Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Talking With a Pastor about Conventional Church Ministry

Recently I had a lengthy meeting with a pastor, and we discussed my views about church. He asked me lots of questions, and it was kind of scary. I knew going into the conversation that we'd be at opposite ends of the spectrum on lots of things. So I found myself trying to articulate some of my criticisms of conventional church ministry to someone who has devoted most of his life to such ministry. No wonder it was kind of hard. I've been thinking back over the conversation, and what follows are some of the main points to take away.

First of all, the conversation reaffirmed a sense that the Lord is calling me to figure out how to love the Church instead of loving a way of doing church. Related to this task is the constant temptation to try to change people or in some way exercise usury over them in order to win them over to a different ideology. Carrying out such an agenda inhibits acts of sacrificial love and therefore is not Christ-like.

Here's an example of how this plays out. I'm convinced that program-based ministry often encourages behavior modification instead of nurturing sanctification. People running ministry programs usually desire that members of the flock will eventually meet certain expectations. The problem is that these expectations easily become outward, man-made criteria. If a "lay Christian" attends a weekly service, Bible study, or youth group meeting, uses Christian-sounding language, and seems to behave in a way deemed appropriate by other church-goers and leadership, then he or she is counted as okay. Ministry is validated by these results. But has that ministry accounted for the deep and slow transformation of the old person into the new? Is it calibrated for the long-stretching re-creation in Christ that begins in a person's innermost parts? Does it allow for the bumps (or sometimes giant potholes) in the road that are often an unpleasant part of this process? Often times the answer is no, I think.

However, if I were to go around spouting off a litany of criticism against traditional church ministry and trying to get people to believe like me or join my "new expression" of church, I would be doing the exact same thing. I would be looking for behavior modification. I would be saying, "When you meet my expectations, what I do will be validated and you will be okay." Instead, I must meet people wherever they are (including wherever they are on the church spectrum) and desire that from that point Christ would meet them and be formed in them. Christ would be formed in them, not a mini-version of Jacob Mau.

Secondly, the pastor told me that my ideals are not ideal. I'm not certain he understood my ideals. At first I was offended and indignant because I try hard to make sure my ideals are simply to love God and love people well and to encourage others in that endeavor. And I don't buy into the notion that idealism is a side-effect of youth that wears off when you take on "adult" responsibilities. Nonetheless, the pastor's remark is a challenge for me to not become too possessive, too aware of, too defined by my ideals. Because that's when people lose sight and start seeking their own kingdom rather than the Kingdom of Heaven.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Those of you who know me, don't be weirded out. I've been reading Sherwood Anderson. This poem stems from reflection on a question he explores in his novel Poor White.

Can the human longing for intimacy be satisfied by other humans?

The motions of my lover remind me
Every time that she is close
And she is good
And she will stay.

With her I rest, fully known-
The fearful mystery of my own person
Dissolved in a quiet embrace.

Oh Love, cover over my offenses
With your sweet, persisting presence
And with movements of devotion
Soft and pleasing as the falling rain.

I bend low like a willow branch.
Only here can I weep without wilting.
For in the peace of our union
I know that I am safe.