Willow Creek

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by some people associated with Willow Creek Community Church. (Willow Creek is the most influential mega-church in the country, according to The Church Report.)


I had visited the church during the initial eBay visits, written about it, and the people there wanted me to talk about my experience visiting churches, what I learned, and what advice I would give to Christians listening to this message. They were going to air this video during a conference for church small group leaders.

I never really heard from anyone who attended the conference, though the guys who filmed the video said it had a good reception.

But I finally heard some feedback!

Mike O. wrote about how pastor Randy Frazee talked about my visit during the conference (in a lecture on how pastors can understand those who do not attend church in order to talk to them), opening his talk with the video. You can see Mike’s comments here.

If you read comment #3 by Ir, she read my mind. Pastor Randy says had he known I was attending his church back in February, he would have spoken on something different.

Ir says,

“It’s interesting that Randy would have chosen to preach on “what I think Hemant needs to hear” (ok, that’s my interpretation) rather than preaching on “what would connect best with Hemant”.

This is interesting, but really, even that is missing the point. I don’t want a church to say “We knew you were coming, so here’s the special message we have for you.” Just tell me what you were going to say, anyway. If that’s not good enough for me, it shouldn’t be good enough for anyone.

Pastor Randy might as well have said: This is what we normally talk about, but we can’t actually *say* that to non-Christians, so let’s talk about something else to bring them into the fold…

The point is, if the church wants to connect with others, it’s not going to happen by rephrasing your message in a particular way. I’m not going to attend a church who honestly feels my confidence in the Scientific Method is misplaced. I’m not going to attend a church that thinks homosexuality is a sin. You get the point. There would have to be an internal change in thought to get me to accept Christian beliefs. But that’s not likely to happen.

For what it’s worth, I did enjoy the Willow Creek service I attended when Pastor Randy spoke earlier in the year, and it was because he seemed sincere and honest in what he was saying. Yes, I disagreed with some of what he said, but I enjoyed listening to him. To hear him say he would’ve changed the message if he knew I was attending is disappointing.

[tags]Willow Creek Community Church, The Church Report, pastor, conference, Randy Frazee, Off the Map[/tags]

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Hemant, I hope I haven’t made you think worse of Randy Frazee. I think he meant well. To me this again emphasizes the need to educate (some) Christians (more) on how to effectively connect with people who aren’t Christians.

    Anyway, when someone says “I would have changed what I was doing had I known you were coming” it does rather raise the question “What is ‘wrong’ with what you normally do, that it needs changing for my visit?”

    Ideally churches should set things up so that ‘what they normally do’ takes into account the possibility that visitors might be there. Because surely that’s always a possibility.

  • Mike O

    Hey there! I’m the one that posted that blog entry, and to Hemant’s point, here is a comment I made over there ….

    Yes, that is interesting. I really walked away with the feeling that Randy was basically admitting that, in his humanness, he would have tried to control the situation and done the wrong thing. Hey, Christians can overthink things just as well as the next guy

    Then Helen added ….

    If I were still the evangelical Christian I used to be I suppose I’d be saying “this shows God knows best – God was in control of the situation and caused Randy to preach a sermon Hemant would like”.

    to which I responded …

    I concur, to a point. While I don’t think God “caused” Randy to preach this or that, I do believe God was in control of the situation and that Randy didn’t “get in the way” of what God had in mind for that day. Not just for Hemant, but for the other 20,000 people (or whatever they’re running now!) who were there that weekend.

    and this ….

    Not that it matters, but he also mentioned that he purposely didn’t respond here on the blog because he didn’t want to sway the conversation … he just wanted to see Willow was perceived from the outside. I’m guessing that he was out here reading, though. And the mood he gave was positive. Apparently he liked that it happened.

    The feeling of his talk was that, yes, he would have tried to control the situation, but that that would have been the wrong thing to do. And he said that to Christian pastors, which says something for his openness. He taught was teaching us all a lesson in being real by exposing how he would have been fake, given the opportunity. He made a very good point.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Mike, since it was a conference for pastors, were you there because you’re a “pastor’s wife”? ;-)

  • Mike O

    Heh heh heh. Yeah, my wife is a pastor. Actually, the conference was for church “leaders,” not necessarily “pastors.” A lot of churches nowadays are doing a small group based structure (which I can explain if anybody would like me to), and the leaders of those small groups (several in a typical church that has them) are who the conference was for. Small group leaders are amost entirely volunteer leaders from the church congregation.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Mike- You’re right, it was a small groups conference! My bad. I corrected the mistake in the posting. Thanks!
    – Hemant

  • jim henderson

    There would have to be an internal change in thought to get me to accept Christian beliefs.

    I dont know how long it is going to take to get Cs to understand this rather than some artificial surface attempt to “get you to see the light”

  • Mike O

    Yup. I’m working on it! It’s harder than you may think, though, to undo a lifetime of one way of thinking and just *presto change-o* do it different. The Christian mindset, by definition, is one with some sense of urgency to get the message out there, so in our human-ness we want to make sure we do and say the right thing. And then we proceed to screw it up way too often.

    I think where we miss it, then, is that we try to talk people into Christ, to somehow convince people by managing the situation. But Hemant is right.

