What Happened to Wonder?

It’s a bit like playing a game of snap. Just as I was posting about how I crave a different church service, Tim Schraeder asks “What happened to wonder?“. Here he grapples with the same kinds of ideas. Just goes to show maybe I’m not crazy! He says:

There’s a tension that many churches are dealing with these days when it comes to their services and it’s the battle between right and left brained thinking, or emotion over intellect.

Churches, well the progressive, innovative, edgy ones, get production. Some churches feel like a rock show or Broadway, and while I’m a bit indifferent to their methods, I feel that in looking, sounding and feeling like the world we’ve lost a true sense of wonder.

Today our churches look and feel more like conference centers or coffee shops and instead of creating reverent, reflective space, they are cozy and casual. Gizmodo did an article about the STORY Conference which we hosted at Park a few months ago and said, “The Park Community Church in Chicago is a multi-story Christian center that more closely resembles a Starbucks than any cathedral—and in fact houses its own coffee shop.”

I’m not saying those things are bad, people obviously need to be in space that’s warm an inviting… but I guess I’m wrestling with if that’s the right way.

While I completely agree that the message is what matters most, the tension we live in is the fact that people hear messages on different wavelengths. Some can sit and listen to a 45 minute sermon and get it. Other people need to see a picture or hear a story, some need to hear a song. Some people need to be inspired by beauty while others simply need sacred space to reflect and remember. There’s multiple ways to hear the same message.

Today, flickering pixels are our stained glass and God has given us so many new ways to communicate His unchanging message… to do things that evoke our emotions and touch both our mind and our heart. To bring words to life through an image, a story, or a song.

I’m not saying we need to reproduce a jonsi concert, add more lights or more music, get bigger screens and better projectors… I just wholeheartedly believe we need to first be captured with the awe and wonder of who God is and let Him use the gifts He’s uniquely given to all of us to share the what we have seen …

When was the last time you left church in awe… not of the production, music, lights, or anything else… but truly left in awe of who God is and what He’s done?

Schraeder believes that the artist can help save the church. I agree that the arts should figure more prominently (their demise is a consequence of modernism) but disagree that they can (alone) save the church. I do however totally and wholeheartedly agree on where he’s going with it all. If I could go to a church service that I could dream up, it would be one which made me wonder – about God, life, relationships, heaven, earth, people, glory, mystery, faith, miracles, pain, suffering and redemption. I would have a space to reflect, pray, listen to Him and worship. I would not experience a show, a production, a lecture trying to explain or teach anything, desperate fundraising, coercion, pressure, alienation for not volunteering or humiliation.

Schraeder asks pointed questions, that really deserve answers from today’s contemporary modern church:

When was the last time you sat in wonder of God’s love and grace? When was the last time your heart was truly moved? Where is the sense of wonder?

The Attractional Church III

I believe the attractional church has had its day. While it has some great successes (Saddleback, Willow Creek – thumbnail left, Hillsong and many more), these are a tiny percentage of the churches who are actively trying to pull this off. And let me tell you, it’s hard to pull off. By virtue of it’s description – attractional – it has to be done really well, or it’s pure and simply a farce! I’m sure every one of us who have visited different churches at various times (we like to visit other places when we go on holidays) have seen or experienced things done in church that have just made us cringe. There’s very little distance between being attractional and being cringeworthy and it can happen as quickly as the remote microphone batteries running out when the hot visiting singer is launching into the bridge/key change.

One of the biggest problems with the attractional church, is the money that’s involved. It does take lots of money. I’ve been there, and I’ve been involved in the budget process and I know how much it costs. For one thing, because it’s building centred, you must have a big building to hold the crowds, and big buildings cost buckets of money. It’s very hard to avoid having your own big building, because the other options (such as using a school hall) simply aren’t attractive. No, you need a building and you need it to be slick and state of the art. You’ll need a PA system which will cost probably around $1000 per head of congregation. You’ll have data projection, children’s rooms, a kitchen or cafe, a reception or lounge area, loads of glass, offices, hard wearing carpet, comfortable chairs – the works. Of course, none of these are bad or wrong, it’s what happens on the way to obtaining them or paying them off.

