of blood and send 10 people on a mission trip. If it took the Red Cross thousands of dollars and tons of man hours to do little more than that, would we give at all? And we wonder why giving is down in churches.
5. God is so tiny in our churches. He's no bigger than our little theological labels, in most circles. We've created God in our image. I'm amazed at how "certain" we are that the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel is so clearly spelled out in the Bible that we can know EXACTLY what political position to take and who is right and who is wrong. Talk about confidence in Scriptural interpretation! The mystery of God and awe for the Scripture are just plain gone from our churches. The pews are way too full of people who know everything there is to know about God.
6. Most people are going through the motions. I'm afraid many Christians are going to church Sunday after Sunday and have forgotten why they are really there.
7. Community is little more than the greetings people give one another while entering and exiting the worship service. I wonder these days just how much biblical community is really happening outside the walls of the church?
8. "Spirituality" is gone from most churches. Preachers preach to the head (usually trying to get folks to think the right things about God and this terrible world of ours). Few preach to the heart and help renew the spirit. No wonder most people feel worse after they leave church.

So, I've decided I must go and design my own church. This time it's going to be perfect! I'll create the perfect community with perfect patience with a perfect love for the community and a perfect infrastructure and design. Hehe... I know. Someday, some brat kid with some new fangled ideas will visit my church and then write a blog about how wrong it all went. It will all come back on me someday, I know. But for now, I can't shake these sinking feelings I'm getting from the "institutional" church. God wants me to do something positive about it. I can't go on being a typical "pessimistic" Gen-Xer. God is planning something good from it. And the rumblings are coming from hundreds, if not thousands, of other Christ-followers throughout this country. A revolution is brewing. I now get a chance to join the front lines.

Pray for me. Pray that God will fill me with a spiritual energy that will enable me to create the kind of community that will be a fresh spirit for those this community will touch.

Prayer praise of the day: God led some wonderful people to open the Casa Sanchez Mexican Restaurant nearby. It's almost better than Plaza Azteca! We've eaten there three times in four days. There is a God!

7 Comments:

Anonymous Barb said...

A wise man once said, "In order for God to use a man in a great way, he must suffer deeply." You have suffered deeply while in your ministry at Temple. You have maintained your integrity in the face of great adversity.
In the face of evil, you stood on truth. You've been tested and God has preserved in you the desire to minister to the local church. Given the beating your family took at Temple, it's a miracle your passion to be used by God has been sustained. What others meant for evil God meant for good and he will use you greatly.
You ARE being prepared for the front lines. You are far stronger and wiser than a decade ago. You have been seasoned by the Creator of the Universe and the Lover of Souls. He has been tough yet tender with you.
He has been gracious to show you what the church in America has become. It breaks God's heart and it breaks yours. He is calling you to be His hands and feet to make the change... fast.
I pray God continues to renew your passion for serving him in the local community. Wherever you are is your mission field. May God watch over your children to keep them safe while growing them closer to Himself and shaping them to the image of His Son.
I pray God cradles your wife as she offers you her love and support. I use the verb "cradle" to identify a feeling of absolute abandon to His holy grip. I know she has also suffered greatly in part because of the abuse you have endured by those "family" members who should have loved you (as we are to be identified by the world by the way we love each other).
So, in the words of our Lord to Joshua, "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people..." I praise God for the fire that the Spirit keeps alive in you to lead and shepherd people.
"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." Numbers 6:24-26

8:50 AM  
Blogger Egyptoid said...

thanks for the insight.
may I quote you on the THUD ?

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! Psalms 31:24

Give us reassurance when everything goes wrong, so our faith remains unfaltering and our hope and courage strong. Helen Steiner Rice

This reminds us to be a living mirror ~ reflect your faith in God.

My Christian Brother,

We must be careful to settle the sadness, anger, bitterness in our hearts before we can rejoice that our thoughts, actions and motivation is pure before God. I encourage you today to find that place of forgiveness, harboring the hurt and carrying the baggage will do nothing for you except hinder the work God has and is bringing before you.

