Monday, January 30, 2006

McLaren Tries Again

Last week I referenced the article of emergent church leader Brian McLaren about a pastoral response to homosexuality. Across the blogosphere, the article got a lot of attention. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle posted a response that likewise received a lot of attention. So McLaren came back to try to clarify and defend his comments.

I find his response hardly sufficient to address what the real issues were in the original post. I did not see anyone calling for a lack of love towards homosexuals. I think most agree that we need to be loving, kind, and tactful. We need to respond with compassion and love. We need to find out what lies behind questions.

The problem was that Brian is waffling on a clear declaration of Scripture and calling it love. How can that be? It can only be a misunderstanding of what love is.

Brian claims to love God and his word. But he sees "additional levels of complexity" to the texts about homosexuality. How so? I cannot find the confusion in Scripture. To deal with the text honestly and faithfully is to see the clarity with which homosexual behavior is condemned unilaterally in Scripture. We find no positive or neutral reference to homosexaulity. How can Brian conclude that there is room for disagreement or consideration on the matter? We should thoughtfully and prayerfully consider our responses. But homosexuality is a "no-brainer" for those devoted to Scripture.

Brian claims he still hasn't given his opinion about homosexuality. Brian, that is the problem. You haven't. God has spoken and you have so far refused to speak with clarity about what God has spoken about.

I won't defend Driscoll. I thought Mark's response was over the top. I thought it lacked humility and grace. I thought it dealt rudely with two real issues: how to deal with homosexuality and how to deal with those who do not take a biblical stand. Mark likes baseball. He'll understand what I mean when I say he whiffed on this one. He took the right stand in the wrong way. Having listened to Driscoll preach, and having read his book Radical Reformission, it is obvious that his style of communication is different than most. He is frequently sarcastic, very direct, and "in your face." It is refreshing at times, and no doubt used of God to confront people about their sinful condition. I have found myself challenged by his directness, both in my personal life and in my preaching. Yet at others, as with this article, Driscoll harms his point with needless sarcasm. If you read the comments, you will find that people missed Mark's point because of Mark's delivery. It hurts us all who agree with Mark, and who to one degree or another like Mark.

But don't blame Mark for Brian's failures in this area. Where God has clearly spoken, and he unquestionably has, then we need not say less than God said.

How lovingly is it to fail to speak directly about a soul-damning practice? Would a parent let his child play near the stove? Would the parent call for a five year moratorium on pronouncements about stove playing? Of course not. Why? Because they love their child and see the danger.

How much more important is it to address a situation that will not simply burn fingers; it will send people to eternal separation from God in hell? Of course, since some emergents are rethinking hell, that isn't a great concern to them.

It is sad to see Brian miss the point yet again. With a voice as loud as his, he needs to be rethinking his approach, rather than rethinking theology. The voice of God to a troubled generation is being muddled by too many.

God give us grace to stand with love and compassion, to ask the right questions, and to give the right answers. The pastor or church that disdains homosexual people is living in sin. The pastor or church that fails to compassionately reach out to them in their bondage is also living in sin. McLaren got it half right. But he also got it half wrong.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Is "God" Enough?

I have been thinking about the way that we address God, or the way that we talk about God, particularly in the context of the religious pluralism that we find ourselves living in today. The name "God" flows off of virtually everybody's tongue, sometimes in disdain and profanity, but often in some sort of invocation of deity. People from all religious persuasions ("faith traditions" seems to be the buzzword these days) believe in God. But the gospel clearly declares that belief in God is not enough. Neither is invoking his name. If we are to have a relationship with God, if we are to worship the true God, we must confess that Jesus Christ is God.

In church, we spend much time talking to God, and talking about God. But do we spend enough time talking to Jesus as God, or about Jesus as God? Perhaps it is a fine distinction, especially if you are one that believes that no unbeliever should be in church, or that we should not do anything in church to accomodate unbelievers. After all, the believers recognize this truth about Jesus as God. For them, saying "God" is clearly recognized in the context of exclusive Christianity—Jesus-ism. But is that enough?

