The “It” church. You know the one in your town. All the cool kids go there. It has the best (fill in the blank). Everyone is crazy about it.
Until they aren’t.
There are two in our little settlement. One has all the coolest programs, gadgets and spiritual candy you could shake a bronze serpent at while the other is for more “spiritual” believers and really “gets into the Word”. One has the tall, middle aged, well-built, tanned and self-aggrandizing Polo T-shirt pastor while the other has the young, extremely black and white, American Eagle pastor. Both are great orators. One a topical speaker, the other taking a Very Inductive method. Both are handsome with beautiful wives and nice cars. Surrounded by men and women who find themselves compelled to “speak only the positives” they are also blessed/cursed with the Commanding Presence (presenci..)
Those who follow them, who follow their teaching, have their reasons. Very good ones, passionate reasons… Some attend because “where else would I go?” Some attend because they are more comfortable with one ideology than another. One expression of the Spirit over another.
The Program church siphons off believers like so much gold dust through a sieve while maintaining the largest attendance in town. Hard to believe that roughly 1/3 of each service is visitors.. Just. Wow. Lost little sheep floating in and out with little or no recognition or infusion of life unless one is able to “plug in”. Whatever that means to you.
The other, the Serious Word fellowship, has become a collection plate for broken and damaged refugees from the latest two church collapses here in town. It’s only a matter of time before the bitter infect the sincere and the next big collapse happens.
Not being cynical.
In 10 years I’ve seen it happen 4 times.
It’s a little, ok, MORE than a little, bizarre to watch from this perspective. We’ve, uh, meandered, for more than a year and frankly, we are so O.K. with it all. I don’t have a deep burning desire to “plug in” to “find fellowship” or “seek accountability”. In fact, as far as gathering together goes, I could actually spend MORE time alone! I’m good. We’re good. G-d is AMAZING.
I have several friends who have found the Program Church to be their preference and a whole slew of friends, long and short-term, who have found themselves enthralled with the Serious Word fellowship.
Hungry birds. All of them.
The Program Church has been around for, well, EVER. The Serious Word fellowship? Less than 6 years.
And here’s what is resonating oddly.
Whenever I meet yet another broken and wandering believer who has sought refuge at the Serious Word Fellowship, they all say the same thing, over and over. Never a deviation from the same party line.
“He really teaches the Word there.”
O.K. As opposed to…… What? Exactly? Was the other guy teaching Nietzsche? Or the quotings of Confucius?
The Mr. had an interesting observation to the latest declaration of one who was following Captain Teaches The Word, “What are they compensating for? Why can’t they say ‘He really lives the Word!’”.
Uh… Yeah. Good point, honey.
But then they couldn’t know that really, with him up on a pedestal all the time, could they? Throwing tidbits down from the ivory tower. As he takes a hard line and really tells it like it is. Shock and awe masked as “accountability” a lot of times. A blanket statement of church discipline without the face to face discussion needed for personal growth. (That one? I know for a fact.) The guy behind the pulpit (or music stand) can “confess” all sorts of things, really “bare” his chest before the congregation and they all sit and nod their heads, congratulating both themselves and him on his transparency.
However, I can speak from experience, having been up front myself a time or two, that being honest behind a microphone is not the same animal as being willing to be transparent.
There’s a lot I can tell you that makes me appear extremely “open”. But it’s the stuff I keep deep, deep, deep down inside that will lead me to sin. And that’s not the stuff I shout from the pulpit. Ever. That’s the stuff I whisper to my husband and dearest friends while they pray for me. That’s where I really live.
And if you are honest with yourself? That’s where you live too. That’s where we all live. If we are honest.
And it’s important to note the tense. Present or past-tense. Does he only speak of the crisis averted or the temptation overcome? Does he talk about the argument this morning, the failure last week? The concern for tomorrow… Does he share his reliance on the G-d of Eternity to help him overscome this week or to pick him up this very morning?
Or this morning was he obsessing over chair placement and snapping at the bulletin glad-handers? Was he isolating himself in a corner to prepare himself?
Did he, or DOES he pray? With the congregation. Not just for the congregation.
Does he serve? Or does he willingly accept and even expect service?
Does his inner circle reach in or out?
Simply? Does. He. Live. It.
Because as one recently fallen pastor once said, “If I’m not living it at home… Up here doesn’t matter.”
My heart is sad for the young pastor at the Church Du Jour. He’s being set up and he has no idea.
Sure an influx of over 200 people in the space of 6 months has to feel good. Gratifying. Affirming, I’m sure.
And yes, he does know the Word.
So does Lucifer.
But, does he live it?
Because if he doesn’t and if he isn’t? A bigger church only means a bigger and messier fall. A bigger church just means more sheep get slaughtered at the altar of selfishness and sin.
So, over here in our little insignificant part of the church world we’ll be praying for that young man and his family. Heartbreakingly young. And sublimely confident.
A recipe for disaster. In my opinion.
I hope it all goes well. I believe G-d is able to keep them. If they let Him. If they walk humbly before their G-d. If…. If they can beat the odds. And the statistics. And the flaws of human nature.