My family and I just returned from a trip to Disneyland. We probably walked a marathon as we traversed the “magic kingdom”. Not too much has changed since I first went there nearly 30 years ago. For some things this is good for others it is bad. The old Swiss Family Robinson House is now the “Tarzan” house because no one has ever heard of that famous family. The 20,000 Leagues under the Sea sub is now the Nemo sub…and still just as lame. Space Mountain is still fun and feels ahead of its time, Star Tours still makes me want to puke, and Pirate’s of the Caribbean is still the best ride at the park period!. A Small World is probably the same for the most part, just a bit bigger. I wouldn’t know because I didn’t dare subject my kids to that kind of pain–my guess is they’ve added a few languages. My kids had an awesome time, there is a joy in experiencing it through their eyes. Through my fatherly, penny pinching, pastoral eyes, things looked a bit old, overpriced, and idolatrous.
I know that “idolatrous” sounds strong. I’m not a party pooping Christian killjoy–I had fun. Upon my return, however, I’ve been wondering what the average middle-easterner, 2000 years ago, would think of Disneyland. Without question, they would see it as a religious worship experience, perhaps even a separate nation walled off from the world with its own colorful pantheon of gods and goddesses. They would see people dressed up like their gods, buying clothing with pictures of their gods, surrounded by signs and statues of their gods, riding machines embossed with faces of their gods, eating food all shaped like the various gods, and getting autographs and pictures with the gods/goddesses that most capture their heart. And, in the midst of a “recession”, they would see people spending fortunes at the altars shaped like mice, ducks, dogs, chipmunks, and goofy (what the hell is goofy?).
Without doubt, Disneyland is a kingdom. Perhaps, it is the iconic kingdom of consumerism. It is the mecca of temples, but not much different than the sports arenas, shopping malls, or other similar places of worship that thousands flock to everyday.
LESSON #7: YOU’LL NEVER FEEL LIKE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
After people ask my why I wanted to plant a church (read lesson #1), quite often the next question is, “how are you qualified?” This isn’t asked directly like this mind you, it is more cryptic like, “where did you go to seminary?” or “where were you a pastor before?”. Early on I was very intimidated by this question because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I became well practiced at answers to match the nature of the question, talking about my double major in biblical studies (which I have but is useless), or the fact that I was an “elder” at a previous church (though I didn’t pastor a lick). The truth is, I tried to convince the pastors who approved me in Acts 29 why I wasn’t qualified to lead a church—I thought it was obvious.
The funny thing is, when you’re starting a church in your living room (then garage), you don’t feel like you have to know much. There is a beautiful simplicity in it all, nothing is expected, there are no bills, no one to scare away by what you say or do, and anything positive that happens is clearly recognized as “of God” because there is no one else to give credit to. Strangely, once it becomes “something” you begin to freak out–believing (even subconsciously) that you’re responsible for making and maintaining whatever “it” is now. When things go bad, people begin to ask those same questions again assuming that it is all jacked up because the head guy didn’t go to seminary, didn’t pastor before, or didn’t “do” whatever is a pastor is supposed to do to prepare him to lead. I take comfort in the fact that Jesus didn’t pick winners. It wasn’t that he picked losers, he picked simple-minded blue-collar leaders who were trustworthy and teachable. That is what I am. And, after three years, I still don’t know what I’m doing. But one thing I do know is that I don’t want to ever get so “professional”, wise, successful, or whatever that I’m not desperately holding on the cross every minute.
LESSON #6: THOSE EXCITED MOST QUICKLY EXIST JUST AS FAST
When your first starting church and you want to determine “how big” you are, you count every adult, child, and dog that is nearby. No matter what a pastor tells you, numbers do matter in their mind. They say they don’t think about them, but it is incredibly hard not to. I am not suggesting that numbers mean everything only that they meaning something–not all good somethings either. With few exceptions, the church grows and the church shrinks. I never get used to it.