I wonder if we should not spend more time talking to Jesus in our prayers, repeating the name Jesus in our conversations and messages, not as a charm, but as a distinguishing mark of our Christianity. After all, it's not just about God. It's about Jesus. It's about loving him and following him. It is about the God who is Jesus.

How often do we, in church, begin our prayers with "Dear Jesus"? When was the last time you began a personal prayer with "Dear Jesus" when your children were not there? For many, "Dear Jesus" is a child's way of prayer that we abandoned when we became more mature. But should it be so? I think not. The focus in the church on the Head of the Church should include more frequent direct references invoking the name of Christ in more ways that the seemingly obligatory reference to the "name of Jesus" tacked on to the end of prayers.

Perhaps more conscious efforts to talk about "Jesus" would remind us constantly that Jesus is God in more than a doctrinal way. It would remind us that we do not worship the same God as the Jews, or the Muslims, or the Buddhists, or whatever else might be out there. We worship the God who is Jesus, who took human flesh, experienced all the reality of humanity, yet without sin; who died on the cross that we who were subject to slavery our whole lives might be set free.

The old gospel chorus, no doubt cheesy or trivial to some, old-fashioned to others, rings out loud and clear:
Let's talk about Jesus — the King of kings is He,
The Lord of lords supreme through all eternity.
The Great I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door;
Let's talk about Jesus more and more.

We could find less noble things to talk about then the Head of the Church.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

McLaren, Homosexuality, and Being "Pastoral"

Emergent Church leader Brian McLaren wonders aloud what he should think about homosexuality. Lest you think I am making this up, here is what he says in an article in Leadership Journal.
Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides, but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us."
The article starts off in a thought-provoking way about how to be pastoral while answering difficult questions. It is easy to understand his initial point. Oftentimes, when people ask questions, it is helpful to know what is behind the question. As he points out, a question may be emotionally charged from one side of the issue or the other. It may be a trap. It could be any number of things. In fact, his response to the question of homosexuality is a response that we should learn to use: "Can you tell me why that question is important to you?"

What is stunning about this article is that McLaren apparently does not know what to think about homosexuality. I can understand the use of rhetorical devices to frame an article or a discussion. I can understand not revealing one's hand in order to lead people to a particular point. I cannot understand how anyone even remotely familiar with the Bible can pretend to not know what it says about homosexuality. McLaren does not seem to be rhetorical in his suggestion. It appears that he honestly thinks this issue needs more thought and discussion.

Yet, God has been clear on this issue, as has been almost universally recognized throughout civilization. The Bible declares it unnatural, sinful, the result of God's turning man over to himself to reap the consequences of his rejection of God. In Scripture, homosexuality is never presented in a positive light. It is always sinful. (So is adultery, stealing, etc. So don't think I am picking out one sin and making worse than all others.) With the clarity of Scripture, why is there any reason to wonder what we should believe?

We could wonder how we should approach people in homosexual behavior. We could wonder what the best way to counsel them is. We could wonder how best to help them from Scripture. We could wonder if we should temper our language. But we should not wonder what we should believe.

One of McLaren's concerns is that we treat people with grace and kindness, even in their sin. With that, I can wholeheartedly agree. It is never right to ridicule, mock, taunt, or shame homosexual people. It is never right to treat them in an undignified or disrespectful manner. In fact, we should treat them as Christ treated all sinners, with love and compassion, not overlooking their sins, but ministering to them in compassion and mercy.

McLaren's position is all too typical of a large wing of the emergent church movement. Clearly revealed truths accepted by orthodox Christianity for generations have been neutered in hopes of a recasting of spirituality. For many emergents, the mark of a good Christian and a good theologian is ignorance ... not knowing the answers to questions. It is paraded about as humility, stating that we are not all knowing and are humble enough to recognize it. For them, everyone is ignorant in some areas. Some simply do not admit it.

However, there is no humility is pretending to not know an answer on a topic God has clearly spoken about. There is in actuality only pride that asserts that we know better than the God who spoke clearly when he should have been more reticent to make declarations.

