Luckly I didn’t go to church last week

Every Sunday morning I wait for my wife’s creativity to emerge – usually about 90 minutes before church starts. It’s really funny and I actually look forward to what she’ll come up with each week.

Last week it was “Hey, do you want to come to church because after that we can visit your mate John who broke his back a few weeks ago and he’s home now?”

No, I didn’t want to go to church and visit John afterwards. If I wanted to visit John, I’d just visit!

There’s no pressure though and it’s all very amiable. I know she’d like me to go with her and the kids. She knows I don’t really want to, but that I probably would if there was a half decent church nearby (I enjoyed Father’s Day at a mates church three hours away). The church I used to pastor is now run by someone who studiously ignored me, never mentions anything about the past and refused to come over for dinner with us when they first arrived despite us inviting them twice. Me attending there was never going to work – for him, and I guess now for me – even though when I resigned due to depression I had wanted to stay involved.

But I have changed so much in the almost three years I’ve been gone. I see things so differently – I probably wouldn’t fit in anyway.

Last week, I’m so glad I didn’t go. My wife came home and in the afternoon was reading in bed. “How was church this morning” I asked genuinely interested. She was mad. It all came tumbling out. The pastor had said God had been speaking to him this week and asked everyone who desperately needed healing to stand. Then he asked anyone desperately needing forgiveness to stand. And the third category was anyone desperately needing a breakthrough to stand. Then he pulled his swifty; he asked all those standing, to pray for all those still seated. The premise was that if you’re desperate for God, you’re in the right place. And if you’re not desperate, you’re in need of prayer – from the desperate

I would have been one of those seated ones. I would have been prayed for by the standing, along with anyone visiting, or possibly new, or maybe those who are not yet identifying as believers… All of us together would have collectively been made to feel like there was something not quite right in our lives. I would have been fuming. What a dick!

My wife is right. Everyone has a season. There are seasons where we feel desperate. There are seasons of contentment. Who is to judge what season we’re in? My favorite paradigm is one of a journey. On a journey there are times of trouble and good times, there are twists and turns and it doesn’t matter where you are on your journey as long as you keep journeying and don’t get stuck in any one place for too long. No-one can judge where you’re at, nor should they.

Today, we had our babysitter stay overnight, so the car is full. There was no creative “Hey I was wondering….” But after last week, I think all her creative juices all but dried up.

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.