Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Pot & The Kettle Go to Union Square

Last Sunday evening was The Rock, an annual Christmas carol singing event in Union Square. It was led by the Open Door band and they did a great job. The energy in the crowd was great. People were dancing, singing, sipping hot beverages, and generally having a good time. Of course, it wouldn't be a church-oriented event without a few complaints.

Let me begin with a qualifier: I am an imperfect person. I don't take criticism well, and I have a hard time disguising my disdain for hypocrites. The situation I am about to describe is one that I will not say that I handled perfectly, but I did handle it honestly. Not always the best policy, as it turns out, but gets the job done.

The e-mail comes from the chairperson of the board of trustees at a church where I used to be involved. For our purposes here, we'll call it Former Community Church (FCC). K, the chairperson, e-mailed me to let me know how disappointed she was in this year's event. Fair enough. There's just no way that with an event that size that everyone will be pleased. It was different from last year. We didn't read the Christmas story and we *gasp* sang secular songs. Her e-mail was long, well-thought-out and well-organized, with numbers. However, all of it boiled down to a couple of issues that I think the Church needs to examine.

K comes from a church that is what I affectionately call a toxic cesspool of dysfunction, and I told her as much in my response. Staff and church-goers alike have jumped ship. Those who have left have gone on to cause some mild havoc in the new communities they have joined because of the wounds inflicted on them at FCC. Those who have remained have scratched their heads in dismay, wondering what went wrong. Puzzled, they consulted an expert and had their church evaluated. In all areas but one, they scored in the extremely unhealthy range. Taking their advice on matters of ministry would be tantamount to me taking voice lessons from William Hung.

My point in bringing up FCC's record, is to show that it's so easy to sit in one's glass house and throw stones, and I could stand to work a little harder on that lesson. It's a good reminder that the right to speak truth is earned through mutually respectful relationship.

Another attitude reflected in this communication that irked me is that of consumerism. My particular needs and expectations were not met so you're going to hear about it. If you don't do what I want the way I want it, I'm going to make it an issue of theology so I don't look so shallow. Whatever. It's not about you.

My biggest issue comes from the fact that K was assuming that we all share the same definitions of "worship" and "outreach." From what she wrote in her e-mail, the terms "worship" and "music" are synonymous. Beyond that, "worship" is an event that you attend, rather than a life that you live. If I were to bring this to her, she would argue that she does in fact believe in the definition of worship as a lifestyle, but everything in her e-mail suggests the contrary.

Living a life of worship is outreach. Singing songs about Jesus around people who don't share your beliefs isn't. I'm always amazed at Christians who believe the Holy Grail of evangelism is getting someone to attend church. They eagerly squire their poor, sad non-believing friends around the sanctuary, introducing them to their church friends as, "This is Brenda, my friend from *wink* work." Everyone gives a knowing smile and then watches them with great anticipation, like middle school kids who eat Pop Rocks and drink Coke to see what will happen. I love the church, I work for one, and I still acknowledge that there is no other context where you are encouraged to gather in a room and sing without alcohol. It's weird. I get that.

What bothers me about this particular high horse is that what she's saying is that outreach is only her job to the extent that she gets the people to attend the event. After that, the people up front better make a good sales pitch, otherwise the people she brought are destined for hell and it's ALL THEIR FAULT. If K and the other Christian people were really doing their jobs and loving folks the way Jesus taught us, there would not be nearly so much weight put on those deal-closing gatherings.

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