McLaren suggests that we need a five year moratorium on a pronouncement about homosexuality during which time we will give careful attention to "biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields." Then, he says, if we have clarity, we can speak. If not, we should wait five more years. His excuse is that the church took centuries to figure out many important things. But surely he has not forgotten that the church took no time to figure out many other important things.

One would expect a comment like McLaren's from an old-line liberal, a skeptical seeker, or someone more interested in what people think than in what God has revealed in Scripture. One would not expect his comment from an evangelical pastor given charge to lead people to know God. Perhaps his words speak more than he intended.

Friday, January 20, 2006

So What Now?

The hype/confusion/disgust/concern over the movie End of the Spear has been resounding all over the blogosphere, and even into more mainstream media in places. The casting of homosexual activist Chad Allen has created a great furor. Lesser furor has been boiling over the presentation (or lack thereof) of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For those unfamiliar with the story, End of the Spear is a presentation of the story of five missionaries who were martyred in their efforts to reach the Waodani Indian tribe of South America. After months of trying to establish a friendly contact, these five men, all with wives and families, decided to take it a step further by landing their airplane on a nearby beach and hoping for the Indians to come out to meet them. On January 8, 1956, all five men were killed by the Indians. In the aftermath, some of the wives of these men were able to establish contact, and lived among these Indians, sharing the gospel of Christ with them and seeing these Indians follow Christ for salvation.

It is sad that the producers of this movie showed show little discernment in casting Allen as a lead role. It is hard to imagine a poorer decision could have been made. Allen stands diametrically opposed to the message of the lives of these men, and has no use for the God for whom these men gave their lives.

It is equally sad that there is no clear presentation of the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone in this movie. That is, after all, the point of the story. These men did not give their lives for social reformation, or merely to teach people to love others and get along with them. It was not a mission in social dynamics. They gave their lives because they knew that this tribe was hopeless without Christ and they determined to take the gospel to them at any cost.

So what now? Given the poor casting choice, and the lack of a clear gospel, how should we respond? My answer may surprise some.

First, if you were not going to go see the movie anyway, I would not worry yourself about it. There have been far worse movies with far greater media coverage with far less church attention. Go about your life and serve God passionately with the heartbeat of these five.

Second, if you may be inclined to see the movie, go see it … or don’t. But realize that it has already been made and cannot be changed. Hopefully Every Tribe Entertainment (the production company) has learned its lesson.

What about a homosexual activist playing a lead role? He will play it whether you see it or not. I am totally against it. It was a bad decision, but it is done. And God has worked his will through great sinners before, and even a donkey. So Allen fits right in there. Had we never known about Chad’s activism, the message of the film would be the same. It will admittedly be harder to watch, and some may decide not to see it because of this. That’s fine. I would urge you not to blast away at your brothers and sisters who do decide to see it.

What about the lack of the gospel? In God’s work, gospel presentation is not always the first thing on the agenda. In many cases, there are necessary precursors to the opening of the heart to the gospel, precursors that God has ordained to use in people’s lives in his sovereign opening of their hearts to belief. God has used seemingly small and inane things to do his work in the past. He has used relationships (even unwise relationships), health and sickness, financial loss, family problems, and much more. God even used a donkey to open the eyes of Balaam. So, if he chooses, he can use this movie to spark someone’s interest in the gospel. A sovereign God can work in mysterious ways.

The fact that the gospel is not overt is not necessarily compromise. You might invite someone to dinner to get to know them, in hopes of building a relationship that will open the door for the gospel. You don’t bombard them with the gospel in the first five minutes of the conversation. You wait until later, maybe even a day or so later, or a week. View this movie as the first part of a conversation. If you never get to the gospel presentation, you have sinned. If you start the conversation first, then get to the gospel, you have done only what evangelists have done for two thousand years. So use it.

Let’s face it. In reality, this movie might be better than The Passion was, since those committed to preaching Christ will not have to overcome a faulty gospel to get to the real thing.

So ask your friends, “Did you see End of the Spear yet? What did you think? Did you understand what it was about? Can I tell the whole story?”