I see new faces every week then never see them again. I want to ask why? What did I say to tick them off? Did they not like our building? Was my sermon too long? Was our music cheesy, too loud, or just all around lame? Then there are those few people who, after you scream at them for 45 minutes, run up to you in tears and say something to the affect, “I’ve been looking for a church like this for years!” After a brief conversation full of flattery and compliments, they’ll fill out a newcomer card and transcribe it all over again. They’ll return the “welcome” email with another compliment and maybe even show up for one more Sunday. Then they’ll be gone–never to be seen again. Who knows why, most likely it is because they are consumers for whom you were a spiritual high like a hit on a bong. They’ve built of a tolerance to you and are no looking for their next hit. It never fails. Those who get the most excited the most quickly are the first and quickest to leave.
A lot of young church plants, in an effort to declare their freedom in Jesus, have missed the point entirely. Mounting their attack against the legalists of the world, they fail to heed to Apostle Peter’s warning to, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1Peter 2.16). Within the first 6 months of our church plant, we appeared in an article written by the Southern Baptists about our “Bible and Brew” Bible studies and “Poker Nights”. Needless to say, it wasn’t a flattering article. We were simply part of the collateral damage from a larger attack on Acts 29 as a network of beer-lovers. It didn’t stop us from men bringing beer to our Bible studies or from an occassional men’s event where we’d gather make our own brew (Rootbeer too!). It did, however, result in a couple leaving our church. Among their reasons was our position on beer. Ironically, they had provided the alcohol (good beer included) at the community group I led in their home. I later found out that they were compelled to hide their alcohol when their legalistic parents came to town. The tension of living two different lives proved too much for them.
I look forward to the day when we can just be ourselves and live in the freedom of the gospel. Make no mistake about it, this is a gospel issue. This is not about alcohol and its abuse in the world, its about the gospel and the fact that they don’t understand what sin actually is. Everyone who is oppossed to a church, pastor, or Christian drinking beer privately, publicly, or whatever, has their own personal story. Their stories are usually very emotionally charged and they share it with the utmost passion. Then, as if they need to bolster their argument, they’ll throw in some spiritual sounding arguments like:
- We need to protect the “weaker brother”: this comment is rarely made from a “weaker brother” but by someone else who is concerned. Of course, they never take the time to actually ASK the individual if it is a problem–they assume it is. Not to say that we don’t have a responsiblity for a weaker brother. We should ask the hard questions and, in an effort to love and protect them, abstain in a particular situation. We must also recognize that, the weaker brother, also has a responsiblity to speak up or not participate if it is that much of a struggle.
- Leaders must be above reproach – in other words, Christians can drink but not pastors–as if there is a difference. As pastors are setting an example, they should set an example of abstaining from something that has caused serious damage. No one is arguing that alcohol has been abused, but as Martin Luther said, “So have women.” We’re not about get rid of them. If that is the case, pastors better adhere to strict diets, stay off the internet, and never play bingo because it could turn into compulsive gambling. Does it matter that Jesus is the THE LEADER who is very epitome of above reproach? And he drank? Is it possible then?
- It isn’t sinful but it shouldn’t be promoted – I don’t know where the line is between promotion and presence. In other words, just because you say call something “Bible and Brew” does that mean you’re trying to PULL people in because there will beer there? I guess that certainly could be one motivation from on perspective. From another perspective, it could be viewed as missional in an attempt to break down some misperceptions of chruch people being tee-totallers–if it is a misperception. Overall, the idea of “promoting” is based on assumptions not necessarily the truth.
The point of this post is not to argue that churches should talk about beer. In fact, I would suggest they shouldn’t. Mentioning the word beer will polarize your church and you’ll be a magnet for arguments that take a ton of energy and accomplish nothing. The truth is that people are afraid, that is why everyone builds up “new laws” to make themselves feel safe. Unfortunately, one such “law” like don’t drink or churches shouldn’t talke about drinking is just the beginning. Eventually, you are a full fledged legalists with different rules you can justify based on what you see in the world, and not what you see in Scripture. I’ve realized it doesn’t matter how you explain what you do, it matters who is listening. Fearful legalists don’t listen. They have their mind made up so its best not to even have conversations with them, to show them passages like Romans 14.1 and let them move on should they choose.
