Tag Archives: #churchfail

Thinking about Willow Creek

Its really disheartening to learn of what happened at Willow Creek. One would think that a church culture which has an egalitarian approach to the scriptures would not run into trouble as much as a highly partriarchal/complementarian one. Sadly Willow Creek crashed and burned. And granted, any given individual, pastor, lay person, Christian, or not can have moral failings… but what is so surprising, is that Willow Creek followed the all too typical #churchfail model, and started judging the situation favorably to their leader and mission prior to a serious investigation.

As Scott Mcknight writes:
” “My guess is that three things will happen soon.” First, Hybels and Willow would deny the accusations. Second, more stories would likely to come to the surface. Third, Hybels and Willow would admit improprieties and Willow would have a huge challenge on how to support as well as either defend or discipline their incomparable founder and pastor.

I also said my biggest fear was that Willow’s leadership and Hybels would handle it in the worst possible way and make life difficult for Willow Creek Community Church, for the women, and for all of us.”

Granted, no one wants to believe that a beloved and respected leader just shy of retirement has had moral failings. Likewise, no church wants to compromise its mission, and thus when situations come about where one must protect the victim or protect the mission, far too often the victim is the one that suffers.

I’ve seen that mission first mentality play out in a whole ton of ways over the years… with many a church, or group of church people working as hard as possible to keep things in the shadows, such that the light could not directly illuminate #churchfail. The problem of course is that activities to eliminate or redirect the light, often bring additional pain onto the victims, to say nothing of said activities tendency to spiral out of control, thus making a damaging situation even worse.

The mission first model isn’t just a protect the institutions bank account or protect the leaders jobs thing either. When #churchfail occurs, it often times throws a major wrench into the lifes of those initially seeking or those young in their faith. It can also send any number of folks from the young to the old into the realms of spiritual crisis… which is a very sad deal. Otoh, light has a tendency to eventually shine into pretty much all dark corners… which I’ll argue can present an even greater spiritual risk to folks, then to let light shine where it may and roll with the punches, even if it means a given church or ministry may fall into the no longer a viable concern category.

The reason? Ministries and churches have finite lifespans, it could be a change in leadership, demographics, natural disaster, or plain and simple human nature, that the grass is always greener elsewhere. Bottom line, just because a ministry or church ceases to function, doesn’t mean the Gospel goes by the wayside. Jesus will always be there, and the church / ministry gap will be filled with new wine, for which it too will present a finite lifespan and the circle of ministry continues.

I saw this first hand as a young guy, a 300 kid youth ministry I worked with was destroyed… and folks scattered. It was a pretty painful experience, I remember thinking, how could God let this happen, when I should have been thinking, what safeguards were missed, what did the elders and church leadership miss that could have prevented this. What about all the kids new in their faith, or who were seekers, who just walked away? And yet, in decades of hindsight, the elders made the right, albeit painful call at the time. It would have been way too easy to slide things under the carpet to go for success and growth, rather than pretty much killing it.

On the Hating of Christians

In John 15:18-24, Jesus talks about how the world will hate the disciples, just as it first hated him. On first glance, I’m thinking why would the world hate Jesus, I mean the Gospel’s a pretty powerful thing, it makes no sense. Or maybe it does… Jesus had a lot of hard words to say to religious folks, he up ended their power structures, he rolled the temple money changers, he stopped a woman caught in adultery from being stoned, he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, he worked on Sunday. In other words, he convicted a lot of religious folks that they really weren’t all the righteous. Beyond that aspect… why would he be hated? Verse 25 gives us a clue in this in that it is fullfillment of what is written in the law. That he would be hated without reason.

As such, hate at some point or another should be expected, folks don’t like to be called on the carpet.  Alas, care is also needed in this… Christian’s should not expect to get a free pass from the world when they do heinous things. Psalm 35:19 is instructive in this…

Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye.

An old buddy of mine lives in Ireland, and his wife shared a news clipping a few days back… and the commentary was filled with hate for Christians. Probably some of the most intense hate I’ve ever encountered which prompted me to crank out this blog posting. The thing is, in this case, the hate of the world was not only reasonable, it was more than justifiable. Christianity did many horrendous things in ages long past… folks may have started out with seemingly good intentions, and then as time passed, they found it expeditious to do more and more evil, so that good would come… except good never came, rather evil enveloped Christianity. And in the case of the news clipping where 800 babies were buried in a septic tank by nuns as little as 50-60 years ago… to say nothing of what appears to be a failure to provide food and medical care, thus leasing to the demise of said children, its plain and simple evil. Considering there were many such homes, with some saying there may be as many as 7000 victims… Well, the world is going to condemn such actions in a huge way.

Sure, the scriptures tell us to flee sexual immorality, but there is NO excuse whatsoever to cast unwed mothers and their babies aside, much less to separate them and deny them food and medical care. I don’t care how much of a prude or sexual control freak one is, there is no place for actions done in the name of Christianity or even humanity for this.

And yet, you have the apologists for such actions saying well, abortion is much worse… but unlike Jesus, where he convicted religious people of their sin and was hated, the world doesn’t see abortion is worse, as many don’t see an embryo as really human. And yet, anyone can see that an unwed mother and her baby are just as human as the pope… and yet by the actions of those Christians,  the unwed mother and her baby must have been considered less than human.

I think its a similar deal with the hate experienced by the anti-biracial marriage folks of the past, or the anti-gay marriage folks of the present. The world says, hey you want to get married, go for it, where as some Christians say wait a minute, this isn’t right… and if it was left at a theological disagreement, there would be no hate in the matter. Alas, a small minority of Christians ie Fred Phelps types go off the deep end, where no fruits of the spirit can be found and hate abounds. Sadly, this small number of folks polarizes things and builds hate up on both sides.