The money involved is absolutely huge. The building and land depending on where you live, will cost $5,000 per head of congregation and that’s on the cheap. So you love Willow, you’re excited about building your own Dream Centre, or Hillsong Church, now you need to find some money. You get a word from God. You cast the vision. You have a miracle offering. You may ask your board to re-mortgage their own homes (as Hybels did) if they really believe God is in it. You fund-raise, you take pledges, you keep it in front of the people every moment (because they will dwell carelessly unless they have vision). You develop business partners in the church who will give tens of thousands. You get visiting speakers who are gifted at talking about money to come and do their thing (and pay them thousands to do it). You get people to believe in the dream. You have architects draw it up and show pictures and video walk-through’s of the new building and talk about building the kingdom and how many souls will get saved as a result.

But little by little, the dream of the building inexorably and inevitably begins to erode and compete for headspace (or is that heart space?) that would otherwise be focused on building the people. Slowly but surely, the people become a means to an end. But Christ died because people were THE goal. We rationalize that it’s all about people, and the building and all its trimmings will serve the people, but I can tell you, once you take out a loan and start the building process, the pressure is enormous, and even the holiest saints’ motives and perspectives become clouded and compromised.

Kudos if you pull it off and become the next Willow Creek, but you might want to do your homework and see if there isn’t a better model for you than the attractional church.

The Attractional Church

Last weekend, my former church hosted a Doctor of Clinical Psychology (not shown on the left) who is an “internationally recognised … expert consultant in post-traumatic stress” who has ministered to “tens-of-thousands of victims of war, sexual exploitation and natural disasters throughout the world”. A very compelling blurb with a winsome color photo covered the postcard. Everyone was encouraged to bring their friends and invite their families. The building was full (according to my wife) and it sounded like everyone who went enjoyed themselves.

A couple of years ago, I hosted Brother Yuen, author of The Heavenly Man, a pastor who was incarcerated and tortured by the chinese government for his faith. An inspiring individual and a compelling book, made him widely known and we had that much interest, we packed the building twice over.

On any given week at church there will be events, services and programs in the building drawing groups from anywhere from a dozen, to hundreds. Guest speakers, vibrant sunday services, children’s programs, feeding the poor programs, youth events, rocking music, thought provoking video, good food, comfortable seats, all make for a very attractive church. It’s the attractional church model through and through. The idea is to have a fantastic building, and host fantastic (the word awesome is used liberally) events, using the best speaking, video and music available and then invite as many people as you can to come and receive it. It’s not unlike Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams idea; “If you build it, they will come”.

I would have to say, that the attractional model has been around since Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek pioneered it back in 1975, which means it’s had a pretty good run, and continues to enjoy good successes in many places. I would also say, I think it has had enough iterations and permutations (or maybe just mutations) to have pretty much reached its full potential. It’s a cow that has been thoroughly milked. I have nothing against the attractional model. I for one, absolutely love big meetings and rockin music that you can feel. But I just don’t think it can be improved on anymore.

“So what?” you ask?

Well, it’s just that if we put it under the microscope and look at how effective it is at A) reaching our communities with the gospel and B) making disciples of those who are involved, it’s fairly limited. For one thing, it’s only done really well in a handful of places and the rest are wannabe’s trying to recreate the few successes that get so much coverage. I’ve seen terrible examples of churches trying on the attractional model in such a cringeworthy way that you hope to God there are no non-christians present.

The attractional model, is actually much harder to pull off than you think. I met a man called April at our church once. I was glad he came to tell you the truth, but unfortunately he didn’t stick. April is a cross dresser and an extremely bad one at that. When you looked up close, the makeup failed to cover the whiskers, the clothes were ill fitting and unsuitable, the hair ragged. It goes to show that it’s a lot harder for a man to look like a woman than you would at first think. And it’s a lot harder for a church to attract the world than we are led to believe by watching Hillsong DVD’s.

Could we maybe call it a day at trying to push the attractional model’s envelope any further and possibly think about some other paradigms?

The Attractional Church Part II

Meetings UGH.

I can’t tell you how much I came to hate and dread meetings. I must have developed some sort of allergy to them I think. Nothing could have prepared me for the number of meetings a lead pastor has to have – except maybe a job in a government bureaucracy (I never know how to spell that word).

Flip through the New Testament, go to a bible college, do an internship… nothing will prepare you for the volume and variety of the meetings you will participate in and chair as a lead pastor.

