How did we ever get to this point? What pillars did we build? The churches tried everything the looked successful only to never succeed. We built an illusion. All we needed was the right formula. The church would succeed if we did it right. The pandemic pierced the illusion. Now people are searching for it. Like chasing mirages in the desert, we know the relief is just ahead. And then we find only dry sand. This gloom and doom piece seeks to go beyond piercing the illusion. I want to destroy the four pillars of it.
Purpose Driven Pillars
Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church was bad enough. He decided a “purpose driven” book for life was necessary too. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. It is interesting to note that Warren never made a promise that his method for church development would actually work. In fact, he told people not to try to replicate the method of Saddle Back. When I criticized all things Purpose Driven, I was reminded of this by his supporters. But they still attempted it.
I remember the appalling moment a church leader stood before the congregation for an “announcement.” It was merely a commercial for Purpose Driven Life. This conservative lay member placed this book on par with the Bible. My heart sank. Because I remembered the idiocy that surrounded The Prayer of Jabez. That nonsense fizzled out. But it left a mark of dishonesty on the people who adhered to it. “I had to stop praying it,” I heard more than one or two people say, “because I was getting too many blessings.” When I considered that greed was the driving factor for the popularity of the book, I doubted the reason was true. The shine wore off of the lure.
The used bookstore I frequented at the time began a pile of copies of The Purpose Driven Life a couple of years later. Seeking one’s own desires, it appears, never ends. One of the pillars is self-focus.
Constantly Reinventing the Wheel
The new church down the road is doing church in a whole new way! Or so they say. Evangelical churches more than any other theological type avoid being seen for what they are. I always found this interesting. Church leaders and consultants are always in the process of remaking church. An Orthodox Priest once asked, “Is any Protestant Church the same as it was 100 years ago?” I am not sure if any are the same as they were 10 years ago on the outside.
Jesus called his opponents “white-washed tombs.” In modern parlance, we would say “repackaged corpses.” The present trend in repackaging is to place a # in front of the name.
Reinventing the wheel is the attempt to look busy and do nothing. It is merely the attempt to avoid doing what one must. Churches use this pillar instead of confronting the social problems we help create.
Pillars of the Growth Industry
Church growth programs are key to growing churches. At least, that is the message we get. I have said a lot about the overreliance on plans and programs. One church lay member could not understand why the congregation paid someone to tell them what they already knew. “It was just common sense stuff we know we should do.” Yes. And the real question is, why have they not been doing that common sense “stuff?”
One reason is that after a while people tire of doing those little actions of welcoming and engaging visitors. They have friends they have not seen in one (or more likely) three weeks. They want to “catch up” with them. Who is then left to engage visitors? No one. Yet, it is the same “no ones” who were engaging the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the hurting. These people do not increase offerings if they increase the attendance.
Doing the growth program is another substitute for engaging in ministry with the marginalized.
Bad for Good
The harshest of the 4 pillars is this one. The film A Hidden Life has the protagonist observe with another resident in his village in Austria that their neighbors, “Do not recognize evil anymore.” It is a biblical problem. An oft quoted text used by fundamentalists against their enemies is, “Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Ah, you who are wise in your own eyes, and shrewd in your own sight! Ah you who are heroes in drinking wine and valiant at mixing drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of their rights!” (Isaiah 5:20-23)
What is the result of the prophet’s criticism? The innocent suffer. The innocent continue to suffer by the actions of people in churches. And it is not by a direct action. It is by allowing evil to prevail and calling it good or necessary. Evangelical women holding Ayn Rand as a hero of their gender is a good example of that insanity.
These four pillars provided the illusion the pandemic pierced. It is time to take them down and turn to a theology of sense and compassion.