    There would have to be an internal change in thought to get me to accept Christian beliefs. But that’s not likely to happen.

    There is no point I can make or technique I can use to convince anyone that Jesus Christ is right. It will only come through a change from within. What I’m learning is, if I’m right about this whole Christianity thing, I sometimes need to step back out of the way. It is, by definition, a change from within. And I can’t precipitate that.

    That doesn’t mean I need to be a dishrag, but it does mean I need to turn the responsibility over to God. Yes, do what he says, but don’t try to control the situation. Do you see how hard this is? Is this making any sense at all?

    If I’m right, Hemant’s spirit (if there even is one, which atheists don’t believe there is) will have to change, not his mind. And only God (if He even exists, which atheists don’t believe he does) can do that. The change in thinking can only follow a change from within. And I can’t make a man change from within.

  • Mike O

    Hemant, would you mind posting back to my blog entry? In it I posed a couple of questions, and one of them is trying to read your mind.

    Do you see what churches are doing as a step in the right direction for Christian-atheist relations?
    What’s in it for Hemant – why do you think he does these interviews (these weren’t part of the eBay atheist project)?
    I see the benefit to Christians, but how can atheists/non-Christians also benefit from events like this?

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Yes, we always enjoy hearing from you on eBay atheist, Hemant! It would be neat if you had time to drop by and share a few thoughts on why you continued your involvement with churches after the eBay atheist project was over.

    The whole issue of change…I wonder what sort of internal character change Christians who want to change you would hope to see in in you, Hemant. Are you too friendly? Too honest? Is your work ethic too high? Do you care too much about projects that help people in need? Hmmmm ;-)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com FriendlyAtheist

    Mike– The link is in the article, but here it is again for those who would like to take a shot at answering your questions :)

    Helen– I’ll respond to the comments on “eBay atheist” soon. And while I’m interested in how Christians answer your questions, I have heard from a few atheist who say I’m too lenient with the churches I visit.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Hemant wrote:

    I have heard from a few atheist who say I’m too lenient with the churches I visit.

    I’m not surprised to hear that. Were they commenting on your reviews written after your visits, or on what you said when you were given a voice, like at Parkview, in those three dialogs?

    Would it be possible for you to be ‘less lenient’ in the way those atheists would like and still be friendly? Or does being friendly require you to be ‘more lenient’ than they would like?

    Personally I’m all in favor of friendliness and civility (as you have probably noticed by now :) ). I think being rude to (or about) someone is the most effective way to get them to stop listening to me. And if they’re not listening, I’m wasting my time. It doesn’t matter if my rudeness attracts a crowd of admirers – because that crowd will be people who agreed with me before I ever opened my mouth. I won’t be changing anything by having them listen to me.

    And that wasn’t intended to be directed just at atheists, as if they are the only ones who ever have encouraged rudeness. Mark Driscoll is a young, successful senior pastor but I don’t really care if he draws a big crowd. I find his tone very distasteful and I’m disappointed that evidently he is praised too much for his ‘directness’ to have any reason to change it.

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    p.s. thanks – I will look forward to seeing your comments on eBay atheist when you have time!

  • Mike O

    Too lenient? If it’s who you are and what you think, how can it be too lenient? That’s like saying they don’t like the way you raise your kids … it’s their opinion. Be who you are, I say, and let the others worry about whether or not they like your approach.

    Civility is always good.

  • Julie Marie

    Mark Driscoll is a young, successful senior pastor but I don’t really care if he draws a big crowd. I find his tone very distasteful and I’m disappointed that evidently he is praised too much for his ‘directness’ to have any reason to change it

    I remember reading an excerpt from one of his books several months ago and thinking whaaaa????Then I saw that most of the pastors at my old church had several of his books on their recommended reading lists and I thought…have you read this man? Sarcasm may be witty but it is not kind. I value kindness very highly.

  • Karen

    Mike wrote:

    Yup. I’m working on it! It’s harder than you may think, though, to undo a lifetime of one way of thinking and just *presto change-o* do it different.

    Mike, I just want to step in here a sec to say how impressed I am with your willingness to be open to change and your eagerness to learn – even from people whom you might have dismissed immediately a few months ago.

    It’s awesome to see how dialogue and mutual respect, on both sides, can result in something so positive. Thanks for your honesty and your enthusiasm on the boards. :-)

  • Karen

    Helen:

    Personally I’m all in favor of friendliness and civility (as you have probably noticed by now :) ). I think being rude to (or about) someone is the most effective way to get them to stop listening to me. And if they’re not listening, I’m wasting my time. It doesn’t matter if my rudeness attracts a crowd of admirers – because that crowd will be people who agreed with me before I ever opened my mouth. I won’t be changing anything by having them listen to me.

    Exactly. I read some “inner-circle” atheist sites that I enjoy because they have good information on topics I’m interested in, but I see outsiders who venture in there and they are promptly slapped down and ridiculed. What good does that do for anybody? If anything, it just hardens opinions on both sides. We definitely need more civil dialogue in this country (and in general all over the world) if we want to move forward on all sorts of progressive issues.

    Karen, the pragmatist. ;-)

  • Siamang

    Karen and Helen,

    You’re right on target with these thoughts.

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