Everything’s Not Going To Be Ok

Our culture demands that everything be fixed, affirmed, embraced and approved. Our culture wants an answer for everything. We need to assign blame. We need to fabricate some sense of justification. Sometimes, as society screams for an answer, we look to our Bibles and can't find a sufficient response. We can find answers in our traditions. Different churches have taken their stands and have made their decrees. Some of those answers are harsh. A harsh answer mixed with human nature often times leads to condemnation. Some churches have answers which are more akin to society's liking. They give culture more authority and ham-string the authority of the scriptures. We are so obsessed with our need to have answers, that we overlook the other option. Sometimes, the answer is unclear. Sometimes, the answer isn't comforting. Sometimes, the answer is offensive to the evangelical/fundamental standard. Sometimes, the answer is politically and socially incorrect. Sometimes, there is no answer at all. Sin creates consequences. Those consequences began to spread throughout our gene pool the moment Cain and Abel were born. They have continued to spread for quite some time now. As a result, the perfection which Adam knew before the fall, is not something that we are born into. We are born broken. Our wires are crossed. Our lines are disconnected. We have missing parts. We have extra parts. We have mutations. Society tells us that we are ok. Since the church behaves as a subculture of society (as opposed to a counterculture), we feel obliged to do the same thing. We might take a different slant on it, but, if we are not outright condemning people, we are telling people that they are ok. Sometimes, we are not ok. Sometimes, we don't get to have what other people have. Sometimes, our only recourse for peace, is the peace that passes understanding. Sometimes, the thorn in our flesh is not removed. Sometimes we have to depend on the grace of God to be sufficient. Sometimes, the best answer there is, is "I don't know".

Big Church

Today, in a conversation following the worship service, I told someone this:
I do not have any goals, nor do I have any intent to grow this fellowship numerically. If God grows it, it will be a matter of His will and not mine.
There is an underlying motivation in the church culture. It's all about numbers. It's all about growth. It's all about expansion and multiplication. I understand the motivation, (or, at least the one which is given most). More people hearing the gospel and getting discipled is a good thing. I'm all for that. But, I'm not that person. I want a community which looks more like a family. I want brothers, sisters, aunts, grandpas, and nephews. We know our family. We know their names. Creating a large congregation is not my goal. I don't see big numbers as being a validation or disqualification of my teaching skills. I'm content to have a fellowship where I know the names and faces. A small church is a beautiful thing. I declare, with all sincerity, that I am content. This is who we are. We aren't waiting for any flood-gates. We are not waiting to be something else. We are who we are, and it's a good thing. I'm not dissing the big church. I'm just saying, "That's not me."