The old saying goes, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.” It fits here. This movie is not the way it should have been done. But it is done, and God is still sovereign. So if the door is open, walk through it. If the door is a ajar, push it open. See it … don’t see it. But be willing to tell the “rest of the story.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Credible Messengers

Recent controversy has developed over the movie "End of the Spear," which is a recounting of the story of the martyrdom of five missionaries in January, 1956, and the resulting work among the Indian tribe who savagely attacked them. It is a fascinating story. Unfortunately, it has been marred by the decision to cast a homosexual activist in one of the leading roles.

All over the blogosphere Every Tribe Entertainment (ETE) has been vilified and defended for this casting decision. Defenders have said that the actor is never confused with the actual person, ETE didn't know he was an activist when they cast him, homosexuality is no worse than adultery or lying, etc.

But it seems to me that we have forgotten Paul's principle of blameless ministers. 1 Timothy 3 lays out a standard for pastors. 1 Thessalonians 1 reminds us that credible messengers are to be the ones delivering the message. Should the message of martyrdom for the gospel be borne on the backs of open rejection of that very gospel?

Why would a Christian producer even think of casting an activist homosexual in the role of a man whose committment to the gospel of Jesus Christ is matched by so very few? Has discernment really fallen that far? Is good acting ability ("he had the best audition" was one reason given for his selection) really more important than a credible lifestyle that supports the whole premise of the movie?

I am routinely challenged by the story of these five men, and realize the paltry price that I have paid. In fact, to call it a price that I have paid would be a great exaggeration. My Christianity has cost me precious little. When I see the stories of men like Nate Saint and the others, my own heart is challenged, almost to despair. When I see a homosexual activist cast in the role of one of these men, my despair turns to anger.

Whether or not a movie is the best, or proper, medium for this story, it is indisputable that a homosexual activist should have no part in it.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wells on the "Christmas on Sunday" Controversy

Over at Reformation 21, the gentlemen have been engaging in a discussion about the books of David Wells. Wells offered a response in which he touched on the recent controversy in some evangelical churches about having church services on Christmas Day. I thought his comments were right on target and worthy of consideration. He says,

This last year, there was a brief media buzz leading up to Christmas over the fact that many megachurches cancelled Christmas day worship services. (What sense could a Martian have made of the fact that in America, many Christians, on the one hand, were arguing for the freedom at Christmas time to place religious symbols in public places while, on the other hand, other Christians in the megachurches were closing the doors of their churches, on Christmas day no less, closing the doors on the most visible religious symbols in our society?!) The reasons given for this were that Christmas day is family time, that it was unnecessary to worship on Christmas day because many would have been to pre-Christmas services and, further, that it would be unnecessary because people were being supplied with videos for that day.

Skipping church on Christmas day is not the unforgiveable sin. Let us be clear about that. Nevertheless, this magachurch disposition was symptomatic of an attitude. It spoke to the fact that many people were not going to allow the church to inconvenience them on this day. Their decision also said something about their understanding of family—as if we have to choose between “family time” and worship! I thought that, from a biblical perspective, worship is what FAMILIES did together and so it is central to “family time,” not something which interferes with it! And this matter of videos tells us that we are now in great danger of privatizing our faith in its entirety. If this becomes a habit, all Christians will have to do each week is to visit a (Christian) video store some time in the week to pick up their sermon for that weekend and then, in the privacy of their home, viewing it when the time is convenient. The local church would then become entirely unnecessary!

In the controversy of cancelling church on Christmas, the attitude of dispensability of the local church was, to me, the most troubling thing. One mother wondered how she could make Christmas special for her children if they didn't cancel church services. How could she get all the cooking done, and opening gifts, and work in the afternoon naps, and the like? I was troubled by that because of the mindset that set in opposition a memorable Christmas and worshipping Christ with his body. Why wouldn't a Christmas service be a memorable way to celebrate Christmas? If cooking were a main concern, why wouldn't you have Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve when you can cook on Saturday morning rather than Sunday morning?