Event planning, program development, staff meetings, budget meetings, mentoring meetings, meetings with congregation members, friends, leadership meetings, board meetings, elders breakfasts, sunday meetings, prayer meetings, meetings with my wife (yep I made her come into the office and have a meeting with me whenever she wanted to talk about how her role was going), women who have given birth to extremely hairy babies outreach ministry meetings (ok I made up the last one – but only because we hadn’t thought of it at the time)…. the list goes on, and on, and on like a bad version of the Never Ending Story.

My most loathed meeting was the Annual General Meeting. I cannot begin to explain how boring and mind-numbing the AGM is. We fixed that one by changing our constitution so that the members of the incorporation are restricted to board members. hey presto, a board meeting doubles as an AGM.

It’s not that I was particularly bad at running meetings. I hated preparing agendas and I realize that probably would have made them less effective, but I did manage them well. I harnessed group dynamics, made sure everyone was heard where possible, tried for consensus at all times, made sure they stayed positive, took breaks when things stalled etc.

I was aware that many people who attended meetings expected them to be “christian” meetings, so there must be some kind of devotion, or scripture shared at the start. And it was necessary to “open” in prayer, and “close” in prayer, and wrap a lot of statements with caveats such as “if that’s what God is leading us to do”. Eventually it all became little more than formality and religiosity to me. I just figured, why can’t people do their own devotions and be prayerful at all times, and have the mind of Christ, instead of making it ceremonial. Sometimes we just do stuff because that’s they way it’s done.

Can we coin a new TLA (three letter acronym)? I’m thinking MAD. Meeting Aversion Disorder. Writing this post is making me nervous now.

So, I went to church today…..

My old mentor was visiting from interstate and speaking at the church I used to pastor, under his leadership, so I thought I’d face my feelings of failure and head down there to see how it would be. This week I met with my psych and discussed the feelings of failure and being a loser and the fact that going to church brings all those up for me. It reminds me of my uselessness. It was a great discussion and I’ll shed some light one what we talked about later. I decided to journal throughout the service, and I’ve decided to leave it un-edited. So it’s a bit of a scramble, but it’s how it came out. Maybe it’s more questions than ideas!

All up I had a good time. I endured the preamble propaganda and I had some great conversations after the service, which is what made it for me. Some people really do care about me I guess and were glad to see me…. Here goes:

Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection. It can be an exciting, vibrant uplifting thought provoking event.
Essentially a party, a shindig. There’s a band, a speech at a party. It should glorify god. Should b encouraging. Open to all.
It’s not church but the church is there

Leaders should seek to facilitate a connection and an experience with god and not get in the way and not be the centrepiece and freakingwell relax. How much help does god need? What if we just got people together and god turned up, what could we add?

What does the bible mean by preaching? Interesting that public speaking was one of the day’s most popular form of entertainment…. But we don’t feed people to lions anymore so do we need to preach? Besides it looks like mainly the apostles preached. Was timothy an apostle? Was paul saying for timothy to harness one of the most popular pasttimes to communicate god’s ideas or the person of jesus?

Owning buildings is not a problem it’s raising the money for them that creates the problem. The focus of the leader becomes compromised.

It has to b a party that is also authentic. So it needs to acknowledge pain and injustice.
It can’t be glib or superficial and no propoganda.

18-30’s r gone. Most under represented age group because they smell inauthenticity and have a very sensitive BS meter. How do we get the young adults back? Ask them?

Testimony and story is important. Corporate prayer

Minimal agenda.

Passivity is an issue. Pple just sit or stand.

Love the idea of contemplation and meditation.
Why isn’t there any silence? Because we’re afraid.

If sunday is a worship service what forms of worship can we incorporate? It can’t b a free for all tho.

The form of the service should reflect the culture of the people celebrating for it to be authentic. Which is why copycat doesn’t work.

Bottom line; if i walked out of an event knowing that god had spoken or touched me personally, that would be enough. everything else would be superfluous.

Why do we have to try and jam so much into 90 mins? We does it have to be efficient and productive? Why can’t we waste time in god’s presence? Probably because we don’t want to lose people. Which only matters if we face budget pressure or the tyranny of ego, or failure to meet misguided success of numbers. The idea that the more people who come the better something is may be a fallacy. Lots of people have come to cults….