The Sell-Outs and The Sold

I'm devouring Michael Gungor's book. (The Crowd The Critic And The Muse) Today, I finished reading a chapter on how capitalism affects art. I went into the chapter with skepticism. Even as capitalism opens the door to all kinds of evil intents, it also opens the door for the public, (NOT government), to regulate, and thus is a basic expression of freedom. Other forms limit freedom, so I am quick to defend capitalism. Unexpectedly, I wasn't offended. Gungor's approach ended up being very balanced. Capitalism is bad for artistic creators. It has isolated the 'sell-outs' and bred them in mass. Gungor's insight was brilliant. Here are a few quotes.
...when a person crafts their external world in a way that is not true to their internal world, even positive motivators... are not enough. (pg. 94)
The very act of creation ought to connect the artist more deeply with the ground of his humanity. It ought to align with that inner muse. When it doesn't, we create in a way that separates us from our true humanity- this is selling out.(pg. 95)
... just two more quotes, then I'll launch from this into something different.
The artist that lies with his aesthetic is in a dangerous place. when you craft your external world out of values that aren't true to your inner world, your inner world will soon begin to crumble. Eventually your outer world follows suit and begins to crumble as well. I think this plays a part in why so many stars overdose on drugs and why so many preachers and politicians wind up in sex scandals. They have created outer worlds that their inner worlds can't sustain, like building a house on sand. (pg. 95)
When artists lie with their aesthetic, it becomes as if they are borrowing creative material from the very substance of their soul. When the outer work demands payment, and the soul has nothing that it can use to pay the debt, it offers a tiny piece of itself (pg. 96).
Let's talk about a different craft now. Let's move on from songwriters and painters to preachers. Preachers create too. We work to lead and develop a community of fellowship where people are being equipped, enriched and spiritually matured. We proclaim the gospel with the hopes that the called will respond and enter into the faith. We direct people into that place where the unified work of The Holy Spirit and the scriptures engage to transform the life of the humble believer. This is our goal. However, the means to that end, is where our outward world might not line up with our inward world. In my world, the ends to the means is pretty simple. We preach the gospel and teach the scriptures, verse by verse. For the most part, our method is simple. Most of the pastors in my particular camp avoid the light-shows, videos, secular music promo's and shocking teasers. You won't find a Calvary Chapel inviting people to an Easter service with the phrase, "Highway To Hell", (No offense Pastor Noble). We are not known for our professionally produced presentations and pyrotechnics. Our church planting methods don't include anything which could possibly be called a program. For this reason, when one of us is confronted with these methods we respond with offense. The main reason I get offended, is because I'm not used to something. It's different. It is outside of my boundaries of normal and appropriate. Sometimes, with rational thought, we get beyond our offense and accept that which is different. Sometimes, with rational thought, we remain offended. For me, the ends do not always justify the means. The means might be reasonable. It might be justifiable, even on a Biblical level. These means are being pumped out, like sausages, into the church-planting world. In the past 15 years, a bunch of guys volunteered to be the sell-outs. Maybe they weren't selling out, based on their own personal inward worlds. Whatever the case might be, they paved the way. Now, the way has been paved. Instead of having sell-outs, we now have a bunch of guys who are sold. Church-planting with a programmed method and services resembling pro-wrestling events have become the norm. I just attended my first non-Calvary Chapel church leaders conference. Of course, I was offended. It was very different. I've never been to a conference with carnival rides and Michael Jackson medleys. All that offended me wasn't wrong. It was just different. As I looked around at the thousands of people who were assembled there, I came to a conclusion. These people think that this is normal. This is what their church services look like. These are the things that they focus on in their leadership meetings. These are the methods they employ. This is normal. These people are the sold. If I ever plant another church, I won't do it that way. I won't follow the program. I won't draw huge crowds with my clever marketing and my cool give-aways. There's no real problem with all of that... it's just an outside reality, which does not line up with my inward reality. How many guys are giving in to an outward method, which offends them inwardly? We are told that this is the normal way of doing things? We are told that this is what a normal church looks like. I can't be the only person who looks at the top-40 pop music Applebee's franchise model of church planting and confesses that this is just NOT who I am. This is not who God created me to be. This is not the type of church that I am designed to lead. I'm not disagreeing with the 'ends justify the means' method. If the 'ends' equate to people getting saved and discipled in a real way, then, as Paul said, the church should be willing to be all things to all men so that some might be saved. I disagree with the unspoken part. IT'S NOT NORMAL. If you try to be something that you are not... it will make you miserable. For the sake of having 'trendy-cred' and big churches, I'm sure, there are many guys out there who are miserable. My challenge. As you lead... as you plant... as you pastor. Be who you are.

Hole In The Wall

It's a great restaurant... It's just a hole in the wall, but the food is great.
I'm not quoting anyone specific, but we all know people who have said this. In fact, most of us have uttered these words. The chain restaurants have the fancy buildings, menus and decor. They have proven marketing schemes and business models. Unfortunately, they also have mediocre food. Somewhere, many miles away, the meals are prepared in a factory, flash-frozen and placed on a truck. They are shipped out to your favorite establishment where they await your order. From there, it's only one quick jump into a microwave and onto your plate. People with mediocre tastes and expectations flock to these establishments. As they simultaneously watch 13 football games and listen to rock n roll hits from the 80's, they are distracted from the fact that their food is incredibly generic. Don't get me wrong... people are still fed. Food comes out of the kitchen, and people consume it. The hole in the wall doesn't have any marketing. They barely decorate. The calendar on their wall is three years old. Every table is different and the chairs don't match. To the faithful patron, none of this matters. They are there for THE FOOD! In fact, their food is legendary. The hole in the wall has been there forever. The owner is not interested in bigger buildings and franchises. They might only serve 80 meals on a Friday night, but each meal was prepared the old fashioned way... one at a time... with love... with real fresh ingredients... People love the hole in the wall. They are faithful to it. They tell their friends. They know the name of every waitress and always send their greetings to the kitchen staff. Every time they go, the room is filled with familiar faces. I want the church that I pastor to be a hole in the wall. There are plenty of church growth programs being prepared in the Universities. They are packaged up and sent out to well funded church planting teams all over America. They have proven marketing and business models. They know how to get a lot of people in the seats. They are focused on expansion and franchising (campuses). They serve up the same menu... from one mediocre teaching series to the next. Most folks don't notice. They are taken in by the free coffee mugs and clever videos. Don't get me wrong... people are still fed. Even still... I want the church that I pastor, to be a hole in the wall.