For too many, church has become a matter of convenience. "We will make it when we can," is the attitude, "when it doesn't conflict with something else." And oftentimes it is not even an unspoken attitude. Such a spirit is troubling.

With the modern or post modern phenomenon of the privatizing of truth (i.e., "whatever works for you"), it is little wonder that the privatization of church is not far behind. And while the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ, that is no promise that individual local churches will not suffer from such privatization. After all, if we can have DVD worship on Christmas Sunday, why wouldn't we do it on Easter Sunday, so the kids can enjoy their Easter baskets and Easter dinner can be cooked? And if we don't meet on the two most significant Christian days during the year (birth of our Savior and resurrection of our Savior) why would we bother to meet any other time? Why not just podcast our services, take the offering by Paypal, have Bible studies by email. Then we could sell the building and avoid the maintenance costs, the gas and electric bills, the T-1 line for the church network.

Why is the corporate gathering of the church necessary at all, since there are so many other pressing issues, like soccer games, and picnics? John Piper in, The Hidden Smile of God, observes, "There is a great gulf between the Christianity that wrestles with whether to worship at the cost of imprisonment and death, and the Christianity that wrestles with whether the kids should play soccer on Sunday morning" (p. 164). This past year, we could have exchange "play soccer" for "have family Christmas."

The reality is that Christmas Sunday was not a problem of the day of the week. It was a problem of the attitude that says church gives way to whatever else might appear to be more important. And yes, I am old school about this. I would have church on Super Bowl Sunday if for no other reason just to avoid the appearance that I might have cancelled for that reason.

Pollster (or "Finger-in-the-wind"ster) George Barna has recently suggested that the local church is on the way out anyway. While I have no great desire to fully understand Barna's point (since he has redefined Christianity in his surveys anyway), the very mention of such a notion shows that the church needs to seriously consider her biblical mission.

The local church is God's plan for this age. Parachurch organizations may serve a role. Blogs and website may help out. But the local church is where it's at. And her mission is not to settle in and hold out, but to go forth in victory proclaiming the risen Lord in ways that people can understand. It does not need to bow to the time pressures of extra-curricular activities. It need not be sacrificed on the altar of family memories, or family priorities. It stands unapologetically as God's temple, as Christ's body, as the focus of this age. Let's not give it away.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

SCOTUS Nominee Hearings

The hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito are in full swing. Being a political junkie of sorts, I can't seem to get enough of these kinds of things, particularly when the left questions the nominees. I watched today as Ted Kennedy continually hounded Alito on the CAP organization for the bulk of his twenty minutes, each time receiving the same answer from Alito:" I do not hold those positions; I do not recall reading that or receiving that."

One would think that someone smart enough to be elected to the Senate that many times would figure out that the answer wasn't changing and he was wasting his time answering the same things over and over again. However, I did find the Kennedy/Specter exchange humorous, and that was worth the price of admission.

Of course, Schumer did the same thing yesterday about abortion in the constitution. He continually hammered on stare decisus (which seems but a fancy name for precedent), to which Alito finally replied (at the end) that the overturning of Plessy was a good reason why stare decisus was not a mandate, but a principle. Unforunately, IMO, Alito should have led with that and hammered it early and often. But of course, my opinion never got anyone to the Supreme Court.

I also watched Biden's questioning yesterday and remained convinced that there is no bigger stuffed shirt in the Senate than Joe Biden. Running a close second is Dick Durbin, but I didn't see his questioning. I found it funny that Biden professed such a dislike for Princeton. However, I was convinced Biden was being honest. (I know ... silly me.)

As it turns out, Biden apparently forgets his own comments. An article today in the Daily Princetonian reminds us that Biden professed praise for Princeton at a speech there in 2004.

Which brings to mind the question, how do we know when Biden is lying? Perhaps Billy Martin's answer to the same question about George Steinbrenner fits here well: "His lips are moving."

Article on Emergents

Ed Stetzer has written a brief article on the emerging church that is worth reading. In it, he distinguishes between three types of emergents: the relevants, the reconstructionists, and the revisionists. In dealing with the emergent church, I think it necessary to be careful not to paint with too broad of a brush. Key distinctions exist in the movement as it emerges (no pun intended). The further we go down this road, the more we will see these distinctions clearly made.