As I have had to deal with dysfunction in church (all have it to some degree) we are called as ministers of the true Gospel to "teach" and "hold other Christians accountable" for what they do, say and impart. One on one, face to face, restore with love. Public announcement as this (although I understand your need for your opinion) does nothing but tear down the church and our Lord has asked us to build it up.

Pray for Temple and the area churches as they experience change, pains, problems & growth. It is still amazing to me how there is a kind of corruption in the church and yet God will use that for his Good and benefit... Wow! We do serve an awesome God.

One day, you too will experience this sort of disconnection and sadness with in your own church, the one you strived so hard for, built with His hands and your own sweat. Sadness will come, this is His way of sharpening your sword so that you can learn and grow.

May God continue to be with you my friend in the days to come, may our great and powerful Lord guide your ship and bring you to a place of permanent ground. May he continue to bless your family.

Final Thought:

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to thy word! Put false ways far from me' and graciously teach me thy law! Psalms 119:28-29

This reminds us to learn from your experiences and errors of yesterday. It gives us faith to endure whatever comes, is born of sorrow and trials, and strengthened by daily discipline and nurtured by self-denials.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Beth Maxwell said...

Well, durn, David...tell us how you REALLY feel !!!

Seriously, I ache for you and your whole family. But I know in my heart and soul that God has great plans for your life - He began a good work in you, after all, and He doesn't leave things half-done, like I'm prone to do!

I called Donna to get an e-mail address for you, and she gave me this blog address. (What the heck is a blog?)

I wanted to give you a book title:

THE DEITY FORMERLY KNOWN AS GOD
by Jarrett Stevens (nonfiction)
Published by Zondervan
ISBN: 0310271142
Copyright (c) 2006 by Jarrett Stevens

We sure do miss your boys in the library! Eunice, especially.

Pray for us, as we also pray for you.

Beth

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope your coffee isn't as bitter as your blog, or I doubt you'll have much success selling your wares.
The church is made up of sinners, but we, like God, must actively choose to forgive. I can see you've lost the faith. So have I, but frankly blogs like yours don't do much to encourage my faith. Boo-hoo, another burned-out clergyman wags his finger at everyone else. In so doing, have you become part of the solution, or just part of the problem? If you really want to change things, keep your acrimony to yourself rather broadcasting it to an already weak and discouraged Church.

5:51 PM  
Blogger RevDave said...

"I can see you've lost the faith"? Far from it. How awesome it has been to strip away all the layers of man-made religion and discover what Jesus intended life to be - an exciting journey through a crazy world with Jesus leading the way. As a young man said to me a few months ago, I left the church to preserve my faith. Oh, believe me, it's stronger than ever.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Josh said...

I feel much of what you are David. However, I feel that the church's problems are a direct result of a soft gospel. You are right; many churches today are social gatherings. Why? Because most churches today are full of unconverted souls. Shocking? Not really. Jesus warned us that there would be tares among the wheat, goats mixed in with the sheep, the foolish virgins alongside the wise.
So we should not be surprised at the lack of enthusiasm in our churches today. Because, a great deal of them don’t know the one they are singing about.
This problem is perpetuated because most messages issued from pulpits today are merely life enhancing pep talks. They are about using Christian principles to become a happier, more successful, contributor to society. There is no preaching of sin, righteousness or judgment; the very reason we are called to repentance. Pastors through out this land are using the most ridiculous tactics to draw people into their churches. They range from www.mycrappysexlife.com to “come to church, win a car”. And the ends do not justify the means, by the way. Especially since the gospel is never preached. The goats are just funneled into the church house to have their ears tickled, never being told that they have an outstanding sin debt before a wrath filled God.
The Church of Jesus Christ has lost her direction. True evangelistic outreach has been replaced by "seeker sensitive" in-reach. It does not work because there is none that seek God. ( Romans 3:10-18 )

This is of course not an accusation of your preaching or pastorate. I never attended your church and have no idea how you operated it. I just see this as being a major problem in the Church today.

Josh
Tacoma, Washington

9:17 AM  

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