December 6, 2006

Conversations with a Future Church Planter pt. 8

This e-mail from my friend was the one that made me want to post this conversation. If you ignore the rant about multi-site churches, you will hear the desperation in his words (if you are distracted by his inclusion of a few off-color words you will miss the point as well). Here is someone desperately struggling with all the mixed messages swirling around the church world. Do it this way! Do it that way! You cannot have a growing church unless you...

All the while we are not called to "do" church like someone else. We are Called to be ourselves. We must plant the church out of who we are, and not out of who someone else is or out of their style of ministry. Do we use and value what we find? Yes, but we have to be honest about who we are, what we can do, and what fits our personality and calling.

I know the language and "babysitter" comment may be offensive to some, but please hear the wrestling and the searching that is taking place as he seeks to understand what he is seeing and learning and looks to the future when he will have to "do" what is only now an intellectual exercise.

Here is the rest of the series.

Here is my Friend's e-mail:

Yeah, you’re right, man. I can feel myself griping and know I shouldn’t be so negative, even in the midst of my responses. And seminary is a place of intellectual idealism in a vacuum of reality. Since most of us have never experienced pastoral ministry firsthand, it’s the perfect breeding ground for criticism and complaining. McChurch is evil, so it goes in our little world, and pastors ought to be more concerned about the kingdom than filling the church.

But real-life ministry is scary… the everyday challenge to make sure enough people come through the doors and donate in order to maintain the machinery of church… all the while the pastor must do it all without enough money, without support, under the microscope of the congregation. Then he reads denominational rags and sees how crappy his church is doing in comparison to the latest darling that’s experienced a big, measurable gain or the most influential mega-church that has five easy ways to do the impossible. It’s a tough biz.

But let me say this… in case you think I’m getting seminarian senior cockiness syndrome… The more I read (and yes, thoroughly critique who and what I read) the more I realize I have no idea what the hell I’m in for. I’m so screwed up at this point…mega-churches, multi-site churches, seeker-friendly churches, postmodern churches, ancient/future (emergent) churches… They all have much to offer, and much to praise… but dammit, I have no idea how to put the pieces together and build a successful church…I have no clue what I’m going to do once I get there.

The bottom line is… I’m as confused as it gets. Marketing, leadership, theology, technology, sacraments, core teams, discipline, spiritual formation, sermons, liturgy, management, empowerment, visitation, fiscal accountability… Holy crap! I’ll never, ever make it! I’ll be in way over my head!

I’m re-reading The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen… and he’s reminding me that it’s not about following trends or doing tasks… it’s about following Jesus. It’s about loving God and loving others.

Simple. Complex. Impossible for man, but anything is possible for God. Okay… then compare that with this statistic: 80% of all new churches fail within five years. That there is what we call lousy odds.

My brain is going to explode. I don’t know if my biggest fear is not getting a job when I graduate, or getting a job and falling on my face, or doing well for awhile then getting exposed through some terrible sin… or…?

The bottom line is this: In my idealistic over-seminary-ized mind, I simply don’t believe in mega-churches or multi-site churches. I’m not saying they’re wrong or sinful… I just don’t like what they represent. To me they represent the corporate side of church, they propagate the consumeristic values of American Christians, and they reduce the Christian life (intentionally or not) to something like a country club membership. That is not me… not anymore.

Nor am I the twenty-something, beer-drinking, in-your-face, against-the-establishment, liturgical, ancient/future, rock and roll, emergent church kind of person. Their brand of “small” house church, and desire to reach nightclubbers, and their distaste for “big” church… does not sound appealing to me whatsoever. I don’t want to live in the first century (with my laptop and ipod)… I want more than that. I want to see a church grow… (just not into a mega-church)! J

So what am I left with…? A modern, trend-consumed, denominational, purpose-driven, focused-on-attendance, mission-less (Lord help me) church? Hell no!

I am left in a state of confusion, that’s where I’m left! There is beauty in all of the above, but there’s a lot of crap too.

The reason I’m so torqued about multi-site is that instead of looking for risk-taking, passionate, entrepreneurial, roll-the-dice-and-see-what-happens people… they’re looking for freakin’ babysitters who pray for people when they have problems or questions. Instead of pouring their resources into church planting… you know, like REAL church planting, these ego-maniacs want to franchise their church services to the masses! They are so good, and so infallible, they actually think they can package up their slick sermons and “sell” their spiritual goods down the street… and the worst thing about the whole stupid mess is… MANY OF THEM ARE HAVING HUGE SUCCESS! Great, people by the thousands are filing into buildings all across America to watch a “real-time” sermon piped in from another location!

Deep down in my heart, I don’t believe for a minute this trend will last, or ultimately end well… but it’s working for now, so in the great American way, we’re milking this baby for all it’s worth! I wonder what it will all look like on the other side of ten years…? Then again, back in the early 80s, I thought rap was a stupid, short-lived sensation that would never last!

In the meanwhile, I have no clue what I want my church to look like, or how it will function, or if it will ever actually become a reality… nevertheless, I desperately want to give it a shot, and see what God might (or might not) want to do. I can’t imagine why I’m not getting offers from all corners of the country… can you?

1 comment:

  1. As the author of the above "rant" I would like to apologize for my colorful language, and for ranting about the multi-site movement. I still don't think it's for me, however, that doesn't give me the right to be so judgmental. I can't really explain why digital preaching is so bothersome to me - while the other spiritual activities of "church" remain live - but it does. Perhaps if you think about whatever it is you do for a living and consider that activity being replaced by a machine or digital stream, you might begin to understand me (or not). Regardless, I felt ashamed when I read heard the tone my own comments. Since I offended myself, there's a pretty good chance I offended others too... so please accept my apology. When it comes down to it, all I really care about is for the light of the gospel to be shared with those who are walking in darkness... regardless of how or in what context. Come, Lord Jesus.