As I have read and studied some on the emerging church, his distinctions are borne out. The lines, as in most cases, may not be hard and fast. The categories may not be completely separated, but just as fundamentalists break down into several categories, so emergents do also.

Just as we fundamentalists don't like to painted with too broad of a brush, let's be careful not to paint others with that broad brush.

I think the revisionists are clearly the most dangerous. They are eviscerating doctrine in some cases, rewriting it or recharacterizing it in others. In some cases, not only should we be concerned about their orthodoxy. We should be concerned about their salvation. Can someone truly be saved and deny or question some of the things they deny and question? It would seem improbable, at beslt.

The reconstructionists seem interested in a recharacterization of the doctrine of ecclesiology. Many of them are going the way of house churches, a decentralized church structure, which is not exactly heretical, but I would question the need for it. (Of course, if fifteen fundamental churches in a city are running less then thirty people each as separate churches, we applaud them for the missionary vision. If those same fifteen churches were all "one church," meeting as house churches, wouldn't some question their ecclesiology?) But I digress.

The relevants are people with new and innovative ways to do old things. They simply want to be relevant to the culture. That is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing. (More on that later.) In many of them, the message is orthodox. It is the methods that are changing. They seem driven by mission, and their use of different "language" (in terms of cultural forms) is intentional. Perhaps they are using forms that are unwise or inappropriate, but that is another discussion.

Much could be said about the emerging church, and much should be said, but I won't do it here. I would recommend Stetzer's article as a worthy read.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Getting Caught

Genesis 38-39 contain back to back stories of moral temptation. One ends in abject failure, the revelation of hypocrisy, and embarrassment. The other ends in prison.

In Genesis 38, Judah, having reneged on his promise to his daughter-in-law Tamar, decides to fulfill his sexual desire with a prostitute alongside a road. There was nothing sinful in the sexual desire. That is a God-given gift (although at times it seems more like a curse than a gift). The problem was his sinful way of satisfying that desire. Rather than rejoicing in the wife of his youth, and letting her breasts satisfy him at all times (cf. Proverbs 5), he "hooked up" (to use a modern term) with what he believed was a common street prostitute in the ultimate act of cheapening God's gift.

As a promise of a payment to be delivered, he leaves his ring and staff as collateral. However, when he sends the payment to reclaim his ring and staff, the prostitute is gone, and no one can remember seeing her. Knowing of the possible embarrassment, he decides to try to leave well enough alone (38:23). Three months later, Tamar shows up pregnant, and Judah commands her to be burned at the stake in punishment for her immorality. She produces the ring and staff as proof of fatherhood, and Judah is caught in a sin he thought he could get away with.

Joseph, on the other hand, was sold by his brothers and yet rose to a position of power in the household of his Egyptian master, Potiphar. In fact, Joseph had the run of the house, and complete control over everything in it. During the course of Joseph's duties, Potiphar's wife began to work her womanly charms on the young Hebrew. This woman was no doubt a very attractive woman with a sexual appetite, and her seductions seem amazingly pleasant. Joseph could have rationalized it any number of ways: She started it; I was simply doing what I was told to keep the peace and my job; I am a man in need of some satisfaction; God hasn't been good to me anyway in sending me here; no one will know; she can make my life miserable if I say "no;" and the list could go on and on. Most of us could probably offer a few rationales that we have used in the past to justify our own sinful choices.

But remarkably, Joseph looked a beautiful, willing, woman who had initiated the proposal in the face and said, "No way." And his rationale for refusal is God (39:9). He didn't just say "no" once. He did it time and time again. And eventually, when she grabbed him to try to force him, he took off running.

What moral strength and character that is rooted in a right view of who God is. Judah failed miserably, and reaped embarrassment and shame. Joseph knew God was watching even if no one else ever found out. His reward? Prison. Was it worth it? I imagine Joseph would say, "yes."

