Thursday, January 24, 2008

What kind of church would you belong to?

Larry Vaughan, one of my favorite bloggers, just posted his answers to the question: What kind of church would you belong to? It’s a good question, an excellent question, and it’s terribly relevant to the emergent conversation.

To my mind Larry’s an ideal person to answer this question. He was a pastor for 17 years. Did the whole church scene: associate pastor, worship pastor, youth pastor, senior pastor, education pastor. Even has a degree from a Christian university. But church-going burned him out, ate his lunch, broke him down, whatever metaphor works for you. Gave it all up eight years ago and hasn’t belonged to a church for five years. Says he feels healthier than he’s ever felt before. I’m guessing he’s not alone.

Today Larry counsels emotionally and psychologically broken people, tries to keep them safe from themselves and keep them from harming others. Tries to treat them with dignity, to build them up, show them what self-respect looks like, even when they’re kicking him, screaming at him, making colorful remarks about his lineage. You’ve gotta wonder if he’s doing more now to serve the Kingdom of God than he ever did in his 17 years of pastoring.

In any case, read his list below. Or read the whole essay (recommended) here. Then let’s discuss – what kind of church would YOU attend if you could start from scratch?

I hope to put a list up of my own soon.

Here’s Larry’s take:

1. I would belong to a church that didn’t own any property. Well, they could own property but it would only contain either a massive garden or a softball field that didn’t allow church leagues to play on it.

2. I would belong to a church that gave 100% of my offering to projects selected by the leadership to improve the quality of life for lower stratum individuals. Operating expenses (such as salaries and rent) would be paid directly by ministry partners.

3. I would belong to a church that did not hijack the work of the Holy Spirit. By that I mean I believe in the power of God, and the power of God to draw people to Him. What is right for me is likely wrong for my neighbor and vice versa. Entire denominations have been built on the premise that what is right for me is right for you.

4. I would belong to a church that did not count the number of people in attendance.

5. I would belong to a church that existed primarily for those who were not a part of it.

6. I would belong to a church that understood Love as a verb.

7. I would belong to a church that viewed obesity and gossip as more heinous than alcohol or the lottery.

8. I would belong to a church that promoted the quiet practice of spiritual disciplines. Key word: Quiet.

9. I would belong to a church that fully integrated Galatians 3:28 into its theology. How many church arguments would be dead in the water if we understood and accepted the abolishment of racial, social, and gender distinctions? About all of them.

10. I would belong to a church that would expressly forbid Icthus symbols on member’s cars. I guess it would be OK if we brought them back in the event that Christian worship were outlawed and the penalty for ignoring the law was death.

11. I would belong to a church that valued authenticity before purity. It has been my experience that the church has gotten this backwards, creating an environment that encourages you and I to do everything we can to hide all that is wrong with us.

12. I would belong to a church that understood the carnality of humanity. All humanity.


nancy said...

Good post Stephen. I'll have to check out the whole article. The other day in the PC there were two articles that created such a telling juxtiposition.

The first was about "Cool Congregations" and congregational level education/action program developed by the Iowa Interfaith Power & Light group encouraging faith communities to take practical steps to cool the earth and decrease global warming.

The second was about a church that finally had their new $444,000 pipe organ installed and ready for use after a long journey of fund-raising and installation.

I want to belong to a church that would put $444,000 into programs that would reduce global warming, increase potable water, health care, and education in oppressed communities.

Stephen said...

Absolutely great example, Nancy, thanks -- I saw the "cool congregations" item (which, by the way, I think is a very cool idea) but must have missed the pipe organ story. Stories about pipe organs hold about as much interest for me as announcements about church potluck suppers and bake sales. They're not bad in and of themselves, but when that's ALL a church is offering its congregation, you've gotta wonder what's gone wrong. The fact that in many churches mission boils down to an envelope in your pew where you can stick a few dollars and call it good makes me very, very sad.

Jason said...

I think I agree with the general idea he's trying to get across in #7. Not only are there are far worse things than alcohol or the lottery, alcohol (and I GUESS the lottery) have some positive qualities too. But obesity? Sure it's not fun to look at, and it can be taxing on the health care system. But it's a personal enough struggle for many good people, and hardly deserves to be viewed as heinous.

Otherwise, good post.

Stephen said...

Jason, welcome, and thanks for your comments! It's good to have you here.

Knowing Larry -- or as well as one can know another person through his blog -- I'm guessing he was using a bit of sarcasm to make his point. But I agree with you, at least on the obesity issue (I'm not so sure about the lottery).

While I dislike American obsession with victimization (as well as its easy hero worship), I do believe that in many ways people who are obese -- people who are typically poorer and less educated, statistically -- ARE victims of a food system (manufacturers, marketers, fast food restaurants) that produces copious and wondrous varieties of food that is cheap and filling but loaded with corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, transfats, sugars and salts and other goodies. One thing, perhaps, that churches could take up as a cause is helping educate their members and communities about eating healthier, maybe starting a community garden, and encouraging alternative fare at the ever-popular potlucks.

In any event, thanks for dropping by!



Larry said...

Maybe this might shed a little light on my view of obesity as heinous. When I was a pastor, my 5'10" frame topped the scales at over 300 lbs. I could go to a parishioner's house and eat two pies with encouragement but if I said the word, "Shit" I was reprimanded. I'm no fan of alcohol or the lottery, but the American diet is killing us. I'm down to 175 lbs (no more "fellowship" dinners). So, the "heinous" description was mostly self-directed. I know there is a small percentage of individuals who cannot control their weight. But most of us can. Is it a struggle? Probably the second hardest thing I have ever done. I appreciated your comment.

Jason said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, Stephen. I've been lurking for some time, and figured it was about time to join in a bit. Also, good points. I agree with you about genuine victims of the food system, and about steps a church could make to help combat that system (or at least combat its effects).

Larry, thanks for shedding some light. I think I just read too much in to the use of "heinous", as I'd certainly agree that obesity is a bigger (serious) problem than many things commonly condemned in churches.

Stephen said...

Larry, it's an honor to have you grace our comments section. :) Welcome, friend.

Jason -- more great comments; hope you'll consider coming to our meeting next Wednesday!


nancy said...

Good dialog fellas. When I read the obesity comment, I immediately thought that "over-consumption" might be a good substitute. In that case, gluttony is over-consumption of food which often leads to obesity. But I wonder about over-consumption or perhaps careless consumption. Use of plastic tableware, styrofoam cups/plates, big gas guzzling cars, closets full of clothes that we don't wear. (I am or have been guilty of all of these - trying to change my habits)

I like the suggestion about dealing with poverty & food quality too as abetting obesity. Yesterday I saw a Barrack Obama in SC video where a GOTV worker was in a community with no grocery store for 5 miles - only liquor stores & convenience stores. A little closer to home, our friends were lamenting that "their" Price Chopper didn't care the "Go-green" shopping bags, local organic milk, and local organic bread because it is a "ghetto" Price Chopper.

Certainly there are many issues - systemic and personal habits - that we can begin to address as congregations bringing health and healing to our communities.