LESSON #4 – HUMOR & MARKETING
When we first planted the church we produced some humorous ads to shake things up a bit. The ads ran the gambit of appropriateness–all of them made me laugh. We found that they were well received by the non-Christian culture and that Christians completely hated them. We only mailed out a few one time, but most of the time we left them in the hands of our people to distribute to neighbors, co-workers, and friends as they saw fit. There were ones that said, “A Church for people who pee” or “Catch up on your sleep, come to church.” All of them were an attempt to break through the walls of misperception about church and church people. We ran one or two in the paper and posted one on a bus. The bus company was so impressed they actually made us a free sign to go with it. I had one call from an 80+ year old Christian woman who told me I should be ashamed of myself, a few pastors who praised and criticized, and members of our church who loved and hated them.
There were wonderful stories about conversations people started but we quickly became known as “that church” with “those ads.” I’m not sure exactly what we were preaching or what they were hearing. After several conversations, and some arguments, I decided to really evaluate whether or not we would produce such cards anymore. Humor is a wonderful way to reach people, but it can also repel them. In truth, as Mark Dever says, “You win people to what you win them with.” I guess, even if we use humor, I want to make sure we’re known for the right things–namely, the gospel.
Below are some guidelines that I came up with once of a sermon of Redeeming Language. Hopefully, you’ll use them to discern when and if to use humor:
1. Does the language or humor break down, as oppossed to build up and individual or group?
2. Does it consist in inappropriate gestures that are dishonoring to the body?
3. Does it encourage acceptance of heretical teachings for false doctrine?
4. Does it glorify sin, especially sexual sin?
5. Does it minimize or make light of sinful behavior?
6. Does it cause on to fascinate about sin?
7. Does it cause a weaker brother to actively sin?
8. Does it make use of culturally obscene or vulgar language that may offend?
9. Does it make use of or reference to God or God’s creation for unholy purposes?
10. Can I say it, write it, or create it with a clear conscience?
LESSON #3 – THE SIN OF AUTONOMY..guilty
I probably would have been too prideful to admit this the first year we planted. The truth is, we live in largely a reactionary culture, or at least we live like we do. We make many of our decision not because we have determined them as right, biblical, or wise, rather, because they fit what we have already determined is right. We make decision to avoid bad experiences, little agreements to avoid having a bad relationship again, or any number of other choices to avoid feelings or failures. All the while, our decision to avoid pain and pursue pleasure, may in fact lead us away from the truth.
When we first planted the church, we were certain what we didn’t want to be, even if we said different. Though we had our core values, mission statements, and all that, they were all reactionary in nature. Of course, I could tallk for hours about our “vision” but when all was said and done, we were going to “do it differently.” Everything was on the table and nothing was “sacred”. We justified our independence from institution, denomination, and organization by the fact that the Bible teaches churches are autonomous. And though I don’t complete disagree with the spirit of that thought, I know now we were guilty of the sin of autonomy. The sin of autonomy means you separate yourself from history, from authority, from the experiences of those men who have gone before them and assume you know it all OR can figure it out. Though I believe God graciously protected us from a lot of mistakes we could have made, we were foolish, prideful, and wrong . I guess that is why we find ourselves preaching a five-part series now called SACRED ASSEMBLY…because there are things that are sacred.
I don’t know what Jesus feels about facebook, but my guess is that he thinks it is from the devil. I realize that everyone has their own personal “reconnection” story where their long lost __________ was found. I still find it curious that people who have hundreds of “friends” don’t realize that they actually don’t have that many friends, or that the world cares what they had for breakfast, what their frustrated with or looking forward to in the next 30 minutes, or how many ways they can find to make a face to describe their emotions with punctuntion and slashes. Another incredible phenomena is the false reality that people live with, believing that if an entity, organization, or group exists on facebook, then it has legitimacy.
Those little irritations pale in comparison to facebook’s ultimate contribution to the world–it has become the passive aggressive person’s best friend. While we’d like to believe that people simply use it to keep tabs on one another, it is more often use to shoot jabs at one another. There was a time in our society when, if you had an issue or conflict, you actually talked with person. Today, it’s much easier to be a blowhard through sharing “what’s on your mind…”