He knew all too well the truth that would not be inscripturated for another eight hundred years:
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?
For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.
The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.
He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.
(Proverbs 5:20 - 6:1)
What is our response to temptation? Too often, we fall prey to the belief that we can "get away with it." And the truth is that we probably can. In the dark recesses of our minds, fantasies can run unabated and unseen by anyone but us. In the secrecy of our heart, we can satisfy our desires without on-lookers.

And it doesn't just apply to sexual sin, nor is it limited to men. It is true across the board for all sins and all people. We are tempted to be dishonest because it helps us and no one will find out anyway. We are tempted to be lazy because we can close the door and no one can see. We are tempted to greed because we can make it look like God's blessing by saying the right things.

And in this life, we may never get caught. But there is a day of reckoning coming, and that is what frightens me. May God protect us from our secrecy. May God help us to live in private as we do in public.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Studies That Prove ...

Reading another blog today brought a smile to my face. It was discussing the issue of friendliness in the church, a needed discussion, IMO. But what made me laugh was the paragraph,
Studies have shown that the single most important factor in predicting whether a church will grow is not the number of visitors that come through the doors; it is the percentage of them that stick around. It is the Velcro Factor; not the Magnet Factor.
And I thought, "No kidding." Do we really need a study to tell that us that churches where the visitors don't "stick around" won't grow? I thought that was obvious.

It kind of reminds of the studies that show that men and women are different. Save the money and buy me dinner. It would be a more productive use of the grant money.

Overall, I thought the article on friendliness was good. I think far too often, our churches are closed off to people they don't know, or who aren't like them. I remember visiting a church by myself one time. It was a large fundamental church (600+ on Sunday mornings), very traditional in its style and format, previously pastored by one man for more than forty years. The new pastor had been there around eight years as I recall. It was the church that my wife grew up in, but I had visited there only on several occasions with her, and knew only two or three people in the church.

I arrived about five minutes early, walked in to the church through the main doors, walked through the lobby behind the auditorium to the far side (probably 50 yards or so of mingling people, conversing with one another), went in and sat about four rows from the back. After church, I walked back across the lobby, stopped in the restroom, walked out the door, got in my car, and drove home. I walked to the far side on purpose, as a part of my experiement.

In that whole time, I was greeted by one person ... a man on crutches in the parking lot who arrived at the same time I did. He said, "Hi, how are you?" One other person gave me a brief nod on the way out. I left thinking to myself how unfriendly that church was. They all talked to people they knew, but no one stopped me to shake my hand, introduce themselves, ask if they could help me find something. I was a total stranger and no one said anything to me.

I contrasted that experience with the experience I had earlier that morning when I visited a large seeker church in the greater Chicago area. (Yes, that's the one.) When I got there, there were people directing parking. Within ten seconds of walking through the door, a man with a nametag shook our hands, looked us in the eye, and introduced himself, asking where we were from and if this was our first time. He asked if he could help us find something, so we asked where the restrooms were. He told us how to get there and then told us how to find our way back to the auditorium. When we got to the auditorium doors, there were people with bulletins (is that what they call them???) who shook our hands again.

I contrast these two experiences in my mind. In both, I was totally unknown to the people in the church. In both, I walked in five or so minutes before the church started. In both, I was dressed in "business casual" type dress, as a clean cut, professional looking man. But in one, I was warmly greeted, made to feel welcome, and asked if I could be directed somewhere. In the other, I was almost completely ignored, save for one man hobbling on two crutches.

I think sometimes we need to step back and imagine ourselves as visitors to our own church. If we did not know anyone, how would our experience be? And having done that study, what do we need to do that change it to make it better.

Don't think I am downplaying the role of the Word in drawing people to church. I most certainly am not. I am not talking about salvation by friendship. The Word is what will save people. But let's be honest. The relationships that we build with people will often determine what church they attend, and whether or not they come back to ours. We need to be visitor sensitive, in the right sense. Imagine yourself going some place totally new, and imagine your feelings and fears. Ask yourself what would make it easier for you. And then start to put it to practice.