I mean, its crazy making that parent child relationships end when a kid comes out gay and marries his partner. There is no loving God or loving one’s neighbor when a parent child relationship gets destroyed and/or a church or synagoge gets a bullet hole in if after being willing to marry a bi-racial or gay couple… and lots of innocent folks on both sides get caught up in it. Its going to take a long time to rebuild some of those relationships. Alas, I think Psalm 69:4 may be useful  in such… but it is a hard thing to handle too.

Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore what I did not steal.

Bottom line, hate without reason is what Jesus was talking about. Ie hate due to someone being convicted of sin, leads said convicted folks to hate the messenger… after all its a large part of why folks back then hung Jesus on the cross. Alas, this is much different than hate directed at the messenger for the damage the messenger created apart from the message. There is no get out of jail free card for that.

Ponderings on Donald Miller Dustup

So Donald Miller wrote a series of why he doesn’t go to church posts and its caused more than a bit of a stir. He is a fairly big time Christian author, so as one might expect, his honesty caused no small amount of teeth knashing and other bits. Alas, out of 526 blog comments I read, no one tore their clothes… not sure what that means, but it was interesting.

There were two things struck me with the commentary on Donald’s series… First, many of the issues he brings up are spot on. Secondly, I perceived an underlying tone of many of the most ardent objectors that seems to indicate they are trying to convince themselves they are holding to a right position. If my perceptions are correct in this, no wonder church growth has been going negative… its not just more folks not believing.

Its not a new deal either. Folks have been leaving churches behind for centuries. You have folks in early Christian and other histoircal writings leaving the church for the desert. You have the Didache going so far as to state  itinerrant preachers and prophets who stick around for more than a couple days are not cool. Alas, leaving to get closer to God is probably not the largest cohort of folks leaving, but it most certainly is part of it.

My guess is that the larger number of folks who don’t attend is that church doesn’t seem as relevant to their life as it once did. In folks I’ve talked to over the years, Jesus most certainly is as important, or even more important than when they were regular attenders, but formal worship not so much. I’ve heard many a story of folks digging into the scriptures more, praying more, and being closer to God post leaving than they did when frequent attenders.

individual vs communal vs scaling vs bidirectional vs unidirectional

Thus we are at a paradox, but I sort of wonder if we haven’t been there for much longer than is apparent. My guess is a lot of things served as masks, and now that a couple bits have changed, the light penetrates deeper than it did in the past.

In the glory days of church growth, attendance was often by social command. Christian privilege was also a huge deal. If you didn’t show up, your name was mud. If your kids didn’t show up, your name was mud… peer pressure kept a lot of folks in churches. One problem with this of course is the lack of authenticity it creates. Ie Christian for 1 hour on Sunday and then its turned off until the next Sunday. A positive side is that repetitive experience, even if ones mind is 99% turned off can have lasting effects.

Beyond the social pressure of worship to maintain Christian privilege, we also have the scripture bit about not forsaking the assembly. I’m not convinced this is anywhere near the global prescriptive we read into it. Ie, its one thing to be encouraged to assemble to stay on track to build one another up etc… its something else when it becomes just another must do thing to get the suffering over with as quickly as possible. From Donald Miller

The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?…..

He’s not calling us to be sanctified through dutiful boredom.
Yep, the whole gnostic leaning thought that we go to church for the spiritual side and we should ignore feelings and such is pretty counterproductive. Granted I’m not saying church services should be like a Journey, Grateful Dead, Def Leppard, Vikings, Packers, Bears, etc (insert favorite concert or sporting event here), but they ought not to be totally ignore folks feelings either. I remember a Catholic priest friend some years back telling me if he consistently didn’t get anything out of going to church, he wouldn’t be going either. I think he was right on the mark with that. Church cannot be a one way deal… consider the bride of Christ thing, and how no one in their right mind would enter a marriage if it was only a 1 way deal from the get go. Of course recognizing this is one thing, addressing it another. The trad vs contempo vs mixed vs integrated vs age specific thing is likely a bandaid deal.

I think there is also an issue of expectations… remove the social pressure to attend, and the scrutiny increases. Consider that Acts 2:42-47 presents a pretty hardcore model for church… Such might fly and sort of does in some university constructs in part due to their transitory nature… but in a regular community, such is near impossible human nature being what it is. Consider the following discussion from Carson T Clark and a church leader related to his ordination process.

After I’d carefully laid out my understanding, he replied something to the effect of, “That sounds more like AA than a church.” Wanting to make sure I was understanding him rightly, I asked for clarification.
He explained that that degree of transparency about psychological struggles, intellectual doubt, broken relationships, spiritual confusion, and the like was simply impractical for a local church setting. It was unfeasible.
“People may need to go outside the local church for that kind of growth and healing.”

Carson T Clark’s view was probably close to the Acts 2 texts…. I’ve seen many a recent grad carry similar idealism, only to have it blown to bits when its execution is attempted. This is not to say its not valid and/or that it can’t be done via picking and choosing bits and pieces here or there, but holistically it can’t work. Churches are hospitals for the broken, run by broken people, and crashes and burns are inevitable, its not a matter of if, but a matter of when… which is why such can work out better within a university context that a traditional parish… ie the membership is continually moving, long term scars and institutional pluses and minuses don’t have enough time to become dominant. This does pose a problem for the recent grad though… their experience has created Acts 2 expectations in a given form which is near impossible for a typical local parish to meet. (Or at least if they are brutally honest, it is near impossible to meet.)